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Copyright (C) 1995 by Mats Johannesson (Address at the end)
'Arne the Duck throws no tea-parties', would be my portrait of the Swedish cartoon "Arne Anka" (alluding to Mao and his comment on revolutions). With that I try to forge a conspicuous dichotomy together - in the spirit, I hope, of the cartoonist Charlie Christensen.
Arne is a rowdy, randy Party Duck on one hand, roaming the Stockholm City duck pond in search of booze-holes and other holes, with empty pockets but a full libido. On a second hand we find the genious Poet, who sure as hell knows it, unsuccessfully fighting his destitute life and disobliging publishers. Expanding the dichotomy to a triptych reveals the Political Commentator, and this, above all, is the main character of Arne Anka.
Weaving a complex text, there's lots of it, containing dirty words, slang, intellectual and downright literary language, Christensen paints the highlands and valleys of Swedish life. With emphasis on the latter. Juicy pieces from the political arena, or shock waves from the media megaphone, are sure to splash his ink about. Though, the everyday turd can be reason enough for a venomous interpretation. Arne is a full-fledged cynic. In his own eyes a, "spokesman of all true moralists".
One could say, and many do, that he has a leftist view. But, as in reality, the swing often swings both ways.
Christensen, born 1958 in Stockholm, let Arne Anka pop forth in November 1983. Scene was the magazine "399". With the demise of the publication in 1985, Arne grew angelic wings, literally, and left for... God knows where. This was his first death.
To say that he had earned his wings would be a fib. Ok, ok, a whopper! From page one he bore a striking resemblance, physically and mentally, to an uncurbed Donald Duck. Christensen even worked under the pseudonym Alexander Barks, as a ploy (Cp. Carl Barks, the foremost illustrator of Disney's version). But it is important to emphasize the word resemblance. Arne has never ever BEEN Donald. Both are unique creatures who live in different worlds - to put it mildly.
The uniqueness of Arne Anka had attracted the attention of "Metallarbetaren" [The Metalworker] which, consequently, put him on the payroll in 1987. A match made in heaven? Well, the link still holds. But ten years prior to that date, I for one would have gasped in astonishment. The paper is a weekly organ of the metalworker's union; subscription buried in the membership fee. I grew up under its influence, through a factory-working father, and later received my own copy as I followed suit. Not once during that period, while skimming Metallarbetaren, the term Radical entered my head. To me it was a trilobite in the Palaeozoic sea of the Swedish social democratic party. Hardly a pond for Arne Anka.
Anyone can change it seems and some simply have to. Like Arne. The winter of 1988/1989 blew wicked winds from the west as The Walt Disney Company finally focused its cyclopic eye on a Swedish duck. The giant who gladly massacres folk tale treasures from around the globe, has little tolerance when it comes to creations stamped with the company seal. "Träffpunkt Stockholm" [Meeting Place Stockholm], a free entertainment guide which carried Arne Anka, along with the comic paper "Galago" and the above-mentioned Metallarbetaren, received suing threats. In the winter issue 1988 they write:
Walt Disney consider themselves the holder of all the copyright in the world on comics with the presence of ducks as main characters (Atterbom/Jönsson 1989:16).
The guide saw it as censorship but chose to retouch the duck and baptize him "Arnes Ande" [The Spirit of Arne]. Galago decided to drop the cartoon altogether, while Metallarbetaren first had their legal advisers evaluate the copyright situation and then opted on eliminating the similarities with the Disney product. Just like the US publisher of "Howard the Duck" (created by Steve Gerber) had done. The difference was that Marvel Comics later on pulled Howard off the market. Not a fate to fall upon Arne.
His second death came in March 1989, entitled "Operation Metamorphosis". Frame one shows a 1 Ton weight, labeled Walt Disney & Co, splashing something on the sidewalk. Next frame the crane from which it had been dropped. At the following wake we see old friends of Arne's, notabilities from the international cartoon-world, with raised glasses and knowing grins. Yes, grins! Because:
"One doesn't live long without an M-16" as the profound books say. And Arne with friends had been ready. The plan was worked out to the smallest detail...
Since they knew where the enemy would strike they had taken measures. They drilled a hole in the ground, dug a secret tunnel and covered the lot with a tomato-prepared lid... (Christensen 1989:42)
The secret tunnel led to an equally secret laboratory where he, and his cartoonist Alexander Barks, underwent extensive plastic surgery. "Arne X" came into being.
And what an ugly du.., ahem, character it was. A veritable scarecrow, no less. This state did not last for long though (we all know how face-jobs can deteriorate). Over the passing months Arne regained more and more of his former physiognomy, except for the bill which stayed politically correct, i.e. pointed instead of broad.
Eventually, in January 1990, Sweden had had enough. Arne's fan mail contained lines like: "Your new bill is so commercial...", "you were funnier with the old bill" and "are you chicken?". Even his mother threw in a comment about the offensive pecker, which drove him out off bed and onto the city streets. He walked and thought and walked, until:
The solution revealed itself when Arne by chance happened to walk past a shop with party novelties...
Arne bought himself a false bill!
The idea was brilliant! Now he could look like the American prototype without being accused of epigonism! And each time the Disney spies stuck out their juridical faces you only had to raise the bill!... (Christensen 1990:29)
The visible string around Arne's head, securing the false bill, has since disappeared. Maybe the Disney company stopped their witch-hunt on ducks. Or could it be, in spite of everything, that they retain an ounce of humour?
Charlie Christensen presently lives in Pamplona, Spain. Only Arne Anka has twice been awarded with "Urhunden" as the best Swedish comics album (1990 and 1992). The episodes from Metallarbetaren, most likely the gems, are collected in albums and published by Tago - in Swedish. Three so far:
Parts two and three are subtitled, "The Alexander Barks & Charlie Christensen Productions proudly presents". Another item of interest, in Swedish, is:
Subtitled, "Autobiography and a piece of Stockholm history, translated from the Stockholm tongue by Charlie Christensen".
The publishing company can be reached at:
102 29 Stockholm
Tel: +46 (0)8 - 692 29 00
Fax: +46 (0)8 - 653 50 00