Note: The review is based on a digital pre-publication review copy, provided via NetGalley by the publisher.
The awesomely-named 5 Very Good Reasons toNote: The review is based on a digital pre-publication review copy, provided via NetGalley by the publisher.
The awesomely-named 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (And Other Useful Guides) is a collection of all the strips Matthew Inman – aka The Oatmeal – published at theoatmeal.com in the year after leaving his job as a web designer, along with 27 extra comics. While a lot of the content will therefore be familiar to fans of The Oatmeal already, I think having the strips available in a print collection (and with a bonus poster!) is very appealing. Indeed, I found it hilarious enough to want to buy my own copy and I can think of a few friends and family who would appreciate the humour but never dream of reading a comic online. This isn’t the type of book to read in one sitting, but great fun to dip into.
Some of The Oatmeal’s most popular strips are those illustrating grammatical concepts, from the commanding “Ten Words You Need to Stop Misspelling” to “How to Use A Semi Colon: the Most Feared Punctuation on Earth” and “How to Use an Apostrophe”, each of which is (to this pedantic grammarian’s joy) present in the book. These strips brilliantly combine humour and educational content by using examples which both enlighten and insult the reader: ‘If you put an A in “definitely” then you’re definitely an A-hole’. My thoughts exactly.
Many of the strips concern animals, again with both educational and completely off-the-wall aspects. “How the Male Angler Fish Gets Completely Screwed” is an interesting take on a real (and somewhat grim) natural-world phenomenon while “8 Ways to Prepare Your Pets For War” is both completely absurd and strangely logical (‘Cats lack compassion and empathy, which makes them ideal for leadership. Promote your kitties to generals as soon as you can’). Other strips also address the greatness of various foodstuffs (cheese, coffee, beer), social networking faux-pas, and my personal favourite “Why Nikola Tesla is the Most Awesome Geek Who Ever Lived”. As a huge Tesla fan that strip, one of the 27 book exclusives, warmed my geeky heart and made me laugh like a drain.
The Oatmeal’s preoccupation with ever-internet-popular cats, pigs, bears and dinosaurs (the latter two in one memorable example of cross-breeding) is obvious throughout the collection, in which they both have their own strips and pop up in others. This makes the book more cohesive as a collection and keeps the art from becoming too ‘samey’, as the types of panel vary from full scenes to isolated illustrations. The style is always recognisable, but with the variety of human and animal characters, and differences in framing of each strip, they are recognisably distinct from one another. Although this is not the type of book most would read cover-to-cover, this variety makes the book much more appealing to leaf through.
For all its surreality, a large part of The Oatmeal’s humour comes from those head-slapping, common moments that we can all recognise. Who hasn’t rued the day that they helped a relative with their computer problems, suspected that their printer was secretly one of Satan’s minions, or despaired of having to call customer services? This observational humour is married with surreal touches but once again, the variety in strip content keeps the collection interesting. Those less amused by a rapping pterodactyl (as hard as that is to imagine) will probably still enjoy the less fanciful “Three Phases of Owning a Computer” and similar strips.
Bottom line: this book is very funny. If you like slightly absurdist, occasionally crude, very witty comics then The Oatmeal will be right up your alley. And if you’ve ever wondered how to hunt a unicorn, why you should keep your tyrannosaur off crack, and what a pig’s ‘O’ face might look like, this is definitely the book for you.