Calls for even more diversity at the international football tournament Norway Cup this week were at least fictionally met with the arrival of the world’s most famous ducks. A recent issue of Donald Duck & Co, a comic book more popular in Norway than almost anywhere else, features Donald Duck and his triplet nephews’ debut at Norway Cup, and disaster strikes immediately.
During their brief spell in Oslo, the accident-prone, ill-tempered Donald gets himself evicted from the tournament after meddling in a match. Sent off to go sightseeing while the nephews play football and surf social media, Donald (rejecting use of his GPS receiver) rapidly gets lost in Norway’s increasingly undriveable capital. He creates havoc by parking his trademark 313 car on the marble surface of Oslo’s Opera House, and then gets tricked by a gangster into stealing a priceless artifact from the Viking Ships Museum.
The story was created by Arild Midthun, Norway’s only “official” Donald Duck artist whose art is approved by the US-based Disney corporation. Midthun told newspaper Dagsavisen that the story is his homage to Oslo, which he thinks is a great city – no small admission from a person with roots in Bergen.
As a teenager he came to Oslo, wide-eyed, to play in Norway Cup himself. Even then Midthun was a budding comic artist, who had got some of his work published in newspaper Bergens Tidende. While in Oslo, he got the opportunity to show off his work to Terje Nordberg, a leading comic creator and editor of the trade journal Seriefokus at the time.
“They had said they were looking for Norwegian creators, so I paid them a visit. That’s how it all started, “ Midthun told Dagsavisen.
While audiences in the US and elsewhere may associate Walt Disney’s universe more with cartoons, films and amusement parks, printed Disney comics have proven to be enduringly popular in European markets, and especially so in Scandinavia. Donald Duck is also the leading character here, more loved than, for example, Mickey Mouse. In Sweden, Donald Duck is known as Kalle Anka, while the Danes call him Anders And. But in Norway, Donald Duck is Donald Duck.
For decades, the weekly Donald Duck & Co was Norway’s largest comic book in terms of circulation, surpassed only in 2009 by the home-grown Pondus comic book series. But according to Egmont Publishing, which publishes both, Donald Duck remains the market leader for readers aged six to 14.
Arild Midthun, age 54, has been a Donald Duck artist since 2004, and claims that his job is just getting more and more fun. Earlier he would mostly illustrate stories authored by writers like Knut Nærum and Tormod Løkling, both well-known for humour in Norway. In the recent issue that places Donald Duck in Oslo, he also created much of the storyline in addition to the art, Midthun said. He could draw on some research he had done decades ago when creating a comic-biography of Ivar Aasen, a 19th-century researcher who laid the groundwork for nynorsk, Norway’s second official language.
While a story on the Duckburg ducks visiting Oslo may cater most to their huge local audience, Midthun said Norwegian-made stories often appear in the national Donald Duck editions of other countries, sometimes creating surprising audiences. Stories with a local flair are often seen as exotic by readers elsewhere, Midthun said. Among other places, they’re popular in Brazil, according to Midthun: “Nærum and I once met a Brazilian medical student, who had read our stories in Portuguese.”
Midthun revealed that he has more local content in the pipeline. In a paperback scheduled for release this month, Donald Duck will encounter Norway’s royal couple, who rescue him from drowning in Saltstraumen, a dangerous tidal current in Nordland county. An upcoming Christmas story is set on Svalbard and sees Santa Claus’ workshop struggling with the impact of climate change.