What the Heck is This Dilbert? A Neophyte's Guide to the Funnies

When mild mannered classical archaeology concentrator David Rogers '92 left Harvard, and took his high-caliber comic strip "Dim Wits" along with him, The crimson had to fill the void with several syndicated strips. Although it was high praise for Rogers that his strip could only be replaced with several professional ones, many readers were confronted with a serious question. "What the heck is this Dilbert?"

"Dilbert" needs to grow on the reader. upon first introduction to Scott Adams' strip about an inept scientist/bureaucrat and his fiendish canine, one might find the artwork too primitive, and the dog to be just too darn cruel. however, one soon realizes that the artworks is more stylistic than crude-the strip works partly because of its uniquely flat look. In addition, one starts to actually like the megalomaniacal mutt, Dogbert, and his some time sick sense of humor.

Dilbert is nothing more than a pathetic stooge. It's the scheming dog, and Dilbert's cruel co-workers that often provide the jokes at Dilbert's expense.

The current storyline about a clearly fraudulent "investment advisor" seems to be pretty good although Dilbert's alter ego, Dogbert, and his School of Common Sense for truly stupid people are nowhere to be found. What's funnier is that although Dilbert recognizes that to give his money to this guy is the equivalent of "flinging" his hard earned cash "out the window," he will probably invest with this guy anyway, just as he always asks out women who will inevitably humiliate him in some excruciatingly painful fashion.

Is sum, Dilbert, despite all his brainpower, is a hapless fool. Good strip, though.


Another recent addition is Mike Peters' "Mother Goose and Grimm." Peter is a solid cartoonist known not only for this strip, but also for his work as a political cartoonist, often seen on the Perspectives page of Newsweek. Although he is not the greatest talent ever to grace to medium, he produces consistently good work, despite being occassionally tasteless, in both his daily and his political cartoons.

Grimm, the rather deranged Old Yeller (I'm referring to the pre-rabies Yeller of course) has done one too many "fire hydrant" jokes for my tastes, but he's weird enough to like. The strip alternates between one shot gags and storylines, the one shot gags often being funnier. A recent "Soup of the Day joke" involving some confusion between they day (Wednesday) and the soup, was stupid, but funny, which is perhaps a good way to summarize the strip.

The third addition to The Crimson is Jeff MacNelly's "Shoe." MacNelly's a Pulitzer Prize winner, is really much more at home with political cartooning. Shoe, his daily strip about a community of journalists living in the trees (they're birds) was at its best when he started it a number of years ago, and now has settled into a "better than average state," One wonders if MacNelly does this syndicated strip more for the daily cash than anything else: as good as the strips is (it's usually worth at least a chuckle) his political work is much better. Though his work is consistently above average, it still does not live up to his potential. Perhaps this is why Shoe, although a current mainstay of the industry, does not enjoy the Widespread popularity of other strips such as "Calvin and Hobbes." How imaginative can one be with a bunch of crusty old birds? At least, there are some brains behind this strip, which make it a decent choice for The Crimson, as opposed to say, Dennis the Menace or Marmaduke. Unfortunately, the strip doesn't seem to have much a of a storyline, other than running jokes about Roz's restaurant, the Professor's messy desk, or his nephew's poor performance in school.

A mainstay of The Crimson is the classic comic strip, "Doonesbury," by Gerry Trudeau. Despite the fact that he went to Yale, Trudeau is an artist who is remarkably sensitive to the pulse of our society. This is why Doonesbury will often be found on the nation's editorial pages as opposed to the comics pages, a sign that Doonesbury's work is lightyears ahead of the inanities of Jim Davis' Garfield.

Trudeau, Through his cash of well-developed characters, has dealt with the issues on the American scene for about two decades. He has centered storylines on the conflict in Vietnam, to AIDS related death on a character, something that no other popular cartoonist has ever been able to do.

Furthermore, no one has been able to capture the essence of and crush public figures like Trudeau. In Doonesbury, he doesn't bother to draw actual portraits of prominent politicians. Instead, he reduces them economically and hilariously to talking symbols, conveying their characters with just a few strokes of the pen. Dan Quayle is nothing but a talking feather; George Bush a Few symmetrical lines floating in the air and David Duke a talking swastika.

A recent story line reflects some of the strips lighter humor. Boopsie, the airhead actress has been telling a charming, yet typical tale of all her reincarnations from "a plague-stricken calligrapher... from Gunbad-i-Qabus" to a victim of headhunters in the Malaysian Archipelago. From the highly political to the highly bizarre, Trudeau's Doonesbury is always entertaining and is definitely one of the best strips running in newspapers today.

Bill Watterson's "Calvin and Hobbes" is a pure joy to read. This is quite ironic considering that the title characters are named after two philosophers who had rather bleak views of human nature. The adventures of mischievous and precocious six years-old Calvin and his quiet, reflective, stuffed tiger Hobbes a not only capture a child-like sense of fun and adventure, but also at times see as social commentary. Watterson's recent leave of absence is understandable give his wonderful consistency. It must be imaginatively exhausting to continually come up with stuff this entertaining. Perhaps the strip isn't s sophisticated as Doonesbury, but that doesn't matter. Calvin and Hobbes is the best strip around.

The recent stroyline about art and whether it should by produced for its sales value or for its own sake was quite entertaining. Hobbes, the idealist made a lovely clay tiger. Calvin the cynic, took his play-doh and produced a hundred shrunken heads of popular cartoon characters" and "stitched their mouths shut." Sick, but funny.

Now Calvin is dealing with the fact that he saw disturbing omen in the sky of late...his own face in the clouds, sticking its tongue out at him. Calvin however, in another telling reflection of our society's emphasis on science and fact, at the expense of fantasy, merely sees this as being a sing of "very peculiar high altitude winds," and doesn't worry.

As funny as the strip is now, it's not quite at the creative level it was during the days of the cardbrod transmogrifier/time machine, or the mutant snowmen that came to life. Still, the strip is top notch.

And, although not all of the strips are currently living up to their potential, they're Still a fine selection of the industry's talent, each black and white gems of sequential art worthy of replacing the home grow Dim Wits.

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