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

Dik Browne was an American cartoonist, best remembered as the creator of the newspaper 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 strip scripted by Mort Walker. Both became some of the longest-running, widest distributed and most beloved newspaper comic features in the world. For Boys' Life, Browne was also the creator of the scouting comic 'The Tracy Twins' (1953-  ).

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, Kimon Nicolaides, Boris Artzybasheff, Heinrich Kley, Tom Henderson and Harry Haenigsen. Later in his career, he also expressed admiration for Robert Crumb. Browne studied at the New York's Cooper Union 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. The newspaper office sent him out to make courtroom sketches during trials. Originally, a professional artist was intended to further work these drawings out, but once the editors saw Browne's material, they felt it was decent enough to be printed. As such, he became the paper's official courtroom sketch artist. One of the trials Browne covered was the one against the infamous gangster Lucky Luciano.

Early cartooning career
In the late 1930s, Dik Browne also drew his first comic strip, 'Muttle the Gonif', by request of a writer called Meringdorf. Starring a Jewish refugee boy, the work was inspired by the novels of Sholem Alachem, but in a contemporary setting. Meringdorf wrote the texts in Hebrew. The duo tried to sell their comic strip to local newspapers, but none was interested enough to pay a good price for it. During World War II, Browne had a well-paid job drawing maps and making other technical drawings for Newsweek. A short while later, he was drafted in the Corps of Engineers. As a soldier, he published the comic strip 'Ginny Jeep' (1942) in army newspapers.

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

Johnston & Cushing advertising art
After World War II, Browne started a long quest for work. He was advised to apply at Johnstone & Cushing, an ad company specialized in advertising comics. One of the founders, Tom Johnstone, was the brother of newspaper cartoonist Will B. Johnstone. When Browne entered the room for his application, he found Tom Johnstone playing the piano. He noticed Browne and asked him one question: "Can you play the piano?". When Browne replied he couldn't, Johnstone brutally told him: "Go fuck yourself." Browne wanted to walk out, but Jack Cushing asked him if he could take a look at his artwork. Art director Al Stenzel then came in with a bullwhip, threatening to "never bring work like that in again!". Somewhat startled, Browne soon realized the people at Johnstone & Cushing were merely pranking him. They actually liked his work, but asked him if he had more recent drawings to show. Since he had served the U.S. military for the past three years, Browne had to admit he didn't. A new appointment was made, but that very evening the agency rang Browne to ask whether he could make 1,000 drawings of lamps to put on display in the store window, since their original artist had just gone on vacation. Browne did the entire job in one weekend and was instantly hired by the agency.

Throughout most of the 1950s, Browne remained employed with Johnstone & Cushing, making many 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 done by Grace Drayton). He also drew a gag comic about a twin boy and girl to promote Vaseline, titled 'The Trouble Twins'. In 1951, Dik Browne made the comic feature 'Life's That Way' for the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company. Each episode shows an example of rude or inconsiderate use of a party-line, then a caption below instructs the proper use. In 1954, the Bell Telephone Company released a brochure collecting several of these cartoons. Together with Gill Fox, Browne also made comic advertisements for Lipon's teas and soups (1951-1952). Other cartoon-style advertisements by Dik Browne were made for Baker's, Ammens Medicated Powder, Camel cigarettes and Unguentine ointment.

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

The Tracy Twins
Through Johnstone & Cushing's art director Al Stenzel, Dik Browne landed a job with Boys' Life, the official magazine of the Boy Scouts of America, for which Stenzel was one of the cartoonists. In October 1953, Stenzel and Browne launched a long-running adventure comic series for the magazine, titled 'The Tracy Twins'. The feature stars two twin boy scouts, Dicky and Nicky Tracy. To help him get inspiration, Browne himself became a scoutmaster and he had his children engage in scouting projects. Still, 'The Tracy Twins' also featured more straightforward humorous situations and exciting narratives that didn't necessarily refer to scouting. Dicky and Nicky are very close with their grandfather, Granpa, who plays a prominent role in the series. He often tells them colorful stories and anecdotes, inspiring the boys to play or set up a seemingly clever scheme, mostly with dire results.

Some sources have erroneously claimed that Browne's run on 'The Tracy Twins' ended in 1960. In reality, he drew the series until 1970. In 1962, Browne broke his drawing arm after slipping on an icy surface. Making matters worse, the surgery left him with blood poisoning that caused an infection. Browne was forced to take a year off to recover. During this period, one of his assistants on 'Hi & Lois', Gill Fox, ghosted 'The Tracy Twins' for a while. After January 1962, 'The Tracy Twins' switched from a full page to half a page. Browne's final 'Tracy Twins' comic appeared in 1970. After that, he passed the pencil to Frank Bolle. Stenzel remained the scriptwriter until his death on 23 January 1979. 'The Tracy Twins' was a mainstay in Boys' Life, continued by other artists, with the final episode appearing in October 1997.

'The Trouble Twins' (1956).  

Hi & Lois
Browne's work on 'The Tracy Twins' caught the attention of Sylvain Byck, editor of King Features Syndicate, and 'Beetle Bailey' cartoonist Mort Walker. At that point, Walker had been drawing his comic strip about the clumsy soldier 'Beetle Bailey' for over four years. The series ran almost parallel with the Korean War (1950-1953). Now that the war was over, Walker feared that 'Beetle Bailey' might lose its popularity. Just to be safe, he wanted to launch another newspaper gag comic, which he would only write and have another cartoonist draw. Walker and Byck had each found a suitable candidate to draw this new comic, but didn't know his name yet. As it turned out, they were both referring to Dik Browne, but based on different comics he had done. Walker wanted "the cartoonist who drew the ads for Peter Paul Playhouse", while Byck wanted "the artist behind The Tracy Twins".

On 18 October 1954, the first episode of 'Hi and Lois' was published. The series was originally a spin-off of Walker's 'Beetle Bailey' comic, with Lois being Beetle's sister. In 'Hi and Lois', she is happily married to Hi Flagstone, with whom she has four children: teenage boy Chip, the twins Dot and Ditto and baby Trixie. The names of Hi and Lois are a pun on the expression "highs and lows", though in the series "Hi" is basically a short version of the first name Hiram. The family dog is simply named Dawg. As the series progressed, new secondary characters were introduced, such as the nextdoor neighbors, Thirsty Thurston and his wife Irma. Other regular neighbors are the garbage collectors Abercrombie and Fitch (named after the stylish clothing retailer of the same name) and the elderly military veteran Mr. Wavering. Hi's boss, Mr. Foofram, is also a source of comedy.

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

The tone of comedy in 'Hi and Lois' is deliberately light-hearted. In Walker's opinion, many newspaper comics of the early 1950s featured couples who were constantly arguing. He felt audiences would enjoy a gentler kind of family comic about recognizable everyday situations. Walker's hunch turned out to be right. 'Hi and Lois' became a success, but 'Beetle Bailey' unexpectedly remained popular too. So now Walker had two successful comic series in his hands. In October 1956, the 'Hi & Lois' feature received a Sunday page. 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). Although 'Hi & Lois' is a gag-a-day comic, it also spawned comic books with longer narratives. Between March 1956 and December 1958, Dell Comics released three 'Hi and Lois' one-shot comics in its 'Four Color Comics' series. The second series, published by Charlton Comics between November 1969 and July 1971, lasted 11 issues.

'Hi and Lois' also proved popular in translation. It has run in Dutch (in The Netherlands as 'De Familie Achterop' or 'Daan en Doortje', 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', but also under the titles 'Pippo e Lalla', 'Ciccibum' and 'La Famiglia De'Guai'), Swedish ('Familjen Flax') and Finnish ('Pirkko ja Pentti' and also as 'Liisa ja Lasse'). In some countries, like Brazil and Denmark, baby Trixie is promoted as the protagonist, rather than the entire family. All in all, 'Hi & Lois' 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 is a family comic, though set 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 instantly had a name too. Although his nickname sounds fearsome, Hägar is usually not that succesful. He fails to intimidate his victims, encounters unforeseen obstacles and loses most battles. Right from the start, Browne added a subtle running gag, where Hägar is often seen living in different kind of homes, depending on his latest conquests. In some gags, his house is a simple shack, while in others he owns a castle.

Hägar's main recurring crew member, Lucky Eddie, is as dumb as a lamp post. Browne based him on his brother Edmund, who shared the same nickname. Interviewed by The Washington Post on 30 August 2002, the cartoonist's Chris Browne told an anecdote that his father swore was true: "One day, their father, William, my father and Eddie were walking down a street in New York City, and some men were moving a piano into an upstairs apartment with a block and tackle. The block and tackle snapped and started to drop the piano on the street. And the workmen shouted, and my grandfather grabbed up my father, who was the youngest, into his arms and at the same moment kicked Eddie out of the way of the falling piano, and saved both their lives. My uncle Edmund then staggered back onto the cobblestone street, where he was run over by a taxi. And not a bone was broken in his body. That was the classic example of how luckless Edmund was. My father believed that you should incorporate as much of your life as possible into your work, because it makes it more genuine. So of course he had to include Uncle Eddie."

Hägar, however, isn't much luckier himself. His dominant wife Helga wears the proverbial pants in his household. His son Hamlet is a bookworm who doesn't like fighting, which irks Hägar, who wants him to follow in his footsteps. His teenage daughter Honi is ogled by far too many men he dislikes. Even the family dog Snert (who also wears a helmet) is disobedient to the mighty Viking warrior. Dik Browne based Snert on his own schnauzer, although his comic counterpart is a Norwegian elkhound. 

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

Despite being set during the Viking era, 'Hägar the Horrible' takes 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 many years, and his style was 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. Titan Books began collecting 'The Epic Chronicles of Hägar the Horrible' chronologically in 2010.

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

'Hägar the Horrible' is one of the most widespread newspaper comics on Earth, appearing in over 1,000 publications worldwide, including in Arabic (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", referring to "Hägar from the North" and the Paris train station "Gare du Nord"), 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'). Not surprisingly, Hägar is particularly beloved in Northern Europe, more specifically the Scandinavian countries. In Danish, he is known as 'Hagar den skrækkelige' (in some versions as 'Hagar den grusomme' or 'Hagar hin Håndfaste') and in Estonian as 'Hagar Hirmus'. Finnish readers know him as 'Hagbad Handfaste', while Swedish readers enjoy reading '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).

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 colleagues as a wonderfully absent-minded man who looked at the world with a sense of wonder. He often taped stuff on the walls of his working room, so it wouldn't get lost or could be kept away from his kids and pets. Several humorous anecdotes about his unintentionally funny behavior exist. Stan Drake once told a story how Browne was the 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 Joan 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."

Although many found him an unintentionally funny personality, Browne also drew respect and admiration from his colleagues. According to Gill Fox, he could draw without constantly looking at his paper. One day when Stan Drake watched him draw, he said that Browne always drew "big foot characters". The term has since then been used to refer to similar comic characters with large feet, who were particularly popular in early to mid-20th-century humorous newspaper comics.

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

Book illustrations
In the early 1970s, Dik Browne illustrated two children's novels by Mort Walker, namely 'Most' (1971) and 'Land of Lost Things' (1972).

'Hi & Lois' won the award for "Best Humor Strip"' by the National Cartoonists Society three times: 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. Schulz, Pat Oliphant, Chester Gould, Jeff MacNelly, Gary 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 the German Max und Moritz Award (1984).

Final years and death
Dik Browne's personal life was less idyllic. In the final two decades of his life, his brother and father-in-law passed away, his sister and mother-in-law were seriously ill and he suffered from a detached retina and glaucoma. Browne’s eyesight kept deteriorating, leaving him legally blind by the 1980s. To continue his comic series, he hired assistants, including Dick Hodgins Jr., Ralston "Bud" Jones and his own sons, Chris Browne and Chance Browne. Along with Jones, the Brownes wrote and drew 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 selected their favorites. Chance Browne once remarked that his mother Joan was the "glue that holds Hägar's ship together". Joan Browne died in 1985. In 1988, Dik Browne 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 two successful series. 'Hägar the Horrible' was continued by Chris Browne, while 'Hi & Lois' was passed on to Chance Browne, with Mort Walker's sons Greg Walker and Brian Walker continuing to write the scripts.

Legacy and influence
Dik Browne was an influence on Gill Fox, Chad Carpenter, Vincent Deporter, Guy Gilchrist, Werner Wejp-Olsen, Zoran Kovacevic, Scott Lincoln, Primaggio Mantovi, Yan Gevuld, Juanele Tamal and K. Garrison. He was also admired by veteran comic artist Marc Sleen. The character Plato in Mort Walker's 'Beetle Bailey' was based on Browne.

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

Dik Browne on Ger Apeldoorn's blog

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