July 20, 2006


What Would Wally Do? A Dilbert Book. By Scott Adams. Andrews McMeel. $16.95.

     Here’s a book whose title question is easily answered.  The answer is: as little as possible.  That’s the way of life for Wally, the dumpy engineer with glasses and six hairs (three at each side of his head) who at one point asks Dilbert, “Would you say I’m kind of a Renaissance loser?”

     Well, he is: “You have no pride and no ambition,” says the ever-ambitious, ever-frustrated Alice.  But Wally is not just a loser.  He’s actually one of Scott Adams’ more intriguing characters – based, as Adams explains in the introduction to this large-size “Treasury” volume, on someone with whom the cartoonist once worked.  If everyone in the Dilbert strip is dysfunctional except Dogbert – as Dogbert himself once proclaimed – Wally would seem to be the most dysfunctional character of all.  He does nothing, gets nowhere, has no friends and not even the semblance of a social life, and is always one step away from being fired.

     But that’s Wally’s peculiar genius.  He stays one step away from disaster.  At one point, Catbert, the diabolical feline director of human resources at Dilbert’s company, says he has mapped Wally’s genome: “Your genes predict that you will be a bitter, lazy, Caucasian guy with six hairs and poor vision.”  And so Wally is.  But Wally has an answer for everything, including that description: he becomes outraged, then falls asleep.  As Gertrude Stein once said in an entirely different context, there’s no there there.

     Yet Wally does have power, in his own way.  When the Pointy Haired Boss hires Rasputin as a consultant because of his charisma, and Rasputin tries the Evil Eye on Wally, it is Rasputin who chokes – because, as Dilbert remarks to Wally, “Your anti-charisma is strong today.”

     And that’s what is much in evidence in this book: Wally’s anti-charisma.  Wally’s work non-ethic makes a weird kind of sense in the Kafkaesque environment of Adams’ strip.  Dilbert deliberately does a shoddy job on an unnecessary project so he can get to lunch on time, saying as he eats, “Today I traded my work ethic for a banana.”  Wally responds, “I ate that banana years ago.”  It makes no sense at all, and a weird kind of sense at the same time.

     The same could be said of the arrangement of strips in this book.  Because Wally is the focus, many single strips here are taken out of context from multi-strip sequences, making them less than intelligible (not that Wally would mind).  Occasionally, the layout is simply bizarre: Wally’s coccyx-removal scheme, on page 178, is set up on page 203; his escaped-felon ploy is on page 180, but the setup is on page 206; and on page 110, three strips from a series about the Queen Bee of Marketing are reprinted in reverse order (the sequence’s finale, which did not involve Wally, is not included at all).

     Like most Andrews McMeel “Treasury” books, this one contains almost nothing new: just a few previously uncollected strips, plus color in the Sunday panels – which adds little to Dilbert and is not much reason to buy the book.  But this 27th Dilbert collection has an unusually strong focus on a single, even-weirder-than-the-rest element of Adams’ strip, and that is a reason to buy it.


  1. Wally is my new role model. And yes... Dilbert does have a Kafka-like flair. I never saw that before but it makes perfect sense.

  2. I have to laugh. This is the perfect column. I can't believe that banana cartoon was 2006 or earlier. I loved it so much I cut it out and had it hanging around my desk for years. I was explaining it to somebody this afternoon and had forgotten Dilbert's line which lead to Wally's "I ate that banana years ago." That's a high quality punch line! Thank you for writing this.