Dilbert, the well-known comic strip by cartoonist Scott Adams about the office everyman and his crew of incompetent colleagues, was the first syndicated comic that focused primarily on the workplace when it launched in 1989.
Five years later, it had become so successful that Adams quit his corporate career to work on it full-time.
It wasn’t a straight line to success. Early versions of the comic were rejected by several publications, including The New Yorker and Playboy.
It wasn’t until an editor at United Media saw it and recognised her own husband in the character that it finally got its start, says Adams in his upcoming book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.”
Ever since, the comic has explored topics like the inefficiency of meetings, the uselessness of management, and the absurdity of office politics.
Exclusively for Business Insider, Adams looked through the archives and shared his 10 favourite Dilbert comics.
Below, he explains why he chose each and counts them down to his absolute favourite of all-time.
10) Oct. 10, 2009: “Dream job”
“This comic causes the reader to imagine a funny future in which Wally will only pretend to do the assignment. Humour sometimes works best when one suggests what is coming without showing it. People laugh harder when they need to use their imaginations to complete the joke.
“I also like comics in which characters are unusually happy about something trivial, evil, or selfish. That juxtaposition is always funny to me.
“Another technique I often use involves characters saying things that should only be thought. That creates the inappropriateness that gives it an edge.”
9) Sept. 24, 2009: “Opportunities”
“Management-by-slogan usually comes across to employees as ridiculous and condescending. That, in part, is what makes the staff in this comic so uncaring about the boss’s house burning down. The ordinary evil of regular people is always funny to me. It’s easy to relate to it.”
8) Nov. 12, 2009: “Roll a doughnut in front of the cave”
“A common humour technique involves juxtaposing something of immense importance with something trivial. The pairing of things that don’t belong together makes your brain “sneeze” in the form of a laugh. In this comic, Wally is comparing his digestive system to Jesus rising from the dead. A dash of spiritual inappropriateness gives it some seasoning.”
7) Dec. 3, 2009: “Reusable presentation”
“As I mentioned, I enjoy humour that highlights the selfish nature of people. We all relate to it. If you have a job, you probably spend some part of each day trying to disguise your selfish motives as win-win scenarios. And your attempts are probably as transparent as Wally’s.
“I also like jokes that involve inappropriate solutions to problems. This one has both. When you can layer two humour triggers in the same comic it almost always works.”
6) Dec. 9, 2009: “Catching up to competition”
“This one works because you never see the pointy-haired boss’s reaction, but you can imagine it vividly.
“Keeping true to the major theme of Dilbert, this comic highlights the uselessness of management. If you’ve ever had a boss, this one probably hits home for you.”
5) Jan. 7, 2010: “Synchronizing excuses”
“I very much enjoy mocking common sayings. Often those little nuggets of wisdom make no sense whatsoever, but we’ve heard them so often they feel as if they do. Good things might come to those who wait, but so does starvation.
“This comic is also an example of what I call an ‘engineered solution.’ Wally has cleverly synchronised his excuses to the thunderstorm. I find cleverness to be funny when it is in the service of selfishness.”
4) April 13, 2010: “Asok’s snout”
“Here I’m juxtaposing an ordinary workplace lunch with the ridiculousness of Asok having a dog snout. Dilbert and Wally take it in stride. That’s the first humour level, but it wouldn’t be enough to make it work.
“The second level is that we all know people who value form over function while being oblivious to how others view them. When you shine a light on irrational human behaviour it usually triggers a laugh reflex.”
3) Sept. 27, 2010: “Brain golfing”
“If you attend meetings, you probably spend a lot of time thinking your own thoughts while your coworkers drone on. This comic is funny to me because the boss is revealing his selfish thoughts, and also because ‘brain golfing’ is a funny combination of words. I figured most golfers could relate. I doubt I’m the only person who brain golfs.”
2) Dec. 2, 2010: “Old Johannsen”
“Wally is the worst employee of all time, but he’s likeable in his own way, so we enjoy seeing him get a win at the expense of the pointy-haired boss. And I think everyone who has a boss also dreams of becoming indispensable. It’s easy to relate to Wally’s glee in the third panel.”
1) Nov. 9, 1993: “Unix programmers”
“This might be my all-time favourite Dilbert comic. When I was on the speaking circuit I always used it to end my talks to thunderous laughter. It’s naughty, clever, and it has a point of view. And it makes the reader imagine what happened before that moment shown in the comic and what might happen after. It’s rare to pack so many elements in one comic.”
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