Moomin reviewed on Bookslut

“Moomin, Moomin, Moomin, (and little lit)” / comicbookslut / Jeff VanderMeer / February 7, 2007

Among the many pleasures of visiting Helsinki, Finland, last year -- sauna, island restaurants, choppy boat rides, great people -- was discovering the multi-faceted work of the late Tove Jansson. You couldn’t go anywhere without discovering Moomin books, picture books, cartoon collections, stuffed toys, erasers, stationery, and a thousand other things. At first, before we knew the context, Moomin was a mysterious creature. We even thought that perhaps Moomin was a cartoon character created by the Finland tourism board to facilitate communication with visitors. But slowly, as we walked through Helsinki, everything became clear…

Utterly delightful for children and adults, Moomin is a hippopotamus-looking creature who, along with cohorts like giant rats, white finger-looking creatures, and others, has strange and wonderful adventures. Moomin and the other creatures Jannson drew are rendered in an appropriately simple style, while the backgrounds are often nuanced and complex.

In less skillful hands, this would be fodder for sticking one’s finger down one’s throat in revulsion at the treacly whimsy of it all. However, Tove Jansson was a pragmatist and also, if her work is any indication, a wise person. Beneath the gentle surface of Moomin there is a sly, wicked wit and much non-didactic commentary about the world and people’s place in it.

Moomin: The Complete Tove Jannson Comic Strip from Drawn & Quarterly finally collects the Moomin comics for U.S. readers. First run in the 1950s in the London Evening News and syndicated around the world, Moomin has a timeless quality. The fantasy element and the emphasis on universal themes like love and friendship -- combined with eccentric quests (sometimes with a slapstick quality to them) -- allows modern readers to appreciate these classics all over again. A typical storyline might include Moomin having to house unexpected relatives and thus seek out extra money to cover the expense, leading to a series of misadventures from which he emerges unscathed but none the richer.

Something must be said about the effortlessness of these comic strips. There isn’t a word or image out of place. I cannot think of another comic strip that gives me as much pleasure as this one. There is also something uniquely calming and stress-relieving about reading Moomin that I can’t quite put into words but has something to do with the effortlessness I mention above.

Jannson also wrote books for adults, and I highly recommend her The Summer Book, a funny, sometimes sad, and always wise series of vignettes about a grandmother and granddaughter living on one of Finland’s outlying islands.

For more information on Moomin generally, visit the Moomin site.

Moomin: The Complete Tove Jannson Comic Strip, Tove Jannson
Drawn & Quarterly
ISBN 1894937085
96 Pages

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