Hagar the Horrible by Dik Browne
Hägar the Horrible

Dik Browne was an American comics artist who is best remembered as the illustrator of Mort Walker's family comic 'Hi and Lois' (1954) and the creator of his own gag-a-day comic 'Hägar the Horrible' (1973), both for King Features Syndicate.

Richard Arthur Browne was born in New York City in 1917. 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 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)

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 for a job 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)

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 that were very common in early to mid 20th century humoristic U.S. newspaper comics. One day when Stan Drake watched him draw he said that Browne always drew "big foot characters".

On 18 October 1954 a spin-off comic of Mort Walker's 'Beetle Bailey' made its debut in the newspapers: 'Hi and Lois'. Rather than draw 'Hi and Lois' himself he needed 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 then, Walker had already picked the artist of the late 1940s newspaper ad comic for Vaseline, 'The Trouble Twins', which turned out to be Browne as well! 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. Walker had the impression that this was the reason why 'Beetle Bailey' was so popular with audiences and now that the war had ended he assumed he'd better come up with something new.

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

'Hi and Lois' revolved 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. In 1962 Browne won a Reuben Award for his work, while the series itself won the award for 'Best Humor Strip' by the National Cartoonists' Society in 1959, 1960 and 1972. Hi and Lois' appears in over 1.000 newspapers all over the world and 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 and Greg Gustafson, 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).

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

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 immediately 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 impress his victims, encounters unforeseen obstacles and at home he frequently argues with his wife Helga. His son Hamlet is a book wurm who doesn't like fighting, much to his frustration, while his teenage daughter Honi is oogled by far too many men he dislikes. Even his dog Snert is disobedient.

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

Despite being set during the Viking era the comic does take artistic license with this premise. Hägar has met historical characters like Attila the Hun, Richard III and Nostradamus although they lived centuries apart from one another! The series has occasionally given more folkloric characters like King Arthur, Robin Hood and Lady Godiva cameos too. 'Hägar' was furthermore notable for having a more old-fashioned look than most newspaper comics at the time. Browne reintroduced techniques that had gone out of fashion in comics for quite some time: including textures and shading. He also drew less slick than most professional artists, not afraid to do the lettering by hand and occasionally draw some mistakes. Browne felt this added to the comic's humanity.

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

'Hägar the Horrible' was instantly popular and in its debut year it already won Browne his second Reuben Award! It also made him one of the few cartoonists to win this prestigious award twice, a feat only parallelled by Charles M. Schulz, Pat Oliphant, Chester Gould, Jeff MacNelly, Gary Larson and Bill Watterson. The same year Browne also won the Elzie Segar Award. The National Cartoonists' Society named 'Hägar' the "Best Humor Strip" in 1977, 1984 and 1986. In 1984 he also received the Max und Moritz Award in Germany. 'Hägar the Horrible' is one of the most widespread newspaper comics on Earth, appearing in over 1.000 publications worldwide. The series is very popular in Europe, particularly the Scandinavian countries as one would expect. In Norway 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 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)

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 passed away in 1985. Dik Browne would pass away too before the decade was over. In 1988 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 most succesful series. 'Hägar the Horrible' was continued by Chris Browne, while 'Hi & Lois' was passed on to Chance Brown, 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.

Dik Browne was an influence on Gill Fox, Chad Carpenter, Werner Wejp-Olsen, Zoran Kovacevic, Scott Lincoln 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:


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