July 14th, 2022
With such a rich history here at Comics Kingdom, what better way to celebrate this Throwback Thursday than by revisiting our timeless Viking Hagar the Horrible. Here are 5 things you should know.
Richard Arthur “Dik” Browne started drawing courtroom sketches for New York newspapers. Following an advertising stint where he created the Chiquita Banana logo, among other things, he became the artist for the 1954 Beetle Bailey spinoff strip Hi and Lois. Then, in 1973, Browne set out to create his own comic strip and thought back to how his children called him “Hägar the Horrible.” “Immediately, I thought Viking,” he told People in 1978. Soon after, Hägar was the fastest-growing strip in history, appearing in over 1000 papers.
Hagar was created from toe to head one night in the collar of Dik Browne’s home in Wilton, Connecticut. Dik was looking for a classic cartoon character who was instantly recognizable, universally understood, and easily spotted on the comics page. He figured, “What catches the eye quicker than a guy with horns?” A big round nose, a scraggly beard, and a flea-ridden bearskin were added, and Hagar was born.
He flails at the world with boisterous energy, but he is a kind man. Even though he has made a career of terrorizing the civilized world, he would never treat his wife nastily and always tries to liberate a size 52 dress for her when he’s finished sacking a town. Readers worldwide identify with this henpecked, arrow-ridden warrior who boldly battles against life’s injustices. Hagar is a feisty everyman in Viking garb. He is terribly successful at making us laugh at our failures. He is a Nice Guy in an imperfect world.
Working on Hi and Lois with cartoonist Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey) allowed Browne to solicit advice on Hägar from his more experienced colleague. As Walker recalled, he thought “Hägar” would be too hard for people to pronounce or spell and suggested Browne go with “Bulbar the Barbarian” instead. Browne brushed off the suggestion, preferring his own alliterative title.
Vikings were not known for being advocates for human rights. Hägar, despite his relatively genteel persona, still exhibited some barbaric traits, such as running off with “maidens” after a plundering session. Speaking with the Associated Press in 1983, Browne admitted he toned down the more lustful side of Hägar after getting complaints from his daughter. “Running off with a maiden isn’t funny,” she told him. “It’s a crime.”
When Dik Browne was working on Hägar, the Viking was prone to bouts of excessive drinking. So when Chris Browne took over the strip, he deliberately decided to minimize Hägar’s imbibing. “When my father was doing the strip, he did an awful lot of gags about Hägar falling down drunk and coming home in a wheelbarrow, and as times go on, that doesn’t strike me as that funny anymore,” Brown told the Chicago Tribune in 1993. “Just about everybody I know has had somebody hurt by alcoholism or substance abuse.”
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