Dik Browne: Cartoons have an incredible ability to bring humor, insight, and entertainment to our lives. One such cartoonist who left an indelible mark on the world of comic strips is Dik Browne. Born on August 11, 1917, in Manhattan, Browne’s journey from an aspiring reporter to the creator of iconic comic strips like “Hägar the Horrible” and “Hi and Lois” is a fascinating tale that showcases the power of creativity and determination.
Full Name: Richard Arthur Browne
Born: August 11, 1917
Died: June 4, 1989
Nationality: United States
Notable Works: Hägar the Horrible, Hi and Lois
Early Life and Artistic Influences
A deep love marked Dik Browne’s early life for the arts, particularly the works of Charlie Chaplin and Mark Twain. These two influential figures imparted important lessons to Browne. From Chaplin, he learned that the best comedy is simple and taps into basic emotions, while Twain taught him that humor often arises from the human condition’s pathos rather than joy.
In addition to these literary influences, Browne also drew inspiration from various artists, including Arnold Roth, Ed Wheelan, Kimon Nicolaides, Boris Artzybasheff, Heinrich Kley, Tom Henderson, and Harry Haenigsen. Later in his career, he expressed admiration for the unconventional and satirical style of Robert Crumb.
Although Browne began his artistic journey at the Cooper Union Art School in New York, he left after just one year. His shyness and absent-mindedness hampered his ambitions of becoming a reporter. Yet, fate had a different plan for him.
The Early Career: From Copy Boy to Courtroom Sketch Artist
Browne’s career turned unexpectedly when he worked as a copyboy at the New York Journal-American. His early responsibilities included running errands and assisting in the newsroom. However, his transition to the art department would set him on a path to becoming a celebrated cartoonist.
Browne was entrusted with a unique task at the newspaper: creating courtroom sketches during trials. Initially, these sketches were meant to be further refined by professional artists, but Browne’s talent quickly caught the eye of the editors. His courtroom sketches became a source of pride for the New York Journal-American, providing exclusive visuals of high-profile stories.
One notable trial he covered was Lucky Luciano, the infamous gangster. Browne’s sketches made the newspaper stand out with its in-depth trial coverage. This early experience in the art department laid the foundation for his future in visual storytelling.
World War II and the Birth of “Ginny Jeep”
Browne’s life took another dramatic turn when World War II broke out. In 1942, he enlisted and was assigned to an Army engineering unit. However, his artistic skills did not go to waste. Browne’s duties included creating maps and charts, a responsibility that would be crucial for military operations. His talent was recognized as he rose to the position of staff sergeant.
In his spare time, Browne channeled his creative energies into creating a comic strip called “Ginny Jeep.” This comic strip revolved around the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and found a home in Army and Air Force newspapers. This project allowed Browne to combine his military service with his passion for art and humor.
The Post-War Era: Illustrating for Newsweek and Advertising
Following the conclusion of World War II, Browne entered a new phase of his career. He worked as an illustrator for Newsweek, contributing to one of the most influential news magazines of the time. Simultaneously, he embarked on an exciting journey in advertising art.
One of Browne’s significant contributions to the world of advertising was the creation of the “Miss Chiquita” trademark/logo for Chiquita. Inspired by the legendary Carmen Miranda, this iconic character became synonymous with the brand and remains recognized today. Additionally, Browne lent his artistic talents to create the famous Birds Eye bird and redesigned Campbell’s Soup Kids, breathing new life into these beloved advertising icons. His work extended to the promotion of the Mounds candy bar as well.
“The Tracy Twins” and Recognition
From 1950 to 1960, Browne drew “The Tracy Twins,” a comic strip featured in Boys’ Life magazine. The series followed the adventures of two twin boy scouts, Dicky and Nicky Tracy. Browne’s work on “The Tracy Twins” showcased his artistic abilities and introduced a new generation of readers to the scouting world. Here, Browne’s distinctive style and storytelling prowess began to shine through, garnering the attention of King Features Syndicate.
Browne’s outstanding work on “The Tracy Twins” led to recognition. In 1959, 1960, and 1972, he received the National Cartoonists Society’s Best Humor Strip plaque for his contributions. He earned the prestigious Reuben Award as Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year in 1962 for “Hi and Lois,” solidifying his status as a leading comic-strip figure. In 1963, he assumed the role of President of the National Cartoonists Society, further cementing his place in the industry.
“Hi and Lois”: A Spin-Off Success
In 1954, Browne’s path crossed with cartoonist Mort Walker, the creator of the famous comic strip “Beetle Bailey.” Inspired by one of Browne’s advertising works, Walker enlisted Browne’s talents for a new project. The result was the birth of “Hi and Lois,” a spin-off of “Beetle Bailey.” This family-focused comic strip featured Beetle’s sister, Lois, her husband, Hi Flagstone, and their four children – Chip, Dot, Ditto, and baby Trixie.
While Walker wrote “Hi and Lois,” Browne was responsible for the illustrations. The comic strip was a resounding success, resonating with readers and becoming one of the world’s longest-running and widely distributed strips. As the series evolved, new characters like neighbors Thirsty Thurston and Irma were introduced, adding depth and humor to the Flagstone family’s adventures.
“Hi and Lois” adopted a refreshing and light-hearted approach to family humor, departing from the prevalent trend of constant marital discord in the comics of that era. Browne’s skillful illustrations brought this heartwarming family to life, and the series continued to gain popularity. The success of “Hi and Lois” was such that it warranted its comic books with longer narrative arcs.
“Hägar the Horrible”: A Viking Odyssey
Dik Browne’s creative genius didn’t stop with “Hi and Lois.” In 1973, he introduced readers to a new comic strip, “Hägar the Horrible.” This comic strip took a different direction, set during Viking invasions, and centered around Hägar, an ill-mannered, red-bearded Viking chief.
The creation of “Hägar the Horrible” had an interesting origin. Browne’s children unknowingly played a role in naming the character. As he chased his children, they yelled, “Run, run, it’s Hägar the Horrible!” This playful moment led to the birth of a character who, despite his fearsome moniker, often found himself in comical rather than triumphant Viking exploits.
Hägar’s world was populated by a colorful cast of characters, including the bumbling Lucky Eddie, the dominant wife Helga, bookworm son Hamlet, and teenage daughter Honi, who attracted more attention than Hägar was comfortable with. The family dog, Snert, was a source of disobedience, much like Browne’s schnauzer, despite his comic counterpart being a Norwegian elkhound.
One notable aspect of “Hägar the Horrible” was the running gag of Hägar living in various types of homes, depending on his latest conquests. This added an extra layer of humor to the comic strip, showcasing Browne’s ability to infuse subtlety and wit into his work.
The Artistic Style of “Hägar the Horrible”
“Hägar the Horrible” stood out not only for its humor but also for its artistic style. Browne reintroduced techniques like textures and shading, which had fallen out of use in American newspaper comics. His style was less polished than his contemporaries, and he was unafraid to hand-letter his strips. These elements and the occasional “off-model” or drawing mistake gave the comic strip a unique and human touch.
International Success of “Hägar the Horrible”
The appeal of “Hägar the Horrible” extended beyond the borders of the United States. The comic strip found an enthusiastic audience worldwide, appearing in over 1,000 publications across the globe. It became trendy in Europe, with Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Hungarian, Croatian, Serbian, Turkish, Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian translations. The comic was known by different names in these regions, reflecting its universal appeal and humor.
The Man Behind the Art: Dik Browne’s Personality
Dik Browne’s personality was as colorful and unique as his comic strips. Many who knew him recalled his endearing absent-mindedness and a sense of wonder he brought to the world. He often taped various items to the walls of his workspace to prevent them from getting lost or accessed by his children and pets.
Anecdotes about Browne’s unintentionally humorous behavior abound. One memorable story involves a failed armed robbery where Browne’s apparent disorganization and the items in his pockets deterred the thief. On another occasion, he mistook a prostitute for an old friend’s wife. Browne was also known for his unconventional fashion choices and often wore clothing combinations that clashed hilariously. His wife, Joan, even joked that if he ever got lost, describing his outfit to the police would be challenging.
Influence and Legacy
Dik Browne’s contributions to the world of cartooning left a lasting impact. He served as an inspiration to many aspiring cartoonists, including Gill Fox, Chad Carpenter, Vincent Deporter, Guy Gilchrist, Werner Wejp-Olsen, Zoran Kovacevic, Scott Lincoln, Primaggio Mantovi, Yan Gevuld, Juanele Tamal, and K. Garrison. Veteran comic artist Marc Sleen also held Browne in high regard.
Moreover, Browne’s influence extended to the work of Mort Walker, who created the character Plato in “Beetle Bailey” based on Browne. This recognition of his talent by his peers is a testament to his lasting legacy in comic strips.
Recognition and Awards
Dik Browne’s contributions to the world of comic strips did not go unnoticed. He received numerous awards and honors throughout his career. In particular, he was recognized by the National Cartoonists Society, receiving the Best Humor Strip plaque in 1959, 1960, 1972, 1977, 1984, and 1986. He was also honored with the prestigious Reuben Award as Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year twice, a feat achieved by only a select few in the industry. Browne’s two Reuben Awards were for “Hi & Lois” in 1962 and “Hägar the Horrible” in 1973.
In 1973, he received the Elzie Segar Award, further cementing his status as a luminary in cartooning. Additionally, Browne’s impact was recognized on an international scale when he was presented with the German Max und Moritz Award in 1984.
Final Years and the Transition to Successors
In the final years of his life, Dik Browne faced personal challenges, including the loss of family members and health issues. His declining eyesight due to a detached retina and glaucoma eventually left him legally blind. Despite these difficulties, Browne’s commitment to his craft remained undiminished.
To continue his comic series, he enlisted the help of various assistants, including Dick Hodgins Jr., Ralston “Bud” Jones, and his sons, Chris Browne and Chance Browne. The family played a significant role in selecting gags for the strip, with each member giving input. Joan Browne, his wife, was hailed as the guiding force in keeping the ship of “Hägar the Horrible” afloat.
In 1988, Browne’s battle with cancer forced him to retire. He passed away in 1989 at 71, leaving behind a rich legacy of humor and creativity.
The Continuing Adventures of “Hägar the Horrible” and “Hi and Lois”
Despite Dik Browne’s passing, his legacy in the world of comics lives on. The strips he created, “Hägar the Horrible” and “Hi and Lois,” continue entertaining readers. His son, Chris Browne, took over the duties of illustrating “Hägar the Horrible” after his father’s retirement. In 2006, Chris Browne breathed new life into the series, updating the look of the characters while staying true to the strip’s essence.
“Hi and Lois” also transitioned after Dik Browne’s passing. The reins were handed over to his sons, Chance Browne and Brian Walker, Mort Walker’s son, who continue to produce the strip. Despite these transitions, the humor, warmth, and family-centric themes that made both strips beloved by readers remain intact.
Dik Browne’s journey from a copyboy at a newspaper to a renowned cartoonist is a story of resilience, creativity, and humor. His distinctive contributions to the comic world with “Hägar the Horrible” and “Hi and Lois” brought laughter to countless readers worldwide. His ability to create endearing characters and unique artistic style set him apart as a true master of his craft.
Dik Browne’s legacy endures through his comic strips and the hearts and memories of those his work has touched. His impact on humor and cartooning will continue to be celebrated for generations, and his characters will make people smile and laugh for years.
- Chance Browne (1948-): A Legacy of Laughter and Artistry
- Chris Browne (1952-2023): Remembering the Legacy of Hägar the Horrible Cartoonist
- Hägar the Horrible: The Viking Comic Strip That’s Been Entertaining Readers for over 50 Years
- Hi and Lois: A Timeless American Comic Strip Chronicle
FAQs About Dik Browne: The Creator of Hägar the Horrible and Hi and Lois
1. Who was Dik Browne, and what are his most famous works?
Dik Browne, whose full name was Richard Arthur Allan Browne, was an American cartoonist born on August 11, 1917. He is best known for creating and illustrating two popular comic strips: “Hägar the Horrible” and “Hi and Lois.”
2. What is Dik Browne’s background and early career?
Dik Browne started his career as a copy boy at the New York Journal-American and initially worked in the art department, where he drew maps and charts. He made a significant entrance into journalism when he provided courtroom sketches for the Lucky Luciano compulsory prostitution trial.
3. How did Dik Browne contribute during World War II?
During World War II, Browne joined the army and was assigned to create maps and charts for an Army engineering unit. In his spare time, he created a comic strip, “Ginny Jeep,” featured in Army and Air Force newspapers.
4. What were Dik Browne’s contributions to advertising art?
After the war, Browne was an illustrator for Newsweek and Johnstone & Cushing, an advertising company. He is known for creating the Miss Chiquita trademark/logo for Chiquita, the Birds Eye bird, a redesign of Campbell’s Soup kids, and a Mounds candy bar ad.
5. What were some of Dik Browne’s other comic strips and projects?
Browne created the comic strip “The Tracy Twins” for Boys’ Life from 1950 to 1960, drawing King Features Syndicate’s attention. He later co-created the comic strip “Hi and Lois” with Mort Walker, a spin-off of Beetle Bailey, and continued to illustrate it until his death. In 1973, Browne created “Hägar the Horrible,” a comic strip about a medieval Viking.
6. When and where did Dik Browne pass away?
Dik Browne died of cancer on June 4, 1989, in Sarasota, Florida, at 71.
7. What recognition and awards did Dik Browne receive during his career?
Dik Browne received numerous awards and honors during his career. He won the National Cartoonists Society’s Best Humor Strip award in 1959, 1960, and 1972 for “Hi and Lois.” He also received the Reuben Award as Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year in 1962. In 1973, he received a second Reuben Award for “Hägar the Horrible” and three more Best-Humor Strip awards in 1977, 1984, and 1986. He was also honored with the Elzie Segar Award.
8. What was the inspiration for “Hägar the Horrible”?
Dik Browne’s inspiration for “Hägar the Horrible” came from a playful interaction with his children, where they yelled, “Run, run, it’s Hägar the Horrible!” as he chased them. This humorous moment gave him the character’s name and concept.
9. What made Dik Browne’s style distinctive in newspaper comics?
Dik Browne’s art style was distinctive in newspaper comics because he reintroduced techniques like textures and shading that had not been commonly used in U.S. newspapers for many years. His style was less polished than that of his contemporaries, and he often did the lettering by hand, believing it added to the comic strip’s humanity.
10. What is the legacy of Dik Browne and his comic strips?
Dik Browne’s legacy lives on through his iconic comic strips, “Hägar the Horrible” and “Hi and Lois.” These comic strips continue to be widely syndicated and beloved by readers worldwide. Additionally, Dik Browne’s contributions to the world of newspaper comics have left a lasting impact, and he is remembered for his unique artistic style and sense of humor.
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