Hagar the Horrible by Dik Browne
'Hägar the Horrible'.

Dik Browne was an American newspaper comic artist. He is best remembered as the creator of the gag comic 'Hägar the Horrible' (1973-   ), about a Viking chief, his crew and his family. Browne is also known as the original illustrator of 'Hi and Lois' (1954-   ), a family gag comic scripted by Mort Walker. Both have become among the longest-running, widest distributed and most beloved newspaper comics in the world. 

Early life
Richard Arthur Browne was born in 1917 in New York City. He was a huge fan of Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain. Chaplin taught him that the best comedy is simple and appeals to basic emotions. Twain taught him that "everything human is pathetic: the secret source of humor is not joy but sorrow." In terms of graphic influences he liked Arnold Roth, Ed Wheelan, Tom Henderson and Harry Haenigsen. Later in his career he also admired Robert Crumb. Browne studied at the New York art school, but left after only one year to work for the New York American as newspaper copy boy. He wanted to become a reporter, but was too shy and absent-minded for that kind of job. He used to get lost in the city, forgot necessary telephone numbers and had a short attention span. Instead the newspaper office sent him off to make sketches of trials, which would later be worked out by a professional artist. When Browne returned his drawings the editors felt they were decent enough to be published without further changes and thus he became the paper's official courtroom sketch artist. He sketched, among others, the trial against gangster Lucky Luciano. In the late 1930s Browne also drew his first comic strip at the request of a Jewish man named Meringdorf: 'Muttle the Gonif'. The work was inspired by the novels of Sholem Alachem, but in a contemporary setting. Meringdorf wrote the text, which was done in Hebrew. The duo tried to sell their comic strip, but never found anyone interested enough to pay a good price for it.

Advertising for Franks, by Dik Browne (1956)
Advertisement comic for Franks (1956).

Early comics career
During World War II Browne drew maps and other technical drawings for Newsweek, which paid much better than his previous job. A short while later he was drafted in the Corps of Engineers. Around the same time he published his first comic strip, 'Ginny Jeep' (1942), in army newspapers. After the war Browne started his long quest for work. He was advised to apply at Johnstone & Cushing, an ad company specialized in advertising comics. Browne did so, but was instantly rejected even before entering the room. As it so happened Tom Johnstone was playing the piano and only asked him one question: "Can you play the piano?" When Browne answered "no" he was told to "go fuck himself." He was just about to walk out again when Jack Cushing asked him if he could take a look at his artwork? Browne answered that he didn't have any current work, since he had been in the army for three years. A new appointment was made, but that very evening the agency rang Browne with the question whether he could make 1000 drawings of love lamps to put on display in the store window, since their original artist had just gone on vacation? Browne did the job in one weekend and was instantly hired.

The Tracy Twins, by Dik Browne (1957)
'The Tracy Twins' (April 1957).

The Tracy Twins
Throughout most of the 1950s Browne remained employed with Johnstone and Cushing. He created various promotional illustrations, including the design of the Chiquita Banana logo, the PowerHouse candy bars, the Bird's Eye bird and the redesign of the 'Campbell Soup Kids' (originally designed by Grace Drayton). Browne also created the adventure comic series 'The Tracy Twins' (1953-1960, written by Al Stenzel) for Boy's Life, the official magazine of the Boy Scouts of America. Even in those days Browne drew admiration from his colleagues. According to Gill Fox, he could draw without constantly looking at his paper. Browne is also credited with the name "big foot character", used to describe the big-feeted characters common in early to mid-20th century humorous U.S. newspaper comics. One day when Stan Drake watched him draw he said that Browne always drew "big foot characters".

Hi & Lois
On 18 October 1954 a spin-off comic of Mort Walker's 'Beetle Bailey' made its debut in the newspapers: 'Hi and Lois'. The comic strip came about since 'Beetle Bailey' had been in syndication for over four years now. The series, which is set on an army base, ran almost parallel with the Korean War (1950-1953). Walker feared that the comic strip would lose its popularity now that the war was over. Therefore he wanted to launch another gag comic. Rather than draw 'Hi and Lois' personally, he wanted another artist to provide the artwork, while he wrote the gags. King Features editor Sylvan Beck had noticed Browne's work in Boy's Life magazine and introduced him to Walker. By sheer coincidence Walker wanted to use the cartoonist who made 'The Trouble Twins' advertising comics for Vaseline, but wasn't aware that this was Browne too! 

Hi and Lois, by Dik Browne
'Hi and Lois' (13 February 1966).

'Hi and Lois' revolves around Beetle's sister, Lois, her husband Hi and their four children Chip, the twins Dot and Ditto and baby Trixie. In Walker's opinion most newspaper comics featured couples who were always argueing. He felt audiences would enjoy a gentler kind of family comic about recognizable everyday situations. 'Hi and Lois' became a success, but 'Beetle Bailey' unexpectedly remained popular too. Thus Walker now had two succesful comics series in his hands. In October 1956 a Sunday page came about. 'Hi and Lois'  had two comic book albums with longer stories, published by Dell in the late 1950s and by Charlton between 1969 and 1971. Over the years Browne and Walker received assistance from Jerry Dumas, Gill Fox, Bob & Greg Gustafson, Madeline Brogan, as well as Walker's sons Greg Walker and Brian Walker (script) and Browne's son Chance Browne (art). In the early 1970s Browne also illustrated two children's novels by Walker, namely 'Most' (1971) and 'Land of Lost Things' (1972).

The series also proved popular in translation: Dutch (in the Netherlands as 'De Familie Achterop', in Flanders as 'De Familie Klepkes'), French ('Flora', and also as 'Hippolyte et Clémentine'), German ('Die Pfifferlinge'), Spanish ('Lalo y Lola'), Italian (As 'Hi e Lois', 'Pippo e Lalla', 'Ciccibum' and 'La Famigli De'Guai'), Swedish ('Familjen Flax') and Finnish ('Pirkko ja Pentti' and also as 'Liisa ja Lasse'). All in all it appears in over 1.000 newspapers all over the world.

Hi and Lois, by Dik Browne
'Hi and Lois' (22 November 1964).

Hägar the Horrible
On 4 February 1973 Browne launched his signature series, 'Hägar the Horrible'. Just like 'Hi and Lois' it's a family comic, though set in the early Middle Ages during the era of the Viking invasions. Hägar is an obese, bearded Viking captain who sails the seas to pillage castles, villages and other ships. Browne created the character while chasing his children, pretending to be a Viking. As they yelled at him: "Run, run, it's Hägar the Horrible!" he instanty had a name too. Hägar is often assisted by his not-too bright sidekick Lucky Eddie. Even though his nickname sounds fearsome, Hägar is usually not that succesful in his quests. He fails to intimidate his victims, encounters unforeseen obstacles and loses several battles. His main recurring crew member, Lucky Eddie, is as dumb as a lamp post. Even at home Hägar suffers bad luck. His dominant wife Helga wears the proverbial pants in his household. His son Hamlet is a book wurm who doesn't like fighting. This irks Hägar, who'd rather want him to follow in his footsteps. His teenage daughter Honi bothers him, because she is oogled by far too many men he dislikes. Even the family dog Snert (who also wears a helmet) is disobedient. 

Hagar the Horrible by Dik Browne
'Hägar' (1 February 1974).

Despite being set during the Viking era, 'Hägar the Horrible' does take artistic license with this premise. Hägar has met historical characters like Attila the Hun, Richard III and Nostradamus, even though in reality they lived centuries apart from each other. The series has occasionally given folklore characters like King Arthur, Robin Hood and Lady Godiva cameos too. 'Hägar' is additionally notable for its more old-fashioned look than most other newspaper comics. Browne reintroduced techniques like textures and shading, which hadn't been used in U.S. newspaper comics in ages. He also drew less slick than his colleagues. Browne wasn't afraid to do the lettering by hand. He didn't mind 'off model' or other drawing mistakes either. In his opinion it only added to the comic strip's humanity. 

Hagar the Horrible by Dik Browne
'Hägar' (30 June 1979).

Success
'Hägar the Horrible' is one of the most widespread newspaper comics on Earth, appearing in over 1.000 publications worldwide, including in Arab (هاگار هولناک) . The series is very popular in Europe, where it ran in Dutch ('Hägar de Verschrikkelijke'), French ('Hägar Dünor', a pun on 'Hägar du Nord', meaning 'Hägar from the North' and 'Gare du Nord', meaning: 'Northern Station'), German ('Hägar der Schreckliche'), Spanish ('Olafo el vikingo', also as 'Olafo el Amargado'), Portuguese ('Hagar, o Horrível'), Italian ('Hagar l'Orrible'), Hungarian ('Hagar, a tulok'),  Croatian ('Hogar strašni'), Serbian ('Хогар Страшни') and Turkish ('Bastir Viking'). Naturally it is particularly beloved in Northern Europe, more specifically the Scandinavian countries. In Danish it is known as 'Hagar den skrækkelige' (in some versions as 'Hagar den grusomme' or 'Hagar hin Håndfaste'). in Estonian as 'Hagar Hirmus', Finnish readers know it as 'Hagbad Handfaste', while Swedish readers enjoy it as 'Hagbard Handfaste'.  In Norway, where it runs as 'Hårek den hardbalne', the translators decided to have a little fun by naming the cast members after the main characters from Snorri Sturluson's 'Norse Kings' sagas.

Hagar the Horrible by Dik Browne
'Hägar the Horrible' (29 September 1975).

Personality
Dik Browne was in many ways comparable to Hägar. He not only shared the same beard, but also some of his charming naïvité. The artist is remembered by many of his fellow colleagues as a wonderful, absent-minded man who looked at the world with a sense of wonder. There are numerous humorous anecdotes about his unintentionally funny behaviour. Stan Drake once told a story how Browne was victim of an armed robbery. The artist started looking through his pockets for money, but took out so much junk that the robber eventually gave up and left him standing there. Another night a prostitute tried to get Browne's attention, but he thought she was the wife of an old friend. Browne was also known for not caring what he wore. One day he wanted to leave for work in clothing which horrendously clashed. His wife joked that if he ever got lost, she would have trouble describing his outfit to the police. Another time Browne published a 'Hägar' cartoon he felt was a "clever piece." The next day his editor told him that he had reused this gag, line for line, word for word, from one of his older ‘Hägar’ cartoons. Browne was completely unaware of this, but joked: "As we go through this life we learn that three things tend to repeat themselves: history, sauerkraut and old cartoonists."

Hagar the Horrible by Dik Browne
'Hägar' (9 June 1987).

Recognition
'Hi & Lois' won the award for 'Best Humor Strip' by the National Cartoonists Society three times, namely in 1959, 1960 and 1972. 'Hägar' won the same award three times too, in 1977, 1984 and 1986. Dik Browne is also one of the few cartoonists who won the Reuben Award twice, a feat only parallelled by Charles M. SchulzPat OliphantChester GouldJeff MacNellyGary Larson and Bill Watterson. He won the Reuben Award for 'Hi & Lois' (1962) and for 'Hägar' in its debut year (1973). Browne additionally received the Elzie Segar Award (1973) and Max und Moritz Award (1984). 

Final years and death
Still, Browne's personal life was less idyllic. When he created 'Hägar the Horrible' he went through some horrible times himself. His brother and father-in-law had passed away, his sister and mother-in-law were seriously ill and he suffered from a detached retina which led to glaucoma. His eyesight kept deteriorating leaving him legally blind by the 1980s. He took some assistants, Dick Hodgins Jr. and Ralston "Bud" Jones, while his own sons also learned the profession. Chris and Dik Browne, as well as Jones, wrote gags for the strip independently. The gag selection for a week's production was a true family affair. A folder with strips passed around the dinner table and each member of the Browne household chose their favorites. Chance Browne once remarked that his mother Joan was the "glue that hold Hägar's ship together". Joan Browne died in 1985. Dik Browne would pass away too before the decade was over. In 1988 he fell ill with cancer, forcing him to retire. He died in 1989 at the age of 71. By that point his sons had already taken over his most succesful series. 'Hägar the Horrible' was continued by Chris Browne, while 'Hi & Lois' was passed on to Chance Browne, while Walker's sons Greg Walker and Brian Walker continued the scripts. The character Plato in Mort Walker's 'Beetle Bailey' was based on Browne.

Legacy and influence
Dik Browne was an influence on Gill Fox, Chad Carpenter, Werner Wejp-Olsen, Zoran Kovacevic, Scott LincolnYan Gevuld and K. Garrison. Titan Books began collecting "The Epic Chronicles" of 'Hägar the Horrible' chronologically in 2010.

Chris, Chance and Dik Browne
Chris, Chance and Dik Browne.

Dik Browne on Ger Apeldoorn's blog

Series and books by Dik Browne in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

X

If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.