Scott Adams, Creator of Dilbert

12 July 2002

   It was bound to happen sooner or later. Big business and corporations have so much farcical stuff going on that it just can’t be ignored. The red tape, the irritating office politics, the decisions that make not a hint of sense to the workers and the insane cutbacks provide an unending supply of comic material for an insider turned cartoonist. But in an ironic turn-around, the man pointing his finger and laughing at the corporate world has become a corporation himself.

   Born from the musings of the unsatisfied Scott Adams, Dilbert was an immediate hit with millions of disgruntled office workers. The comic creation was the first cartoon to have its own website, and continues to have a huge following of web surfers. Dilbert also is no slouch when it comes to print; the comic appears in over 2,000 newspapers in 65 countries and is translated into 19 languages.*(1) It is not a favourite of children, though – these legions of fans are almost all adults.

   Dilbert is the classic cubicle worker, noted as a modern “Dagwood” (created by Chic Young.) Readers identify with the universal characters and share the frustrations of the daily absurd grind. Adams was a suffering corporate employee for 16 years, and continually searched for a better way to make a living. He worked for only two companies in his corporate career: San Francisco’s Crocker National Bank from 1979 to 1986, where he held a variety of positions from teller to financial analyst(and where he was robbed at gun-point twice), then on to Pacific Bell in San Ramon, CA, from 1986 to 1995 in technology and finance.

    Drawing the cartoon as only rough doodles, Adams used his comics for presentations in his job at Pacific Bell in the late 1980s. He received good responses from his colleagues for his work.

    On their advice, he developed the cartoon idea further and submitted his efforts to United Media Syndicate. Adams was the right cartoonist at the right time. United Media called him within a few short weeks with a contract. It was his first effort at syndication. He refined the comic strip over several months, preparing Dilbert for the publication debut in 1989.


    Adams continued working at Pacific Bell during the day and created his comic strip on evenings and weekends. In a interview on October 6, 2000, Adams listed three reasons for continuing at his corporate job. Income security, cartoon insecurity (19 of 20 comic strips don’t last for more than a few years) and the ongoing source of comic material kept his nose to the grindstone. *(2) He kept up the pace of double work until he was downsized in 1995. He decided to take a jump into full-time cartooning. The Scott Adams/Dilbert transformation into a corporation had begun.

    Adams has no trouble coming up with ideas to keep the long-running comic strip hilarious.Dilbert, Catbert, Dogbert, the nameless Boss and several unique office staffers come to life in pencil sketches in the mornings when the cartoonist's ideas are fresh. Adams does the more exacting work of inking in the evening and completes the lettering and shading on his computer.

    The characters of Dilbert are a major merchandising success. Available in dolls, watches, mugs, t-shirts, sweatshirts, mousepads, computer games, there is a long and varied list of goods. There are more than 22 Dilbert comics collections in print, plus four business books written by Scott Adams. His first two books, The Dilbert Principle and Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook, by Harpercollins Publishers, each achieved Number One on the New York Times bestseller list.

    Books and merchandise are only the beginning of corporate triumph for Scott Adams. He was on the speaker’s circuit from 1995 to 1999, becoming “one of the most popular and highly compensated public speakers in America.” *(3) He is co-executive producer of the UPN channel’s Dilbert animated cartoon. Along with a partner, Adams is co-owner of "Stacey’s Café", a popular restaurant in Pleasanton, California. The menu includes quirky notations and comments with each entrée item.

    As a well-known vegetarian, Adams is concerned with healthy eating for everyone. He is CEO of his own food business, Scott Adams Foods. The thriving company produces a burrito-like food filled with veggies, rice and potato, and 23 essential vitamins and minerals to meet daily requirements. Not surprisingly, he has given his product the name "Dilberito."

dilbert 2

    Scott Adams was born in Windham, New York on June 8, 1957 and is now a resident of Danville, California. He earned a BA in Economics in 1979 at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, an MBA at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1986. He also has a certificate in Hypnosis from the Clement School of Hypnosis in 1981. The National Cartoonist Society awarded Adams the coveted Reuben for Cartoonist of the Year in 1997.




© Susanna McLeod 2002  
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on