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||Kari (Yrjänä) Suomalainen (1920-1998) - pseudonym Kari|
Finnish political cartoonist, artist, conservative, jester of the 'Finlandization' era, who captured in his pictures the essential in the plain man's way of thinking, when the élite of the nation was careful not to say anything politically inflammable about the Soviet Union. Kari Suomalainen ("Kari") drew some 7 500 cartoons for the leader page of Helsingin Sanomat in 40 years.
"Nauraminen ei ole sama kuin huumori. Esimerkiksi lokit kyllä nauravat mutta epäilen niiden huumorintajua." (Laughter is not the same as humor. For example seagulls laugh but I doubt their sense of humour. Kolmivarpainen sammakko, 1976.)
Kari Suomalainen was born in Helsinki into an artistic family.
father, Yrjö Suomalainen (1893-1964), was a violinist and music critic,
and mother Estelle (Wikström) Suomalainen a ballet dancer, whose father
was the sculptor Emil Wikström. In his childhood Suomalainen lived in
Wikström's studio home at Visavuori – the place became also later
his home. In 1990 Suomalainen opened his own museum at Visavuori.
Suomalainen's sister Saskia became an opera singer, performing under
the name Maaria Eira. She moved to Italy, where she studied under Toti
Already as a schoolboy Suomalainen started to draw caricatures, not very keen to continue his studies at a higher level, having already decided to pursue an artistic career. Between 1936 and 1939 he attended the Helsinki Academy of Art. During the Continuation War he served in the artillery and doubled as a propaganda artist (1943-44) – his works from the front lines and scenes of war were published in a book form in Sotakuvia (1963) and also were shown in expeditions. In 1942-44 Suomalainen produced the Western strip series Henkensä kaupalla (At risk of life). He married in 1943 Taju Sallinen, known as the writer Irja Salla, but the marriage ended two years later in divorce.
After the war Suomalainen worked as illustrator and maker up for Mantere Oy in 1947-48, and contributed cartoons for the magazines Seura (1948-49), Viikkosanomat, Pippuri and Tuulispää. His comic strip Välskärin kertomuksia (The Surgeon´s Stories), drawn during the war and based on Zacharias Topelius's epic novel, appeared in 1949-50 in the magazine Lukemista kaikille.
In 1950 Suomalainen started to illustrate Arijoutsi's humorous essays. Although he had claimed in 1954, that he hates women and won't marry until he can treat his wife like a flower, he married in 1955 Liisi (Lippe) Hokkanen; they had three children. "Goodbye, free world!" Kari commented his wedding day in a cartoon. "Its not the tolling of funeral bells, you fool!" says the bride. "They are our wedding bells!" Later Lippe Suomalainen published two humorous books, Vuosi Karin kanssa (1982) and Harkittua utopiaa (1985), on her life with the artist.
Suomalainen's first collection of cartoons, Karin parhaat (1953), was followed by over 30 collections, which sold at best 50 000 copies in the 1970s, making him one of the best-selling author's in Finland. While traveling in the United States in 1960, Suomalainen met the Washington Post editorial cartoonist Herbert L. Block, and the actors Walter Pidgeon, Henry Fonda, and Lauren Bacall, and drew their pictures. His account of the journey, entitled Löysin lännen, came out in the same year. Suomalainen wrote two plays, Hirttämätön lurjus (1966), staged at the National Theater, and Kalle-sedän jutut (1975). For Hirttämätön lurjus he also designed the set and costumes. Suomalainen's diary Kolmivarpainen sammakko, was published in 1976.
"Jokaisella maalla on sellainen Kari kuin se ansaitsee. Pienellä maalla ei ehkä ole varaa Chapliniin eikä David Lowhun, ei Krokodil'iin eikä Punchiin, enempää kuin Reaganiin tai Mahatma Gandhiin." (Matti Kuusi in Maxi-Kari, 1985)
Between December 1951 and June 1991 Suomalainen draw political
cartoon for Helsingin Sanomat,
Finland's largest newspaper. During these years the professional name
'Kari' become an institution, whose independent or politically
incorrect views arose much controversy. His ideas Suomalainen developed
many times in cooperation with Heikki Tikkanen, the editor-in-chief of
the newspaper, who gave him insider knowledge of political
When Finnish papers preferred not to take critical line towards the Soviet Union, the self-censorship did not touch Suomalainen. He criticized openly Finland's foreign policy and President Kekkonen in the 1960s and 1970s. Kekkonen, on the other hand, warned in a radio speech Finnish columnists and cartoonists of the danger of joking with the Soviet Union. In one cartoon from 1958 Kari pounced on the political hypocrisy of Nikita Khruschev, and the burden of the satellite states. The work, drawn after Ilya Repin's famous painting 'Volga Boatmen,' was shown in an exhibition in England, but was not published in Finland until 1985.
Although politicians found his cartoons more or less embarrassing, they were read at breakfast tables throughout the land and discussed at work on coffee breaks. Kari Suomalainen's healthy common sense and humour won him admirers from all political groups from left to right. Kari's conservatism, the writer Väinö Linna once noted, was more philosophical than political. His original drawings were much sought-after as status symbols by politicians and other people whom he had portrayed. Suomalainen's highly popular caricatures – especially about public figures – were plagiarized by other cartoonists.
Kari Suomalainen was not only interested in revealing the personality of his models but also their social context. His favorite character was President Kekkonen, whom he portrayed first time in 1951. Kekkonen remained his favorite subject until the 1980s, and was portrayed in some 300 pictures. As Pharaos in the ancient Egyptian art, Kekkonen was always presented much taller than other figures around him – a striking comment in itself. Suomalainen drawings on Kekkonen were collected in Muisto Urholle (1974), proving President's profound influence on Suomalainen.
Suomalainen's early caricatures show the influence of Giles and Albert Engström, but he soon found his own style. The drawings are sketchy, the line is free and easy and the likeness in caricatures is captured with a few spontaneous strokes. Instead of spending time in meticulous portrait studies, Suomalainen aimed at stylized resemblance. He distorted the characteristic features of his subjects, used symbols, added headlines from newspapers to clarify the idea, referred to famous books or works of art. Thus Kekkonen has bald, sharp head, and round spectacles, Kalevi Sorsa, the leader of the Social Democrats and a prime minister, was a plump duck ('sorsa' means a duck) with a huge tie, and President Mauno Koivisto was symbolized by his lock of hair. Suomalainen's own alter ego was a short, round-nosed artist in black clothes, who usually made his ironic comments from the bottom of a soft armchair or a sofa.
-Do you believe that the law's the same for rich and poor?
Besides commenting current issues, Suomalainen produced a number of cartoons about family life, city dwellers, persons living in the country, especially in the imaginary village Rysänperä (Man's End), where Fred and Elma Shagbrake with their eleven kids had never heard of birth control. The first sign of spring in Rysänperä is when Grandpa Rake starts to chase women. An old veteran of war, Willian Gnarl, is still ready to go to the front. Like in the H.C. Andersen's story 'The Emperor's New Clothes' truth is revealed by the children – a boy says with a flower in his hand to his father on the Father's Day: "We would've bought you a present, too, but the cops cleaned out the sex shops."
-They offer peace education in schools nowadays.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Suomalainen's conservatism and opinions about human rights, nature preservation, civilian service, women's rights, European integration and other issues were more and more criticized by feminist, human right activists, politicians etc. Only children and winos got his sympathy – as they had from the 1950s. After the fall of the Berlin wall, Suomalainen's conservatism clashed more and more with the editorial line of Helsingin Sanomat. When Suomalainen's cartoon about Somali refugees was not accepted by his employer, he left his post in the paper as the national truth-sayer, and started to publish his cartoons with great success in regional newspapers. Although Kari's profile was now much lower, he still had the confidence of his audience, representing with his views the "man on the street."
During his career Kari Suomalainen received a number of
including Reuben award from The National Cartoonist Society of USA
(1959), Salon International de la Caricature (1967), Suomen
kulttuurirahaston kunniapalkinto (1974), Aleksis Kiven seuran
Esko-mitali (1976), Suomen Kuvalehden journalistipalkinto (1982),
Suomen sarjakuvaseuran Puupäähattu (1984), Suomalaisuuden liiton
Suomalaisuuspalkinto (1987), Kalevala-seuran mitali (1998). In 1977 he
was appointed professor. Kari Suomalainen died on August 10, 1998, at
Valkeakoski Hospital. On his bedside tabe, he had Dorothy L. Sayers'
mystery novel Kuolema keskiyöllä
(=death at midnight in English; original title: Clouds of Witness).
For further reading: Elämässä kiinni by Lippe Suomalainen (2009); Kari - tasavallan hovinarri by Seppo Porvali (1999); Karin Suomi: Karin piirrokset suomalaisuuden kuvana by Marja Ylönen (1998); Kansallisgalleria: Suuret suomalaiset, Vol. 5, ed. by Allan Tiitta (1997); Römpän ukko elämän ja vanhuuden tulkkina by Tellervo Salminen (1992); Karin ääni, ed. by Maarit Niiniluoto (1990); Ihmisen ääni, ed. by Maarit Niiniluoto (1977); 'Kari ei ole salakari' by Väinö Linna, in Suomen Kuvalehti 9 (1974)