The world's 'strongest bear' celebrates 50th anniversary
Bamse, the strongest bear in the world, turns 50 this year. Over the years the much loved comic character has been accused of being both too political, and too politically correct.
Five decades after he was invented, the bear that gains super strength when he eats his grandmother's "thunder honey" is still going strong.
"Every child and grown-up in Sweden has read Bamse, I think," says gallery owner Markku Haapala, who has put together an exhibition at the Comic Art Gallery in Stockholm, with original prints of the first Bamse comic strips.
Whereas the early Bamse stories had many similarities to boy's adventure books at the time, the newer Bamse is a more rounded figure.
"He was stronger in the beginning, and maybe a bit more violent against the Wolf (the baddie). He was more angry," says Markku Haapala.
The number of characters in the stories has also expanded from the initial basic set-up: his friends Lille Skutt the rabit and Skalman a tortoise, the villains Vargen (the Wolf) and the profit-hungry Krösus Sork and his henchmen. Since the 1980s Bamse has started a family, and his kids also play important roles in the stories.
"Today we give the girls more space in the stories. Bamse goes on adventures with the journalist Nina the Rabbit and we tell stories about Bamse's daughter Nalle-Maja who also becomes strong by the Thunder honey. Nalle-Maja also has a major role in the new film," says Charlotta Borelius, editor-in-chief at Bamse, which publishes a new magazine every month.
In the past, Bamse has been criticised for being too left-leaning. In an infamous copy from the beginning of the 1980s, China after the communist revolution in 1949 is described in favourable terms, a country where food is distributed fairly and "no-one starves". The image of the arch-capitalist Krösus Sork is also uncompromising. He is a villain that would bulldoze forests and evacuate whole families in order to build parking lots if it would mean he could earn money.
But editor Charlotta Borelius plays down the political aspect.
"We sometimes tell stories about the society, and you can call that political, but the basic value is humanism. Bamse is a humanist. He wants to help others and does not want anyone to be left out. But people with different political opinions read things differently in Bamse stories," she says, noting that the fact that people react is a sign that people care about the character.
So what about the claim that Bamse is too politically correct?
"Maybe you can interpret it that way, that he is not so fun all the time because he is always so nice to everyone. But, actually, he is very curious and wants to explore things and that is what makes the adventures, that he wants to be a part of things and goes out and tries to help everyone.
The anniversary will be celebrated with a special issue about author Rune Andreasson and how Bamse was created. Throughout the year, the magazine will contain stories from Bamse's life and in December a new film will hit the cinemas, Bamse and the Witch's Daughter.
"Bamse himself celebrates with cakes with his friends. And if the bad guys want to join, they are of course welcome too!" says Charlotta Borelius.