SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Hägar the Horrible is an American comic strip centered on the titular Hägar, a Norse Viking, and his family.
Family has always been the driving factor behind Hägar the Horrible, which celebrated 50 years in February 2023, at least according to Tsuiwen Boeras-Browne, also known as Sally Browne, the daughter of the comic’s creator, Dik Browne.
Browne sat down to talk with KELOLAND News from her home in Florida about her family, the newspaper comic industry and the strip that ties them together.
“My father — when he was young — had a distant Swedish aunt who would tell him about the Viking folklore,” Browne began. “My father loved history.”
Browne says Hägar was formed out of a combination of her father’s love of this folklore and his own personality.
“My dad, he would like to take naps in the afternoon,” Browne said, recalling her childhood. “He would pretend to be really grouchy when he came down — there were always a lot of kids in the neighborhood — always people coming over — so he would come down and pretend he was this grumpy old Viking.”
This was when Hägar was born. “Hey watch out, Hägar the Horrible is coming down,” Browne remembers herself and her siblings yelling as their grumbling dad descended the stairs. “He was really like Hägar, he was a teddy bear.”
Dik Brown was in his 50s when he started the Hägar the Horrible comic strip. “I remember him going down into the basement, and he sort of disappeared for weeks on end,” Browne recounted. “After two or three weeks, he came up out of the basement and said ‘I’ve started another strip!'”
Some may not know, but Dik Brown was also the creator of another popular strip at the time Hi and Lois. Dik Brown’s development of Hägar came at the beginning of the 1970s, with the strip officially debuting in February, 1973, to notable success.
“By the time it debuted, it hit over 500 papers,” Browne explained. At the time, she said that strips that were considered successful generally started out in about 100 papers.
Browne chalks the early success of Hägar the Horrible up to its relatability.
“Hägar was a very different kind of strip,” Browne said, recalling that a lot of people would write to her father, telling them that the character of Hägar reminded them of themselves or of their spouse. “It always reminded them of a family member.
From the start, it was a family project. Browne remembers the entire family sitting around the table as her father presented jokes and ideas, grading them. At this point, he also began asking one of his sons, Chris, to write gags.
As Hägar picked up steam, Dik began focusing more attention on the project, asking his son Bob to take over some of the drawing for Hi and Lois. “He needed more time to do Hägar,” Browne explained.
While her father and brothers were busy writing, Browne’s mother took up the bookkeeping, and Browne herself began assisting her father with another aspect of the business — the fan mail.
“I would read it to him, and then I would type how he wanted to answer,” Browne described. “Back in the day, he would answer all the fan mail himself.”
Today, that fan base has grown much, much larger. Indeed, Hägar has international appeal.
“There’s a Brazilian [Facebook] page — there’s over 100,000 followers, just on the Brazilian page,” Browne said. There are also large fan groups in Australia, India, Croatia and even Tasmania, among others.
As the popularity of the strip grew, so did the business, with the family eventually hiring on an accountant, a secretary and also additional artists and writers to help produce the comic strip.
Everyone who knows of Hägar the Horrible likely sees it in it’s familiar format of panels on paper, but there have been forays out of that format, such as a 1989 animated Hägar the Horrible made-for-TV movie. There was also once a possibility, according to Browne that we could have seen Hägar the Horrible on the silver screen.
“We actually had a deal one time with Sony to do a movie for Hägar,” Browne said.
Taking a story from a comic strip, especially one like Hägar, is a risk, in large part due to the cost, Browne explained, but the family was up for it.
Who would portray the rotund, bearded, secret-teddy bear of a Viking? According to Browne, Sony Pictures had approached Zack Galifianakis. Imagine the possibilities.
Unfortunately, she says that deal was killed following the North Korean hack on Sony Pictures. Thanks a lot, Kim Jong-Un.
Despite the growth, Browne says her father made sure to keep the strip tied to its roots, their family. “I was the inspiration for Honey,” she revealed. “Chris was really the inspiration for Hamlet — and Lute was my brother Bob.” Other characters were also drawn from those surrounding the brown household, including Koyer the Laywer, based on the family’s real life lawyer, named Coyer, and Dr. Zouk, based on the family’s doctor.
Dik Brown died in 1989. However, his death did not spell the end for Hägar.
It is not unusual, in the comic world, for stirps and their characters to outlive their creators. One need only look at the ever expanding universes of the DC and Marvel comic books, in which characters created by the likes of Joe Shuster, Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and more are all still alive in the pages of comics and on television and movie screens.
“Chris, because he was sort of like my dad — he’d been writing and drawing it, so it made sense that he’d sort of take over,” Browne said. “We also have — like a lot of strips — ghost writers and people behind the scenes.”
Chris Browne, who visited Sioux Falls in 2005 and a short time later decided to settle down here with his wife, ran the strip for nearly 30 years, retiring in 2017.
In the nearly three decades that Chris Browne helmed the Hägar the Horrible strip, he really made it his own, said Browne, sprinkling in new characters here and there, and generally being a bit more whimsical.
Chris Browne passed away in Sioux Falls at the age of 70 on February 5, 2023, one day after Hägar the Horrible turned 50.
Today, the comic is still in the family, with Browne running it along with her husband, her brother Bob, and his wife. The four run the operation, managing the business and overseeing a team of artists and writers who still make need strips to this day.
Asked what her brother Chris, who ran the strip for decades, contributed to the legacy of Hägar the Horrible, Browne spoke with affection.
“Chris’s contribution was his sweetness,” said Browne. “He was always drawing for people — that was his contribution was his love for drawing for people, and his gentle nature.”