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Cartoonists say a rebuke of 'Dilbert' creator Scott Adams is long overdue

Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip Dilbert, poses for a portrait with the Dilbert character in his studio in Dublin, Calif., Oct. 26, 2006.
Marcio Jose Sanchez
Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip Dilbert, poses for a portrait with the Dilbert character in his studio in Dublin, Calif., Oct. 26, 2006.

Cartoonists across the country are applauding editors and publishers for condemning Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip Dilbert, after his recent tirade against Black Americans.

"I'm proud and happy to see publishers, magazines, and newspapers are dropping him because there should be no tolerance for that kind of language," said Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell, a cartoonist for The New Yorker.

"It's a relief to see him held accountable," she added.

Hundreds of newspapers, including The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times, announced they will no longer carry Adams' work. On Monday, Adams' distributor, Andrews McMeel Universal, said they are severing ties with the cartoonist because the company does not support "any commentary rooted in discrimination or hate."

The Penguin Random House imprint, Portfolio, also will no longer publish Adams' upcoming book, Reframe Your Brain, which was set to release in September, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The fallout was sparked by a YouTube livestream posted Feb. 22, where Adams referenced a Rasmussen poll that found only a slim majority of Black Americans agreed with the statement "It's okay to be white." Adams went on to accuse Black Americans of being "a hate group" and advised white people to "get the hell away" from them.

But cartoonists say Adams has a long history of spewing problematic views. In the past, Adams has inaccurately described people who are not vaccinated against COVID as the real "winners" of the pandemic. He also questioned the accuracy of the Holocaust death toll. Another of Adams' claims is that he had lost multiple job opportunities for "being white."

"It begs the question, now that everyone is piling on him, what took so long?" said Keith Knight, an illustrator known for his comic strips The Knight Life, (th)ink and The K Chronicles. He is also a co-creator of the Hulu comedy show Woke, which chronicles the life of a Black cartoonist.

Adams says he's been "canceled" but cartoonists disagree

After receiving widespread pushback for his offensive rant, Adams described himself as getting canceled. But cartoonists argue that he is simply being held accountable for his remarks.

"By Adams saying he's been canceled, its him not owning up to his own responsibility for the things he said and the effect they have on other people," said Ward Sutton, who has contributed illustrations to The New York Times, The New Yorker and Rolling Stone.

"He's trying to turn himself into a victim when he himself has been a perpetrator of hate," Sutton added.

He said newspapers are not obligated to run Dilbert, and they have the editorial right to cut ties with Adams if they no longer want him as a voice in their paper.

Similarly, Hector Cantú, best known for his Latino-American comic Baldo, said he believes in freedom of speech, but not freedom from repercussions.

"Don't gloss this over by saying it's politics or it's cancel culture," he said. "If you're going to offend people, you risk paying the price."

Artists look to the future of cartooning for encouragement

In the wake of his controversial video, Adams has stood by what he said and even received support from people who are frustrated by what they call "cancel culture," including billionaire Elon Musk.

Despite Adams' unapologetic stance, Knight hopes that the Dilbert creator's departure from newspapers will be an opportunity for a more diverse group of artists to share their work, adding that the industry can be tough for artists of color to break into.

"I say it all the time: Cats have better representation on the comics page than people of color," Knight said. "Maybe this is an opportunity to diversify the comics page."

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Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.