It's easy enough to see why comics about cute animals or muscular superheroes are popular around the world, so at first sight Dilbert makes an unlikely subject. But the computer engineer with a head like a yellow fluffy pencil eraser wearing glasses has a big following. With dozens of books, a TV series, a cartoon strip syndicated in around 600 publications worldwide and a Web presence like no other character, Dilbert tops the charts with computing and business readers alike.
The mystery evaporates when you check out the strips. Dilbert (and, for that matter, Adams himself) has been there. There is an all too real recognition of the madness that's rife in a large company. It's exaggerated to make a point, of course, but not that much. The idiocy of corporate-speak, the unfathomable behaviour of Human Resources departments, and, above all, the hypocrisy of management that refers to employees as the company's 'most important asset' then treats them like dirt, are painted with a hyper-accurate brush.
It's a mad, mad world
If Dilbert appealed to business alone, it probably wouldn't have the same bite. But by focusing on the high-tech world of computer engineering and toggling effortlessly between hardware and software, there's even more opportunity to stick the knife in. Dilbert and his co-workers, the ever-lazy Wally and the ferocious Alice, tread a path of mayhem that will be familiar to any IT project worker. Whether it's releasing software with bugs in and letting the users find them, or being vastly behind schedule and a stranger to interpersonal skills, the world of the IT engineer is portrayed with frightening clarity.
The dash of genius that Adams adds to this excellent mix is a vein of pure surrealism. Much of it is down to unlikely characters like a dog, a rat, a cat and a dinosaur (inevitably named Dogbert, Ratbert, Catbert ... and Bob). It's understandable that Dilbert goes home and moans to his dog about his day at the office; but Dogbert is likely to be arranging a buyout of Dilbert's company or setting himself up as a consultant so he can insult everyone in exchange for large sums of money.
Adams makes a reality out of such whimsies as the accounts department being an outpost of hell, staffed by nasty trolls: after all, who else would make such unreasonable requirements a part of everyday life?
The world of Dilbert combines light relief after a hard day at work with recognisable material to support attempts at improving life in a large company. Oh, and the cartoon has made Scott Adams a rich man - he deserves it.
Dilbert on the Internet
Not surprisingly Dilbert has a strong presence on the Web. You can't go wrong by starting with the Dilbert Zone, the Dilbert centre of the universe www.dilbert.com. This is the official United Media site, carrying a strip of the day, a month of Dilbert and even the opportunity to send a colour version of the strip as an e-card. To see a more fan-based view of Dilbert, check out the Dilbert and Dogbert Web Ring. Because of the subject matter and the way Adams encourages email interaction from the fans, Dilbert is more than usually a fan's comic, as these links show.
Another site with an excellent combination of background on Adams himself and links to Dilbert sites is the relevant section of Zinezone,which will give you pointers to all you ever wanted to know and much more.
If it's the cartoons you like rather than Adams' words of wisdom, there are plenty of compilations to fill your mind with despair at the madness of corporate life - and the hilarity of Dilbert, Dogbert, Ratbert and friends. If you only want one of these, go for the separately reviewed Dilbert Gives You The Business. For many, though, it won't be enough. I looked at three of the collections, Casual Day Has Gone Too Far (ISBN 0836228995), Fugitive From The Cubical Police (ISBN 0836221192) and It's Obvious You Won't Survive By Your Wits Alone (ISBN 0836204158). (Giving a collection a short title is not a Scott Adams speciality.)
I ought to include a word of warning here. If you've already got Dilbert Gives You The Business and/or The Joy of Work, you might not want to buy Casual Day, as rather too many of the cartoons appear in the other books and you end up with about one in four that's new to you. That apart, there's little to choose between these three. They're all packed with the usual superb mix of devastatingly accurate observations of the stupidity of business bureaucracy, combined with the surreal activities of Dilbert's furry friends.
It's Obvious dates back to the early 90s, so recently signed-up members of the Dilbert fan club might find this a good one to start with. But whichever you choose, no decent bathroom or loo is complete without one of these books to keep you entertained.
If you haven't had enough Scott Adams from the syndicated strips, the cartoon collections and the business books (not to mention the T-shirt, the mug and probably the cuddly toy), you can also enjoy the wit and wisdom of Dilbert and friends in a series of mini-books. If these titles were presents for children they'd be stocking fillers. They're tiny - too small to read comfortably (about 10cm x 8cm), and at £3.99 ($4.95) for maybe 21 cartoons, they aren't cheap. That's about £1 a minute if you read slowly. But they do make great giveaways for business events or training sessions - and grown-up stocking-fillers, too.
One to give to engineers and programmers who can't get a date is Access Denied: Dilbert's Quest for Love in the Nineties (ISBN 0836221915). In the unlikely event you have someone in the office (or the family) who has an allergy to work, you might find Work - The Wally Way (ISBN 0752217380) goes down well. But for the general purpose business reader there's nothing more painful that getting interpersonal communications wrong, as is beautifully portrayed in Telling It Like It Isn't (ISBN 0836213246). It's a mini Dilbert delight, and all in colour too.
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