Dilbert and his pointy-haired boss. Artist: Scott Adams.


Original Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: United Feature Syndicate
First Appeared: 1989
Creator: Scott Adams
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Dilbert is a corporate drone. He does unspecified work for an unidentified corporation, and his boss doesn't have a name. His situation is so unspecific, so universal, the most frequently-asked …

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… question cartoonist Scott Adams, Dilbert's creator, has to field, is, "Do you work for my company under another name?"

No, but in a sense, he used to. The two large corporations where he occupied middle management positions between 1979 and 1995 — from which he drew inspiration to create the strip — could be anybody's company under another name. Adams pokes fun at corporate ethics, management's way of thinking, office politics, and all the other things that are simply facts of life in corporate America's workplace.

Dilbert began syndication from United Feature Syndicate (Ferd'nand, Twin Earths) in 1989, and immediately struck a responsive chord with office workers at every level. It now appears in over 1,000 newspapers, and is tacked up in cubicles all over the world. Dilbert merchandise isn't very popular with the kids, but adults, who can relate to the style of workplace it depicts, buy scads of desk calendars, pocket protectors and other office supplies with his picture on them. For a while during the late 1990s, Dilbert was the spokestoon for OfficeMax.

A prime time animated television series based on the strip was broadcast in 1998, but it didn't catch on. However, in other electronic media, specifically the Internet, where those who can relate to the strip hang out, The Dilbert Zone is a big hit. And the character has done well in book form, too, with over a dozen collections of strips available in both hardcover and paperback.

The art style in Dilbert is comics' most minimalist since Barnaby and The Little King — but whereas that was a creative choice for Crockett Johnson and O. Soglow (creators of those toons), with Dilbert it's because Scott Adams basically doesn't draw very well. But his characters and settings so perfectly mirror his audience's environment, and his humor so perfectly skewers them, that it just doesn't matter. In 1997, The National Cartoonists' Society conferred upon Adams its highest honor — The Reuben Award, given to the Cartoonist of the Year.

Dilbert could not have been so big a hit in past eras. Even as recently as the 1970s, it would have seemed a bit alien to most readers. Today, however, its target audience is immense, and growing. And as long as the corporate mentality doesn't come into synch with the human beings who have to work with it, its continued popularity is assured.


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Text ©2000-04 Donald D. Markstein. Art © United Feature Syndicate.