• Washington Post

Comics Industry Reacts to ‘Dilbert’ Creator Scott Adams’s Racist Rant

REUTERS/Fred Prouser/File Photo
Scott Adams, the creator of “Dilbert”, the cartoon character that lampoons the absurdities of corporate life, poses with two “Dilbert” characters at a party January 8, 1999 in Pasadena, Calif.

Robb Armstrong has launched what he calls the “black Sharpie revolt” after discovering that “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams made racist remarks last week on YouTube.

Armstrong is the creator of “JumpStart,” the long-running syndicated comic strip and in-development CBS television project that centers on a Black family in Philadelphia. For more than three decades, he has been a prominent voice of diversity on the comics page, even inspiring the last name of Franklin in “Peanuts.”

Armstrong also once considered himself a friend of Adams, beginning not long after the two men were signed and launched by the same syndicate, the now-defunct United Media, in the late 1980s. Adams even wrote a glowing blurb for a 2016 book written by Armstrong.

So Armstrong originally thought it was a prank when a friend told him that Adams had said on his “Real Coffee” YouTube show Wednesday that the “Dilbert” creator was promoting segregation, telling White people to “get the hell away from” Black people.

“My heart sank at first, then broke,” Armstrong tells The Washington Post. “I had to accept the reality that my friend from the early days was gone. In his place was a soulless, heartless racist.”

Armstrong turned to social media and urged readers who owned his 2016 book, “Fearless: A Cartoonist’s Guide to Life,” to cross out the Adams blurb, posting: “Use a thick black marker to stand up against racism.” Adams’s blurb calls the book “an inspiration” containing “some of the most insightful cartooning advice you will ever read.”

That campaign was among a series of strong and condemning reactions within the comics industry in recent days, after Adams’s racist rant in response to a Rasmussen poll that found 26 percent of Black Americans disagreed with the statement “It’s okay to be white,” compared with 12 percent of the general population, while an additional 21 percent of Black respondents said they were “not sure” about the statement. The Post’s Philip Bump wrote that Rasmussen “amplifies right-wing causes and rhetoric”; the slogan in the poll is sometimes associated with racist memes, and the Anti-Defamation League has deemed it a hate symbol.

Hundreds of papers, including The Post, have dropped the strip since last week. On Sunday, Adams’s syndicate and comics publisher, Andrews McMeel Universal, released a statement to say that the company was “severing our relationship” with Adams – a termination that extends across “all areas of our business” with the cartoonist and “Dilbert.”

Adams wrote on Twitter in response that “Dilbert has been cancelled from all newspapers, websites, calendars, and books because I gave some advice everyone agreed with. (My syndication partner canceled me.)” Adams also addressed the controversy in his Monday “Real Coffee” podcast.

When reached by The Post, Adams declined to comment on the AMU termination. On Saturday, he texted The Post about what his client list might be: “By Monday, around zero.”

In covering the controversy, Mike Peterson, columnist for the industry blog the Daily Cartoonist, wrote Monday that what “doomed” Adams was that he “let his increasingly antisocial personal views appear in the strip.” Peterson added that in “Dilbert,” “the focus on management foibles had long since gone stale and the new material was off-topic and not just conservative – a lot of strips are conservative – but openly offensive.”

Peterson, a retired editor, told The Post that he wished individual newspaper editors would “take responsibility” for what is in their newspapers. But “the bottom line,” he said, “is that Adams put his client papers in a position where cancellations were inevitable.”

At its peak, “Dilbert” was syndicated to more than 2,000 newspapers. In the ’90s, it became an iconic strip as a daily satiric response to office cubicle culture, spawning best-selling books, calendars and a short-lived UPN television show. In 1998, Adams received the prestigious Reuben Award as outstanding cartoonist from the National Cartoonists Society.

In a statement released Sunday, the NCS condemned “all forms of racism and discrimination,” adding that “racism has no place in our organization or in the world of cartooning.” And Penguin Random House announced that its imprint Portfolio will no longer publish the Adams book “Reframe Your Brain,” the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Darrin Bell, creator of “Candorville” and the only Black cartoonist to win the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, told The Post on Saturday that “Scott Adams is a disgrace” and compared Adams’s views to the Jim Crow era, as well as more recent examples of White supremacy. Bell added that he plans to spoof “Dilbert” in upcoming cartoons.

Other cartoonists began publishing their satiric parodies once the controversy made headlines.

Lalo Alcaraz, an editorial cartoonist for Andrews McMeel Syndication, drew the hand of Adams erasing “Dilbert” on the comics page. “I believe what Adams said was wrong, harmful and racist, and as I show in my editorial cartoon, he did it to himself,” Alcaraz told The Post on Sunday, adding: “Ultimately, he is the one who canceled himself by making a bad choice to continue pushing hate and conspiracies and doubling down on them constantly.”

Some other cartoonists, such as Luke McGarry and Clay Jones, depicted Adams’s titular office-drone character as bigoted – including McGarry’s depiction of him in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood and Jones’s rendering of him eating a meal with former president Donald Trump, the rapper Ye and white supremacist and antisemite Nick Fuentes. “It’s huge that the creator of something so many people found joy in reveals himself as a racist,” Jones told The Post, adding: “‘Dilbert’ is probably among the last of the big comic strips in a dying industry – it’s a household word.”

“A parody of a ‘Dilbert’ cartoon seemed the most appropriate vehicle with which to lampoon his latest pronouncements,” McGarry said of Adams via email. “Besides; somebody had to make a joke out of it, because Scott certainly isn’t funny anymore.”

Amy Lago, the managing editor at the syndication service Counterpoint Media, says that most newspapers she has contacted have not decided whether to replace “Dilbert” with another comic, noting that “they may simply redesign their pages” with one less strip.

Lago, who was a main syndicate editor of “Dilbert” during its heyday at United, adds: “I do hope newspapers, and other comic strip cartoonists, will address the false conclusion that Scott Adams reached [in] saying Whites and Blacks should stay away from each other. Such a path is impractical, immoral and illegal.”