Cartoonist Scott Adams made Dilbert, which is about a man who works in an office with a bunch of bad coworkers. It was the first syndicated comic that focused mostly on the workplace when it came out in 1989. Fifteen years later, Adams had quit his job at a big company and worked on it full-time.
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It wasn’t easy to get there. The New Yorker and Playboy didn’t want to publish early versions of the comic, so they didn’t want to print them. “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” by Adam Adams: It wasn’t until an editor at United Media saw it and saw her own husband in the character that it finally got going.
Since then, the comic has talked about things like the wastefulness of meetings, the pointlessness of management, and the absurdity of office politics, to name a few things.
It was just for Business Insider that Adams looked through the comics archives on Dilbert.com to find his top 10. Then, he tells you why he chose each one and says which is his favorite of all time.
1. October 10, 2009: “Dream job”
“This comic makes the reader think of a funny future in which Wally only pretends to do the work. Humor sometimes works best when someone says what is going to happen but doesn’t show it. People laugh more when they have to use their imaginations to finish the joke.
“I also like comics in which characters are surprised to be happy about something that isn’t important, bad, or selfish, even though it isn’t important. When I see this, I always find it funny.
“Another way I use is when characters say things that should only be thought. That makes it seem like it’s out of place, which gives it an edge.”
2. September 24, 2009: “Opportunities”
“Management by slogan is usually seen by employees as silly and condescending. They don’t care about the boss’s house burning down in part because they don’t think it’s important. Every time I see someone do something bad, I find it funny. It’s easy to connect with it.”
3. November 12, 2009: “Roll a donut in front of the cave”
“A common way to make people laugh is to put something that is very important next to something that is very small. It makes your brain “sneeze” when you put two things together that don’t go together. He likens his digestive system to Jesus rising from the dead in this comic. A little bit of spiritual insensitivity gives it a little bit of taste.”
4. December 3, 2009: “Reusable presentation”
As I said, I like humor that shows how selfish people are. We can all understand it. Most people who have jobs try to make their selfish goals look like win-win situations at some point during the day. And your efforts may be as obvious as Wally’s were.
“I also like jokes where people come up with bad solutions to problems.” This has both. When you can combine two things that make people laugh in the same comic, it almost always works.
5. December 9, 2009: “Catching up to competition”
In this case, the pointy-haired manager is never going to see what happens, but you can picture it in your mind.
Keep in mind that Dilbert’s main theme is management being useless. This comic shows that. You might be able to relate to this one if you’ve ever had a boss, so read on!
6. January 7, 2010: “Synchronizing excuses”
“I have a lot of fun making fun of common phrases.” Often, these little nuggets of wisdom make no sense at all, but we hear them so often that we think they do. If you’re patient, you might get some good things, but you might also starve to death, so be careful.
A “engineered solution” is also shown in this comic. Wally has cleverly timed his excuses to the storm. As long as cleverness is used for selfish reasons, I find it to be funny.
7. April 13, 2010: “Asok’s snout”
A normal lunch at work is shown next to Asok having a dog snout because it’s so silly Dilbert and Wally take it all in stride, and so do we. First, there’s the level of humor. But that wouldn’t be enough to make it work.
“The second level is that we all know people who care more about how their clothes look than how they work than how other people see them.” When you shine a light on irrational human behavior, it usually makes people laugh.
8. September 27, 2010: “Brain golfing”
“Many people think about their own ideas while their coworkers go on and on in a meeting. There are two things that make this comic fun for me: the boss is revealing his own selfish thoughts, and “brain golfing” is a funny combination of words. I thought most golfers could relate to this. I don’t think I’m the only person who plays brain golf.”
9. December 2, 2010: “Old Johannsen”
“When Wally wins, we enjoy it because the pointy-haired boss isn’t happy about it. Because everyone who has a boss also wants to be important. It’s easy to connect with Wally’s happiness in the third panel of the comic.”
10. November 9, 1993: “Unix programmers”
“This might be my favorite Dilbert comic of all time, but I’m not sure. As a speaker, I always used it to end my talks with a huge round of applause. That thing is bad-mouthed and clever. It also has a point-of-view. And the comic makes the reader think about what happened before and after the moment shown in the comic. It’s rare for a comic to have so many things in it.”