University of Helsinki: Alumnus of the Year, Editor-in-Chief Aki Hyyppä: “Donald Duck spreads joy and inspires people to develop their thinking”

Aki Hyyppä, the Alumnus of the Year of the Faculty of Arts, has worked as the editor-in-chief of the Aku Ankka magazine for 10 years. His study and career path is marked by creative detours, the accumulation of knowledge and reading – all aspects at the heart of humanism.
The Aku Ankka (‘Donald Duck’) magazine has not only offered a pleasant weekly read to many generations, but has advanced people’s reading skills. The role of Editor-in-Chief Aki Hyyppä in maintaining the magazine’s diverse, intelligent and humorous language is significant. Alliteration, rhymes and derivatives of familiar names are among the elements familiar to its readers.

The Akkari, as it is colloquially known, goes to press every week, with the best possible comic strips chosen from either the range provided by the publisher Egmont, which produces the stories, or from the archives of sister magazines in other countries. Editors edit the textual content collaboratively. The team includes three permanent editors, three freelance editors and a dozen freelance translators.

Hyyppä’s duties also encompass planning associated with the publishing programme. The goal is to produce as funny, diverse and flawless a comic book as possible.

Being named Alumnus of the Year delights the editor-in-chief greatly.

“It’s a great honour. And an excellent choice!” Hyyppä says, smiling.

Completing the master’s thesis at the last minute
In general upper secondary school, Hyyppä wanted to become an engineer, but his plans changed after attending a presentation on the discipline of Finnish language by the University.

“I realised that it was the only place for me. Later on, my studies expanded uncontrollably to many directions: in addition to Finnish, I studied, among other things, comparative religion, folklore, theatre research, literature and, in particular, semiotics.”

Proficiency in Dutch, acquired during an Erasmus exchange period spent in Belgium, did not stem from any systematic career planning. Instead, it arose from Hyyppä’s interests, and a few years later the skill gave him an advantage when he applied for a job in the Aku Ankka editorial office.

Studies were superseded by comics, until the impending expiry of his completed studies roused him to finish his missing master’s thesis.

“I received encouragement both at home and from the University. They were really helpful to us old-timers. In the end, my thesis on the linguistic techniques employed in Aku Ankka’s humour came together easily, even surprisingly so, in spite of the coronavirus turning everyday life upside down. Of course, the topic was familiar to me, I’m a professional in text production, and I have had time to accrue some worldly wisdom too.”

A future influenced by reading
In his position as a language polisher, Hyyppä fosters a legacy with a long history. His team is full of language artisans with a background in Finnish and philology.

In 1951, Sirkka Ruotsalainen became the first editor-in-chief of Aku Ankka. Transferring from the Helsingin Sanomat daily to a children’s magazine, she gritted her teeth and decided to produce a publication with as high quality as possible.

“Akkari’s language is suited to children on the surface, but there are hooks and hidden meanings below the surface, elements recognisable to adults. They are worded so that they do not irritate children who read the magazine but brighten up the day of the adults who notice them,” Hyyppä describes.

Hyyppä has also other points of contact to children’s and adolescents’ reading habits. Every now and then, he visits schools to talk about reading and, naturally, Aku Ankka. In 2020 he served in the jury for the Finlandia Junior Literary Prize for children’s and young adult literature.

According to Hyyppä, the development and maintenance of the reading habits of children and adolescents requires an effort and the setting of boundaries. Gaming, among other things, eats up a lot of time among young people.

“It’s concerning if games takes away time from not only reading, but also from playing, spending time outdoors and doing sports. I was personally stuck in front of the television in the busiest period of my life, instead of reading a book. I made a successful effort to regain my basic fitness in reading and really get going again.”

Although all young people know Akkari, even that requires too much patience for some.

“Those who include reading in their hobbies determine in the future the hobbies of those who do not read. They decide what kind of games are developed and coded, and what kind of television series and films are produced. It’s never too late to invest in reading.”

Experience and research-based knowledge are crucial
Aki Hyyppä sees humanism as being interested in human beings and their actions, culture and history, as well as how they perceive the world and communicate. For his ability to analyse his own actions and those of others, he thanks his education.

Hyyppä says that he was schooled as a leader in his field much like the leaders of cultural institutions and universities.

“At Aku Ankka, I’ve had the opportunity to involve myself in all of the tasks associated with editorial work. That’s why I know exactly how things are done. At the same time, listed companies hire professional managers who may not be familiar with the substance or functions of the work they are managing. That can result in conflict.”

The better specialists of humanist fields are able to ground their statements in reasoned arguments and research-based knowledge, the better they will be able to justify their decisions and defend, for example, resource needs.

Detours can result in a career
As an alumnus of the University of Helsinki, Hyyppä wishes to not only serve as a herald of the joys of reading, but also a model of how humanists can find their place in the world.

“Studying and seeking information on a topic that may presently feel inconsequential or aimless may turn out to be crucial. My ending up at Aku Ankka is the sum of detours and coincidences, and ultimately everything went as it should have. Acquiring knowledge and skills is key. It’s a great shame that students no longer have the same academic freedom to spread a wide net across disciplines when studying.”

Soon Hyyppä will have spent 22 years at the same workplace creating comics for the reading public. And yet, he continues to come to work in good spirits day in and day out.

“Akkari brings joy and encourages people to read, develop themselves, open their minds and make the world a better place. Some people get to escape their everyday life by enjoying a helping of Aku. At the same time, comics are a portal to increasingly diverse reading.”

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