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Happy 20th Birthday, Dilbert!

On April 16, 1989, Dilbert made his newspaper debut. Ever since, Scott Adams's character has patiently endured countless instances of workplace idiocy and given hope — or at least a laugh — to cubicle occupants everywhere. Adams has now collected his favorite strips in a massive volume called 20 Years of Dilbert. (All the rest can be found on the accompanying DVD.) He told Fast Company about the comic's inspiration, the Dilbert economy, and the movie that, he hopes, will soon be made.

Dilbert | Scott Adams, Inc./Dist by UFS, Inc.
Dilbert | Scott Adams, Inc./Dist by UFS, Inc.

FC: When Dilbert started 20 years ago, we didn't have shows like The Office or this appreciation for mundane office life.

Adams: Someone has to prove it works first. Then everyone else dives in after someone shows that the water's safe. But it didn't start out as an office comic. It was a general-life comic about a guy who happened to have an office job. People told me they liked the office ones, so I drifted toward it.

Why do you think Dilbert has worked?

People like anything that's about them. You can't have Dilbert inventing an antigravity device, because people don't go around inventing antigravity devices.

But if he's in a meeting where he wants to slap the guy next to him, well, everybody's been in that meeting.

The Dilbert economy is pretty sizable, with the Web site and calendars and paraphernalia. Any ideas you've rejected?

I've rejected Dilbert lighters and ashtrays. I've rejected meat-related things — because I'm a vegetarian, it seemed like a bad fit. I've rejected Dilbert lingerie. It's hard to believe someone actually thought that was a good idea.

How long will you keep going?

Some of it will be out of my hands. If newspapers go away in 5 or 10 years, that's a limit. But the online stuff could go on forever. I could go until my hands stop working and I draw my last breath. I wouldn't retire just because I have enough money. And I wouldn't retire because it's not fun anymore.

That's a pretty typical reason for retiring.

It's not an unpleasant job.

Are there plans for a Dilbert movie?

We've been noodling with that for years. Three times — maybe more — we've been negotiating a contract, but the way these things work in Hollywood, it's a long way to go from negotiating a contract to having one.

Live action or animated?

I could go either way, but I'm leaning toward live action. A CGI Dogbert would be the coolest thing in the world.

And who would play Dilbert?

My dream actor is Michael Cera. He's probably the most gifted young actor. I'd like whoever plays Dilbert to be on the young side — you know, in case we have sequels.

A version of this article appeared in the April 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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