Merry Christmas from Hogan’s Alley!

We are pleased to offer our annual Christmas goodies to Hogan’s Alley readers: the complete sequence from NEA’s 1939 holiday package, followed by the Christmas card art of Hagar the Horrible creator Dik Browne! First up:

Peter and Polly in Toyland

The following 1939 sequence was written by (an uncredited) Hal Cochran and drawn by Howard Boughner, both NEA stalwarts. It was the fourth annual holiday package from NEA and ran from November 29, 1939, to December 23, 1939.

A Katzenjammer Kids Christmas Rarity (MGM Animation from 1938)

The Christmas Card Art of Dik Browne

Editor’s note: Hogan’s Alley co-founder Rick Marschall introduces this collection.

Theology aside—or, come to think of it, theology included—if the Christmas season is a time to think of the wonderful people and warm memories we occasionally are blessed to experience, then it is meet and right to share the collected Christmas cards of Dik Browne. And what they represent: the man, the cartoonist, the husband and father, the friend.

Dik was large enough to embody all those aspects, in body and spirit. A right jolly old elf.

When I was 12 years old I met him for the first time, and he was warm and generous. It was at a National Cartoonists Society meeting, and he was in suit and tie; an NCS officer, he did the drawing on Hi and Lois, which was barely seven years old. Just after Hagar the Horrible began, almost a dozen years later, in 1973, I was able to count him as a friend. I was the cartoonist on a paper in Fairfield County, Conn., and he was one of my readers, frequently surprising (and impressing) me with phone calls about some recent cartoon or column. We lunched together; I often visited his home; he and his wife Joan were guests at my wedding.

If this all sounds like shameless name-dropping, that’s only because it surely is. Dik was a person that anyone would—strike that: everyone did—feel privileged to know. I hope these cards impart some of his warm personality, and that readers can gain a broader appreciate of Dik’s artwork and his off-stage life.

To explain the odd inclusion of “suit and tie” in the description above, Dik in his later years grew casual about his wardrobe and sartorial discipline. Heywood Broun was once described by Dorothy Parker as “looking like an unmade bed.” And Dik Browne was described by someone as looking like “unmade bed with Heywood Broun sleeping in it.” Since this portfolio has a Christmas theme, I can add that sometimes it looked like the rotund, bearded Santa Claus had joined the mélange. Some people, they say, eventually resemble their pets; Dik more and more resembled Hagar as time went on.

You will see that evolution, and so much more, in these cards. Dik’s return from the service…young married life with his beloved Joan…his work at the Johnstone and Cushing advertising agency…his children Bob (known professionally now as Chance), Chris, and Sally…their homes from New York to New Jersey to Wilton, Conn.…to Sarasota, Fla.

So Dik’s appearance, as simultaneously spot-on and humorous as it was, is superficial. (Or super-facial: that beard was astounding—Chris once told me that under it there lurked more chins than could be found in a Chinese phone book.) His family members, too, are cartoony but realistic: Dik could draw anything, and draw it well. But the things to look for are not only the growing family, the kids’ hobbies, the houses and trappings…but the love.

To get theological again, Christmas is about love. And Dik’s Christmas cards were about love too. Love of family, as I have said (you must know that to be with the Brownes was to melt in the presence of their warmth and vitality)—but also the very evident love of his work. Dik was grateful to be a cartoonist; loved being Mort Walker’s partner; loved illustrating the religious books of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen; loved communing with other cartoonists; loved his assistant Dick Hodgins Jr.; loved the fact (more than anything) that his sons entered the field.

Even more, you can see in the cards that Dik Browne loved the act of drawing. His figures were not just funny, and his compositions accurate. His _line_ was perfect. Early in his career, clean and crisp (perhaps a holdover from the requirements of ads he did, for Campbell’s Soup, Chiquita Bananas, and many other accounts; and “The Tracy Twins” in Boy’s Life magazine; late in his career, thin and feathery, full of hatches, shading… and love.

In his last years Dik was beset by glaucoma, cataracts, and detached retinas. He swung a huge magnifying glass between his eyes and the drawing board, and constantly switched off between dozens of eyeglasses piled in a box next to him. He said that doctors told him the spectacle-of-the-moment routine was a chimera, yet it worked for him. Of course, there was the story that Gill Fox told, that he would see Dik doze off at the Johnstone and Cushing drawing board, but his hand continue to draw, perfectly, as if it were an independent self. It must be the case, not unreasonable, that we draw with the head as much as the hand.

In Dik’s case—you’ll see it in these Christmas cards—he drew with his heart as well.

Rick Marschall

We hope you enjoyed this feature. Please check out our other Christmas features, here and here!

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