Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review - Seven Years of Highly Defective People by Scott Adams

Short review: A compilation of Dilbert strips focused on the individual recurring characters including Dogbert, Ratbert, Tina, Wally, the Pointy Haired Boss, and the remaining familiar cast of miscreants, slackers, clueless idiots, and other defective personalities.

Dilbert characters
And how they were developed
With commentary

Full review: After seven years of making the Dilbert comic strip, Scott Adams decided to put together a retrospective that focused on the various characters that had been developed to populate his depiction of the life of a nerdy engineer living in cubicle hell. Seven Years of Highly Defective People is the result.

The book starts off by introducing Dilbert and the formative strips that went into creating him. The strips about Dilbert cover the various issues relating to the character such as his relationship with Dogbert and his own ego, his troubles with technology and work,  his fumbling attempts to meet and date women, and of course, his somewhat temporary death. Throughout the book Adams has included side comments on many strips giving insights into his thinking behind some strips, discussing reactions the comics evoked, and the origins of many characters and strip ideas.

The book then moves on to Dogbert, showing his transformation from a somewhat sarcastic pet dog to the evil scheming dictator-in-waiting that he has become. The book moves on from the inflated ego of Dogbert to the nonexistent self-esteem of Ratbert. Later sections cover the most intelligent garbage man in the world, Liz, the one woman on Earth who seems to want to date Dilbert, Dilbert's Mom (and absent Dad), Bob the Dinosaur, Catbert, and Phil of Insufficient Light.

Just as the strip did, the book then turns to focus primarily on the characters related to Dilbert's workplace. Asok the clueless intern, Tina the Tech Writer (and her opposite Antnia), the pointy-haired boss (who wavers between active evil and simple cluelessness), Alice, Wally, and Carol. Even the Elbonians and Ted the generic guy get a chapter, as do the random creatures that show up (who aren't Dogbert, Catbert, Ratbert, or Bob). Each chapter shows how the character in question developed from an idea into the form they have taken today - in many cases what is now a single character developed out of a category of characters.

The strips are all great, which should be no surprise. The commentary provided by Adams is funny and often illuminating. (My favorite element to the commentary is seeing how many times Adams killed off side characters simply because he was bored with the story line they were in). The book even has a chapter titled "Dogbert in Hats", and any book that features an entire segment about headgear for an evil dog is definitely worth reading.

The only thing about the book that amounts to something of a flaw is that by grouping the strips by character, some of the context of the original story lines in which the strips appeared in is lost - a problem shared with Dilbert Gives You the Business. Because these strips focus on characters and character development, however, there is much less of a disjointed feeling than shows up in that volume. For someone wanting an introduction to the skewed world of Dilbert, this would be a good start. For someone who is a fan of the series, this is an exceptionally fun book to read due to the author commentary. This is simply a great collection of comics from a great strip.

Previous book in the series: Casual Day Has Gone Too Far
Subsequent book in the series: I'm Not Anti-Business, I'm Anti-Idiot

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