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Monday, August 27, 2012

Interview: Asko Alanen, editor of Korkeajännitys

A brief introduction

The following interview with Asko Alanen, editor of the Finnish war comic Korkeajännitys, was conducted by Michael Eriksson in June 2004. This was originally published on Mike's late and much lamented website Where Eagles Dare and is one of a number of interviews that will be appearing here with Mike's permission. I have made a number of very minor visual and editorial changes for clarity but I have otherwise made no alterations; Mike is Swedish – his English is near perfect and I'm sure you'll forgive the occasional glitch.

This interview was done by e-mail in June 2004 and it deals with the war comics' scene in Finland. We fired off a few questions to Korkeajännitys editor Asko Alanen on his publication and got some interesting answers. Enjoy. - Michael Eriksson.

Michael Eriksson: Is Korkeajännitys a comic that presents World War 2 comics only?

Asko Alanen: Korkeajännitys (sarja) started in 1953 with English Fleetway material: Super Detective Comics and Thriller Picture Library, which were mostly adventures and mystery stories including famous book and pulp characters like Sherlock Holmes, Bulldog Drummond, Fu Manchu, Lesley Shayne, Black Shirt, John Steel and space ace Rick Random. In the sixties the World War II stories took over Battler Britton being the leading figure. Stories were provided by "War Picture Library" and "Battle Picture Library". Possibly also "Combat Picture Library", "Lion Picture Library," "War At Sea Picture Library" were used and "Air Ace Picture Library" was published as a special Siivet ("Wings") magazine. In the seventies Korkeajännitys was owned by Williams and then Semic and D. C. Thomson's Commando magazine became the main source. With Egmont Kustannus, World War II is still the main battleground, but every fourth or fifth story either returns to World War I or even older wars or fights in Korea, Vietnam or modern Special Assignments — including the previous Gulf War. Cover galleries of the British magazines can be found here.

How often is it published?

From 1954 to 1995 Korkeajännitys was published yearly 24 issues in pocket book size, nowadays 185 x 125 mm pages. During seventies and eighties there were numerous sidelines, usually 12 issues a year, like Air Ace KJ, Desert KJ, Jungle KJ, Sea War KJ, Space KJ, Western KJ and Agent KJ. They lasted from one year to twenty years tops. In 1996 we started to pack the 63-page stories in quartets and pocket book format, which were published 6 times a year at first, but soon 8 times a year. The sideline magazines were returned in their own selected 4-story books. like Air Aces, Panzers, Germans, Special Forces, Americans, Paranormal adventures, War History, Resistance Fighters and Motorized Forces. There were even a couple of Football KJ's from the same Thomson-material your Buster seems to use nowadays. Special issues include some A4-albums and very popular Finnish series about two men fighting each other in the civil war and against a common enemy in winter war, World War II, and the so called "danger years" after the wars.

Is it the only comic book of its kind in Finland?

Nowadays it is the only regular comic book with war stories. There have been some one off albums and war comics especially after Korkeajännitys started making Finnish special issues about winter war, civil war and other thrilling times. But the last actual competitor left the field almost 30 years ago.

Are the comics produced in Finland or imported from England or elsewhere?

Very few are produced in Finland, only one or two special issues a year. Otherwise all comes from D. C. Thomson's offices in Dundee, Scotland, who put out over 90 issues per year every fourth of which is a reprint. To my knowledge the Brits write the scripts, some do draw the comics too, but many of the anonymous artists are from the Southern Europe (Spanish and Italian) and as far as from Argentina.

What is the format of the comic in centimeters?

Nowadays 256+4 pages, 185 mm high and 125 mm wide.

When was it first published?

First issue came out in the summer of 1953.

Can you tell us a little bit about the readership that the magazine has and how the popularity has been?

It was fading away in its small format in the beginning of the Nineties, when I got on board. It didn't sell, because it tended to get lost somewhere in the diminishing comics section in the newsstands and markets. The idea was then to launch one more attack on the publicity front with first ever press releases. The mag got new looks on the covers (actually the old red & yellow design of the Sixties' Korkeajännityssarja), "versatile war hero"-columnist alias Kersantti Kivi (shameless translation of "Sgt. Rock") and some prize contests and silly publicity stunts involving the presidental candidates (one of them the future high commander of the armed forces) at that time. And SHAZAM, after the unavoidable public outcry "is Korkeajännitys really still around?" the sales and subscriptions took a healthy turn. The real jokers were the first quartet books 10 years ago: one for the 50th Anniversary of D-Day and after that the V-Day books (in Europe and over Japan), which sold much more than the mini mags. 

It was an easy decision to change to pocket books all together, because even the subscribers got the same amount of stories for a much cheaper price. Nowadays Korkeajännitys is a strong publication with a circulation of 6000-8000 and Finnish specials reaching even 10,000 to over 40,000 – the last figure belonging to the Civil War double issue (2000), where the same story was told separately from the "white" and "red" angle following the two heroes destinies that collided in their home village and later in bloody battles around Tampere. The yearly specials more than double the amount of Korkeajännitys. This year they are: three special pocket books starring Air Aces, Germans and Motorized Vehicles, one big album, one nostalgia trip with SF-heroes Rick Random & Jet-Ace Logan and two Finnish specials: historical Fänrik Ståhl and a sixties cold war thriller with our ageing heroes from the Civil War. Then there's a side order of "The Light Brigade", a modern American war comic with religious and supernatural tones. No money losers so far in that varying field, which tells all about the interest here. 

The core audience is separated: the teenagers interested in World War II or straight adventures in general and the veteran readers of Korkeajännitys aged 40 to 70. There is a peculiar interest among the rock groups too, who have always included "Korkkari"-publications in their tour bus libraries. There have been three bands so far using our moniker (translation of "high voltage" can also be a nod towards AC/DC, but the first impression is always our legendary mag) and quite many songs inspired by KJ.

End of interview

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