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Interview with Scott Adams

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams has been a bank teller, computer programmer, financial analyst, product manager, commercial lender, budget manager, strategist, project manager, and pseudo-engineer. He entertained himself during boring meetings by drawing cartoons of his co-workers and bosses, and eventually Dilbert emerged. Dilbert was launched in about 50 newspapers in 1989, and Adams now works full time speaking, writing, doing interviews and designing artwork for licensed products.

You can enter to win the Dilbert 2.0 Book in our 30 Days of Giveaways contest! We have several other great prizes to give away in November as well.

Is there a Dilbert character that you most identify with?
All of the Dilbert characters are imbued with different combinations of my own character flaws. But the voices nearest my own are some Dilbert and Dogbert.

Do you really have spies in every company in America feeding you the raw material for your scarily true strip?
I do have a lot of spies. But I discovered long ago that most companies have a lot in common. Whatever nonsense is happening in one place is almost certainly happening in others.

You started the strip over 20 years ago when you worked at Pac Bell. Did you base the characters on actual people, and did the people recognize themselves?
Some of the characters are based on real people. Wally is the guy who sat behind me. Alice is an engineer I worked with in a mostly male engineering group. Dilbert’s body is based on a guy I barely knew from my banking years. The models for Wally and Alice know they inspired Dilbert characters. The physical inspiration for Dilbert’s potato-shaped body probably has no idea. I know I never mentioned it to him.

What other current comic strips do you enjoy?
I like Pearls before Swine, F Minus, and Bad Reporter. They’re all edgy, smart, and well-written.

Please describe your workspace.
I work at home, upstairs in my office. I draw on my computer screen, so there are no traces of art supplies. My desk faces a big screen TV that is essential for the hours of mindless drawing I do every week.

What’s with Dilbert’s tie?
It’s a metaphor for his inability to control any part of his environment. Or maybe he’s just happy to have a job. It can go either way.

Alice has a new mod look. Does that mean we will be seeing a softer, gentler side of the “fist of death”?
Yes, I was getting a lot of complaints about the Fist of Death from people who thought it was too violent. You’ll see Alice’s anger, but not so much punching.

Has Bob the Dinosaur gone extinct? We haven’t seen much of him lately.
He shows up at least once a year. I just finished drawing him for an upcoming strip. But I watch the readers’ ratings for each comic on Dilbert.com and Bob doesn’t do so well compared to the human-only strips.

Any new characters we should be looking forward to meeting?
There will always be new characters passing through. But I only keep characters that get a big reaction from readers. That’s not predictable.

How far ahead do you work on the strip?
I’m about two months ahead of publication with my unfinished drawings. But I’m only a few weeks ahead of my internal deadlines for syndication.

Do you bounce story ideas off your wife?
No. I usually don’t know what I’m going to write until half a minute before I start drawing.

Are there many strips that are rejected by your syndicate?
Only a few per year get rejected for being too naughty or dangerous, but I’m hoping to increase that number. Safe isn’t fun.

What do you think you’d be doing if the whole cartoonist thing didn’t pan out?
I like to think that by now I would have created an Internet startup and sold it for a billion dollars. That was my backup plan.

Where did you go on your last vacation?
Hawaii. I like my vacations civilized. I’m not an adventurer. I get flop sweat anytime I lose my 4G signal.

What was the last book you enjoyed?
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life, by Charles Duhigg. It explains almost everything you need to know about irrational human behavior.

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