"Hagar the Terrible" was the nickname given to the late Dik Browne by his sons; Browne adapted the name to Hägar the Horrible for the purposes of alliteration. After his death Dik Browne's sons changed the title of the strip to Dik Browne's Hägar the Horrible in tribute. The name is pronounced Hay-gar by Chris Browne.
Hägar (sometimes written "Hagar") is a shaggy, scruffy, overweight, red-bearded Viking. He regularly raids England and sometimes France. Animation-industry writer Terence J. Sacks notes the juxtaposition of contrary qualities that make Hägar endearing to the reader: "Hägar's horned helmet, rough beard and shaggy tunic make him look somewhat like a caveman or primitive viking, but you also know Hägar has a soft underbelly occasionally exposed."
Setting and format
The strip is set more-or-less firmly in the Middle Ages in an unnamed coastal village somewhere in Norway. Hägar's Norwegian lineage was revealed at least once in a daily strip (July 18, 1984). Hamlet asks Hägar if he can tell people they're Norwegian. Hägar replies that it isn't necessary: "It might sound like bragging."
Although anachronisms are not unknown, they are not deliberate mainstays of the strip, as in other period burlesque strips like The Wizard of Id. The strip follows a standard gag-a-day daily format with an extended color sequence on Sundays.
Much of the humor centers around Hägar's interactions with his longship crew, especially "Lucky Eddie" (when on voyages or during periodic sacking and looting raids), in the tavern or at home with his combative spouse and family. Supporting characters include his overbearing, nagging and occasionally jealous wife Helga; their brilliant and sensitive son Hamlet; their pretty but domestically hopeless daughter Honi; Helga's pet duck Kvack; Hägar's loyal and clever dog Snert and other secondary, recurring characters.
Hägar the Horrible uses a clear, sparse editorial-style line drawing, with minimal foreground or background detail, shading or embellishment. Observers argue this is likely derived from Dik Browne's experience as a courtroom illustrator and illustrator of maps of important World War II battles prior to 1942, plus his experience as an illustrator (Staff Sergeant) attached to a US Army Engineer unit where he drew technical diagrams, maps and other documents requiring very clear depictions. Prior to Hägar, Browne was best known for co-creating the comic strip Hi and Lois with his partner, Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker. Browne was reportedly the real-life inspiration for the character Plato, the intellectual private in Beetle Bailey.
Cast of characters
Hägar the Horrible characters (l. to r.): Snert, Hamlet, Helga, Hägar, Honi, Kvack
Hägar ("the Horrible") (b.940): the slovenly, overfed Viking protagonist. Hägar is both a fierce warrior and a family man—with the same problems as your average modern suburbanite. One running gag involves his exceptionally poor personal hygiene; for example, his annual bath (July 14) is a time of national rejoicing and celebrations. Another source of comedy is Hägar's simplistic, childlike cluelessness, often finding himself at odds with his more sensible family members. Much to Hägar's chagrin, on the few occasions where he behaves maturely (such as helping Helga in daily tasks or displaying self-control of his titanic appetite), the other characters are often caught off guard, since they are more accustomed with his bumbling and childish attitude. The most notable example was when Helga demanded that Hägar speak the truth at least one time, Hägar agrees and does so, something that pleasantly surprises even God himself, who promptly makes angels playing the trumpets in celebration of this "miracle".
Helga: Hägar's large-framed, bossy housewife, dressed in operatic, Brünnhilde-like blonde braids and helmet. She is the quintessential maternal "over-mothering" figure. Helga bickers with Hägar over his poor habits—such as forgetting to wash his hands after pillaging, or not wiping his feet before entering the hovel. She is often seen trying to teach her old-fashioned values to her daughter Honi, though Honi never truly "gets" it. Her formidable appearance is based on that of a WagnerianValkyrie.
Lucky Eddie: Hägar's first mate, best friend and lieutenant in Viking raids. Contrary to popular depictions of Vikings as brawnymacho warriors, Eddie is a short, skinny, chinless, awkward and naïve weakling. The ironically-named "Lucky" Eddie is, in fact, so unlucky he can be crushed by a stray rainbow. He wears a funnel rather than a helmet on his head, which he always keeps on because he's afraid of squirrels. Unlike Hägar, Eddie is educated enough to be able to read and speak in other languages—though paradoxically this does not make him any more intelligent. Having been unconditionally known and accepted simply by his moniker of "Lucky Eddie," no one of Hägar's entourage, not even Hägar himself, ever knew Lucky Eddie's "real" name until around the late-1990s & early-2000s, when he was asked directly (by Hägar himself on both separate occasions) to share his true name: during the first inquiry Eddie squawked out an unpronounceable screed which left him raw-throated and winded; during the second inquiry, in which Eddie asked for Hägar's assurance that this revelation would be kept "in confidence," Eddie whispers his "real" name into Hägar's ear, upon hearing which Hägar accidentally blurts out what was shared with him in secret in a fit of uncontrollable laughter, thus inadvertently revealing that Lucky Eddie's real name is "Fortuitous Eduardo."
Hamlet: Hägar and Helga's intelligent, clean, obedient and studious young son—almost always seen reading a book. He shows no interest in becoming a Viking (he wants to be a dentist), which makes him the shame of the family to Hägar—though Helga and Honi are more tolerant and encourage his education. Even when Hägar forces him to practice his Viking skills, he's shown to be terrible at them. He is the victim of his would-be girlfriend Hernia's unrequited affection.
Honi: Hägar and Helga's beloved, beautiful, sweet, cheerful 16-year old daughter—dressed as a young Valkyrie with a winged helmet, metallic breastplate and a long skirt made of chainmail. Honi takes after Hägar's side of the family, a fact that her boyfriend Lute sometimes finds intimidating. She's a Viking warrior like her father, her weapons of choice are a spear and shield. However, she's clueless about traditional "girlish" things, and tends to be overdramatic. Helga is constantly trying to marry her off, as she's seen as an "old maid" in their backward community. She was romantically involved with Lute the balladeer from the very beginning, and is the only character that can endure his terrible singing.
Lute: an inept bard/minstrel/troubadour who can neither play, sing in tune nor rhyme properly, although Lute remains totally oblivious to everyone else's perception, and considers himself quite the talent. He is Honi's boyfriend, though Honi is in control of their relationship (similar to Helga and Hägar); they are perpetually engaged though they still haven't married. His name is in reference to the stringed instrument of the same name, which he is often seen playing (albeit poorly).
Hernia: a young, tomboyish girl deeply infatuated with the sensitive Hamlet, though her love is unrequited, often to her comically melodramatic dismay.
Snert: Hägar's dog; Snert is supposed to be a bird/hunting dog, but the reader gets the impression that most of the time he just doesn't feel like working. Snert understands everything Hägar tells him, but usually refuses to do what he's told. Sometimes Snert is depicted as having a "wife" and a couple of puppies, but they hardly play any role in the comic. Snert wears a (miniature) Viking helmet like everyone else in Hägar's household—including the pets. Snert barks with a Viking accent ("voof").
Kvack: the family's German duck. Kvack is Helga's friend and confidante—she will usually spy on Hägar and quack loudly whenever he does something he's not supposed to, such as having another hogshead of "Glögg" or "Wiffleberry wine", Hägar's frequently-imbibed beverages. Obviously, Hägar doesn't like Kvack at all—and would like to get rid of her. Being a German duck, Kvack "quacks" with an accent. Later in the strip, she brought home a litter of ducklings, which Helga "mothers" as if they were human grandchildren.
Dr. Zook: a cowled, druid-like "physician" who gives primarily nutritional and psychiatric advice, and is a notorious and dangerous quack.
Helga's Father: a geriatric Viking whose beard reaches the floor, with a taste for young women.
Helga's Mother: a stereotypically shrewish mother-in-law, with antlers on her helmet.
The Tax Collector: The King's officious emissary.
Mr. Giggles: a torturer who torments captives by forcible tickling.
Koya the Lawyer: an unpleasant but effective barrister.
The Executioner: often accompanies the Tax Collector.
Brother Olaf: a monk who unsuccessfully explains to Hägar the concept of sin
Other recurring minor characters include an unnamed psychic or soothsayer, whom Honi and Hägar regularly consult, a balding waiter at Helga's favorite restaurant "The King of England" and various Anglo-Saxon raiders who serve as Hägar's friends and rivals, such as Dirty Dirk and Mean Max.
An example of one strip highlighting Hägar's good intentions but cluelessness: Hägar returns from looting Paris with a present for his wife Helga. He tells her it was ripped off a tub in a palace. He then turns on the faucet and eagerly encourages her to watch. When nothing happens, Hägar comments, "That's funny, when I turned it on in the palace, water came out."
Argentina: Olaf el vikingo (Olaf the Viking)
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Hogar Strašni (Hogar the Horrible)
Belgium: Hägar Dünor le Viking (French: Hägar Dünor the Viking) and Hagar de Verschrikkelijke (Dutch:Hagar the Horrible)
Brazil: Hagar, o Horrível (Hagar the Horrible)
Chile: Olafo (or Olaf during the 1970s and early '80s) el Vikingo (Olaf the Viking)
Colombia: Olafo el Amargado (Olaf the Bitter)
Croatia: Hogar Strašni (Hogar the Horrible)
Ecuador: Olafo el amargado (Olaf the Bitter)
El Salvador: Olafo, el Amargado (Olaf the Bitter)
Estonia: Hagar Hirmus (Hagar the Dreadful)
Finland: Harald Hirmuinen (Harald the Terrible)
France: Hägar Dünor le Viking (French for Hägar Dünor the Viking, Dünor a pun on Du nordof the north, La Gare du Nord being one of Paris' main train stations)
Germany: Hägar der Schreckliche (Hägar the Horrible/Terrifying)
Greece: Χάγκαρ ο Απαίσιος (Hagar o Apaisios) (Hägar the Horrible)
Guatemala: Olafo El Amargado
Hungary Hagar a tulok (Hagar the Bullock)
Iceland: Hrólfur Hræðilegi (Hrólfur the Horrible/Terrifying)
India Hagar The Horrible (Hagar the horrible)
Indonesia: sang Viking Hägar (Hägar the Viking)
Iran: هاگار هولناک (Hägar the Horrible)
Italy: Hagar l'Orribile (Hagar the Horrible)
Mexico: Olafo, el Amargado (Olaf the Bitter)
Nepal: Hagar The Horrible (Hagar the horrible)
Netherlands: Hägar de Verschrikkelijke (Hägar the Horrible)
Norway: Hårek den hardbalne (Hårek the hardy)
Pakistan Hagar The Horrible (Hagar the horrible)
Panama Olafo el vikingo (Olaf the Viking)
Paraguay: Olaf, el Vikingo (Olaf the Viking)
Portugal Hagar, o Horrível ( Hagar the Horrible)
Republic of Macedonia: Хогар Страшниот (Hogar the Horrible/Terrifying)
Serbia: Хогар Страшни (Hogar Strašni) (Hogar the Horrible/Terrifying)
Slovenia Hogar Grozni (Hagar the Horrible)
South Africa: Hägar die Verskriklike (Afrikaans: Hagar the Horrible/Terrifying)
Spain: Olafo, el Terrible (Olaf the Terrible), also Olaf el víking (Olaf the viking) in Catalan
Sweden: Hagbard Handfaste (Hagbard the strong-handed. Hagbard was a legendary Scandinavian warrior.)
Turkey: Bastır Viking
Venezuela: Olafo el Amargado (Olaf the Bitter)
Hägar themed gift shop at Islands of Adventure theme park in Florida
For a brief time, the strip had its own brand of sponsored soda, "Hägar the Horrible Cola." It was considered a marketing failure.
In the UK, Hägar and other characters from the strip were also used to advertise Skol Lager beer, produced in Great Britain by Allied Breweries. Hägar appeared on billboards and in a series of popular television commercials that aired in the late 1980s. The TV spots were animated and mainly black and white, as per the daily newspaper comic strip, although the actual product always appeared in color.
In 1989, a television special Hägar the Horrible: "Hagar Knows Best" produced by Hanna-Barbera and aired on CBS, based on the very first plotline when the strip began in 1973. Hägar returns home from battle after two years—and faces a major culture shock. His beloved daughter Honi is engaged to a wimpy, untalented wastrel of a minstrel named Lute. Even worse, he discovers his young son Hamlet was expelled from the Viking Academy. He's now reading books and becoming more sophisticated—which he blames his wife Helga for allowing to happen. The special starred Peter Cullen as Hägar, singer/actress Lainie Kazan as Helga, Lydia Cornell as Honi, child voice actor Josh Rodine as Hamlet, Jeff Doucette as Lucky Eddie, Don Most as Lute and veteran voice actor Frank Welker as Snert and Kvack.
Variety reported in 2003 that Abandon Pictures had acquired the film rights to the comic strip, and planned a live-action theatrical feature based on the character.