Comics controversy, with Dogbert

February 7, 2014 by Brad McElhinny

My feeling about controversial content on the comics page is you might as well steer clear.

Two reasons spring to mind:

a) The comics page is an entry point for kids to reading the newspaper. It’s the most likely page to be read by children. That’s not to say some jokes won’t be above their heads but usually there’s no reason to shock and horrify.

b) There are plenty of other pages in the newspaper to wander into controversy — intentionally or unintentionally. Might as well save your chips for something that really matters to you.

Naturally, some content on the comics page sometimes becomes questionable. That’s the case this week — and ‘Dilbert’ is the culprit.

dilbertLast week, editors like me got a note from the comics syndicate that supplies that strip: “Please take a moment to review the ‘Dilbert’ daily comic strips for release Feb. 7 and Feb. 8, 2014, which are now available in your account… They contain dialogue that some readers may find objectionable.”

Alarm bells!

So we took a look at Dilbert and couldn’t quite figure out what was going on.

Looking back, and having read about the controversial strips, it seems writer Scott Adams was trying to impart a gay rights message. (Here’s his blog about it.) But without much context, it was hard to tell what was going on.

Dogbert, Dilbert’s sassy sidekick, issues a commentary on the illegality of homosexuality in India and then pronounces Asok the intern to be gay. Meeting over. “Good, because I have a lot of gay stuff to do,” Asok says.

Strip over. Shoulders shrug.

Was this a pro- or anti-gay message? We had no idea.

Was the cartoon strip character Asok willingly or unwillingly pronounced gay by Dogbert?

What is “gay stuff”?

Was it funny?

What was going on here?

Those of us who looked at it were genuinely puzzled. Scott Adams had not yet blogged about his message. There were few clues to discern how readers were supposed to react.

Without much to go on, we decided to pass on it and take the substitutes. Other newspapers decided differently.

I got a message Friday night from a reader, Donald Griffith: “Please don’t censor Dilbert.”

I’m not sure what we did was censorship.

You can still see Dilbert elsewhere if you choose.

But in this case we steered clear.

UPDATE: The second panel of this Dilbert arc actually wound up running Saturday in the combined Gazette-Mail — by accident, I guess. So it goes. I still don’t get it.

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