By JIM VOREL - H&R Staff Writer
It probably seems weird to think now, but there was a time when “Dilbert” was one of the funniest daily comic strips in the world. No, really. Around 1990 or so, the best things in your Sunday funnies were “Calvin and Hobbes,” “The Far Side” and then “Dilbert.” Those are some good strips to have as peers.
Of those strips, only “Dilbert” remains today, now 24 years old. And at this point, Diminishing Returns has set in, and set in hard. There isn’t a lazier comic strip around, and that’s including “Garfield.”
What’s worse is that Scott Adams, the author of “Dilbert,” knows his own product is bad. He even told us ahead of time that it would eventually happen. I know because I read it myself, all the way back in the 1990s. As written by Adams himself in the introduction of 1993’s “Still Pumped From Using the Mouse,” the seventh “Dilbert” collection:
“The question I’m most often asked lately is whether I’m also ‘burned out’ and planning to retire. The answer is no, I haven’t made enough money to be ‘burned out’ yet. I only have enough money to feel ‘tired’ or maybe ‘overworked.’ ”
It continues: “I any event, quitting just isn’t my style. I’m more likely to hire illegal immigrants to do the writing and drawing for me. They might not bring the same wit and artistic integrity to the strip that I do…and it might not be in English…but let’s face it, my work isn’t a home run every single day either. It’ll probably take a decade for anybody to notice. And by then maybe I’ll be ‘burned out’ too.”
I remember reading that stuff and laughing at Adams’ self-deprecating humor. Only, here’s the thing: He wasn’t joking. He may have thought he was at the time, but today’s “Dilbert” is pretty much as he described it — perhaps not drawn by illegal immigrants (but who knows), but progressively less funny, more lazy and simply a strip that exists to continue pulling in paychecks in its twilight years. It would seem that Adams still has not made enough money.
If you want evidence, it’s there in spades. Nearly everything that Adams previously stated he didn’t like in comics is now a daily part of “Dilbert.” He once eschewed action strips and yelling in his comics, but now it’s a common feature. He once set the strip primarily in the home of Dilbert, but moved almost all the action to the office when that proved to yield the most profitable white-collar material. After running out of material for his primary characters, he welcomed a never-ending stream of odd, one-off characters, with increasingly specific titles like “Stanky Bathurd the green tax-code writing monster.” I’m not making this stuff up.
Forget all of that, though. I only need one piece of evidence to make the point of how ridiculously lazy “Dilbert” has become. So little effort goes into the strip today that they shamelessly re-use the same panel of the exterior of the office building over and over, just to avoid drawing one more panel with the actual characters. They do this over and over. Going backward from the most recent strips I found this one, this one and this one within a roughly a month of one another. This is how little the artist cares at this point. That’s what real “burned out” looks like.
It may be that the bread and butter of Dilbert’s former humor, the satirization of office life, has simply moved beyond Adams’ ability to characterize it. Or maybe he really doesn’t care any longer. But either way, it’s a shame to see another work that was consistently of high quality sink down into the artificial muck it once lampooned.
What do you think, sirs? If you ever enjoyed “Dilbert” cartoons, do you find them to have soured in recent years?