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.

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +15
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
Sep 19, 2008
I'm so happy to hear about your feelings toward "head humor", and to know that I'll be able to enjoy pranks like this from you in the future. A huge weakness of mine is the fact that I often laugh hysterically at television shows, drawings, descriptions, or even just memories of people hitting their heads on doors and other fixed items, getting slapped, and hit by balls or other flying objects, etc. Family and friends always give me with weirdest looks.

And now, as my coworkers look on, I'm thinking about the classic shot of a storm trooper hitting his head on the doorway in the first Star Wars movie....
Sep 19, 2008
I like both versions - the second is like the directors cut of the first one :)
Sep 19, 2008
More interestingly, in a the time span of 1 year, Scott has gone from considering "cleanup" 2 words to considering it 2. At least it's interesting to me.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 19, 2008
Hi Scott,

When I read it, I did not think repeat. It seemed familiar, but I attribute the familiarity to the fact that I have read pretty much every panel you have written in the past 19 years. I think the comic from yesterday was better than the original. The artwork in the second panel is much more visually interesting this time.

Does someone down the supply channel get yelled at over such things? A publishers assistant, some junior editor, or somebody? How much of your business behaves like a typical office?

Sep 19, 2008
Log all the words of your comic strips to a database and you can do a corrolation algorithm to find out how similar your script is to others. Seems curious that you chose aisle three for both strips. You're not as random as you think.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 19, 2008
You should hire someone to write a search algorithm so you can quickly scan the archive of dilbert comics and see if you've done something already. It would be appreciated by your readers also who sometimes have trouble finding that certain dilbert cartoon.

I know you already have a search program for the comics, but it could be much better.

Also, nice post!
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 19, 2008
No worries, mate.

As you just demonstrated, it happens to the best of us. Keep up the good work.
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog