Comics: Meet the Artist
With Chris Browne
"Hagar the Horrible" Cartoonist
Hosted by Suzanne Tobin
Washington Post Comics Editor
Friday, Aug. 30, 2002; 1 p.m. EDT
Welcome to the Washington Post Style section comics discussion, hosted by Comics page editor Suzanne Tobin. This week, Tobin is joined by "Hagar the Horrible" cartoonist Chris Browne.
Join Tobin and Browne online Friday, Aug. 30 at 1 p.m. EDT to discuss "Hagar the Horrible" and the art of cartooning.
Submit questions either before or during the discussion.
Browne grew up in the unique world of cartoonists and their families. His father was cartoonist Dik Browne, was creator of "Hagar the Horrible." As a teenager, Browne assisted his father on his comic strips and continued to work with him until he passed away in 1989. Browne also creates the cartoon "Raising Duncan."
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Suzanne Tobin: Welcome, comics fans to another edition of "Comics: Meet the Artist." Today our guest is Chris Browne, of "Hagar the Horrible" and "Raising Duncan." Chris is joining us from his studio in sunny Sarasota, Fla. Welcome, Chris, and thanks for joining us Live Online.
Chris Browne: Hello, Suzanne! I'm delighted to be here. I know The Post doesn't carry "Raising Duncan" in its print edition, but I did notice that if you scroll down on the washingtonpost.com comics section to "Other Comics" there's a link there that'll take them to comics.com where they can check out "Raising Duncan," which I would love them to do. But I'm sure they'll immediately hit their back button to return to washingtonpost.com.
New York, N.Y.: Chris, thanks for spending time with us today. Did you ever feel that you had to work harder than others because your father was a successful cartoonist? Was there, and is there still, that additional motivation?
Thanks again, and I enjoy reading "Raising Duncan" online!
Chris Browne: As for being my father's son, it has been the greatest motivation of my life, because in addition to being a wonderful cartoonist, he was a great man and a great father. Both of my parents, although they have passed away, are still my touchstones as I move through life. For years I've had on my desk a quote of my father's that says simply, "My son can do better than this." which is something my father said to me after I'd worked really hard on a set of Hagar dailies, and when I handed it into him, he said "If anyone else had given me this work, I would say it was terrific. But, you're my son, and my son can do better than this." It was a real challenge, but it has really helped me on raising the bar on myself.
Early on, when I was starting out, my first big cartooning job was as a gag cartoonist for The National Lampoon in the early '70s. I worked there for 10 years, and overlapping with that I started to do work on a regular basis for Playboy Magazine for Michelle Urry, one of the greatest comics editors ever. She's legendary in the industry. And I was very lucky to have wonderful experiences at both places.
When I started out I hid the fact that I was Dik Browne's son, because I didn't want my work being bought because I was his son.
Now that I'm older, I just revel in the fact that I have a heritage with my dad and that I continue his work. I also realize that relationships--like who you're related to or who you know in the industry--is so overrated. It has so little effect on your success because editors are far too busy to pick your work based on what a nice guy you are or if they knew you father.
Baltimore, Md.: So how did Lucky Eddie get his nickname?
Chris Browne: Lucky Eddie was named after my father's brother, Edmund Browne. My father and his brother and sister grew up in Hell's Kitchen in New York during the Great Depression. They had a hard life, but they were a good little family, and my Uncle Edmund was known as the hard-luck kid. The classic story that my father told us about "Lucky Edmund" or "Lucky Eddie" was this. And Dad swore it was a true story. 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.
North Potomac, Md.: Hagar seems to move a lot -- I never see him in the same house. I guess he just takes what he wants.
Chris Browne: Very observant question. Yes, he does. One of the subtle jokes that we put in the strip right from the beginning in 1973 is that Hagar's house would wax and wane depending on the fortunes of war. On a Monday, Hagar would be living in a thatched roof shack on the coast of Norway and at the end of the week he would be living in a beautiful opulent castle on the coast of Ireland, and the following week, he'd be back in the shack, much as I am sure it was for real Vikings.
Orlando, Fla.: Dear Mr. Browne: I am involved in coastal modeling research would like to own a print of one of your comics. It was published on 6-11-98 and has Hagar saying "Okay, who was in charge of figuring out when low tide would occur?!" Please tell me if and where I could purchase that print.
Chris Browne: I know that King Features is working on developing a way of doing this with Cafe Press, which I am very excited about. I suggest you go to kingfeatures.com and click on the Contact link, where there's a lot of information there on how to get in touch with me, and how to order prints. I THINK within a month or two there will be an actual link where you just can type in a date and order a specific print.
Alexandria, Va.: Is Hagar supposed to be a viking? If so how come he never goes raiding and attacking defenseless cities?
Chris Browne: Yes, he is a Viking. The way we think of him is that he is a Viking who lives exactly 1,000 years ago today--from wherever today is. We have strips where we'll mention the date. He does goes raiding and he does attack defenseless cities, and I take a certain guilty pleasure from a strip where Hagar is shown cutting someone's head off. That's the only specific time we addressed that he does very bad things in living the life he does. He goes on raids, but what he really likes to do is hang out with his buddies, and in order to do that he has to go on raids and become the terror of the North Sea.
Ballston, Va.: I love "Raising Duncan"!
I grew up with Scotties (all with names like "Flora" and "Fiona"). I miss 'em! Reading Duncan helps remind me!
P.S. I would love to see RD in the print version of the Post!
Chris Browne: Thanks for the plug! That's a lovely thought. For those of you who aren't familiar with my other strip, "Raising Duncan" is a slightly autobiographical strip about a married couple who have no children, but who rescue a Scottish terrier, and they start to raise the Scottish terrier as if he were the child they never had.
Waldorf, Md.: Since you have introduced a Pug into your Raising Duncan series (the favorite of all scottie folks out here), I was wondering if the real "Duncan" was still with you.
Chris Browne: Yes, Duncan is based on my 11-year-old Scottish Terrier, MacDuff. He would've been named MacDuff in the strip, but there's already a beautiful children's book about a dog named MacDuff.
Washington, D.C.: What made you decide to carry on your dad's legacy and continue to draw Hagar? What meaning, if any, does it have for you that you draw something that your father began? Any plans for drawing other comics?
By the way, I love Hagar and have read it since I was a little girl. One of my favorites from way back when was one where he was in the living room talking to Lucky Eddie. He asks Hagar if he would change anything if he could live his life over. To that Hagar responded that he would definitely change something -- he'd get a better boat!
Meanwhile Helga, who was listening to the conversation, gives Hagar a big kiss! She then goes off singing and poor Hagar is confused wondering where that kiss came from.
It's the epitome of Hagar, he may be this rough viking on the outside but inside he's a real teddy bear.
Thanks for continuing this wonderful comic strip and good luck!
Chris Browne: Thank you so much for remembering that particular strip. That strip is not only pure Hagar, it is pure Dik Browne. My dad was a big tough, but sweet, teddy bear. If there is a secret ingredient to Hagar it is that in spite of his profession and the harsh world that he lives in, Hagar is a loving husband and father, which comes directly from my father's basing Hagar on himself.
I worked side by side with my father from the very beginning of Hagar. Some of the earliest gags were mine. When we lost Dad in 1989, I was devastated and the only thing that got me through was the love of my wife, Carroll, and the idea that I could stay in touch with my dad's spirit by getting up every day and continuing his work on Hagar.
Orono, Maine: "Hagar the Horrible" was one of several comic strips that I loved when I was young. It's also one of several strips that have carried on after the death or retirement of the original creator.
My question is this: Why not retire the strip and move on to something else? Fans would still be able to enjoy Hagar through the various compilations -- and those of us who were fans wouldn't have to suffer through the demise of a comic that once seemed so fresh.
Chris Browne: I feel like I AM one of the original writers of Hagar, although no one would have known that because my name wasn't on the strip until my Dad passed away. As far as retiring the strip, although some people may have tired of it, it's still very popular. It's in more than 1,800 papers worldwide, 300 of which we picked up since Dad's death.
As I mentioned earlier, I do have a strip "Raising Duncan" that's strictly my own. So I am both a cartoonist on an older strip and on a new strip, so I can appreciate both sides of that issue. But I feel that comic strips should pass on when the people have stopped reading them, not necessarily when one artist or another has died.
Silver Spring, Md.: Quite a while ago, one of your comics showed Hagar asking a man what kind of dog he had, and the man replied "It's a nice dog." Hagar or his friend replied that that, in the end, was the most important thing. Recently I wrote to your syndicate asking if I could get a copy to take to the Washington Humane Society shelter where I volunteer (since so many people want just fancy breeds and ignore great mutts). Several days later, that comic ran again. Thanks to you or whoever made that happen. And thanks to you for getting across an important point.
Chris Browne: Animal welfare is a very important issue to me and I'm always happy to support humane societies and other animal rights groups. We have two Scotties, a chihuahua and three cats. All of our animals were rescued in one way or another and I heartily recommend if people really love animals, they should get their next pet from a shelter or other rescue place.
Please address your request to me directly through King Features at their Web site, and I'll personally see that you get a copy of that strip.
New York, N.Y.: Hi, Mr. Browne,
I seem to vaguely remember a "Hagar" cartoon many years ago. Perhaps it was just a manifestation of too many chalupas, but did a cartoon of Hagar ever air on television? Any plans to bring him, or Duncan, to TV?
Chris Browne: There was a Hagar TV special on CBS in 1989 that my family had very limited input into because that was the year that my father was dying. It did not, in my humble opinion, work out very well, and there has been interest in doing a feature film of Hagar or a Broadway show, which hopefully I will have more input in in the future. Fingers crossed! As far as "Raising Duncan" goes, from your keyboard to Walt Disney's ears!
Fairfax, Va.: How do you pronounce Hagar?
Chris Browne: I pronounce it Hay-gar. My brother, Chance, who draws "Hi and Lois" and I came up with it as a nickname for Dad when we were kids. It's a made-up word, so anyway you pronounce it is correct!
Rockville, Md.: Hi, Chris--
My Dad's lifelong love of Hagar enabled me to finally get a dog. How? I was about 14 (I'm in my mid-30s now) and had always wanted a dog -- Dad said no, and one day, Mom caved when we went "just to look" at a litter of puppies. We needed to figure out how to convince my father that this was a good idea, and I figured out how -- appeal to his great sense of humor! I walked in the house carrying the 8-week-old German Shepard/Norweigian Elkhound-mix pup, held him up next to my cheek, and said, "Dad, this is HAGAR. He's part Norwegian Elkhound, so I thought that would be a good name. Isn't he cute?!" Needless to say, Hagar lived a long and happy life with us!
And the framed original cartoon that my dad bought from your dad in the late 70s still hangs in his office! ("There are two types of people in this world -- the haves and the have-nots -- Which are you? I'm a gonna-get!")
So the Brownes have always had a special place in our home! THANK YOU!
Chris Browne: I remember when Dad wrote that strip. My dad loved history so he loved Arnold Toynbee's theory of the haves and the have-nots. I love your story, you should know that "Snert," the dog in Hagar, is a Norwegian elkhound, although he was based on a little tiny schnauzer, named Snert who went everywhere with my father.
Alexandria, Va.: Don't you think that after Charles Schulz died, they should have had someone else continue to produce the strip? Of course, it wouldn't have been the same without the original creator, but after all, there was money to be made!
Chris Browne: I really feel strongly that Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" is so much better than so many strips that our out there, that any paper that carry "Peanuts" is ahead of the game. Charles Schulz was the greatest cartoonist of my lifetime, and my dad would've agreed with that. Again, as long as there are people who want to read "Peanuts," it will have an earned place on the comics pages. (I feel the greatest living cartoonist, at this juncture, is Lynn Johnston. She is the high water mark for those of us working now.)
Rockville, Md.: Advice, please? I am a fine artist with cartoon ideas! Unfortunately, if paper touches pencil in my hands, a portrait appears, not a cartoon. All of my attempts have been met with derision from my family. How do I "switch" my brain to a pen and ink mode.
Chris Browne: A couple of things come to mind. One is advice to any beginning cartoonist is carry a sketchbook with you at all times. I do, and most of the cartoonists that I know, do. They are like butterfly nets for ideas. I have written a piece called "Cartooning 101" that reuben.org. I get so many questions about starting out, that I compiled my best thoughts into that article, and then the NCS added some very helpful links.
Oleg, Rockville, Md.: Is Hagar a symbolic manifestation of the ancient inner primitive aspects of early man that still exist somewhere deep in the subconscious of our more urbanized, more educated modern-day man? And is his wife a heroic symbol of a pre-20th century feminist power figure who refuses to be subservient and instead represents the early indications of the feminist uprising yet to come in future centuries?
Chris Browne: Sure!
Franklin, N.J.: Do you see the newspaper comic strip fading away in the years to come or do you see it becoming more popular as the country seems to be moving into a more family values direction?
Chris Browne: Good question. I see many things ahead for the comics, both good and bad. I hope that the comic strip will always be with us and stay vital and diverse.
I love that the comic strip page has room for "The Boondocks," "Doonesbury," "Mallard Filmore" and "Hagar." The comics are for everybody, and the comics page should look like America.
I've been aware that there has been a real trend in the comics to become cynical and coarse, which I feel is a little unfortunate. The comic section has been a little island in the newspaper where people could have a breather from the horrors of the world.
When I took over Hagar from my father, I consciously started to downplay Hagar's boozing and womanizing, because I feel a certain responsibility in that strip.
When I created "Raising Duncan," I very consciously decided that this was going to be a strip about love and acceptance. That has been my mission, I suppose, with "Raising Duncan."
Arlington, Va.: How was it that you got "Hagar" and your brother got "Hi and Lois"? Is that something that just happened, or was there some thought given by your dad as to personality and fit?
Thanks for what you do!
Chris Browne: I started working side by side with my father on Hagar a year before he ever appeared in 1973. My brother was, at that point, a musician. When Chance came back to Wilton, Conn., in the late '70s, my father was delighted that he wanted to work with him. How things shook out was that I continued working with Dad on Hagar, and Chance worked with him on "Hi and Lois,: and that system seemed to work pretty well.
But Chance does have input into "Hagar," he edits all the "Hagar" gags. (I kind of wish he would write a comic strip, he's one of the funniest people out there.)
Washington, D.C.: Your brother draws "Hi and Lois?!" I love that one, too! How much does cartooning run in your family?
Chris Browne: My father was a cartoonist.
My brother, Chance, is a cartoonist.
My stepdaughter, Ashley, is married to Dan Piraro, who draws "Bizarro." Ashley's father is Ralph Smith, who draws "Through Thick and Thin."
And my aunt, Annette, was a cartoonist for Classics Illustrated Comics.
And my unofficial uncle, Mort Walker...well you all know about him!!!! He does "Beetle Bailey."
Suzanne Tobin: Thanks, Chris, for taking time out to "play nice" with our readers. We wish you much success with both of your strips. I hope you'll join us Sept. 13, along with our readership, when we have Ruben Bolling, of "Tom the Dancing Bug" Live Online.
Chris Browne: Suzanne, thank you so much. This has been the most fun I've ever had with my computer. And it was all completely legal.
Comic Survey Confusion: Were the results of the recent comic survey ever printed? My luck it happened while I was on vacation.
I was really looking forward to seeing them having taken part.
Suzanne Tobin: 2002 Comics Survey Results
Chris Browne: You can catch it online at the URL above.
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