In 1929, in the midst of the storm caused by the Great Depression, journalist and businessman Bjarne Steinsvik met shipowner Cornelius Bull in Oslo and Bulls was born. Bjarne, who had grown up in Kabelvåg in Norway, was a devoted educator, a newspaperman and a much-acclaimed storyteller. At the turn of the century, Kabelvåg was a cultural melting pot. . During the dark, stormy Arctic nights, stories and news from all corners of the world were passed around among the seafarers, fishermen and tradesmen who gathered for the annual winter cod fishing event, Skreifiske, off the islands of Lofoten. Once in Oslo, Bjarne, who was also an entrepreneur and an adventurer, decided that his future lay in creating a company that spread important news and good stories across the world.
The Norwegian shipowner Cornelius Bull voyaged around the world on his boats. In the 1920s, he noticed that all the newspapers in the United States were carrying comics. He realized that European newspapers, too, needed to buy news, comics and activity materials to hold on to their readers and advertisers at a time of economic decline. Cornelius Bull contacted the best creative publishing houses and studios in the United States. Given the go-ahead to represent the Hearst publishing house’s King Features Syndicate, Disney and Ledger Syndicate, he returned to Europe to launch Cornelius Bulls Pressagentur (Cornelius Bull’s Press Agency). The meeting with Bjarne Steinsvik marked the beginning of Bulls.
Today, the third generation of Steinsvik runs the international media group Bulls with the same basic aim as in 1929: to spread world class content to publications and businesses around the globe. The fundamental principles established by Bjarne and Cornelius live on today. Bulls, in displaying an entrepreneurial spirit, courage, perseverance and reliability, is to seek out unique content and convey it to clients requiring that specific content. Bulls still works with many of the creators and agencies that operated in those days. These include Hearst/King Features, Moomin Characters, Disney and MCT.
Understanding others and working internationally is part of Bulls’ DNA, as is reinventing Bulls in pace with global business swings, technological advance and geopolitical change. In a digital world in which good stories and content are more important than ever, Bulls, a family-owned Nordic company, is flourishing. This is down to all the skilled people who have worked and are working to spread Bulls’ message globally.
As early as October 1929, Cornelius Bull and Bjarne Steinsvik left Norway for Stockholm, Sweden. They took their families and their entrepreneurial spirit with them. Stockholm was considered a sound base from which to build the international business they were planning. To begin with, they settled into Villa Grantorp in Saltsjöbaden, where the company phone number was 347, and established the name Bulls Presstjänst AB (Bull’s Press Service). The following year, Bulls moved to Narvavägen 32, 5 tr, in Östermalm, Stockholm. Cornelius Bull passed away in 1931. His wife Laura Vilhelmina “Musse” Bull ran the company together with Bjarne Steinsvik, who had been carefully trained by Cornelius and eventually took over the company completely, in 1935. In time, he moved the company to a site closer to the important events of the day – the goverment quarters around Drottningsgatan in central Stockholm.
Bjarne was the first member of the Steinsvik family to manage Bulls. He and his wife Margareta kept an open home that was often frequented by cultural figures, ambassadors and businesspeople. Bjarne traveled the world in search of news and content that could make a difference. In 1969 he was succeeded by his son, Hjalmar Steinsvik. Hjalmar moved quickly to adapt the company operation to a more digital world, and Bulls has been at the cutting-edge ever since. Today, the family business is run by siblings Margareta and Tord Steinsvik, while Hjalmar is an active chairman of the board.
Bulls distributes news and articles both to and from the Nordic countries. Back in the 1930s, Bjarne and his coworkers already had their finger on the cultural and political pulse in Europe and the US. They closely followed the various efforts to explain the puzzling disappearance of Andrée’s Arctic expedition in 1897. The expedition had traveled in a hydrogen balloon in a bid to cross the Arctic and after taking off in 1897 had crashed and then disappeared without trace. The remains of Andrée and his two companions, Knut Frænkel and Nils Strindberg, were found on White Island in 1930 by a Norwegian expedition. Bjarne acquired the exclusive right to publish the story globally and did so together with the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter and King Features Syndicate in New York. This scoop put Bulls on the international map.
Bjarne and his coworkers sold news articles and cartoons across northern and central Europe. Bulls soon established offices in Oslo, Warsaw, Prague and Frankfurt . Coworkers were also stationed in London and there was much travel to and from other countries. The idea was to help the European media houses create modern newspapers that could play a role in educating people, something that was popular in large parts of Europe at that time. Newspapers went from reporting locally and nationally to including international news, articles packed with facts, pictures, color and entertainment materials such as comics and crossword puzzles. By selling the same cartoon or feature to newspapers in different areas, Bulls could ensure that even small newspapers in the various countries had access to world class material. This is called syndicating content, a practice that is still a pillar in of the Bulls operation.
At Bulls, talented creators and publishing houses were found, especially in the pioneering country, the United States. During the first decades, important news was sent by telegram. Content that did not require immediate publication arrived in large crates by boat from North American and was picked up in Stockholm for distribution to the various newspapers. Comics required more work. They had to be translated, written by hand and set up to suit newspapers’ format and style.
Just a few years after the company was founded, (c) Bulls had become a familiar sight. A breakthrough came in 1934 when Aftonbladet became the first Swedish newspaper with a whole page of comics and cartoons. It was Bjarne Steinsvik who persuaded the legendary and hitherto reluctant editor PG Petterson to focus on comics such as Little Annie Rooney, Just Kids, Blondie, Felix the Cat and Popeye. Everything was published under the heading “The funny sides of life”. In 1933 Aftonbladet’s circulation was 10 000. At the end of 1934, by which time the comics page had been launched, it had risen to 27 000. A year later it was 39 000. The close cooperation between Aftonbladet and Bulls has developed over the years, and today Bulls is responsible for the newspaper group’s crossword content and production. Besides the content in the main newspaper, Bulls produces Aftonbladet’s popular crossword magazine.
During the 1930s the proportion of comics in the Swedish press increased slowly but surely. Bjarne was firmly convinced that comics should be marketed properly via advertising and PR input. He argued that with the right launch and image, newspapers could expect to boost circulation by including elements that readers looked forward to every day, such as comics and other features.
Cornelius Bull’s nephew, Einar Wyller, worked together with Bjarne after his uncle’s death. He started both the Oslo and Warsaw offices. The Polish office operated right up until the outbreak of war in 1939, when EInar Wyller managed to get a seat on the last plane to Sweden before the airport closed for normal passenger traffic.
In Oslo, the occupying power introduced restrictions on imports from the United States and the Allies, which influenced the distribution of comics that Bulls supplied to Norwegian newspapers – mainly adventure strips where the heroes often fought villains that more or less openly represented Hitler. Comic strips such as Knoll and Tott were allowed to continue publishing new material, but the adventure strips Tarzan, Flash Gordon, Agent X9, Spud and Tim and King of the Border Police were stopped. Prince Valiant continued with old episodes but under a new name, Valemon. The largest Norwegian daily, Aftenposten, continued publishing The Phantom, which would never have been allowed had not Elnar Wyller come up with a solution.. He ensured that new episodes were smuggled into Norway from Bulls office in Stockholm, via Strömstad, then with Norwegian fishing boats to Hvaler, and from there to his home. There in his apartment, Wyller edited the strips so that they would look as though they had come from old storage. He removed the speech bubbles, for instance, and inserted text under each frame instead. As a result, new Phantom Adventures could be published in Aftenposten throughout the occupation. One side effect was that editing of the Phantom comic strips continued even after the occupation. Aftenposten and other Norwegian newspapers that published the comics after the war lacked speech bubbles until 1980. Lee Falk, creator of The Phantom, was delighted by this story and retold it in numerous interviews.
The emergence of comics in newspapers continued until the Second World War when growth was slowed down. In order to continue supplying material to the newspapers, Bulls had to employ unorthodox methods. By means of negotiation, resourcefulness and no small amount of cunning, Bulls managed to maintain its deliveries throughout the war.
One problem was that in order to save money newspapers decided not to use color print in their Sunday editions.. As a result, the market was gradually taken over by weekly newspapers.
During the war, Bulls also provided a news service that was much appreciated by daily newspapers. It delivered material from The American International News Service. Bulls also had its own war correspondent in Berlin, Bengt Landelius. On the morning of the 6 June 1944 he sent a telegram from Berlin that ensured Bulls and its newspaper client Stockholm-Tidningen were the first to learn about D-day. The same day, the British newspaper Daily Express published a reproduction of the Stockholm daily’s newsbill, relayed to London via a radio link. The Daily Express described it as a scoop.
When the war ended, the need for rapid news declined, but the demand for comics, articles, pictures and features increased. Comic and cartoon pages became an important feature of Nordic newspapers, and readers often complained loudly when an editor tried to change something. Bulls’ expansion continued with the opening of a new office in Frankfurt, Germany, that handled sales to German speaking countries. .
Bjarne, who had a deep interest in literature, launched a publishing house, Steinviks, and published both classic Icelandic folk tales and a Swedish classic, The Long Ships (Röde Orm). After the war, readers longed for humor and good cheer. The market for comics opened up and in 1946 Popeye, Sweden’s first comic book, was published. A new area of operation was emerging at Bulls. It involved selling publishing rights to publishing houses wishing to publish newspapers and books. At the start of the 1950s, numerous comic papers were established, of which several are still around, including The Phantom with its well-known Phantom Club.
Simultaneously in Finland, Tove Jansson, who had been publishing her wonderful books about the Moomins in the 1940s, suddenly began to acquire an international readership. When the world’s biggest daily newspaper, the London Evening News, began publishing Moomin as a comic strip in 1954 the Jansson and the Steinsvik families decided to collaborate. This marked the beginning of a joint effort to spread the Moomin stories and the values they represent across the globe.
Bulls started to focus on licensing early on. Licensing involves a company using a brand or character to shape and market its products. When the Moomins’ popularity increased, companies started getting in touch about introducing products with Moomin characters. Today, the Moomin phenomenon is generating some 600 million euros globally. In Japan, Korea, China and the UK, the Moomins are just as popular as in the Nordic countries. The licensing business grew during the 1960s and 1970s for all the characters represented by Bulls. Besides the Moomins, Bulls represents brands such as The Smurfs, The Beatles and Carl Larsson. In 2016, Bulls, Moomin and a few other key figures founded R&B Licensing to continue taking Nordic story and design rights out into the world via publishing rights.
The Bulls printing house, now Bulls Graphics, was founded in Halmstad in 1959 to supply clients through new technology. At the same time it printed telephone catalogs. Production shifted in character from plate printing to paper proofing and then to digital delivery. Today, everything is digitized. Bulls Graphics also arranges for printing and prepress services.