An interview with Dilbert creator Scott Adams, whose Dilbert 2.0: 20 Years of Dilbert, will be published by Andrews McMeel.
PW: Where did Dilbert (and, for that matter, Dogbert) come from? Did he/they just walk across your sketch pad one day?? Was he modeled on a real person?
SA: Dilbert’s look is based on a real person, who doesn’t know it. I worked with him but didn’t know him well. He just had an in-teresting potato-shaped body that was fun to draw. He started as a doodle at my day job at a bank. Dilbert’s lack of social skills is modeled on my own personality; his professional skills are a composite of engineers I have known. And Dogbert is partly based on a family dog who never once came when I called, and partly on my own evil side.
PW: What was it that made you realize—and when—that Dilbert had become an American icon?
SA: It was popular long before it became an icon. I started realizing it was an icon when “Dilbert” entered the language as slang for a cubicle worker, and “pointy-haired boss” became shorthand for bad management.
PW: How in general has Dilbert kept up with the changing times?
SA: Dilbert became popular during the downsizing of the ’90s, and job security was a major theme of the strip. When the Dotcom era arrived, Dilbert and the gang started getting cocky, just like real engineers. Lately the themes are more about external forces (outsourcing, mergers) and how they impact the employees. I just write about what’s happening and hope people like it. It isn’t more complicated than that.
PW: What is it about Dilbert that’s kept him in the public eye for nearly 20 years??
SA: I think Dilbert will remain popular as long as employees are frustrated and they fear the consequences of complaining too loudly. Dilbert is the designated voice of discontent for the workplace. I never planned it that way. It just happened.
PW: What might Dilbert say about the current financial crisis?
SA: I have some comics in the pipeline about bailouts and mergers. My focus is on the impact on employees as opposed to philoso-phy. Sometimes that looks like philosophy to readers.
PW: This mammoth Dilbert 2.0 you’ve just labored over: how did you decide what to include and what to leave out?? (And were those choices as tough as I think they were?!)
SA: Editing was tough. But it helped that all the comics would be included on the disc with the book. I picked the comics that made me laugh when I reread them, having forgotten most of them by the time I put the book together. And I also included all the ones that got me in trouble or stirred controversy, as well as ones that were too edgy for publication. (Those are my best work.)