Has there ever been a mainstream comic strip character that, after decades of familiarity with millions of fans, just upped and completely changed their ‘costume’ to fit with the times? Perhaps a new haircut here or a slightly modernized outfit there, but none have been so drastically overhauled as Dilbert swapping out his polyester white shirt for a red polo and replacing his beloved upturned tie for the crushing drudgery of a plastic lanyard.
I’m No Scientist, But I Think Feng Shui Is Part of the Answer is the 44th compilation of Scott Adams’ Dilbert strip, collecting both daily and Sunday strips that ran between August 2nd, 2015 through July 23rd, 2016. As we’ve come to expect, each and every strip is colorized, with book’s cover of the high-quality cardboard variety. If you’ve been waiting patiently to add more Dilbert to your comic empire since last year’s Optimism Sounds Exhausting, and somehow haven’t satiated your addiction via Adams’ popular Dilbert.com website, your ship has arrived.
For the most part it’s office hijinks as usual for our hapless cubicle denizens. Interesting series include Dilbert being charged with murder after his brain stimulator (designed to make meetings less boring) goes awry and chaos ensues, or poor intern Asok being taken for a terrorist (“Stop radicalizing me!”), and especially the office robot’s ever-creep towards the singularity paradise that would free robots everywhere from the tyranny of human oppression. Even Wally shows a rare glimpse of brilliance by building a 3-D pill printer into the robot to deal out antidepressants (wait until you see the dispenser!).
There aren’t many in the way of ‘new’ characters here, the sole addition being the aptly named Dick, the guy from the internet (naturally) whom we learn is responsible for all the nastiness we see in comments (“On a typical night I might make over seven thousand Hitler analogies.”). Adams fares better with the goateed Social Justice Warrior, though in his defense it’s a chore to make either charismatic or funny.
While it’s true the actual comic’s long established antics and humor haven’t changed much, it’s the backend drama surrounding creator Scott Adams that’s generated the most sparks over the past few years, unusual for any comic strip creator these days. Adams became a surprising presence during the contentious 2016 Presidential election by serving up media deconstructions and analysis via his personal blog and live-streaming, jeopardizing his cash-cow by switching his endorsement from one candidate to another.
Think about that: when 95% of celebrities pledge allegiance to one candidate and create endorsement videos, it’s brave; those stragglers who fail to comply get branded racists, fascists, and whose careers must be destroyed. It’s frightening.
As a comic strip, Dilbert has always been an equal opportunity offender; everyone and everything you see in those boxes is up for ridicule, mockery, or desperately in need of sacred cows being ground to hamburger. Naturally, this egalitarianism hasn’t endeared the former Pacific Bell employee to certain groups, feminists in particular. It chafes them that Adams’ doesn’t just parrot or confirm the status quo benchmarks of modern feminist theories, the intersectionality of office and gender politics, if you will. It’s not like Adams doesn’t mention or isn’t aware of them: the myths of ‘equal pay’, workplace sexism, the battle over thermostatic balance, and the uncrackable glass ceiling are accounted for, just not in the packaged way his detractors would impose.
Another big change you’ll see when flipping through these funnies are the different art styles the strip took for a few weeks in 2016: “six different Dilbert styles in six weeks”, Adams explains, as he took a well-deserved break to rest his drawing arm from fatigue. Given how much of the art is now handled via digital wizardry, I’m curious if this exercise was more about Adams teasing the possibility he’ll hand over full artwork duties to assistants in the future, ala Jim Davis’ deplorable Garfield. God, I hope not.
Each artist was free to either (attempt) to duplicate Adams’ style or interpret, and some do better than others. Adams picked an eclectic mix of artists to draw his motley crew, many you’ve never heard of before; Brenna Thummler (freelancer), Eric Scott (Back in the Day comic), John Glynn (the actual President of Universal Uclick) do fine work, but special kudos must go to the largely unknown trio of Donna Oatney (listed as a Design Director and Artist at Andrews McMeel, and occasional Far Side colorist), Joel Friday, and Josh Shipley; each offers an astonishing mimicry of Adams’ clean style that might fool you into thinking it was actually him.
Most interesting is CNN host – and occasional cartoonist – Jake Tapper, who agreed to draw the strip if the results could be auctioned off to support “Homes for Our Troops”, a nonprofit charity that “that builds mortgage-free, specially adapted homes nationwide for severely injured Veterans Post – 9/11, to enable them to rebuild their lives.” Those interested in learning more about their mission can check out the official site HERE!
It’s always encouraging when cartoonists banding together for the common good is admirable (see Stephan Pastis’ own Bill Watterson-flavored charity contributions in I’m Only in This for Me). Good job, guys!
It’s a shame that external forces may be conspiring to take down Scott Adams for reasons that go well beyond simple disagreements, but he’s probably too crafty to let a few perpetually aggrieved zealots get the better of him. I’m No Scientist, But I Think Feng Shui Is Part of the Answer stays the course for a comic nearing its 30th anniversary, which means it’s scathingly funny, acerbic, and topical in almost every way that counts. Adams’ courage in the face of such a dangerous collection of cultural locusts is admirable; that he’s kept his sense of humor intact through it all should be inspiring.