An Interview with the “Dilbert” Cartoonist Scott Adams (2024)

Scott Adams is the genius behind the comic strip “Dilbert,” and behind every genius is a stalker, lurking in a crawl space. I like to think that each of our readers is like that stalker: hungry, semi-naked, and scratching at an itch that doesn’t exist. I’m almost choked up now.

And now, the man, the legend, Scott Adams:

Cartoon Lounge: Scott, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I’ve already buried your fee of fifty gold doubloons in your back yard, as per your instructions. You have a very beautiful garden.

Scott Adams: (Nods, lips sealed tightly.)

C.L.: How does it make you feel that “Office Space,” “The Office,” the American version of “The Office,” the German version of “The Office,” and the animated television show “Dilbert” all stole your idea?

S.A.: I would feel bad if I hadn’t stolen the idea of a loser with a talking dog from Charles Schulz. My contribution to the creative process was realizing Dilbert would starve if he didn’t have a job.

C.L.: When you first started drawing “Dilbert,” were people in your office mad? Was your boss like, “Wait a second…I have pointy hair…”?

S.A.: I had several different bosses during the early years of “Dilbert.” They were all pretty sure I was mocking someone else.

C.L.: Do you own a dogbert?

S.A.: I recently got a toy Australian Shepherd. I’m teaching her to walk on two legs (really) because I think it’s funny. Not all the time, but at least when company comes over. If I can get her to wear glasses, that’s pure comedy gold.

C.L.: A rat?

S.A.: I’m sure there is a rat around here someplace.

C.L.: Dinosaur?

S.A.: Hard to say. They are notoriously good at hiding.

C.L.: How did you first get published, and when did you become syndicated?

S.A.: For the full story, see my new twentieth anniversary book, “Dilbert 2.0.” (Smooth, eh?) The short version is that I bought a book on how to become a cartoonist and followed the directions on submitting work to the big comic-syndication outfits. I was rejected by all of them but United Media. Before that, my only attempt at commercial cartooning had been some submissions to magazines such as The New Yorker and Playboy, all rejected. (Actually, the comics rejected by the The New Yorker and Playboy are in “Dilbert 2.0.”)

C.L.: Do you generally come up with a bunch of strips for the week in one sitting, or spread it out over the week?

S.A.: For most of my career I did one comic a day, every day, including weekends and holidays. After I got married a few years ago, I have been doing two dailies per day on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and one Sunday comic on Wednesdays. That gets me ahead for vacations, and leaves weekends mostly open.

C.L.: How far in advance do you have to have a strip in?

S.A.: I think it’s about five weeks for daily comics and nine weeks for Sundays.

C.L.: You lost the ability to draw. How did this happen, what was it like for you, and how did you overcome it?

S.A.: It was tough. I burned out my drawing hand by using it too much. The common word for it is writer’s cramp. The fancy words for it are focal dystonia. The symptom in my case was a pinky finger that went spastic when I tried to draw.

I first got symptoms over ten years ago, and drew some strips left-handed while working through it. Over time, I retrained the hand by a gradual process of getting closer and closer to the motion of drawing without actually drawing, until my brain somehow allowed it. (The problem is in the brain. That can be proven by the fact that my right hand would spasm when I drew with my left hand.) Anyway, I was probably the first person who ever overcame that particular problem.

About ten years later, I overused the hand again, and the problem returned. This time I ditched paper and pen and started using the Wacom Cintiq 21 ux, which allows me to draw directly to the computer screen. Although the motion is the same as drawing on paper, my brain doesn’t recognize it as such, and I have no problems whatsoever. Now the dystonia has gone away again, but would pop up if I started overusing the hand and drawing on paper again. But that won’t happen. The computer cuts my production time in half. I love it.

C.L.: You lost the ability to speak. How did this happen, what was it like for you, and how did you overcome it?

S.A.: These dystonia problems often travel in pairs. After a bout of a routine respiratory virus, plus allergies, I got a normal case of laryngitis that never went away. It morphed (again from overuse and straining the voice muscles) into something called spasmodic dysphonia. The vocal cords would clench shut when I tried to speak, making it difficult for anyone to understand a word I said. I was essentially unable to speak for over three years. The condition is incurable, or so the literature says.

This summer, I had surgery at U.C.L.A. to rewire the nerves in my neck and cure this incurable condition. My surgeon, Dr. Berke, pioneered this technique. Apparently it worked, because for the past two weeks I have been able to speak. (It takes several months for the nerves to regenerate.) I can’t shout yet, but the prognosis is good. In casual conversation my voice sounds about normal, and will keep improving.

An Interview with the “Dilbert” Cartoonist Scott Adams (2024)


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