Cartoonists tend to be reclusive people. Bill Watterson and Charles Schulz come immediately to mind. These are guys who really didn’t want to be celebrities, yet their comics were and are read by millions of people every day, so there’s this Salinger-esque enigma surrounding them.
I can understand a cartoonist’s insistence on privacy, especially in Watterson’s case. If I had my beloved character hijacked by certain interest groups to uncharacteristically kneel in front of a cross or piss on the name of someone’s least favorite football team, I might also retire from the public indefinitely.
But then there’s the guy who writes Dilbert. If you’ve read Scott Adams’ blog, or done what I’ve done and read his blog collection, Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!, then you know he is an entertainer who embraces resistance.
The book is an assortment of reflections, complaints, and anxieties from the author, and it’s actually pretty interesting to see what life is like for one of the most influential smartasses in America. He goes on speaking tours, weasels questionable strips past newspaper editors, and responds to criticism in a manner that makes one hesitate before sending Scott Adams an angry email.
The book is 368 pages, and I like it, but I dare say it’s too much Scott Adams. A Dilbert a day is one thing, but after 20 entries or so the cynicism starts to congeal into a solid ball in my stomach. And at that same point it’s hard to ignore that his entries, though very funny, mostly repeat a formula. Monkey Brain’s a blog book after all (and definitely one of the better ones you’ll ever see), so I had the best time with it as a bedside/bathroom/breakfast table book to be read in snatches.
“…And that’s why kangaroos don’t drive cars.”
Adams’ entries feel pretty similar to his comics in the sense that things can quickly take a turn for the surreal.
There’s this Dilbert I remember where a staff meeting is interrupted suddenly when Wally From the Future emerges from a time portal in someone’s chest. And when he disappears, nobody has anything to say except for “Present” Wally, who remarks, “This is awkward.” A lot of Adams’ posts work just like that.
He’ll begin a post describing a impasse he had with airport security (a recurring theme) and before you know it he says the line, “Today is the day I am most likely to hear the phrase, ‘You smell like an apple cider whore.'”
While the collection is pretty random, there’s actually some rising action to the posts once his wedding day approaches. You can sense his groom-to-be nerves firing, which mostly comes out as bitching about how expensive weddings are. (And this is the creator of Dilbert fretting about finances, so Elvis’ Drive-Thru Love Chapel’s looking pretty good right now.)
And what a strange condition Adams has. I’d never heard of spasmodic dysphonia before reading this, but then again barely anybody has it. It’s a loss of speech that’s determined entirely by context: Scott can speak in front of crowds just fine, but in normal conversation his throat muscles spasm and he can barely squeak out a word. It’s not even connected to social anxiety, making it all the more mysterious and frankly scarier. But there’s a post in Monkey Brain unlike the others—where Adams figures out an odd exercise to recover some of his speech and reports, “This is one of the happiest days of my life.”
Monkey Brain’s a witty enough read that you don’t have to look hard for some choice Dilbertisms, but all the same there’s an appendix of selected quotations. Some of my favorites:
“It’s important to agree with people if you want them to think you are a genius. For most people, the definition of smart is, ‘Thinks exactly like me but even more so.'”
“If you think there’s an easy way to explain to your wife why you were thinking of Vladimir Putin while she was telling you about her feelings, you would be totally wrong.”
“I believe everybody in the world should have guns. I also believe that only I should have ammunition. Because frankly, I wouldn’t trust the rest of you goobers with anything more dangerous than string.”
Considering how many people he’s miffed, I think he has good reason to feel that way.