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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
( February 20, 1998)
DILBERT’S “ ALICE” CHARACTER MODELED AFTER SDSM& T ALUM
When Anita Freeman ( EE ‘ 76) graduated from SDSM& T, the Ethan, South Dakota native never dreamed she would someday be the inspiration for a character in one of the world’s most popular comic strips— Dilbert. Alice, the Dilbert character with the bright pink suit and the fluffy, triangle- shaped hair, is modeled after Anita.
The electrical engineering degree Freeman received from SDSM& T has led her on a successful career path from the Tech campus to Kodak, Pacific Bell and now Cisco Systems. Her journey into the comic strip world began when she took a position as an applications engineer with Pacific Bell in California. She first met Dilbert creator Scott Adams in January of 1991 when she started working at Pacific Bell. Adams and Freeman were team members in the same lab at Pacific Bell.
During her first week on the job, Anita made a lasting impression on Adams when she helped him fix a problem that he found very frustrating. Her Midwestern propensity to help others in need, coupled with her engineering capabilities based on her education at SDSM& T, were likely factors in Freeman’s willingness to take a chance and offer to help her new coworker. Grateful and impressed by her technical proficiency, Adams was soon telling his coworkers that “ Anita knows everything.”
Becoming good friends, Freeman and Adams maintained that friendship after he was reassigned and she took over his Pacific Bell projects. “ You never know whether everything would have been different if I had opted not to try and be helpful to Adams that first week of working with him,” muses Freeman.
Adams started drawing caricature composites of his coworkers and bosses to relieve his boredom during office meetings at Pacific Bell. His office doodles evolved into the Dilbert character and eventually into some comic strips. Despite finally receiving a cartoon contract in 1989 and seeing Dilbert launched in 50 newspapers, Scott Adams continued working at Pacific Bell. He would draw Dilbert at 5 a. m. each morning before going to his Pacific Bell job. After losing his job due to “ downsizing” in 1995, he devoted full time to his Dilbert endeavors.
Even though they no longer work together, Freeman has stayed in close touch with Adams. During her frequent business travels in her current position as product manager for Cisco Systems, Anita is always on the lookout for good ideas for Dilbert characters.
Freeman didn’t see the early Dilbert comic strips in which the Alice character first appeared. After several comments from friends and coworkers, she finally asked Scott Adams directly whether there was a connection between her and Alice. Adams finally admitted that she was the inspiration for the Alice character.
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In his chapter on Alice in The Seven Habits of Highly Defective People, Adams admits that “ Alice’s real- world counterpart ( Anita) was the model for Alice’s pink suit, her fluffy hair, her long work hours, her coffee obsession, her technical proficiency and her take- no- crap attitude.” Dilbert fans recognize Alice as someone who works hard, cuts to the chase, and has little tolerance for fools or idiots.
One cartoon shows Alice tossing a coworker through the ceiling for an insensitive remark about women breaking through the glass ceiling. Dilbert’s creator admits that Anita wouldn’t do some of the things that Alice does. “ As far as I know, the human version of Alice has never kicked a man into his hat, stuffed an intern into his shirt sleeve, or slapped a man so hard he traveled back in time. But if I ever hear about it happening, it wouldn’t surprise me,” states Adams in The Seven Habits of Highly Defective People ( p. 209).
Dr. Larry Simonson, SDSM& T Professor of Electrical Engineering, knew Anita when she was a student at Tech. They also both worked at Texas Instruments one summer. He remembers Anita as a friendly, outgoing student who earned good grades and was an honor student. In the mid- 70’ s Tech’s student population was mostly male. Many of Anita’s classes had only two or three female students. “ She was one of the barrier breakers for women,” says Dr. Simonson. “ She was very outgoing and always chatty,” he adds. An Ethan High School graduate who attended a one- room country school in Hanson County, Anita stays in touch with her South Dakota roots. Her mother and a brother live in Ethan, and another brother lives in Tea.
Her Dilbert connection hasn���t changed her financial status. She doesn’t receive royalties from the Alice character. “ I haven’t made one penny from Alice,” jokes Freeman, “ but it has opened doors for me. A person dreams about many things happening in a lifetime, but this was never something you dream about.” She has heard that an Alice doll will be on the market soon, but she hasn’t seen one yet.
“ Dilbert is the most photocopied, pinned- up, downloaded, faxed and e- mailed comic strip in the world,” according to United Media, the company that develops and markets150 comic strips and editorial features worldwide. With a daily readership of 150 million, Dilbert is published in more than 1,550 newspapers in 17 languages in 39 countries and has over two million books in print. In addition, the comic strip has its own web page -- The Dilbert ZoneTM at www. unitedmedia. com.
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