BACKGROUND: When Aamulehti rejected Mickey Mouse
"Donald, where's yer troosers?" and alleged banishment from Finland
By Katri Kallionpää
Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse comic strips were originally brought to Finnish readers by the Tampere-based newspaper Aamulehti, which published them on a daily basis from 1930 for a couple of years.
When Aamulehti decided not to continue the arrangement, and dropped the mouse from its cartoon pages, the then editor-in-chief of Helsingin Sanomat Eljas Erkko stepped in and picked up the rodent for the newspaper. It was not a decision anyone would regret.
The first Donald Duck ("Aku Ankka") strips appeared in 1936, while the magazine Seura began to publish the adventures of the character they called "Ankka Lampinen" in the following year.
Towards the end of the 1940s, the then Printing Works Director of Sanoma Corporation Risto Kavanne launched negotiations for the publication of separate Aku Ankka comic books with the Danish firm Gutenberghus, who held the rights to Disney comics in Scandinavia.
The appearance of the first Aku Ankka comic books in Finnish was nevertheless postponed until December 1951.
Gutenberghus is now the media giant Egmont. It is still the rights holder for Disney comics in the Nordic countries. From the 1970s onwards, the company has produced the stories under licence using its own writers and illustrators.
The Disney licence is also held by the Dutch firm Sanoma Uitgevers, which became a part of the SanomaWSOY Group in 2001.
Even so, the Finnish Aku Ankka stories continue to come from Denmark, and are localised by Finnish translators for the domestic market.
Finland and Donald Duck gained worldwide notoriety in the late 1970s with a story that was part truth, part urban legend.
In 1978 the City of Helsinki's Youth Affairs Committee resolved to terminate its order to subscribe the comics to the city's youth clubs and other facilities. It was felt that the money saved could be better directed to "culture of higher quality for children and juveniles".
The committee's discussions on the matter also included a comment made more than half in jest to the effect that Donald was not a particularly suitable role-model because he conspicuously didn't wear any trousers and all the characters seemed to be unmarried, and there was even an elderly gent who regularly bathed in piles of money.
Joke it may have been, but the French news agency AFP picked up the quote and ran with it, flashing the story of the immoral pantless duck around the world. In Thailand, for instance, the word spread that poor Donald had been summarily banished from Finland.
The magazine's staff in 1978 included Markku Kivekäs, and his mother - who lived in Florida at the time - rang him up with a worried enquiry as to whether her son was now out of a job.
Some years earlier, a pair of Chilean Marxist scholars wrote a book entitled How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic, arguing that American capitalist interests were being served abroad by the Scrooge McDuck comics in a form of "Disneyfication" - a synonym at the time for American cultural hegemony.
In South America Donald Duck comics had in fact been used as a kind of propaganda weapon, for example through the publication of a frame in which two vultures named "Marx" and "Hegel" were shown harassing the "Aristocats". Love Books published the work in Finland in 1980.
Markku Kivekäs has been managing editor of the magazine since 1988, and will retire in June this year. Since 2003, the Aku Ankka editor-in-chief has been Jukka Heiskanen, who joined the editorial staff in 1994.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 7.4.2007
More on this subject:
Donald Duck holds his own in the north
The truth about Donald Duck´s pants (by an eye-witness)
KATRI KALLIONPÄÄ / Helsingin Sanomat