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'Dilbert' creator Scott Adams on cubicles and comics
Since its debut in 1989, "Dilbert" has found its way into some 1,900 newspapers in 57 countries and 19 languages. And yet, cartoonist Scott Adams tells CNN.com/career Senior Writer Larry Keller, he stayed in his own corporate job with Pacific Bell for years. "I had no idea the strip would last."
Adams chatted with CNN.com readers, capping the first week online for our new section about what "Dilbert" is about -- CNN.com/career.
CNN Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Scott Adams, and welcome.
Scott Adams: Hello, audience!
CNN Chat Moderator: How did you get the idea for Dilbert?
Scott Adams: Dilbert was a composite of my potato-shaped co-workers at Pacific Bell, when I had a cubicle job of my own.
Comment from CUBICLE-KID: I never knew how absurd office life was and how true "Dilbert" is until I worked in a cubicle.
Scott Adams: Gosh, that's a stumper! Try to dig an escape hatch in your cubicle. If you use a pencil and yellow sticky pads, you can fashion a crude shovel to build your escape tunnel. That's the best advice I have.
Question from IDPOIRP: Scott Adams, what was your favorite "Dilbert" cartoon?
Scott Adams: I liked a cartoon that featured a lazy beaver talking to Dogbert, and Dogbert asked him how he builds his beaver home, being so lazy. The beaver's answer is that he rents. No one thinks that's funny, except me.
Question from Jared: Scott, what do you think of the recent surge of tech-oriented cartoon strips on the Web, such as "User Friendly" (http://www.userfriendly.org/static/) and "BadTech" (http://www.badtech.com) Can a cartoonist be successful only on the web?
Scott Adams: No cartoonist has ever been hugely successful just on the Web, unless you count "Dilbert," which used its Web success to get into more newspapers. But someday, cartoons will only be on the Web. I just don't know how long that will be.
Question from IDPOIRP: Scott, did you ever think "Dilbert" would grow so much when you drew your first cartoon? And when did you finally realize that you had created something so successful?
Scott Adams: I always expected "Dilbert" to be much, much bigger than it is. Every morning I wake up in shame. I bang my head on the side of my desk, shouting, "Why, why, why couldn't I have worked harder??" But maybe I'm being hard on myself.
Question from LaszloG: Scott, what kind of reaction do you get from the managers/"i-duh-ots" that read "Dilbert?"
Scott Adams: There's a lot of drooling. But most managers are fairly certain that I'm talking about someone else, perhaps their own boss, so no one takes it personally.
CNN Chat Moderator: Do you find that some people don't like your cartoon because it hits too close to home?
Scott Adams: There are 6 billion people on Earth. I like to think they all like my cartoons. If anyone has names of people who don't, please send them to me, and I will have my goons visit them immediately.
Question from Aurora: Thanks for all your right-on-target cartoons about ISO 9000 ! What's the next management/business fad you see being inflicted on Dilbert and his cubicle-mates?
Scott Adams: The biggest thing I hear about lately is the open-office plan where there are no cubicle walls. I believe the next logical phase is that the trends for casual clothing and decreased cubicle walls will convert, and you will be forced to wear your cubicle instead of clothing, in a barrel fashion with suspenders. That will be your signal to become an independent entrepreneur.
Question from Julia-CNN: Do you think "Dilbert" is a timeless cartoon or does it take a lot of effort to keep up with the times?
Scott Adams: I think that idiot bosses are timeless, and as long as there are annoying people in the world, I won't run out of material. However, you'll notice that the technology will change in the strip. For example, Dilbert recently got a flat-screen monitor, but his boss is still just as stupid.
Question from joe: Since you left Pacific Bell, how do you keep current with office idiocies?
Scott Adams: I have my own food company, where I make a product called the Dilberito, so I'm a pointy-haired boss. So I can write about myself now. The only difference is, I no longer think it's funny. Check http://dilberito.com for details on the food business.
Question from darragh: What's in a Dilberito?
Scott Adams: It's vegetarian, with 100 percent of your daily values of vitamins and minerals, and of course, some hidden aphrodisiacs. But we don't mention those on the label.
Question from faarbs: What's going on with the TV show?
Scott Adams: The television show has tragically been cancelled, which is a mixed blessing for me. Because I have to tell you that sitting in my underwear and watching television is much easier than creating the television show for other people to sit in their underwear and watch.
Question from geneboynathan: Scott, with all the talk of copyright infringement with Napster, how do you feel about people using your work in presentations, posting on walls where others can see, etc.? Also, can I use some of your comics in a presentation I'm going to give soon?
Scott Adams: United Media owns the "Dilbert" copyright, so you need permission from them. Check the Web site http://dilbert.com As for Napster and its brethren, I fully expect those will put me out of business. I just don't know when.
Question from faarbs: Why doesn't Dilbert become a consultant?
Scott Adams: Dilbert might become a free agent some day, or possibly start his own high-tech pre-IPO company.
CNN Chat Moderator: If people have stories they want to share with you, how can they contact you?
Scott Adams: They can contact me by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org -- I don't accept snail-mail, but I'm very appreciative of all e-mail, and if some of you could actually start drawing my characters, that would really take a load off.
Question from CUBICLE-KID: Despite the absurdity of office life and work, is it really worth it, you think? I'm 19 and just starting to work in the office life before I hit college
Scott Adams: It's worth it if you're one of these whiny people who insist on eating each and every day, but if you can tough it out, perhaps living off the land, then I recommend not working for a corporation.
Question from IDPOIRP: How much time do you spend on each "Dilbert" cartoon strip?
Scott Adams: I take from the question an inference that I should be spending a little more time, but normally, each daily cartoon takes about an hour to write and draw in pencil, and another hour to ink and scan and clean up on my computer. The Sunday strip takes about six hours, start to finish. I do one cartoon every day, including weekends and holidays.
Question from elvis: Scott, have you noticed any differences in the stories you receive from Net startups and those from established corporations?
Scott Adams: The only stories I seem to receive from startups is people complaining about the worthlessness of their stock options, or exhibiting stock-option envy of people they hear about who are making it big.
Question from Julia-CNN: Which of your characters are you most like?
Scott Adams: I'm a combination of several characters. Physically, I'm a thinner, shorter, balder version of Dilbert. Same glasses. But attitude-wise, I'm pure Dogbert, with a dash of Wally.
Question from: Espresso: What do you do for fun?
Scott Adams: I play tennis twice a week, and I eat. That's about it.
Question from Seng: What is the true meaning of the tie? The little curl at the end that seems to change, etc.
Scott Adams: The answer to that question depends on the age of the person I'm talking to. Since I assume all of the school-age chatters are in school right now, I can tell the rest of you... oops... bad connection. I may have lost that last sentence. I hope that clears everything up.
Question from bertbert: I'm not much of a fan of your comic strip but my dog has been a faithful reader since '94. Lately he has been spending a lot of time in the basement working on some "secret plan." Should I be worried? And isn't true that Dogbert is a bad influence on the young pups in this country?
Scott Adams: That's a big question from someone who isn't much of a fan. bertbert, given that there are perhaps 6 million chats going on right now, you chose a strange one to participate in. And yes, Dogbert will corrupt our youth, and you too, bertbert. As for your dog, I recommend boarding up the basement, and selling the house.
Question from max: Did you get rich with "Dilbert" comics?
Scott Adams: Yes.
Question from HotShot: Who inspired your character of Alice?
Scott Adams: Alice is based on a woman I used to work with, who had similar big hair, and an outfit like Alice's. She was famous for being able to make grown men cry during business meetings. I liked her spunk. She now works for Cisco, in case you wondered.
Question from Patrick: "Dilbert" has managed to stay away from politics. Is that going to continue or will we start seeing some Gore/Bush type of jokes?
Scott Adams: You will not see politics in "Dilbert," because it runs in about 57 countries, and I have to tell you that the Lithuanians are not watching the Gore/Bush saga too closely.
Question from: Komejo: Have you had any problems with overly aggressive fans? Answer me!
Scott Adams: We're tracing your IP address even now. Stay on the line. Make sure you open your drapes, and stand near a window. My people will do the rest.
CNN Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us today?
Scott Adams: Thanks for participating. I hope this allowed you to avoid work while giving the appearance of work. My goal in life is to make each and every person work less while getting paid the same, in effect, boosting your hourly wage, so that people will stop me on the street and thank me for giving them a raise.
CNN Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today.
Scott Adams: Thanks!
Scott Adams joined the chat via telephone from his home in California. CNN.com provided a typist for him. The above is an edited transcript of this CNN.com/career chat, which took place on Friday, October 6, 2000.
Check out the CNN Chat calendar
Scott Adams: Cubicle refugee
Dilbert Zone - The Official Dilbert Website by Scott Adams
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