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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Sep 19, 2008
You're really stretching to find an excuse for your memory issues. Some creative people like to attribute their every flaw to being a creative person, and the average person will believe it too. That's how artists, musicians and actors get away with never considering the consequences of their actions.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 19, 2008
In the 5/25/07 cartoon, has anyone else noticed the PHB's tie changes from thin black stipes to thick black stripes? Dammit Scott, you let us down twice.
Sep 19, 2008
Never mind, I guess I'm the only one who thought this comic wasn't funny at all (either time). The humor reminds me of new "The Simpsons" episodes.
Sep 19, 2008
Apologies if you already received this suggestion, but technology can solve your problem.

(1) Hire a starving college student (they're cheap) to manually create a transcription, complete with character identifications, of the text of every dilbert comic strip that's run to date in a standardized format. Include descriptions. For example, for this strip:

URL: http://dilbert.com/dyn/tiny/File/070525 head will explode .jpg

Panel 1:
Ted: (I'm so busy it feels as if my head will explode).
Boss: Ted. One More thing ...

Panel 2:
Descriptive Text: Kaboom!

Panel 3:
Boss: Clean up on Aisle Three.
Boss' Secretary: Silent

Description: Ted's head explodes because the boss asked for one more thing.

2) Load that standardized format into a normalized and / or standardized database. (If a format is devised consistent with the import technology of step 3, even better - as then you won't have to pay a coder to write a script to "normalize" it.)

3) Apply a semantic search engine to the database to find similar posts once you have a concept and / or starting dialog. It will pop up the closest matching strips, and you can insure your new thought isn't too close to an old one.

Problem solved!
Sep 19, 2008
My only question is why is it always aisle three. Do you have some deep seated hatred for the number three ?
Sep 19, 2008
Your a smart guy Scott.

You have 365 x 19=6935 comics you've created (at least) plus the one off's here and there.

You could do something as simple as create a database, and in that database place all of your three sentence, three panel comics. Before you decide to output your comic, do a search of this database, so that you can see all the comics that are similar to the one that you are creating. At least it should get rid of the horribly obvious ones. Maybe you could make it a website, or add it to the Dilbert site, for those business execs that need a good Dilbert quote!

Actually, chances are, there is some Catbert out there waiting to sink his paws into your cheque book by selling you his database of Dilbert comics that have been cross-referenced with dates of major traffic accidents and terrorist events.

You could even go so far as creating your comic first, and then running it through an image comparison program of all your other comics, with OCR as well. The only sucky part about this is it would only tell you after you created the comic that your a plagiarist.

Enjoy this 15 minutes I've stolen from my employer.
Sep 19, 2008
I am proud of you Scott, you screwed up and you admitted it. I'm sure you could have come up with some creative way to sweep it under the rug:

1. A year ago was a dream sequence/foreshadowing that the boss remembered...


2. The PHB hires lots of guys named Ted who look alike so he only has to remember one name and face. They just have a tendency to explode, that's all.

You're setting a good example for all of us, and either way, the joke's still funny.
Sep 19, 2008
I find myself with mixed reactions.

First, annoyed that some guy (and I've even been THAT guy before) would point out such a trivial "mistake".

Second, so happy that he did, so you would make such an thoroughly interesting posting (or maybe it just SEEMS interesting, juxtaposed against the background of economics.)

Thanks for inviting us inside your head.
Sep 19, 2008
"Creativity is highly correlated to poor memory."

I TOTALLY agree!
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 19, 2008
The same thing happened to Aaron Spelling. He produced an episode of Mod Squad where Julie gets accidentally shot in the head by a boy she is being a 'Big Sister' to, and then he runs away. A few years later the same episode appeared on Charlie's Angels by coincidence. Or he ran out of ideas for hip young single adult cop shows.
Sep 19, 2008
You should run more of the same head explodey comics. Increasing in frequency of them slowly. Then do a week long run about how how the boss is going to solve his head exploding problem/ability.
Then you can say it's all been part of your genius master plan all along.
Sep 19, 2008
This is an interesting study in comic timing (your strong suit, and something I'm trying to get better at). I think the first works best because the dialogue in panel one is cut up into more digestible units, and the second panel is a close up. Third panel works but could also be something like: "Call my tailor."

I'm only a year into my strip so I haven't had this memory problem, but I have reworked strips intentionally months later to tighten them up.

Great stuff, as always, thanks for the inspiration!
Sep 19, 2008
I find that my creativity is improved by my having a good memory, although of course I don't have a control group to test my theory. In design, it's often useful to apply a solution that you've seen in some other context to solving your current problem. A wood joinery detail on a 16th century Japanese temple might just come in handy on a machined metal chair. Those kind of connections are impossible to make if you can't easily remember details of things you've seen in the past.

The best definition of creativity (applied to design specifically, although I personally think it applies well to other fields as well) I've seen is: the ability to make connections between disparate ideas.
Sep 19, 2008
It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. OK, then, I wonder what self-imitation indicates? That you're in love with yourself? No, I'm sure that isn't the case.

Seriously, think of it as a coming-home experience. With all the pressures on you daily, I'm sure sometimes your mind just wants to turtle, and go back to simpler, less stressful times. You probably (without going into psychobabble) went somewhere in your mind where you felt comfortable and relatively free from stress, or at least from the kind of stress you're feeling now.

You should think back to when you were doing that original strip, and try to compare your state of mind then with your state of mind now. If nothing else, it might be an interesting exercise. But whatever, don't worry about it. Stuff happens.
Sep 19, 2008
I feel ripped off.

May I have my refund, please?
Sep 19, 2008
Pay someone (http://www.mturk.com/mturk/welcome) to convert all your strips to text. In future, you'll be able to search them
Sep 19, 2008
I found it interesting that not only was Ted the victim in both strips, PHB was standing at the same desk after the explosion (albeit with her computer on the other side). Although he seems to have subconsciously learned to wear a bomb-proof suit by the second strip.
Sep 19, 2008
Makes sense. Happened to Schulz all the time.

Well, not really. But what about Trudeau?

Hmm. Nevermind.
Sep 19, 2008
I think the repetition in itself is funny, because it gives the impression that it's one of Carol's daily duties to clean up the trail of exploded heads that the pointy-haired boss leaves behind him.
Sep 19, 2008
"Creativity is highly correlated to poor memory."

I'm pretty sure that's how pot works.
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