Dilbert (first published April 16, 1989) is an American comic strip written and drawn by Scott Adams. Dilbert is known for its satirical humor about a white-collar, micromanaged office, featuring the engineer Dilbert as the title character. The strip has spawned several books, an animated television series, a computer game, and hundreds of Dilbert-themed merchandise items. Adams has also received the National Cartoonist Society Reuben Award and Newspaper Comic Strip Award in 1997 for his work on the strip. Dilbert appears in 2500 newspapers worldwide in 65 countries and 19 languages with over 150 million readers.
The comic strip originally revolved around the engineer Dilbert and his "pet" dog Dogbert in their home. Many plots revolved around Dilbert's engineer nature or his bizarre inventions. These alternate with plots based on Dogbert's megalomaniacal ambitions. Later on, the location of most of the action moved to Dilbert's workplace at a large technology company, and the strip started to satirize technology workplace and company issues. The comic strip's popular success is attributable to its workplace setting and themes, which are familiar to a large and appreciative audience; Adams admits that switching the setting from Dilbert's home to his office was "when the strip really started to take off."
Dilbert portrays corporate culture as a Kafkaesque world of bureaucracy for its own sake and office politics that stand in the way of productivity, where employees' skills and efforts are not rewarded, and busy work praised. Much of the humor emerges as the audience sees the characters making obviously ridiculous decisions that are natural reactions to mismanagement.
Themes explored include:
* Engineers' personal traits
o Idiosyncrasy of style
o Hopelessness in dating
o Attraction to tools and technological products
* Incompetent and sadistic management
o Scheduling without reference to reality
o Failure to reward success or penalize laziness
o Penalizing employees for failures caused by bad management
o Failure to improve others' morale, lowering it instead
o Failure to communicate objectives
o Handling of projects doomed to failure or cancellation
o Sadistic HR policies with flimsy (or purely evil) rationale
* Corporate bureaucracy
* ISO Audits
* Budgeting, accounting, Payroll and Financial Advisors
* Stupidity of the general public
o Susceptibility to advertising
o Susceptibility to peer pressure
o Susceptibility to flattery
o Gullibility in the face of obvious scams
* Fourth World countries and outsourcing (Elbonia)
o Bizarre cultural habits
o Lack of understanding of capitalism
The main character in the strip, Dilbert is a stereotypical technically-minded single male. He is usually pictured wearing a white dress shirt, black pants and a red-and-black striped tie which inexplicably curves upward (though it flattens when he meets Antina, an extra-masculine female co-worker; Adams has said that the phallic symbolism was intentional in Seven Years of Highly Defective People). In old Dilbert strips, his neck was long shaped. But in recent strips, his neck is smaller. Dilbert received his Masters degree in electrical engineering from MIT; he understands engineering well and has good ideas, but has a poor social life. Neither attractive nor blessed with tremendous social graces, Dilbert is capable but ignored at work, and struggles with his romantic life. While he is frequently seen having dates with eligible women, the dates almost invariably end in disaster, usually in surreal and bizarre ways. Dilbert loves computers and technology and will spend much of his free time playing with such things. Two comic strips show the tie pointed downward, which, according to Adams, was a secret message to readers of his newsletter that Dilbert had sex with a date the night before.
The manager of Dilbert and the other engineers; his real name is never mentioned. In earlier strips the Boss was depicted as a stereotypical late-middle-aged balding middle manager; it was not until later that he developed his signature "pointy hair". He is hopelessly incompetent at management and is very bombastic, he does not understand technical issues but always tries to disguise this, usually by using buzzwords he also does not understand. The Boss treats his employees alternately with disdain or neglect; he is narcissistic, using them to his own ends regardless of the consequences to them. Adams himself wrote that "He's not sadistic, just uncaring." The Boss's level of intelligence varies from near-vegetative to perceptive and clever, depending on the strip's comic needs; his utter lack of ethics, however, is perfectly consistent. His brother is a demon named Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light, and according to Adams the pointy hair is intended to remind one of devils' horns.
One of the oldest engineers. He hates work and avoids it whenever he can. He is often seen carrying a cup of coffee. Wally is even more socially inept than Dilbert, and references to his lack of personal hygiene are not uncommon. Like the Pointy-Haired Boss, Wally is utterly lacking in ethics and will take advantage of any situation to maximize his personal gain while doing the least possible amount of honest work. Squat and balding, Wally is almost invariably portrayed wearing a short sleeved dress shirt and tie. Adams has stated that Wally was based on a Pacific Bell coworker of his who was interested in a generous employee buy-out program -- for the company's worst employees. This had the effect of causing this man -- whom Adams describes as "one of the more brilliant people I've met" -- to work hard at being incompetent, rude and generally poor at his job to qualify for the buy-out program. Adams has said that this inspired the basic laziness and amorality of Wally's character. Despite these personality traits Wally is accepted as part of Dilbert, Alice and Asok's clique. Although his relationship with Alice is often antagonistic and Dilbert occasionally denies being his friend, their actions belie at least a certain acceptance of him.
One of the more competent engineers. Alice has a huge, triangular hairstyle. She is often frustrated at her work not getting proper recognition, which she believes is due to her gender. She also has a short, often violent temper, sometimes putting her "Fist of Death" to use, even against the Pointy Haired Boss. Alice originally depicted a series of female characters, like Ted the Generic guy, and appeared for a time as the current Alice with a somewhat more normal hair style before, like the Boss, she finally developed her signature triangular hair. Alice is claimed to be based upon a woman that Scott Adams worked with named Anita, who is described as sharing Alice's "pink suit, fluffy hair, technical proficiency, coffee obsession and take-no-crap attitude."
Pronounced "Ah-SHOOK" A young intern. He works very hard but does not always get proper recognition. Asok is intensely intelligent but naive about corporate life; the shattering of his illusions are frequent comic fodder. Asok is Indian, and has graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). The others, especially the Boss, often unwittingly trample on his cultural beliefs. If Asok mentions this, he is normally ignored. Asok's test scores (a perfect 1600 on the old SAT) and the fact his IQ is 240, shows that he is the smartest member of the engineering team. There are a few jokes about him having psychic powers which he learned at the IIT. (Examples are: telekinesis, being able to make others explode, etc.)
Dilbert's pet dog. Dogbert is a megalomaniac intellectual, planning to one day conquer the world and enslave all humans. He once succeeded, but got bored and quit. Often seen in high ranking consultant jobs, he constantly abuses his power and fools the management of Dilbert's company, though considering the intelligence of the company's management in general and Dilbert's boss in particular, this is not very hard to do. Dogbert also enjoys pulling scams on unsuspecting, and usually dull customers to steal their money. However, despite Dogbert's cynical exterior, he has been known to pull his master out of some tight jams. Dogbert's nature as a pet was more emphasized during the earlier years of the strip; as the strip progressed, references to his acting like a dog became less common, although he still wags his tail when his dubious plots have succeeded. Another note is, when a future Dilbert traveled back in time, he referred to Dogbert as "majesty", indicating that he will actually rule the world sometime in the distant future.
A rat formerly used as a laboratory test animal. A cheerful pollyanna character. He usually gets all the lowest and most menial jobs (e.g. temp.). Ratbert is originally disliked by Dilbert for being a rat, but is later accepted as a member of the family. He was originally not supposed to be a long-lasting character, but because he was a good character he was kept.
The company's evil feline Human Resources director. Although he was originally just supposed to be around for a few strips, the fans named him and demanded more of him. He derives sadistic pleasure from seeing employees worry about their jobs, and particularly enjoys tormenting Wally. Merely mentioning the term "layoffs" causes him to purr with delight.
The misanthropic and bitter secretary of the Pointy-Haired Boss, who hates her boss and all of her co-workers. Originally a minor character in the company where Dilbert, Alice, Asok, and Wally work, her character's popularity as the "secretary from hell" grew enough to the point where she was given entire storylines to herself in the strip.
Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light
A minor demon who punishes people for small crimes by "darning them to heck" with his "pitchspoon", a parody of Satan (the "Prince of Darkness"). Ostensibly, Phil is eventually revealed to be the Pointy-Haired Boss's brother. Adams is inconsistent with his depictions of Phil; he sometimes has horns and sometimes does not, and sometimes carries a pitchfork rather than a spoon. Adams has stated that the inconsistency is because he sometimes forgets that Phil is not supposed to have a cape or a pitchfork.
People from a fictional Fourth World nation, used as a parody of outsourcing. Their culture is radically different from western culture, and their patriarchy often annoys Alice. Their country is covered in waist-deep mud which they keep wet using expensive bottled water as revealed in one strip. At one point, the French declare war on Elbonia because they tried to launch a French satellite with the town slingshot before Dilbert gets there; the satellite flattens the French Embassy. Elbonian's head garments, long beards, male-centric culture, and technological underdevelopment suggest it is largely modeled after a third world Islamic society, such as Afghanistan, and are also similar to Post-Soviet States in their hats and former communism. Scott Adams stated in Seven Years of Highly Defective People that Elbonia was created to allow for a foreign nation inoffensive to people outside the United States, and is based on the average American's perception of any country without cable TV. Despite this, Adams has been accused of racism several times.
Bob the Dinosaur
A dinosaur who is the wedgie enforcer at the office. He was found after Dilbert calculated that dinosaurs could not be extinct, and they therefore must be in hiding. Bob is found hidden behind the couch. Bob has a wife and son, which also live in Dilbert's house, but they are seen far less frequently than him, since most of his time he spends at Dilbert's office, where his wedgie duty is constantly in need while working with incompetent co-workers, salesmen, or clients.
The popularity of the comic strip within the corporate sector has led to the character of Dilbert being used in many business magazines and publications (he has made several appearances on the cover of Fortune).
The Toronto Star, Montreal's La Presse, the Indianapolis Star, the Providence Journal, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Brisbane Courier Mail, the Windsor Star, and San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications, run the comic in the business section, separate from other comics, which together have their own section. This is done in much the same manner that Doonesbury is now often carried only in the editorial section due to its pointed commentary.
In the episode "Review" of the sitcom NewsRadio news reporter Matthew Brock discovers "Dilbert" and after his news director Dave Nelson refuses to let him do a story about it, he quits. Scott Adams also makes a cameo appearance in the episode. As a funny sidenote Andy Dick who plays Matthew later played Dilbert's assistant Alfonso in the Dilbert animated series.
Norman Solomon believes the strip is insufficiently critical of CEOs and disrespectful of ordinary working people (The Trouble with Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh, Common Courage Press, 1997). The idea that white-collar workers might be in need of more respect contrasts with a common belief that white collar career is a free choice, but downsizing and some of the pressures on Dilbert have been predicted in the 1970s by Harry Braverman (Labor and Monopoly Capital, Monthly Review Press, 1998 being the most recent re-issue). Dealing with those pressures would require Dilbert to be more blue-collar in terms of strife over his work process, but in Dilbert the boss can be lampooned but has to be obeyed. Solomon's argument followed a similar one made by his cover artist Tom Tomorrow in his weekly comic strip This Modern World. Adams responded in the 2/2/98 strip and in his book The Joy of Work, simply restating Solomon's argument, apparently suggesting the argument was absurd and required no rebuttal.
Peter Drucker and C. Wright Mills both pointed out the paradox on which the strip is based but does not address: Dilbert, Wally, Alice and the rest of the gang are at one and the same time supposed to compete with each other, and produce a collective product. The strip satirizes the victims of this double bind. Solomon's concern is that it reconciles people to their fate, and does not show them a way out.
Bill Griffith, in his daily strip Zippy the Pinhead, used his strip as a forum to criticize Adams' artwork as simplistic. Adams again responded on 5/18/98, this time having Dogbert create a comic strip called Pippy the Ziphead, "cramming as much artwork in as possible so no one will notice there's only one joke...[and] it's on the reader." Dilbert notes that the strip is "nothing but a clown with a small head who says random things" and Dogbert responds that he is "maintaining his artistic integrity by creating a comic that no one will enjoy."
In the late 1990s, an amateur cartoonist named Karl Hörnell (credited as "Karl H.") began submitting a comic strip parodying both Dilbert and the Image Comics series The Savage Dragon to Dragon creator Erik Larsen. This soon became a regular feature in the Savage Dragon comic book, entitled "The Savage Dragonbert and Hitler's Brainbert" ("Hitler's Brainbert" being both a loose parody of Dogbert as well as the Savage Dragon villain identified as Adolf Hitler's disembodied, superpowered brain). The strip began as a specific parody of the comic book itself, set loosely within the office structure of Dilbert, with Hörnell doing a skillful emulation of Adams' cartooning style. It later evolved into commentary on the comics industry in general, with much the same take as Adams has on corporate structure. The strip's final appearance in The Savage Dragon was in issue #99, cover-dated May 2002; it was collected in its entirety later that same year in Savage Dragonbert: Full Frontal Nerdity.
The show was also parodied in the animated television show Family Guy in the episode Mr. Griffin Goes to Washington. The main character Peter claims that "The business world sure can be funny," and the scene switches over to Dilbert and Wally going over a lame office joke. Then it jumps back to Peter who says, "Well, sometimes the business world can be funny."
Terms invented by Adams in relation to the strip, and sometimes used by fans in describing their own office environments, include "Induhvidual". This term is based on an American English slang expression "duh!". The conscious misspelling of individual as induhvidual is a pejorative term for people who are not in the DNRC (Dogbert's New Ruling Class). Its coining is explained in Dilbert Newsletter #6.
The strip has also popularized the usage of the terms "cow-orker","splendsmartful", and PHB. The word frooglepoopillion is occasionally used for an extremely large number, a word coined by the marketing department at the company where Dilbert works, in a strip where it was revealed the company owed so much money that no word existed to describe the number.
Some fans have used "Dilbertian" or "Dilbertesque" to analogize situations in real life to those in the comic strip.
In 1997 Scott Adams masqueraded as a management consultant to Logitech executives (as Ray Mebert), with the cooperation of the company's vice-chairman. He acted in much the way he portrays management consultants in the comic strip, with an arrogant manner and bizarre suggestions, such as comparing mission statements to broccoli soup. He convinced the executives to replace their existing mission statement for their New Ventures Group, "to provide Logitech with profitable growth and related new business areas", with "to scout profitable growth opportunities in relationships, both internally and externally, in emerging, mission-inclusive markets, and explore new paradigms and then filter and communicate and evangelize the findings".
In order to demonstrate what can be achieved with the most mundane objects if planned correctly and imaginatively, Adams has worked with companies to develop "dream" products for Dilbert and company. In 2001 he collaborated with IDEO, a design company, to come up with the "perfect cubicle", a fitting creation since many of the Dilbert strips make fun of the standard cubicle desk and the environment it creates. The result was both whimsical and practical.
This project was followed in 2004 with designs for Dilbert's Ultimate House (abbreviated as DUH). An energy-efficient building resulted, designed to prevent many of the little niggles which seem to creep into a normal building. For instance, to spare time from having to buy and decorate a Christmas tree every year, the house has a large yet unapparent closet adjacent to the living room where the tree can be stored for later holiday seasons.
In addition to the National Cartoonists Society Reuben Awards won by Adams, the Dilbert strip has received a variety of other awards. Adams was named best international comic strip artist of 1995 in the Adamson Awards given by the Swedish Academy of Comic Art.
Dilbert was named the best syndicated strip of 1997 in the Harvey Awards and won the Max & Moritz Prize as best international comic strip for 1998. In the Squiddy Awards, Dilbert was named the best daily strip of 1996 and 1997, and the best comic strip of 1998 and 2000. The strip also won the Zombie Award as the best comics strip of 1996 and 1997, and the 1997 Good Taste Award as the best strip of 1996.