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Category >> comic strips

Dilbert: Let's You and Him Fight!
Written by Eric Reynolds | Filed under staffoffice funKim ThompsonGary Grothcomic strips 1 Mar 2011 11:25 AM

   

Last week, Amazon.com temporarily reduced the price of our $125 Gahan Wilson: 50 Years of Playboy Cartoons to a ridiculously low $30. Several prominent folks, including our old pal Neil Gaiman, tweeted and/or blogged about it, and at one point on Monday night, the book had risen to #16 on Amazon's sales charts for ALL books, and to #1 in the bargain books category. Somehow, this led to the following actual, real email exchange about the comic strip Dilbert. A week later, the debate rages on. In other words: Just Another Week at Fantagraphics Books.

Kim Thompson wrote:

That Bargain Books section is pretty sweet sometimes. I just bought an $85 DILBERT supercollection for the office for twenty-two bucks. (Yes, I love DILBERT. I know most cartoonists can't get past the art, but it's funny as hell.)

Eric Reynolds wrote:

LA LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU!

Gary Groth wrote:

Oh my fucking God.

Kim Thompson wrote:

Read [Scott Adams'] blog, which is unencumbered by his godawful art. He's the sharpest comedy writer in comic strips.

Tell me if this one doesn't make you laugh: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1996-03-27/

Eric Reynolds wrote:

Sorry.

Gary Groth wrote:

I hope yer joking. It's too late to look for a new partner.

Jacob Covey wrote:

What's weird is Kim and Eric haven't ever worked in one of those godawful Dilbert cubical jobs to my knowledge.

Gary Groth wrote:

I bet I've worked in more shitty jobs -including "cubicle" jobs- than everyone here. I hate Dilbert and don't think it's funny. It's humor that's calculated to make working in cubicles more palatable.

Kim Thompson wrote:

I think you're all going by a vision of DILBERT of like 20 years ago. (Newsflash, DOONESBURY isn't about a bunch of college students arguing any more either.) It's blossomed into a relentless examination of deception and self-delusion in the workplace and beyond, based on the premise that 90% of actions taken are taken for reasons that are selfish, idiotic, or both, and boiling them down to their most basic absurdities.

Gary Groth wrote:

That's the problem: the strip is essentially gutless, so generic and so absent specificity as to be meaningless. Selfishness, sloth, and idiocy are its constant (easy) targets -vices to which no one can object- and executed in such a cutesy, innocuous way that they prompt a reflexively knowing and self-satisfied smirk.

The strip you linked to perfectly encapsulates the strip's modus operandi of recapitulating the Peter Principle in the most banal way imaginable. It reflects, regurgitates, and therefore flatters the reader's own "insight" on the workplace and panders to his sense of superiority to the bureaucracy he serves (or is served by).

The problem with the Doonesbury analogy is that Doonesbury was good. (Plus, you're ten years off: the college stuff took place 30 years ago.)

Kim Thompson wrote:

It's true that Adams is fundamentally pro-business (in the sense that many military comedies are actually pro-Army) but the idea that he's an agent of Satan intent on narcotizing the cubicle workers is hippy-dippy talk, unless you adhere to the notion that any blowing off of steam (e.g. laughter) just delays the inevitable revolution when workers will throw off their shackles and string up the man.

Gary Groth wrote:

That's a Dilbert-ish response, which suggests that its flattening perspective is contagious. Pop entertainment doesn't have to be anti-revolutionary in a hippy-dippy Marxist 1970s kinda way in order to be nauseating, status-quo supportive crap. The fact that it's not single handedly holding back a revolution that will never come just makes it more insidious. The rank ad file would remain narcoticized if Dilbert didn't exist, but its existence sure doesn't hurt.

Eric Reynolds wrote:

Irresistible force, meet immovable object.

Kim Thompson wrote:

Wait, when did Kenneth Smith start sending me emails signed "GG"?

This is the kind of apocalyptic society-is-doomed rant critics will periodically unleash on more or less harmless pop-culture successes which I genuinely can't take seriously enough to respond to. If you're going to go medieval on any work of (to stretch the definition to a breaking point in DILBERT's case, admittedly) art that rests on the foundation that in theory capitalism might be an OK system, then it's a bit like criticizing rock music from the point of view that electric guitars are pure evil.

I did get the DOONESBURY timeline wrong. Time flies!

Gary Groth wrote:

I am not asking for every comic strip to be an Adorno-esque revolutionary screed, but if the whole purpose of the strip is to comment on contemporary economic and commercial life, it's hardly asking too much to invest the work with a degree of conscience or acuity and not serve as a hypocritical feel-good bromide for a mindless status quo that it celebrates and criticizes at the same time.

Mostly, though, it's just lame - as any humor would inevitably be if it's foundation is based on social arrangements being "OK" (or, as I would put it, hunky dory). What a concept!

Anyway, I get it. Pop culture and -especially billion dollar pop culture successes- are harmless and criticizing them on political or moral grounds is going "medieval," because, y'know, they're, like, harmless and don't mean anything and why don't I chill out and sit back and take it easy for God's sake.

I consider it a success whenever I can elicit a dig at Ken Smith.

Kim Thompson wrote:

It's a hypocritical feel-good bromide that postulates that pretty much everyone in the world is a selfish idiot and all personal and professional interaction spirals inevitably into entropy? By what standards, compared to SHOAH?

Any humor that is not based on a socialistic view of the world is ipso facto lame?

Any pointed examination of human behavior within a certain context/matrix is invalid unless it fundamentally challenges that context/matrix? (E.g., the HURT LOCKER conundrum.)

It's possible there is a middle ground between apocalyptic doom-laden rants and dismissing-as-utterly-harmless, but this would require living in a non-Manichean world which, as we know from Mister A (or Rorschach), is a craven compromise with the forces of evil.

I think there is plenty of pop culture that is insidious and subtly destructive, and that's worth pointing out (although perhaps not quite so Howard Beale-ishly), but I also think it's possible to overreach and I think it can be morally dubious and qualitatively good at the same time. Sometimes I begin to suspect that ALL good art (or decent entertainment) is actually morally dubious at best.

Eric Reynolds wrote:

This could be the greatest critical roundtable in tcj.com history.

Gary Groth wrote:

• Kim was the first to cite capitalism and is, now, the first to cite socialism. There's a Manichean world view on display here, but not mine.

• Reading Wilde's paradoxical dictum on moral and immoral art literally always leads to trouble.

• There is a long list of morally dubious great art - RiefenstahlPoundCeline, the usual suspects- because their aesthetic virtues trump their moral vices or at least can be appreciated while holding one's nose. Unfortunately, Dilbert has no aesthetic virtues at all; its observations of the human condition are art-free and, not to put too fine a point on it, but we have both been too polite to mention what a visual eyesore it is even among the visually desiccated ranks of today's newspaper strips.

• I wondered why images of Dilbert flitted through my head when I was watching Shoah last week.

• A pointed examination would have to be just that - pointed.

• Postulating (postulating?) day after day and year after year that pretty much everyone in the world is a selfish idiot and all personal and professional interaction spirals inevitably into entropy devolves rapidly into a one-dimensional, reductive and even dishonest schtick (because not everyone in the world is a selfish idiot and all personal and professional interactions don't spiral into entropy - or do they? Maybe I'm behind the curve on this one) that's numbing in its repetitiveness and simple-mindedness. Even savage critiques of the way we live -think Face in the Crowd of Elmer Gantry- feature real human beings with whom we can empathize and who refuse to sink into nihilism and entropy. Dilbert isn't pointed, isn't a critique, isn't an examination - it's a relentless of glib, shallow cliches about office politics and managerial ineptitude that a million office drones could probably come up with if they just typed and scribbled long enough.

It has no juice, it has no fire. It's a sedative.

• Funny you should mention Network. A little shrill, sure, but at least it had guts and passion eloquence and a touch of humanity. Dilbert is just a load of crap.

Kim Thompson wrote:

Hey now, I take grave exception to the claim that we've been "too polite" to mention the hideousness of the art, I referred to "his godawful art" days ago, and then to Breathed "drawing better than Scott Adams, but everyone does, including Cathy Guisewite and 90% of the submissions in our slush pile."

I think we're played out on this. I'm not sure I can quite wrap my head around defending DILBERT against the charge of constituting, basically, "feel-good nihilism" although it sounds like a great genre. If Barnes & Noble had a section for "feel-good nihilism" I'd make a beeline for it every time, and not just for the DILBERT books.

Gary Groth wrote:

"Feel good nihilism" has ben a post-modern genre for years and has its own section in B&N. Where've you been?

You're right, you mentioned the hideous art e-mails ago; but in my defense, it cannot be said too much or too often.

Look, I know right at this moment, at 10:59 PM at the end of a grueling Tuesday, you believe that Dilbert is a not only a laff riot, but a shrewd, pointed exercise in sociological observation, but take my word for it just this once - it is a a piece of shit. There are issues facing us that are legitimately open to debate - should we have national health care, should we be landing troops on Libya, is Ditko as good as Kirby? - but this is not one of them.

Dilbert is the antithesis of everything Fantagraphics stands for - believe it, baby.

Kim Thompson wrote:

As in most cases, I am right and you are wrong.

DILBERT is not a sociological observation. It's (for the most part) an ongoing exercise in analyzing how something that is theoretically sensible and logical (corporate business structures built to produce things and make money) is undone by human nature (stupidity, selfishness, cowardice, etc.) to actually consistently do the opposite of what it's intended to achieve. One could argue equally convincingly that it's a paean to capitalism (laid low by its flawed practitioners) or a postmortem/condemnation of it (a system that doesn't take into account its practitioners is inherently doomed).

Leaving aside whether it's well drawn (it isn't) or well written (it is, a series of precise, almost haiku-like mockeries that remove any shred of humanity or individuality for pure conceptual humor), I can see where its adamant refusal to engage the moral or political underpinnings of capitalism or corporate culture might be infuriating for anyone who needs to strain his entertainment through his own sociopolitical colander of correctness. (Also the lack of humanity could be off-putting, I guess, if you're into the whole humanity thing.)

There's also the question as to whether it's funny or not, which is probably impossible to resolve because any sentence that starts off "This is not funny because..." is automatically meaningless.

Good debate! as Sean Hannity would say.

Did I mention I like ARLO AND JANIS too?

Gary Groth wrote:

Yes, once Dilbert is completely divorced from the historic/political/cultural/economic context that it clearly inhabits and exploits and after that pesky "humanity thing" is expunged from the equation and he strip is neatly turned into an abstraction (or "pure conceptual humor" you've really got something there.

Are you sure Scott Adams isn't a pseudonym for "Watson"? The results couldn't be appreciably different.

Kim Thompson wrote:

Er, uh, what?

Gary Groth:

No fair! That was going to be my opening argument against Arlo and Janis.

POLL QUESTION:

TOO MANY COOKS
Written by Jason Miles | Filed under Denis The Menacecomic strips 8 Jan 2010 11:22 AM

Is Denis Kitchen legendary because he's no longer relevant? or because he wrote the ad copy?

 Worst Comics Industry Crime of  2009

Ellen Forney says ta-ta to Lustlab Ad of the Week
Written by Mike Baehr | Filed under The StrangerEllen Forneycomic strips 12 Aug 2008 2:30 PM
Ellen Forney announces on her blog that her four-year gig illustrating the Lustlab Ad of the Week for The Stranger, as collected in her Fantagraphics book Lust, is coming to an end. As a swan song, an exhibit of Ellen's Lustlab originals will be on display at Babeland starting September 9, with Ellen performing her Lust multimedia presentation at their 15th anniversary party on September 18. Click here for more details.
Hidden Gems Sale spotlight: Otto Messmer
Written by Mike Baehr | Filed under sales specialscomic stripsclassics 19 Jul 2008 10:00 PM

Every day in July we're spotlighting books from our month-long Hidden Gems Sale, wherein we're featuring some of our under-the-radar backlist titles and encouraging you to try them by offering them at a nice discount of 25% off!

Today's spotlight features a great collection of classic comics starring an all-time beloved cartoon character, as drawn by his original creator, Otto Messmer.

Nine Lives to Live: A Classic Felix Celebration by Otto Messmer

Nine Lives to Live: A Classic Felix Celebration

Best known as an animated cartoon character, Felix the Cat has also had a tremendously successful run in his own newspaper comic strip. Now, gathered here is a generous sampling of many of his most important and entertaining adventures. Felix was created in 1919 by Otto Messmer for the cartoon Feline Follies (first named Master Tom, he was given a new, lasting name when he headlined his third cartoon, Adventures of Felix) and it wasn't long until Felix became the most popular cartoon character of the silent era. Wildly popular in the U.S. and England for years, well over 150 cartoons have been documented as being produced in the original series (and perhaps many more of which we have no record). Hesitating to make the jump to sound, the cartoons began to experience distribution problems and a decline in popularity. The original series ended its run in 1931. Begun in 1923, the comic strip outlasted Felix's screen career. Although credited to Pat Sullivan (as was everything else regarding the cat), the strip was produced under the constantly inventive direction of Messmer who did most of the pencils and inks on the strip until 1954. The strip began fading in popularity in the late 30's, but comic books revived public interest in the 1940's. Seeing several ups and downs from the 50's on — a TV series, various comic book original and reprint series — Felix's popularity endures to this day.

144-page full-color 9" x 11" hardcover
regularly $39.95 • ON SALE $29.96
Order Now


First look: Krazy & Ignatz 1943-1944
Written by Mike Baehr | Filed under previewsKrazy Katcomic stripsclassicsChris Ware 14 May 2008 3:16 PM

Krazy & Ignatz 1943-1944 by George Herriman - cover designed by Chris Ware

Just received today: the breathtaking wraparound cover, designed by Chris Ware, for the final volume in our Krazy & Ignatz series (that is, until we start re-printing the early Eclipse volumes -- more info on that in this previous Flog post). The book is due later this year. Click the image for a closer look.

Or, you can just service a governor...
Written by Eric Reynolds | Filed under Ellen Forneycomic strips 14 Mar 2008 12:54 PM
 
For a larger version, go here and scroll down a bit. This strip appears in Ellen Forney's I LOVE LED ZEPPELIN.
Huizenga + Zettwoch + May =
Written by Eric Reynolds | Filed under webcomicscomic strips 19 Feb 2008 7:36 AM
 

LEON BEYOND.


1,000 newspapers want you to know that Jeff Parker is a dick. Daily.
Written by Jacob Covey | Filed under Kovey Kornercomic strips 15 Feb 2008 8:55 AM

wizardofid2008026112002.jpg

We publish some shocking comics but I had no idea that the most offensive strip was nationally syndicated "family fare." People are okay with this being what their kids grow up reading on the comics page, meanwhile they raise hell over a kid reading an issue of Dan Clowes' Eightball. Go figure.

 (*Note: Yes, I know I originally mistyped "Brant Parker" in the headline to this post even though his son, Jeff, took over being the Id's dick cartoonist in 1997. Apologies.)

Show and Tell, Pt. 1
Written by Eric Reynolds | Filed under comic stripsChris WareCharles Burnsart 7 Feb 2008 3:53 PM

Evan Dorkin's recent, generous blog posts sharing convention sketches he's collected from the likes of Los Bros and Clowes have inspired me to share some small stuff I have at home in my studio that will fit on my teensy scanner and otherwise might just sit in here until I die and my wife or daughter sell it all on eBay.

First up, here's a card Evan himself gave me on the legendary Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Cruise, which has been on my bulletin board ever since.

Dorkin.jpg

I will collect one day.

Here's a piece I picked up at Comicon a few years ago for $30 (!). A "Li'l Abner" daily panel from 1951, mercilessly separated from its family by a greedy art dealer who thought he could get more for four pieces than one.

LilAbner.jpg

Here's a Charles Burns pencil rough for a panel in Black Hole:

Burns.jpg

And two panels edited out of Chris Ware's final Jimmy Corrigan edit (I think he just changed the wording slightly - "Reed" to "Dad", as I recall, but I haven't compared it for a few years):

JimmyC.jpg

Mister Wonderful, Chapter 19
Written by Eric Reynolds | Filed under Daniel Clowescomic strips 4 Feb 2008 7:13 AM
  

The penultimate chapter! By Daniel Clowes


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