On Finnish Independence Day, December 6, among the hundreds of important guests invited to shake the president's hand was Aki Hyyppä, the editor of the Finnish Donald Duck comic book, Aku Ankka. In an interview at the presidential palace, Hyyppä reported that 40% of Finnish children learn to read from Aku Ankka. Forty percent! Learn the history of Donald Duck in Finland and find out how Hyyppä explains that dramatic number below!
Donald Duck emerged from the barnyard setting of early Disney books and comic strips in the 1930s. He received his own daily comic strip in 1938, and his first book, Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold, in 1942. From the beginning, Donald also starred in European comics. Disney licensed the character to publishers abroad, and writers and artists around the world have contributed to the character Donald Duck has become. The Finnish magazine Seura began publishing the earliest Finnish version of Donald Duck, "Ankka Lampinen," in 1936, and the first issue of the Aku Ankka comic book came out in 1951.
The Finnish comic book was popular enough that it went from a monthly to a twice-monthly, and then finally a weekly publication in 1960, which it remains to this day. In 2013, Aku Ankka reached its 3,000th issue, and today Aku Ankka remains the most popular consumer magazine in Finland, with a circulation of over 225,000 and an estimated 1 million readers per week.
American Donald Duck has reached heights of popularity in Finland that would be hard to imagine here in the US, with stacks of the magazines and albums piled up high on bookshelves and in attics, in bathrooms and summer cabin outhouses, all over the country. One factor that has undoubtedly contributed to Donald Duck's popularity and his adoption as a Finnish icon is the high quality of the Finnish language used in the magazines. The Finnish department at the University of Helsinki even awarded the editors of Aku Ankka with their "kielihelmi" - language pearl of the year - in 2001, on the comic's 50th anniversary. The department said that Aku Ankka wasn't so much translated from English as it was written in Finnish, using a broad and creative range of native Finnish expressions.
And Aku Ankka has not only promoted the Finnish written word, but is also helping preserve the diversity of Finnish spoken dialects in its recent series of strips in different dialects, which you can hear read aloud on Aku Ankka's YouTube channel. Check out the Helsinki dialect below:
Surely the simple fact that there are so many copies of Aku Ankka around contributes to the comic's huge role in Finnish children learning to read, but the editor Aki Hyyppä elaborated on the process. According to Hyyppä, children can follow along with the interesting stories and characters pretty well with the pictures alone, but start to be bothered by all those speech bubbles - and since it's unbearable to listen to comics being read aloud, children are driven to figure out how to read them themselves!