June 18, 2009


Freedom’s Just Another Word for People Finding Out You’re Useless: A “Dilbert” Book. By Scott Adams. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs—The Junior Novel; Buck the Amazing Dino Hunter!; The Movie Storybook; My Three Dads; Sid-napped!; All in the Family; Momma Mix-Up; Made You Look! HarperEntertainment. $5.99 (Novel); $4.99 (Buck; Made); $7.99 (Storybook); $3.99 each (Dads; Sid). HarperTrophy. $3.99 each (Family; Momma).

     Some comic-strip characters seem ideally suited to the multi-panel drawings-on-a-page mode. Scott Adams’ Dilbert is a perfect example: it could certainly be turned into an animated cartoon (and has been), but a lot of the fun of the strip resides in observing its relationship to the real business world and then imagining (rather than being told or shown) how the characters sound, move and interact with each other. How does Dilbert’s “hee hee” (at an inappropriate time) actually sound? When Wally betrays an effective employee named Jesus (“pronounced Hay-soos”) in return for 40 shares of stock, and is hit with a “Fzeeet,” what exactly does that sound like? It’s more fun to imagine than to know how the Pointy Haired Boss’s voice sounds when he complains to Wally, “You said I was stealing credit for a good idea, you lying liar!!!” And what about that “foop!” with which Admiral B-tang-B’tang demonstrates the reason his firm is the only “company in the galaxy willing to form a strategic alliance” with Dilbert’s? The latest Dilbert collection – No. 32, if you’re counting – features Dogbert as head of “Deus ex Machina Services”; a guy with “the stink of failure,” which follows him around and rubs off on Dilbert after they shake hands; Wally’s participation in “a program to cure uselessness,” in which the other students are a glass hammer and a bag of nothing; an idea that is “dumber than snake mittens,” created by a guy who asks Dilbert, “What do you have against snake mittens?”; the Dogbert Rumor Control Service (“$10 for each false rumor and $1,000 for any rumor I decide is true”); Dilbert losing his moral compass and therefore being promoted to “vice president of making employees feel miserable and helpless”; and many other instances of utterly absurd events that frequently seem more real than the ones that actually happen in corporations every day. Somehow the three-panel format (eight panels on Sundays) seems absolutely right for Adams’ brand of surreal humor.

     But it’s hard to imagine the animated characters of the Ice Age movies being as funny in comic-strip form as they are (intermittently, to be sure) in movies. The latest film in this franchise, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, has predictably spawned a passel of movie tie-in books, and “spawned” seems the right word for a film that is largely about various creatures (mammoths and dinosaurs) having babies. Like other movie tie-ins, these work at the (+++) level for families that want souvenirs of the film because the kids enjoy it so much, but get no rating at all for anyone else. Even with all the stills from the movie, and drawings of the characters, included in these books, it is hard to imagine them enticing kids to see the film. The characters just don’t live very well on the page – unlike Dilbert and his cohorts, the Ice Age denizens are all about motion. The Junior Novel, by Susan Korman, is for the oldest potential fans of the new film, ages 8-12, and includes eight pages of not-exceptionally-interesting movie stills. Buck the Amazing Dino Hunter! by Annie Auerbach – for ages 7-10 – is about a new character in Dawn of the Dinosaurs, a swashbuckling weasel; here, the film stills are rendered in black and white, which makes them less striking. The Movie Storybook, by Layla Rose, although intended for younger kids (ages 3-7), is really the best souvenir item from this film: it is an oversize, full-color volume packed with stills and containing just enough text to explain the rather thin plot. And then, for super-fans of the film, there are various books for preschoolers and kindergartners in which the focus is on only one element of the movie. My Three Dads (by A.J. Wilde) focuses on Mannie the mammoth, Sid the sloth and Diego the sabertooth, while Sid-napped! (by Ray Santos) is about a plot element in which Sid gets carried off by a mother dinosaur. All in the Family and Momma Mix-Up (both by Sierra Harimann) are Level 2 books in the I Can Read! series: both have plenty of pictures and only a few well-chosen, simple words in large type. And Made You Look! (by Nicole Congleton) is a find-the-differences book, with slight alterations of various scenes from the film (and answers in the back). Even for fans of Dawn of the Dinosaurs, the books do lose something in translation from motion picture to still drawings on a page, but kids with happy memories of the movie will have fun recalling their favorite scenes through these souvenirs.

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