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I'm working on some Dilbert strips that will be published in early April. The series will feature a new character that works for the government and looks like a monster. His job is to make the tax code more complicated for no reason, with Dogbert's help of course. My problem is the name I've given this character: Stanky Bathturd.

Newspapers are about thirty years behind network television in terms of what they consider acceptable content for the general public. You can say turd on network television - if you don't say it too often in one episode - but you could never print the word turd in a comic strip that runs in newspapers.

But what about Bathturd? Is that worse than a plain turd, or is it less offensive because I hid the turd with the bath, so to speak?

The genesis of the name was that I was trying to come up with something that reminded the reader of "bastard" without crossing the newspaper decency line. I considered Batherd, Bastord, and other spellings, but none of those felt just right.

Then Bathturd popped into my head. It sounds like bastard but it has the added benefit of sounding like bath-turd. It's doubly offensive, and I call that a homerun.

But can I get away with it?

Some innocent words have turd in them too. Sturdy and Saturday comes to mind. But Bathturd seems worse not only because I intend it to be naughty but because it is preceded by Stanky.  And when you hear the word Bathturd you can imagine a turd floating in your bathtub. That's worse. Case closed, right?

But wait. If my made-up name sounds like two entirely different naughty words - bastard and bath-turd - then it doesn't really refer to either one of those bad words specifically. Can I get off on a technicality? Stranger things have happened in the world of editing.

Complicating this decision is the humor layer. As a general rule, the funnier a comic is, the more you can get away with. I can't show you the comic ahead of time, but assume it's somewhere in my normal range of funniness. Also working in its favor is the crowd-pleasing theme of hating the government's tax system. I can get away with more if every reader agrees with my central point, and I think that would be the case with this one.

So let's say you are my editor and you know there is a 100% chance that a few newspaper clients will reject this comic. That's not the end of the world because they always have the option of running a repeat, and that happens a few times a year with Dilbert for exactly this sort of reason. But you don't want to inconvenience your customers, so ideally we want to avoid the rerun option.

No matter what, the Stanky Bathturd comic will end up on the Internet, either on the main page of Dilbert.com or in this blog. And no doubt it will be forwarded from there. So don't worry that the comic will be wasted.

There's also the two-version approach. I can change the character's name for print clients and publish the naughtier version online. I've done that a number of times over my career, but the scrubbed comic without the funny name might just float there like a . . .  bath turd.

As my editor, what do you do?
  1. Kill the clever name but keep the comic.
  2. Change the clever name for print clients only.
  3. Go for it (and know newspaper clients will complain)
Your opinions will likely influence the decision.

 
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +96
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+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 2, 2013
Someone already pointed out the lisp. Bathturd sounds like bastard with a lisp. First name could be Thilly. The back story is that he was nicknamed Silly Bastard, which he actually likes, but because of his lisp, he says it Thilly Bathturd
 
 
Feb 2, 2013
Now I like "Stevie Bathterd" or maybe "Stewie Bathterd".
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 2, 2013
Change the 'u' to an 'e' and you can probably keep what you've got.

Personally, I've never been particularly fond of potty humor (with the perhaps odd exception of flatulence), but the double en-ten-der [sic] of "Bathterd" actually isn't too bad.

Do you think that's still in keeping with the spirit of what you intended?
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 2, 2013
Bathsturdd
 
 
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 2, 2013
You realize, I hope, that there IS a real-world Bastard family, which dates back to the Norman Conquest, when being a bastard wasn't necessarily a bad thing provided your father was a king or nobleman. It's a proper name, like Petty, or Bush, or Dick Head. Maybe you could go for subtilty and have your Skanky go by his first name only, but wear the Bastard COA, with a more detailed version on a giant plaque behind his desk.

http://www.houseofnames.com/bastard-family-crest?a=54323-224

The shield itself is easy to draw. The armorial bearings are a bit too futzy for your style.

I hope I find some Bastards in my family tree. I have some people who qualify as bastards but they don't qualify for the capital "B".

Bastard Motto: Pax potior bello: Peace is more powerful than war. I guess that is Latin for the biblical apocalyptic prophecy: "And peace shall destroy many". Very appropriate for a Bastard who works for the IRS.

Dogbert: Glad to meet you, Mr. Bastard.
Bastard: Please, Mr. Bastard is my father. Call me by my given name: Skanky.
 
 
Feb 2, 2013
Normally I would say go for number three. You've earned the right to be smug and turn up your nose at those who scoff. Except the name just doesn't work for me. It's ugly, not funny ugly, just weird. I don't like the "Stanky" part. Just doesn't flow well. Another reader suggested "Stinky Bathterd". For some reason, that does work! I'd say go with that!
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 1, 2013
How about Mr Drutgib ?
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 1, 2013
You said he's from the government and he's a monster, right?
Why not call him "Congressman" Bathtert or "Representative" Bathtert, or whatever name the rest of your subscribers pick. I think the "Congressman" part would be a better parody/satire.
But I don't write a comic strip, so WTF do I know?
 
 
Feb 1, 2013
The government guy is a monster? Instead, how about a c o c kroach? ("Gregor the Bureaucrat"?) A mild-mannered little chap who wears a green accountant's visor and does a lot of lunches with lobbyists who hate him.

Or maybe a lovable parasitic mite that's evolved to exclusively feed on the blood of bald eagles?

You know, it's a lot easier to get a civil service job if you're a disabled vet, so maybe the government guy could be an anemic eagle in a wheelchair (I. L. Eagle?) Consider a little PTSD to make him more interesting. Second thought, he might be easier to draw if he's in an iron lung. You know, a lot less feathers.

And the eagle could have a sidekick -- the "Don't Tread on Me" snake (Don T. Treadonme?). Occassionally I. L. Eagle could run over Don with his motorized iron lung and put some nice tread marks on the poor guy's back.

A lot of potential phallic symbol comedy also with a snake. Plus a snake is easy to draw. Imagine a conversation between Don and a bulge in Don's abdomen (Ratbert). You could be done with the strip and out to tennis by 8am easy.

 
 
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 1, 2013
You left out an option. As your editor, I would

4. kill the name "bathturd" because it's isn't funny
 
 
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 1, 2013
I could think for a year and not come up with a better name for a cartoon tax bureaucrat than 'Stanky Bathturd'.

I say, go for it! If the print customers complain, run the cartoon with a [censored] tag over the name. then EVERYBODY will go online to see what it is, and the joke will be funnier than ever!
 
 
Feb 1, 2013
I vote for option 1. Great character, horrible name.

I was thinking how many of your characters' names end in 'bert.' Then I thought, "Turdbert" probably wouldn't be a whole lot better. Of course, you do have people's names in there, too. I do miss Phil, the prince of insufficient light, though.

Of course, you could always call the character "Obamabert," but again, that might cut too close to the bone and sound too political. Don't want to alienate a significant portion of your audience.

I'd go with another name that conveys the same message. Think of a name for the head of a new federal department: the Department of Tax Complication. What would be a good name for the head of such an agency? The Hon. Rectocranio Inversionus comes to mind. Someone with his head up his. . . well, you get the point. That might be too large to fit in a cel, though.

But there must be some name that would fit, in both senses of the word. No reason to purposely throw out a name that will get thrown out. The strip sounds like a good one.
 
 
Feb 1, 2013
I'm pretty sure you have to go with Carl Spackler as the name. Easter eggs are terrific. And since parody is fair use, you shouldn't have any copyright concerns, right?

It was just Baby Ruth anyway, so what's the big deal? Damn gopher varmints.
 
 
Feb 1, 2013
Change the name to Bathdurd
 
 
Feb 1, 2013
Option 3 with the added bonus that we might get to see you pilloried by the "Defenders of the Right to Poo in the Tub."
 
 
Feb 1, 2013
Stanky Bathturd doesn't seem to me to sit well with the simplicity of the other characters' names. The one's that aren't *bert are Ted, Alice, Wally, Asok etc. The name has too many connotations. Call him Bathtub or Batht'b. We'll know what you mean and it'll be surreal for the editors.
 
 
Feb 1, 2013
I think the character should be named Rancid Crabtree
 
 
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 1, 2013
You're putting an awful lot of faith in your blog brain here. I, like most of your commenters, knows less than nothing about what can and can't skate past an editor.

But you asked our opinion, so I'll pretend to be more competent than I am.

My first thought is you've got to be creatively honest. If Stanky Bathturd is genuinely the funniest name, I say you've got an obligation to your fans to at least try to run it, otherwise, you're subjecting millions of newspaper readers, the vast majority of which wouldn't be offended, to less than your best humor. You can go some less offensive name if you really find a lot of pushback, but at least you would've tried.

My second thought is you can probably get away with it. It seems to me that the people who would be most likely to complain are the conservatives, especially elderly ones, and yet they're also the ones who tend to have the strongest negative opinions about taxes. So the people you'd be most likely to offend in ordinary !$%*!$%*!$%*! are the ones most likely to appreciate the strong language in this particular case.

So, just don't take a shot at Matlock anywhere in your strip, and I think you'll be ok.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 1, 2013
Huh? Newspaper? What's a newspaper?
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 1, 2013
I hope Mr. Adams doesn't plan to use a civil servant as his target. The proper blame for tax regulations belongs with congress which passes the laws.
 
 
 
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