November 21, 2007


Night Shift: “Baby Blues” Scrapbook 23. By Rick Kirkman & Jerry Scott. Andrews McMeel. $10.95.

Cubes and Punishment: A “Dilbert” Book. By Scott Adams. Andrews McMeel. $16.95.

      You have to hand it to Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott: they’re not content to rest on their laurels. Baby Blues has been a delightful family strip for the better part of two decades now, but writer Scott and artist Kirkman continue to find new ways to highlight the everyday lives of parents Darryl and Wanda and kids Zoe, Hammie and Wren – and, in so doing, highlight every parent’s life. Here are the highs, the lows, even the in-betweens (although there are not many of those, either in Baby Blues or in real life). And here is just enough exaggeration to keep things fresh, funny and always new – which is, come to think of it, sort of like life with kids, if you take just a slightly skewed look at it. Night Shift, the 23rd Baby Blues collection, includes one of the strip’s most delightful sequences, in which Zoe and Hammie ask for every toy in the world for Christmas – and get them! In your dreams, you say? Well, of course it’s a dream; but much as in Dickens’ perennial A Christmas Carol, it’s a dream with a purpose, leading the kids to realize that they don’t want everything after all: “YAY! SANTA DIDN’T BRING US EVERYTHING WE ASKED FOR!!” There’s even a neat twist ending to the whole tale – a small marvel of panel-by-panel storytelling. And there’s plenty more here, much of it relating to mom Wanda: “There’s multitasking, and then there’s Wanda-tasking,” comments Darryl in one strip. In another, Wanda offers “really effective birth control” to three young women simply by trying to take care of all her kids at once while saying, “You know, being a parent is actually a lot harder than it looks.” There’s also Darryl realizing he is “at the bottom of the technology food chain” when he can’t set up his cell phone – but Wanda can do one thing, Zoe the next, Hammie the one after that, and baby Wren the final item. Darryl also has one of those everything-goes-wrong days at the office, stops during his homeward commute, buys a flowering plant for Wanda, gets a huge hug, and thinks, “Take THAT, world!” And all this is not to mention the antics of the kids. Zoe argues with Wanda about what to wear, explaining, “If I don’t disagree with somebody first thing in the morning, I feel weird all day.” Hammie sits at a full refrigerator, asking, “What is there to eat besides everything in here?” And Wren learns how to pick her own clothes: she chews on whatever Wanda dresses her in, crying until she finds an outfit whose taste she likes. See? Just like your own family – but a lot wittier, and adorably drawn.

      Like Baby Blues, Scott Adams’ Dilbert has been around for nearly two decades. But there’s nothing adorable about Adams’ drawing style, and never has been, as will be clear in Cubes and Punishment, the 30th Dilbert collection – which contains quite a few older cartoons, in which the characters look different from the way they do today. Unfortunately, this is a lazy collection, and therefore gets only a (+++) rating – and receives that solely because of the trenchant observations of corporate life with which Dilbert is always filled. The book’s subtitle is “A Collection of Dilbert Comics on the Theme of Unusual Workplace Cruelty,” but there is actually nothing cruel (or unusual) in what is portrayed here, and there are no comments by Adams to offer readers some insight into why he did certain strips the way he did them. Although this is an oversize “Treasury” book, it is likely to be treasured only by readers who have discovered Dilbert fairly recently and have not had a chance to see how far the strip has come since it started out. The book’s chapters stay more-or-less focused on specific characters – the Pointy-Haired Boss, Dilbert, Dogbert, and so on – but there is no real theme here (the subtitle notwithstanding), and the book is really just a bunch of reprints of strips about the Kafkaesque oddities of office life. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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