NEW YORK — Cartoonists are pushing back against racist remarks made by “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams, with one artist even using his own strip this week to lampoon the disgraced cartoon now dropped by newspapers nationwide.
Darrin Bell is transforming his strip “Candorville” — which usually features young Black and Latino characters — into a way to address Adams’s racism by mimicking the look and style of “Dilbert,” complete with wayward necktie.
“The only reason anyone knows who Scott Adams is because of the comics page. So I thought somebody on the comics page should respond to him on the comics page,” Bell, the 2019 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for illustrated reporting and commentary, told The Associated Press.
In the strips running Monday to Saturday, Bell paired Dilbert with one of his own characters, Lemont Brown. In one, Dilbert hopes Lemont will side with him in his quest to get a laundry room installed at work.
“You could wash your hoodie,” says Dilbert. Responds Lemont: “And you could wash your hood?”
Adams, who is white, was an outspoken — and controversial — presence on social media long before describing Black people as a “hate group” on YouTube last month. Adams repeatedly referred to people who are Black as members of a “hate group” and said he would no longer “help Black Americans.” He later said he was being hyperbolic, yet continued to defend his stance.
“When somebody goes too far like Scott Adams did, everyone who knows better should stand up and use their First Amendment to draw a line — to say that this is unacceptable,” said Bell, whose new graphic novel “The Talk” explores growing up as a biracial man in white culture.
Other cartoonists have stepped forward to denounce Adams, like Bill Holbrook, the creator of “On the Fastrack,” a strip that features an interracial family and — like “Dilbert” — focuses on a modern workplace.
“One of the things I wanted to spotlight with my characters is that people do rise above their differences. It can work,” Holbrook said. “That’s the spotlight I wanted to focus on and still do. It’s all a matter of where you want to put your focus.”
Holbrook said the Adams case is not one of so-called cancel culture but of consequences.
“I am in full support with him saying anything he wants to, but then he has to own the consequences of saying them,” he said. “He’s not being canceled. He’s experiencing the consequences of expressing his views.”
Individual newspapers have dropped “Dilbert” and Adams’ distributor, Andrews McMeel Universal, said it was severing ties with the cartoonist. While some outlets replaced “Dilbert” with another strip, The Sun Chronicle in Attleboro, Massachusetts, decided to keep the space blank through March “as a reminder of the racism that pervades our society.”
The “Dilbert” controversy has rocked a community of daily cartoonists who often create work in their homes several months ahead of publication. While reliably pro-free speech, they say they’re also orientated toward a better future — or at least a chuckle.
“We believe comics are a powerful medium and that cartoonists should perpetuate laughter, not racism and hate,” said Tea Fougner, editor in chief of King Features Syndicate — which distributes such strips as “Candorville,” “Zits,” “Mutts” and “Dennis the Menace” — in a statement to the AP.
“We are proud of our cartoonists who are using their platforms to denounce the hatred spread by Scott Adams and encourage others to join us as we stand together as a community to keep the world of cartooning a safe and welcoming space for everyone,” the statement said.
Bell credited King Features Syndicate and his editors for allowing him to rip up the strips intended for this week and pivot to the “Dilbert” send-ups, an unusual request.
“They apparently thought it was important enough to take a risk and to make sure that it goes out on time,” Bell said.
Many comic creators said they’d stopped reading “Dilbert” over the past several years, finding the strip’s tone darker and its creator’s descent into misogyny, anti-immigration and racism alarming. But Adams still had hundreds of newspaper perches before last week.
“We can’t move forward and progress as a culture and as a society if there are still people in these gatekeeping roles that are holding onto these archaic ideas,” said artist Bianca Xunise, who co-authors the strip “Six Chix” and is the second Black woman in comics history to be nationally syndicated.
Xunise noted the fallout was much quicker when she drew a strip that commented on both the Black Lives Matter movement and the coronavirus pandemic. More than 120 publications immediately dropped the strip.
She said being Black in the cartooning world seems to always trigger pushback from hateful readers and those fearful of “woke” messages, but is heartened that “Heart of the City” — now authored by the Black cartoonist Steenz — replaced “Dilbert” in The Washington Post.
“We don’t want to push so far that it becomes a different form of fascism over censoring everybody’s ideas just out of fear of being offensive,” Xunise said. “But some things do not need to be said, and especially if they are a directly punching down towards those who are marginalized.”
“Macanudo” creator Ricardo Liniers Siri, known professionally as Liniers, said Adams was moving into unfunny territory and that’s a cartoonist’s third rail.
“Grievance generally is not fun. The funniest guy at a party is not the one just complaining about everything. That’s the annoying guy,” he said.
“I don’t do grievance. I’m just trying to focus on whatever is good that we have around,” he added. “Because in the context of a newspaper with so much bad news, I try to have an optimistic space.”
Image credits: AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez