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Moomin Volume 1

Tove Jansson
$19.95 or $13.57 at Amazon
Drawn & Quarterly

Tove Jannson might be a relatively obscure name for most Americans. Such is not the case in her native Finland where she is widely popular for her Moomin comic strip and novels or the 34 countries where her work has been translated. Her name first came to my attention nine years ago when a Finnish member of the GLA Yahoo list posted a notice of her death, and while her name and work were mentioned on the rare occasion, I felt no compulsion to look for her work, not even after boutique comics publisher Drawn & Quarterly announced it would print volumes. This changed on a recent trip to my library when either Moomin or Jansson popped into my head, and I searched the catalog. Lo and behold! All five volumes were on the shelf. Flipping through the first volume inquisitively revealed quirky and charming drawings, reason enough to give it a chance.

Quirkiness and charm do indeed abound in Moomin. Among the biographical notes on Wikipedia it’s mentioned that Jansson started to draw her strip during World War II because she was depressed and wanted something naive and innocent. Naive and innocent is the perfect description for Jansson’s stories, especially when she introduces her gentle main character Moomin with a full moon shot as he’s hiding out from a house full of guests and relations. Moomin’s good friend Sniff is introduced in the third panel and from there we’re taken on a willy nilly series of adventures from a jail break to get rich quick schemes ranging from selling a youthful elixir, a sea monster, posing as a fortune teller, and a cubist artist. It’s a playful and non-sensical version of the hero’s quest. And yes, Moomin does rescue the girl, specifically one named Snorkmaiden, not once but twice. who becomes the love of his life, and is rewarded with a new house.

The three remaining chapters are titled Moomin and Family Life (in which Moomin and his long lost parents are reunited), Moomin on The Riveria, and Moomin’s Desert Island. They’re all very enjoyable stories with wonderfully inventive ideas such as finding a nailed up box, only to discover it’s full tiny critters representing swear words. Their solution is to pack it up and send it off to eccentric Aunt Jane. When an exasperated Aunt Janes confronts them, Moomin explains it with: “You see, Aunt Jane, one must have a fling sometime in one’s life…We only sent you the swear words for fun. We really are very fond of you.” More silliness ensues when the Moomin family and Snorkmaiden take a vacation on the Riviera. Jansson has a wonderful time putting these characters into absurd situations and interacting with oddball characters like the Marquis Mongaga and a Lothario named Clark who takes an interest in Snorkmaiden after she wins big at the hotel casino.

D & Q’s hardback books are always well made. The oversized volume has a colorful illustration of the characters printed across the front and back covers with a bright read band of bookcloth down the spine. End papers are a cherry orange with playful poses of Moomin printed in white in horizontal rows. Interior art is black and white with shades of gray as Jansson drew them, crisply printed on cream paper that’s very nice on the eyes. An often overlooked sign of quality (or lack of) is a book’s binding. In Moomin’s case, the pages are sewn binding, ensuring that the book will last for a significant period of time. The book will also lay flat on a table when opened, making for easy reading.

Perhaps the closest American things I can compare Moomin to is to ask you to picture what a mashup between Peanuts and the original Adams Family cartoons would be like, and even that is off the mark. It’s zany dialog and plots filled with loveable anthropormorphic characters. Reading the first volume was sheer enjoyment and my only regret is in not reading it sooner. Consider Mooming if you’re looking for a book for young family member or for your inner child. We should all have such amazing responses to tragedies whether great or personal in life!

Buy Moomin from Amazon

To learn more about Jansson, there is the requisite Wikipedia entry and another bio here.

For the curious, a comprehensive list of Moomin work is at Moomin Trove.

September 18, 2023
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