January 04, 2018


Dilbert Gets Re-accommodated. By Scott Adams. Andrews McMeel. $14.99.

Onward and Downward: The Twenty-Second “Sherman’s Lagoon” Collection. By Jim Toomey. Andrews McMeel. $14.99.

     Things and people continue to mess up in entirely expected but still humorous ways in certain comic strips – certainly in Scott Adams’ Dilbert. The title of the latest Dilbert collection relates to one of the few strips not set in the stultifying, soul-draining office environment where Dilbert and colleagues usually dwell – it is set in the stultifying, soul-draining environment of air travel instead. The reference to being “re-accommodated” stems from one specific news story in which a passenger was dragged, injured and bleeding, from his paid-for seat on a flight that the airline had overbooked. But it is not necessary to remember that specific incident (the tone-deaf, unapologetic airline really did say the victim had been “re-accommodated”) to empathize with Dilbert when his re-accommodating consists of being thrown onto the tarmac because he has a low-priced ticket and little upper-body strength, being therefore of little value to the airline and having little chance of resisting physical relocation. Of course, most of the time, Dilbert features soul-draining and ennui (made funny) rather than anything as dramatic as being thrown out of an airplane. The strip also features pointed and (to anyone who works or has ever worked in a corporate environment) immediately understandable blame-shifting. Thus, at one point, the Pointy-Haired Boss explains that the Sales Department is blaming Marketing for low demand, so Marketing is blaming Engineering “for making a product no one wants,” so the boss, being head of Engineering, shifts blame to “customers for misleading us about their needs.” Anyone who does not believe this sequence is taken from real life has not been living real life, or at least not real corporate life. Another noteworthy sequence in this book is based on Samsung’s unfortunate experience with Note7 phones that had a tendency to, well, blow up, because of a battery problem. Adams did not make that up, and he does not make any specific reference to the story here – but the implicit reference is very clear and gets the usual Dilbert twist. Discovering that the batteries in their phones explode, Dilbert’s firm first decides to load the phones into a truck and park it by a competitor’s building. Then Dogbert, in his occasional role as an overpaid and cynical consultant, suggests a “Van Gogh strategy” to “convince people that having one ear is cool.” But it is the bullet-headed CEO who comes up with just the right idea to stop the bad press the incident has produced: after Dilbert suggests sending media members the new, improved phone to show how well the company is now doing, the CEO sends them the exploding model, claiming it is the new one, because, he tells Dilbert, “your way left too much to chance.” Dilbert is full of approaches like this. Another has the company launching a spaceship to Mars filled with “our worst employees…just in case it explodes,” which means “we have two ways to win and no way to lose.” Dilbert and his coworkers, on the other hand, have zero ways to win and an apparently infinite number of ways to lose. But that is what makes Dilbert consistently funny – as long as you don’t think it is about your company or your corporate culture. Which, however, it probably is.

     Speaking of culture, there isn’t much of it in Sherman’s Lagoon, but at least the underwater denizens keep trying. Perpetual schemer Hawthorne the hermit crab, for instance, sets up various lagoon dwellers as radio hosts, but then changes the station’s format and fires them all after deciding “all bagpipes all the time” would bring in a bigger audience. Jim Toomey introduces one of his periodic real-science elements in typical Sherman’s Lagoon fashion by having Sherman swim to Angola to see “a weird jellyfish called the ‘spaghetti monster,’” who explains that each of his tentacles has a different function, including one “for obscene gestures.” Megan, Sherman’s better half, decides to run a community fair to raise money for playground equipment for lagoon dwellers’ youngsters, makes it clear that “volunteering is mandatory.” But during the fair, she rejects crafts projects that do not seem lucrative enough, because it isn’t the thought that counts, “it’s the cash.” The lagoon’s local hacker and knowledge base, eyeglasses-wearing Ernest (how do those things stay on?), studies microscopic “tardigrades,” which are (really) “commonly known as ‘water bears,’” and suddenly there are some giant-size ones in the lagoon to tell the regular cast of characters, “you’re all ugly, and you smell weird.” And then there is the family-oriented Sunday strip in which Sherman shows his son, Herman, how to tickle hairless beach apes (that is, humans) with a seagull feather to hear them chuckle, since “they all laugh a little differently,” and it is all good clean lightheartedness until, reverting to great white shark mode, Sherman says “we’ve had enough fun – let’s eat one.” There is nothing in Sherman’s Lagoon comparable to the corporate mindlessness in Dilbert, although readers may have a sneaking suspicion that Hawthorne would do just fine in Dilbert’s world if he could only be a little less honest. After all, at one point he says, “Full disclosure: every business I’ve tried has failed.” The business of undersea humor, with occasional land-linked connections, seems, however, to be doing just fine in Sherman’s Lagoon.

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