Once again I have inadvertently created the same comic twice. Call it self-plagiarism if you must. The first one ran 5/25/07:

Then on 9/18/08 its fraternal twin appeared. Readers were quick to let me know.

In my defense, it isn't a case of laziness. Drawing is the hard part for me, not the writing, and both comics were drawn from scratch. It isn't a case of running out of ideas; I always have plenty of those, thanks to readers submitting material. So what the hell is wrong with me? I'll use this excuse to give you a tour of my creative process.

Every comic starts with a basic premise, either from my own experience, reader suggestions, or the business headlines. I typically start drawing the first panel of the comic before I know where it is heading. The premise tells me which characters will be involved and where they will be. It helps to start drawing right away because I feel as if I am making progress. No writer wants to look at a blank screen.

When the characters appear, it's almost as if they suggest dialog. I think a similar thing happens for movie writers who find it helpful to imagine a specific actor in a role when creating dialog. Seeing a character helps you find the right voice.

Once the first panel is drawn as a rough draft, I tinker with the words. I might do a first draft of the writing all the way to the end just to make sure the characters appear in the order they will be speaking. I'll go back and fiddle with the wording between spurts of drawing. As I get deeper into the process I inevitably have the following thought: Did I already do this exact comic, or does it just seem that way because I have been thinking about it for the past hour?

I've created 365 Dilbert comics a year for 19 years. I remembered all of them for about the first four years. Now it is impossible. So I sit there for a few minutes rummaging through my memories and finding nothing but spider webs. At this point I will digress and give you my untested theory about creativity:

Creativity is highly correlated to poor memory.

For me, ideas stream through my head at a frantic pace. I feel like a bear trying to grab a salmon. If my paw misses its target, that salmon is gone for good. I don't dwell on it. I just lunge for the next salmon. I think people who have fewer thoughts per hour have time to let them settle in and form memories. It's just a theory.

To make matters worse, every few months I like to draw a generic character that has something horrible happen to his head. I just like how it looks. Sometimes the head explodes. Sometimes it turns into a skull, or shrinks, or enlarges, whatever. These are especially hard to remember because they get lumped in my memory and congeal over time into "things that happened to heads."

The punch line for my recent repeated joke, "Clean up on aisle three," wasn't original the first time I wrote it. It's funny in part because the phrase is so common, even in the context of humor. When you pair a common phrase with an uncommon situation, such as an exploding head, the reader's brain has a little hiccup over the juxtaposition, and that triggers the laugh reflex. Gary Larson was the master of that method. His Far Side comics often featured unusual characters in bizarre situations saying things you hear all the time.

You can go the other way too. I often mix unusual wording with mundane office situations to produce the same mental hiccup. Why say you attended a long meeting when you can say you watched your irrational optimism circle the drain, starving and screaming at the same time?

And always end with a clean finish. Like this.

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Oct 1, 2008
totally unrelated. i am deeply disappointed that dilbert.com greeted me with a popup ad. this spruced up site is too fancy for my breeches.
Sep 30, 2008
I think what you are really saying, is that studies have proven that ADHD individuals are highly creative and have poor memory... Has something to do with the way the synapses work.
Sep 27, 2008
Search problem solved!

What good are ideas if they remain just that. There is a Free service (evernote.com) that will take images, look for text in them and make that text searchable. Long story short, here is a few years of Dilbert:


Go ahead search for "head explode" and see what comes up.
Sep 25, 2008
I don't understand why you don't index your old cartoons and then just search them for key phrases. Pay some Scott-worshipping flunky on this forum to go through all 19 years of comics and enter them into a database, then pay some underappreciated code monkey to write you a searching algorithm. You could even, if it were clever enough, search for particular drawings, not just words, although words would have sufficed in this case.

Or, hec, strike a deal with Larry Page to get them all indexed by Google and search for it yourself.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 22, 2008
To be fair, most of the early Dilbert strips relied on unique situations and punchlines. If I'd drawn 4,000 strips over the last decade wherein somebody handed a damned document to somebody else, I'd probably start blurring them together as well.
Sep 22, 2008
Well, considering how the second comic has a much more interesting and difficult perspective in the second panel, the follow-up comic is rather interesting. It's like the remixed version of the original one. Compared to a Sabbatical, it's not bad at all.

I find it interesting that you call the second one a "fraternal twin". It's the same people, the same places, the same punch line. It's just drawn in a different manner, and it does seem to (like the other similarity comic's you've posted) flow better; in the latter comic the reason for Ted's head exploding is better connected to the boss's actions. In the first he's so busy he feels like his head will explode, and given another task it does. There is a connection but it isn't as strong as the second. In the second one the boss says that Ted said that being given another task will cause his head to explode, and when the boss gives him another task it does just that.

This sort of disconnect makes the humor less accessible. While in this case it all follows very well, in the most recent Sunday comic (Sept. 21) there was a disconnect between the start and the end of the comic that made it difficult to follow, and the reader had to make a few assumptions in order to properly get the joke.
Sep 22, 2008
I have excellent memory and really poor creative skills. Your hypothesis may be accurate !
Sep 22, 2008
Creativity is highly correlated to poor memory.

Ouch. I *used* to consider myself creative, now I cannot. Thanks a lot, Scott.
Sep 20, 2008
I think your subconscious was trying to warn you that you had done this comic before. This time you wrote "Ted, I know you said....." as if you knew you had already said the same things before.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 20, 2008
Of the two, I prefer the earlier one. We don't actually see the head exploding, and the PHB shows the effects of being close to the explosion. Having to imagine what is going on in the cubicle makes it funnier.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 20, 2008
My first thought was, I'm surprised it doesn't happen a lot more often.

My second thought was, what really interesting are the differences, not the similarities. After all, if two products come from the same source, and they are different, what has changed at the source?
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 20, 2008
Today I made the sad discovery that I can't vote for my blog entries anymore (:
Sep 20, 2008
Don't view this as plagiarism. See it as a sequel. Obviously the Boss is capable of Pavlovian Learning. The second time around he knew to stand far enough away to not be impacted by the concusive force, or brain bits. He kept his suit in pristine condition!
Sep 20, 2008
"User Name: JoshP Sep 19, 2008 2
No worries, mate.

As you just demonstrated, it happens to the best of us. Keep up the good work."

I second what Josh said.

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 20, 2008
OMG @tkjohns, this happened to me as well, not in the garage but that doesn't matter. LOL!
Sep 20, 2008
The demands of the newspaper comics industry are about as anti-creativity as one can imagine - high volume, constant deadlines, extremely tight restrictions on what you're allowed to do, etc. You're a badass because you've remained creative for longer than most people in your field have, Scott, and for doing it solo. It's worth noting that many long-running strips have been handed from one artist to another, or have multiple people working on them.

Personally, I prefer what you come up with when you're given the most freedom, maybe that's why I read this blog everyday and your strip once every so often (my favorite strips often stray from the office). You have a very powerful mind, and it's fun to see what you can do when you have the most artistic control.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 19, 2008
I don't know why, but this discussion reminds me of the day I walked into my garage to find some tool or other, couldn't find it, and actually considered hitting ctrl-f.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 19, 2008
Just a thought.
Those with an innate ability for memorization file things neatly in their minds. Those that do not have good memories file in disparate parts of the brain. When the former try to recall something they efficiently go to the right place. The latter must search a multitude of areas; this takes more time but in the process they put together connections that the former would miss. Filing in such a disorganized way unites dissimilar ideas and facts and from these original/creative ideas are formed. If the latter practiced memorization techniques it may improve their creativity (as one blogger suggested) because the data are still being filed inefficiently but they are simply better at retrieving.
If you had difficulty remembering to which type of memory former and latter refer to in the above paragraph, you are probably creative :)

Sep 19, 2008
My head sure felt like it was exploding all week. Guess Bush decided to try and clean up the mess this morning. Augh! Perfect cartoon for today....
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 19, 2008
I was just going to suggest you should make the Dilbert archive searchable by dialog text, but then I noticed like 28 out of 29 other comments were already about the same idea. However, unlike the other commenters, I really want that feature for myself too! Sometimes I need a comic strip to make a point in a presentation or on a birthday card, and then I recall that there was once a particular Dilbert strip that would fit exactly, but then I can't find it in the archive because of course I can't remember the date, or even the year. Sometimes a search on Google images will turn it up, but more often not, partly I think because it is not legal for fans to host Dilbert strips on their own web pages, or even transcripts.

So, my point is, you really don't need to pay anybody to enter all that text, just add an "edit transcript and keywords" button to the widget, and let us fans do all the work. Think Wikipedia. Or Galaxy Zoo. Actually if you can make dilbert.com users feel useful by transcribing strips, I'm sure many of them will happily spend hours and hours doing just that, thereby even reading much more strips than they normally would. Not everybody feels creative enough to write mashups - give those skilled only in typewriting a chance to contribute to the cause too...
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