Scott Adams, the cartoonist behind the middle management-mocking comic strip "Dilbert," says that his work has always been "interactive": "People e-mail me with ideas, I draw the comic, they hang the comic on a wall," he told me in an e-mail.
But late last week Adams and his syndicate, United Media, unveiled a new model in cartoon interactivity -- Dilbert.com now lets fans rewrite Adams' punch lines, and soon it'll let you write the entire strip, too.
For instance, here's Adams' original Saturday strip:
And here's one that a fan submitted:
Here's another (if you favor the absurd):
And for those who like their comic strips low-brow:
The mashed-up punch lines are part of a grand redesign of Dilbert.com, one aimed at bringing the comic deeper into the lives of its many fans who spend countless dull waking hours staring at a screen.
Each new "Dilbert" will be mash-up-enabled; United Media is working on adding the function to older strips, too. (The site currently features all "Dilbert" strips published since 2001; within a few months' time, it'll have all "Dilbert" strips published since the comic launched in 1989.)
The site also recently made "Dilbert" embeddable on other sites, and it put out "widgets" that let you add the strip to your social-networking profile. In May, United Media will add a function to allow people to rewrite each day's full "Dilbert" strip -- co-workers will be able to pass the strip around the office, each filling in successive panels for customized-to-your-corporate-hell comic effect.
I asked Adams if the site redesign is part of an effort to transition "Dilbert" away from newspapers, whose economic future seems uncertain.
He denied that was the case: "As for the future of newspapers, I do think about that a lot," Adams wrote. "But we would upgrade our web offerings independent of the fate of newspapers. So it's not a transition strategy."
I also asked whether he really expects to find funny stuff in the fan-submitted mash-ups. He responded:
I think 99.9 percent of the submitted punch lines will be less funny than my original. After all, I've had a lot of practice. But with volume, that still leaves room for lots of comics that are better than the original. But we'll see. This new model makes mocking your co-workers and boss a competitive sport, so it should be lots of fun. I submitted two alternative punch lines today myself, trying to top my original. It's addicting.