So, Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, is an Intelligent Design apologist, even though he feels compelled to issue unconvincing denials. I don't really have much to say about Adams and ID per se, beyond commenting that Adams is clearly a moron. However, this topical hook gives me a good excuse to ask: What the fuck is the deal with Dilbert?
I've always hated Dilbert. Well, hate isn't the right word, because it implies a level of respect that the Dilbert comic strip does not merit; it would be more accurate to say I feel contempt or irritation towards the Dilbert strip. We're supposed to identify with the endlessly put-upon Dilbert character, and sympathize with all the indignities he suffers, but how much sympathy can you feel for a character who never, ever does anything to fundamentally change his situation? I, and many people I know, have worked in IT in some capacity or another for many cumulative years, and we don't answer to pointy-haired bosses. Guess why? Because we don't choose to put ourselves in those situations, and also because --- I hate to be completely elitist about this, but I will be --- we're good enough at our jobs to quit and get better offers if we end up in that sort of terrible situation. Also, we have some modicum of self-respect.
But let's leave aside the fundamentally self-imposed mediocrity of the Dilbert character. Let's examine the quality of Dilbert purely as a comic. Comics rise or fall based on two elements: the art, and the writing. In both of these areas, Dilbert sucks.
Is Dilbert well-drawn? Don't make me laugh. Could Adams ever, in his wildest dreams, approach the astonishing visual inventiveness of Bill Watterson? Ha! Does his art have even an ounce of the grace of Charles Shulz's? Ha! Ha!
OK, I've just mentioned two of the all-time greats of comics; let's drop it down a notch and compare it to relative neophytes like, say, Cat and Girl. Look at the use of space, and the visual rhythm established by the alternation of light characters on dark background with the inverse. Look at the delightful posture of the girl in the final panel. Or, if you prefer relatively conventionally blocked strips, then have a look at Piled Higher and Deeper, which is drawn by an
assistant professor instructor/researcher of computer science at Caltech... in his spare time (not something that junior CS profs faculty at Caltech are known to have in great supply). The expressiveness of the characters' faces and postures carries this strip.
Look at those comics, and then look at Dilbert. The comparison's just embarrassing. Adams's compositions are boring; his lines are clunky; there's not an ounce of visual wit. I think you could draw a reasonable Dilbert comic by pasting clip art of Dilbert characters at random inside three panels. To call Dilbert's art amateurish would be an insult to amateurs, since I've known a few amateur cartoonists in my life and literally every single one has been a better artist than Scott Adams.
So much for drawing. Is Dilbert well-written? Pffft. I could point you once again to any of the comics above for examples of superior writing, but there's plenty more where that came from. Let me pick just one more example. Let's compare Dilbert to another geeky comic about people wasting their lives on pointless endeavors --- consider Penny Arcade, which is about two extremely profane and narcissistic souls who would be content to spend their lives sitting in front of a television playing video games, and occasionally committing petty acts of violence. Penny Arcade also happens to be drawn far better than Dilbert, but for the moment I wish to draw your attention to how this strip's writing, for example, tweaks the rules of pacing for a three-panel strip: an offhand joke's crammed into the top half of the first panel, and the setup appears in the second panel. Also, notice the third panel's deft use of implication and parallel syntax ("I've got an idea."..."I don't have any ideas."), where a lesser writer would have simply had the murderous character declare his intentions directly. And then there's this rather touching strip about a nervous father-to-be, which pretty much speaks for itself.
Dilbert? Um, right. First, it's utterly conventional: there's a setup, a beat, and a punchline. Second, the punchline's invariably weak: in the case of the comic linked above, the boss wants to hear what he wants to hear. Ha ha. Yep, comedy gold.
So, basically, Dilbert's art sucks, and its writing sucks. There are zillions of comics out there that are objectively better in every way. So what is the deal?
I don't know, but I conjecture that Dilbert is Cathy for the disgruntled, self-pitying office drone set. It's a crude, one-joke strip that compensates for its shoddy quality by flattering the prejudices and salving the insecurities of its target audience. Of course, every artist and writer knows that pandering to your audience's pettiest psychological needs isn't exactly a formula for producing great work. Great art works --- including great comics --- always possess a certain integrity. It's an integrity that Scott Adams's work lacks, either because of his character, or, more likely, because of his middling talent.
Well, maybe it's not so surprising, then, that Adams considers the arguments put forth by Intelligent Design and evolution advocates equally (in)credible. When you've spent your life being rewarded for producing crap, then maybe you begin to lose the ability to distinguish between crap and its opposite.