January 19, 2006


Non Sequitur’s Sunday Color Treasury. By Wiley Miller. Andrews McMeel. $16.95.

Thriving on Vague Objectives: A “Dilbert” Book. By Scott Adams. Andrews McMeel. $10.95.

     It turns out that Wiley Miller, creator of the unusual and offbeat Non Sequitur comic strip, isn’t just a funny person (though he is that), an artist with strong political convictions (though he is that, too), or a thoroughgoing cynic (he’s that as well, though not all the time).  Miller is also a highly thoughtful innovator – as is proved in one of the best oversized “Treasury” books to come from Andrews McMeel in a very long time.  No mere collection of previously collected material, with color added – the usual format for “Treasury” volumes – Miller’s book is an extended discussion, packed with examples, of the evolution of Non Sequitur and the way that the strip has in turn pushed the evolution of Sunday comics in general.  It is certainly possible just to read the strips collected here, without the connective copy, and have a wonderful time following Miller’s slightly skewed characters: Obviousman, Lucy and Danae, Homer the Reluctant Soul, Pierre of the North, and many more.  But Miller’s discussion adds a whole new dimension to the comic art.  He explains the way comics have traditionally been colored on Sundays in recent years – and how he became the first artist to color them in a different and far superior way.  He explains how he came up with Obviousman as a character (he is a non-superhero-shaped superhero whose symbol is the word “duh” with a line through it, as in “no duh”) – and to whom the character is a tribute.  He explains why he started drawing Lost Leonard, who wanders the universe messing things up…and Ele, a marsupial mother from “the time before Man” whose name is an acronym for “Extinction Level Event.”  And if you have ever wondered why Miller’s Sunday strips usually run vertically, like a column, instead of in the traditional horizontal pattern, you will find the answer here – and be impressed anew with this artist’s analytical ability.  Some of these strips have been collected before, but never like this: the commentary is as fascinating, and in many ways as much fun, as the strips themselves.

     There’s no commentary in the latest (26th) Dilbert collection except what is inherent in the strip itself – but that’s plenty.  Scott Adams is as single-mindedly consistent in what he produces as Miller is deliberately scattered.  You always know what to expect from a Dilbert collection: pithy observations about modern corporate working life, so-so artwork that has become an imitated style in itself, and weird characters who seem more realistic the farther from reality they are.  In Thriving on Vague Objectives, you will find the dead guy to whom the Pointy Haired Boss pledges his loyalty; the vampire hired as a CEO who turns out to be ineffective in daytime; Loopy, “the woman who couldn’t end a story,” who has a “pursuit chair” so Dilbert cannot escape her droning; and many more.  Also here are Dogbert’s typical schemes, such as becoming responsible for 100% of the spam on the Internet and then getting rid of the FBI agents investigating him by producing a badge and saying he is their boss in disguise.  The lunacy and the reality run on parallel tracks here – sometimes on the same track.  When they collide, as they consistently do, Dilbert is at its funniest.

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