Comics: Meet the Artist
With Scott Adams
Hosted by Suzanne Tobin
Washington Post Comics Editor
Friday, July 26, 2002; 3 p.m. EDT
Welcome to the Washington Post Style section comics discussion, hosted by Comics page editor Suzanne Tobin. Powerless corporate cog, cartoon character, cultural phenomenon, everyman -- all of these describe "Dilbert," the character featured in Scott Adams's cartoon about the trials and (lack of) tribulations of life in the corporate world.
Tobin and "Dilbert" creator Adams were online Friday, July 26 at 3 p.m. EDT to discuss "Dilbert," Adams's seemingly unending well of inspiration and the art of cartooning.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Suzanne Tobin: Greetings, comics fans and welcome to another edition of "Comics: Meet the Artist." Today we are thrilled to have Scott Adams, creator of "Dilbert" joining us from his home studio in northern California. Welcome, Scott, and thanks for joining Live Online.
Scott Adams: Hi, it's nice to be here.
Marshfield, Wis.: Your recent strips have dealt with a more serious subject matter -- the "CEO crisis." Tell us your thoughts on approaching this sensitive and serious subject matter.
P.S. Can we have a series of strips where Dogbert or Catbert goes nuts on one of these guys and gouges out some eyes? Or Wally -- I'm not fussy.
Scott Adams: I approached it the same way I always do, with complete disregard for the feelings of my victims.
Potomac, Md.: Mr. Adams: Can you please do something about getting "Dilbert" back to the regular comics pages in The Washington Post? I know for a fact that possibly literally hundreds of readers do not read your strip anymore in The Post because it's been exiled to the Business section -- a section that many comics readers just do not read. In the past year, I've asked literally 30 or 40 people whether they read "Dilbert" any more in The Post and all except two said no, they don't read it anymore. And those 28 said they each knew at least two other people who had stopped reading your strip because it's in the Business section. That's 60 or 80 people. Imagine how many more aren't reading your strip anymore because it's in the Business section. Can you get "Dilbert" back to the comics pages, and has this travesty happened at any other papers? Thanks.
Scott Adams: That's a tough one. It's not my department. But is it really that hard to turn the page?
Denton, Tex.: Do you get angry e-mails or letters from people who say that Dilbert doesn't really tell the story of office life?
Scott Adams: I get the usual assortment of death threats and crazed ramblings. I enjoy them. But few people accuse me of not knowing what cubicle life is about.
Van Nuys, Calif.: I really enjoyed God's Debris. Do you plan on writing other non-Dilbert books in the future?
Scott Adams: Thanks. That was my first non-Dilbert book. It's the best thing I've ever done, but doesn't appeal to everyone. So unless you buy a few hundred thousand for me, I might not go that path again.
Jacksonville, Fla.: Has off-site team training ever been a subject of the strip? What activities were (could be) included?
Scott Adams: Yes. I once took a "Ropes" course and so did the Dilbert gang. Let's just say that the trust exercises weren't any better for them than they were for me.
Scotland: I miss Ratbert. Are there any plans to have any comics that aren't in the workplace soon? Even Dogbert is becoming rare.
Scott Adams: It's hard to leave the workplace much because the strip runs on the business page of many newspapers. But I'll try to get you some more Ratbert.
Suitland, MD: Do you use a Mac or a PC?
Scott Adams: Both. I am bi-platform. I literally have one on each side of my desk. The Mac is for the art stuff and the Windows is for everything else.
Lansing, MI: What inspired Dilbert? Was it a long planned project? Or just an impulsive sudden "inspiration"?
Scott Adams: It started as a doodle at work, at a large bank. He got developed over time, also at work, and one day I realized I had something.
Gaithersburg Cube Farm: Scott,
I know you hear this from everybody, but I live in your universe. Dilbert isn't satire. It's a documentary. I'll make you some coffee, okay?
Scott Adams: I am so sorry about your life.
Cream, no sugar.
St. Paul, Minn.: Scott: Have you considered writing a financial book, such as "Dogbert's Guide to Money"? Your strips on investing have been right on for years. CAL
Scott Adams: Yes, I actually started writing exactly that book. But I realized the financial world is so corrupt that anything truthful I said would sound like complete bull.
For example, try telling the average person that buying individual stocks is a fool's game. No one believes you.
Seattle, Va.: Dude, when's Dilbert going to get a Dilberta?
Scott Adams: He'll continue to date. But for Dilbert, a girlfriend is like a football is to Charlie Brown.
Philadelphia, PA: Belated condolences on the loss of your beloved cat. Have you gotten another?
Scott Adams: Yes, thank you. Smokey is the emergency replacement cat. We adopted him as a tiny fella after his feral mom got killed by a dog. He's great.
Budapest: Hi Scott,
How do you manage the plethora of scandals in the present business world? Do you save some of these to use in less bountiful times?
Scott Adams: It's an embarrassment of riches. I feel like an undertaker who just heard about a bus accident. It's tragic, but good for business.
Hollywood, Md.: How old is Dilbert? (20's - ish?)...
Scott Adams: I imagine him to be around 30 or so. But it's intentionally vague.
Denver, Colo.: Do you do book signings outside the Bay Area? If so, is there somewhere where a schedule for that exists for us to see?
Scott Adams: I'll do a book tour in Oct/Nov this year for my new one, Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel. The schedule isn't set but will be on dilbert.com.
Fishers, Ind.: Do you think Asok will always be so "un-jaded" about his work?
Scott Adams: I haven't decided whether he will grow in wisdom (cynicism). I like him to be the one hopeful character so I can squash his dreams.
Wilmington, N.C.: What feedback do you get from corporate America regarding the portrayal of life in tech companies?
Scott Adams: Most people accuse me of spying.
Fairfax, Va.: I really like how you relate current business scandals in the Dilbert strip. I was wondering how many days in advance you write the Dilbert strip?
Scott Adams: The strip is written in pencil a few months in advance. But I can slip in something new in about a month if I want.
Auburn, Calif.: I love the Dilberito's. Any plans for other Dilbert desktop foods?
Scott Adams: Thanks. My food company is going strong, but focused mostly on college and business cafeteria services this year. We'll see how that goes and expand the line from there.
See dilberito.com for details.
Bowie, Md.: I own a book called "Best Practices: How to get results by providing stellar customer service".
It's written by the executives of Arthur Andersen. I can't look at it on my shelves without thinking of you.
Scott Adams: A guy from Merrill Lynch just asked me for my investment business today. I had a good laugh. Same thing.
Vienna, Va.: How long are you planning on continuing the Dilbert series?
Scott Adams: Until I become an embarrassment but don't realize it. I'm hoping my senility will kick in right when the skill fails.
Please vote my comment to #1 on LOTD. Today's my birthday: Greetings,
Did you invest as much time as some of your readers into List of the Day formerly on your site?
Would you care to admit to being any of the pseudonyms used by the regulars?
Scott Adams: I didn't participate, unless you liked some of the entries, in which case those were mine.
Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK: Scott,
I am DESPERATE to get hold of a copy of my favorite Dilbert strip and the archive's I've seen don't have it.
Any suggestions on how to get hold of it -- it's the one where Catbert (I work in HR and he's my role model) is dismissing an employee for using the internet for personal use and it ends "You can't spell who cares without HR."
Also could we have more Catbert please -- perhaps even a Catbert the torMentor guide or tips to get to the top (and staying there) from him?
Scott Adams: On Dilbert.com there's a list of which reprint books contain which dates. That's the best I can do for you right now.
Newark, Del.: Scott,
Monkeys make me laugh. Whatever happened to Zimbu?
Scott Adams: Monkeys are definitely funny. Zimbu the monkey didn't have an impact on the audience so he never became a regular.
State College, PA: Are you gay? Any plans for a gay character?
Scott Adams: I'm not gay, but thanks for asking. I'll keep your e-mail address in case I decide to make a change.
A gay character would be fun, but Will and Grace have done all the good jokes.
Pottstown, Pa.: I assume there really was a "Pointy-Haired Boss" (other than mine). Is he still working?
Scott Adams: The boss in the strip is a composite of the worst bosses I've had and heard about.
Liverpool, U.K.: How surprised are you about Dilbert's popularity outside of the U.S.?
Scott Adams: I'm a bit surprised that it works in places like Ghana.
Tysons Corner, Va.: Will you ever bring back the Bob the Dinosaur character?
Scott Adams: He's coming back briefly in a month or two.
Guernsey, Channel Islands, U.K.: 1. If three members of the DNRC meet at a party and two of them fancy the other, who wins, seeing as all DNRC members are equally attractive and hyper-intelligent?
2. In the film "Strange Days" people got a chance to experience a slice of someone else's life by putting on this weird little headsetty thing. Whose life would you like to sample if this was possible?
Scott Adams: Excellent question. Luckily DNRC members are smart enough to clone one of them and solve the problem.
I would like to be a supermodel.
Washington, D.C.: What do you think about that book called "The Truth About Dilbert?" I liked it!
Scott Adams: You really need to read more books.
Kansas City, Kan.: We know about the kindly cartoonist who kept you inspired to write during the beginnings of your career, but where else did you find support?
Scott Adams: It was just him and my chair. Frankly, I think everyone else thought I would fail. Except for my first editor, Sarah Gillespie at United Media. She had good instincts.
W. Brandywine Township, Pa.: Scott, I love Dilbert, I love you! Now that we've got that settled, what do you think of Martha Stewart's scandal? Guilty or not?
Scott Adams: Why do I always get listed second in the love department. Geez, I'm losing to a drawing now.
I say Martha will get off. That's a prediction, not a preference.
Springfield, Mo.: Did the events of Sept. 11 change the tenor or subject matter of the strip? How did they affect you and the strip?
Scott Adams: It only changed it for a few months. Now the only difference is that some topics (like airline crashes) are taboo and will remain that way for some time.
Lansing, Mich.: Dilbert has become something of a phenomenon, did you think that Dilbert would become the phenomenon that it is now when you first created it?
Scott Adams: I thought it would be bigger. I'm cursed with a continuous feeling of failure.
Vancouver, Canada: Is there any chance that list of the day will come back to the Dilbert site?
Scott Adams: I don't think so. It was a money-loser for United Media and for me.
Istanbul, Turkey: Lots of funny characters come and go. Generated mostly from the U.S. spreading out to the world. I guess it's pretty amazing that cartoons catch the whole world's attention at once.
My question for Scott Adams is:
Will Dilbert ever get old, retired? You know the Superman never got old. Neither did Spiderman. Besides, now that the things are changing (business changes, the companies change, etc.) will Dilbert change?
P.S. After the crisis of Xerox and WorldCom, Dilbert's company was "with the bankruptcy." Maybe this was a change?
Scott Adams: I don't think Dilbert will age unless I do. And I've stayed 12 years old for quite some time now.
Arlington, Va.: At any of your high school class reunions, have you ever seen the girl you were vying with for valedictorian? Do you think she ever regrets not taking typing?
Scott Adams: Heh heh. Thanks for asking. No, I've never returned to my home town even for a visit.
London, England: Are there any plans to release the Dilberito in the UK?
Scott Adams: Yes, but not this year.
Wilkes-Barre, Pa.: Have the ultimate cubicles you designed had a large affect on the business world?
Scott Adams: The ultimate cubicle was designed by IDEO and seems to have made an impression on people, but no commercial products yet. It did win some design awards.
Washington, D.C.: What is the deal with Dilbert's tie? Is it a defense mechanism? A pointed political statement? Do the colors represent, say, support for a political party, a soccer team?
Scott Adams: It means he's happy to see you, Rick.
Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Scott,
Love your work! I don't always read the business section here, so I get the daily Dilbert e-mail. Perhaps you should plug that for those who are too lame to turn the page?
Scott Adams: Good point. You can get Dilbert by e-mail if you sign up at dilbert.com.
Thanks for the plug idea.
Philadelphia, Pa.: Are you wearing your robe and slippers?
Scott Adams: I'm wearing a pink teddy and high heels.
Using a Mac to draw?: Do you actually draw your cartoon with a Mac? I visualize a cartoonist standing over a slanted table, painstakingly inking his pencil-drawn strips.
Scott Adams: I draw in pencil, then ink by hand, then scan and do the lettering, shading and clean-up on the Mac.
Caracas, Venezuela: Hi Mr Adams. I am a new reader from Venezuela. I am sorry for my English. My questions are:
What inspired you to do Dilbert Strip's?
How can Dogbert be Dilbert's friend if he is so shallow and selfish?
Scott Adams: Truthfully, I wanted an easier job. The cubicle life wasn't working out for me.
Out in California: I loved Mebert -- the management consultant who cooperated with the SJ Merc News. Any chance he'll take on another assignment?
Scott Adams: Mebert was me in disguise. I visited a high tech company pretending to be a famous consultant named Ray Mebert. I don't think I can get away with that again.
London, England: Why did you choose to do those comics for the Web site "Google.com" recently?
Scott Adams: Fun and exposure. People clicked on the comic and went to dilbert.com, many for the first time.
DC: Will the Dilbert TV show be released on DVD?
Scott Adams: I don't know. I'm about seven layers away from someone who could answer that question by saying, "I'll get back to you."
Rockville, MD: When I think of the dark hole of misery that we call cubicle life, I think of two things that can relate: Dilbert comic strips and the movie Office Space. Did you like that movie?
Scott Adams: It seemed a bit...derivative.
Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia: I have not seen many Dilbert books here in Malaysia. Can you tell me where to get some of your books? The latest book I've seen is only the Dilbert Future.
Scott Adams: How far can you swim?
Arlington, Va.: Thank you so much for Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light. My last boss was named Phil, and those of us doomed to work for him almost couldn't contain ourselves whenever a Phil cartoon showed up. Any chance he'll be around again?
Scott Adams: Yes, Phil will return. I'm not sure when.
Linlithgow, West Lothian, Scotland: Where did you get the name "Dilbert" from?
Scott Adams: My old boss at the bank suggested it.
Laurel: You realize, of course, there are only about five people reading chat who aren't supposed to be working right now.
Scott Adams: Excellent. Ken Lay might have stolen millions (allegedly) but you can get yours a minute at a time.
E. Lansing, MI: Do you have any future projects other than Dilbert? If so what are they?
Scott Adams: I'm building a second restaurant in Dublin, CA. That's kinda fun.
Falls Church, Va.: Did you like Pearls Before Swine's recent takeoff on your strip? Did they get permission first? Your Ratbert is cuter than their Rat.
Scott Adams: The cartoonist for Pearls is a buddy. I like anything that shows Dilbert. By the way, it's one of the best new comics ever.
Get Fuzzy, Dilbert: You wrote of Darby Conley's fairly new strip, "Get Fuzzy": "If you're not reading [it], you should be." Were you just blowing hot air or are you best buds? "Dilbert" and "Get Fuzzy" (and "Pearls before Swine") are the only strips I really read any more.
AND: Do you miss Bill Watterson as much as I do?
Scott Adams: I love those comics. Fuzzy will probably be the next megahit comic. And Pearls makes me laugh out loud.
Jonesboro, Ark.: Has it been your experience that physical exercise interferes with or enhances your creativity?
Scott Adams: It enhances it. Anything that makes you happier and healthier is good. I work out 5 days a week.
Dallas, Tex.: What inspired Asok? He sure sounds Indian.
Scott Adams: I had a friend with that name. He neglected to tell me that the usual spelling is Ashok, not Asok. I've heard from approximately 200 million Indians telling me I spelled it wrong.
Chicago, Ill.: Why do all of the fans asking you questions here seem to be pathetic? Oh no, that means me too, don't post this.
Scott Adams: I pity you. (It had to be said.)
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: Does Alice style her hair after Maslow's hierarchy of needs? Or is she just having a bad hair life? Do tell.
Scott Adams: It's patterned after the most common shape in a barnyard, not counting the cows.
Windham, N.Y.: Scott, hard to believe you come from such a hick backwater. Anyhooo, how do you keep in touch with cubicle life now that you are a famous, non-cubicle dwelling gazillionaire?
Scott Adams: Impostor! There's no way you're from my home town because you spelled most of the words correctly.
Poole, UK: What qualifications does Wally actually have?! Apart from being able to manipulate his quarterly reviews he shows no other desirable skills!
Scott Adams: He work-avoidance skills are almost mystical.
San Francisco, Calif.: Hi Scott,
I read your story in the Chicken Soup for the soul series, what an inspiration!
Scott Adams: You know they don't pay me for that story? I should picket.
Sarasota, Fla.: Mr. Adams,
What are your feelings or ideas about your book, "God's Debris," now that it's been out for some time? Would you write another like it?
Scott Adams: I enjoyed writing it, and a lot of people told me it was the best book they ever read. But the market for that sort of thing seems small compared to Dilbert stuff. So we'll see if I get inspired again.
Fairfax, Va.: Rubber Babies.
There's nothing funnier than that. Bring em back?
Scott Adams: I think the lazy beaver was funnier, but I see what you're saying. Juggling rubber babies is funny.
Limerick, Pa.: The only thing I love more than reading the strip is reading your books. Your combination of logic and humor is devastating. I'm guessing that your IQ is in the Vos Savant range. Have you ever had it measured? (Your IQ, I mean)
Scott Adams: Thanks, Mom.
I was in Mensa for about a year. But I stopped paying the dues and they revoked 10 points of my IQ.
Cubeland, Md.: We love you! Every time management does something dumb, we look at each other and say "It's a Dilbert!" Dilbert is daily confirmation that we're still in touch (however tenuous with reality). How do you stay so in tuned with what's going on in the workplace?
Scott Adams: Thanks to the kindness of strange people who send me e-mail.
London, England: What would you have done if United Media or any other syndicators refused to buy Dilbert?
Scott Adams: I would have become a dotcom founder and stolen huge piles of money from unsuspecting investors.
Wilkes-Barre,PA: My friend teaches marketing at King's College and uses your strip in class. Any chance Dilbert will be visiting the marketing department soon?
Scott Adams: No, but he might be visiting King's College to collect his royalty checks.
St. Petersburg, FL: What's the most embarrassing experience you've had in a business setting?
Scott Adams: I once laughed so hard at the stupidity of another attendee that I started sobbing uncontrollably (really) and had to excuse myself. I came back in a few minutes and did the same thing again.
Kendal, Cumbria, U.K.: Did you have any advanced warning about WorldCom problems, as the Dibert Web site had Dilbert making his company's accounts more confusing, the same week that the WorldCom problems came out?
Scott Adams: If I can teach you just one thing, it's that you never need advanced warning that people will be weasels.
Silver Spring, MD: Enough hero worship going on here. I think "Dilbert" was originally quite funny, but has become formulaic. Sort of like "Garfield" and coffee jokes. Do you disagree?
Scott Adams: I disagree with the part where you said it used to be funny. Personally, I just don't get it.
But I think cats and coffee are hilarious.
Upper Darby, Pa.: My friend, Chris, and his fiance are trying to get pregnant and he is missing this chat for an appointment with a fertility specialist who will check to see if "his boys can swim". I told him I'd ask you for any advice. Well?
Scott Adams: Tell his fiance to stop by my office and I'll see what I can do. I hope Chris is blonde.
Ridgewood, N.J.: I'm one of those not actually working. I'm part-time (gasp)! What do you do with all your Dilbert $$?? What's the coolest thing you've bought (things for the cats don't count!).
Scott Adams: Actually, the most fun thing is my Dilberito food company. I like trying to make the world a better place, despite all appearances to the contrary.
Knoxville Tennessee: What are the chances of Dilbert (or Dogbert) receiving a response to a letter written to Dr. Stephen Hawking concerning superstring theory and stupidity constants in upper management?
Scott Adams: About the same odds as superstring theory being proven true.
Trenton, N.J.: A pointy-haired imposter asked us (senior staff) to bring in something 'inspirational' for the next meeting. I read excerpts from the "Out at Five" Chapter of The Dilbert Principle. He was not appreciative...! But, the other DNRC member in the group was tickled pink.
Scott Adams: You are my hero.
I hope your next job goes better.
Bellingham, Wash.: I just want to say that "The Dilbert Principle" is great. I'm in college for Business Computing and I think your book is more realistic than the textbooks I have to wade through. Are there any colleges that use your books as textbooks?
Scott Adams: Actually, yes. And you should avoid those colleges.
Davebert: Love your strip. I am a software engineer (primary tasks: eating donuts and writing status reports). I am being morphed into a PHB by lack of training to keep me current. By the way, where is that ANY key?
Scott Adams: By the time you read this, you won't understand Dilbert comics. It is so sad when someone goes to the dark side.
Washington, D.C.: Do you ever feel pressure to make the strip more visually sophisticated? Seems to me that its great strength is really in the keen-edged observations rather than the drawings, and it's certainly a relief to have some keen-edged observations on the comics page. The drawings are less "artsy" than, for example, The Boondocks, though. Is this an issue you've devoted a lot of thought to, or do you just stick to your natural drawing style?
Scott Adams: Is "visually sophisticated" another way of saying my drawing sucks? Nicely done.
I keep it simple on purpose, because that best matches the style of the writing. See Pearls Before Swine for another example where the simple drawings actually compliment the writing.
Vienna Va: What prompted you into gradually making all the characters' faces shorter and fatter over the past 13 years?
Scott Adams: Maybe me spine is compressing with age. They look the same to me.
Baltimore, Md.: I recall several years ago, as part of an April Fool's Day gimmick, many cartoonists swapped for a day. You ended up drawing "Family Circus" that day while Mr. Keane took care of "Dilbert." Are there any other cartoonists you'd like to swap with for a day? For that matter, would you like Dilbert to do any "crossover" storylines -- perhaps date one of the Apartment 3-G women or work temporarily for Mr. Dithers? Thanks for reading, and -- oops! -- the cubicle police are here . . . must . . . go . . . now . . ACK!
Scott Adams: I'd like to swap with Prince Valiant for a day. I think I could show how to draw that thing in five minutes.
E. Lansing, Mich.: Where do you think Dilbert as a comic strip is heading? That is, are you going to be focused more on current corporate issues or are you going for a more "wacky stuff happening in a business" type thing?
Scott Adams: I don't like to use the headlines for material but lately it's unavoidable. I never plan the strip. It just evolves.
Alexandria, VA: If you broke both hands in a hideous jump roping accident, what other profession would you choose to pursue?
Scott Adams: Well, movie reviewer for Porn is out of the question.
Suitland, Md.: I don't have a question, just a thank you for showing what I've noticed and proving that I'm not crazy.
Scott Adams: You're not?
Caracas, Venezuela: You are like a God to me. How can I be your humble servant? I really mean it. I know things about making web sites and maintaining computers.
If you give me something I can do via e-mail for you I will send you my address.
Scott Adams: You really need to raise your standards for Gods. Can you wash my car?
Caracas, Venezuela: I read Dilbert's Future here in Venezuela.
I really appreciate the theories about parallel universes that you put there.
That brought me to my question. There is a religion called Kabalah, and they purpose the same thing. Are you a Kabalist?
Scott Adams: Yes, in a parallel universe.
Arlington, Va.: Mr. Adams, thank you for representing us in the office space so well. I have various panels from your cartoons all over my office, and some of them are so appropriate to my (and, I'm sure, others) situation that it's almost as if you've worked with me. Do people still email you ideas?
Scott Adams: Yes, they send me ideas. But the lazy %#$*s refuse to draw the comic too, so I have to do that part.
Tysons Va: Thanks for injecting humor in what can be a pretty humorless topic (that's why they call it "work", right?) If someone told you they had saved several years' worth of your daily strips and used them to create a "wallpaper" border in their bathroom, would you be offended? Sue for copyright infringement?
Scott Adams: Well, I wouldn't ask to use your bathroom, that's for sure.
I've heard of managers using the strip in the bathroom but not for wallpaper if you catch my drift.
Washington, D.C.: So what's the meaning of life?
Scott Adams: It just so happens that I know the meaning of life and I have been authorized to tell you in this chat.
The meaning of life is...hold on...we're out of time. I knew I should have typed faster.
Scott Adams: Thanks for the questions. Now it's time for all of you to get back to pretending to work in some other fashion.
Suzanne Tobin: Thanks so much to Scott and to all the readers who participated in our chat. Such an international chat...I'm so proud. We'll all be looking to late October when "Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel" hit the bookstores. I'm my way right now to go buy "God's Debris" and "Another Day in Cubicle Paradise." I hope all of you will do the same. Join us again in two weeks with another guest on "Comics" Meet the Artist." But I've got to say, Scott, that you'll be a VERY tough act to follow.
Scott Adams: Bye
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