“The Complete Little Nemo” by Winsor McCay (Taschen) and “Moomin: The Deluxe Anniversary Edition” by Tove Jansson (Drawn & Quarterly) ferry the reader back to a sweet once-upon-a-time-ness. Both books bear the texture of dream — nightmare, too — and tap into the reveries of childhood.
Like McCay, the Finnish writer and illustrator Tove Jansson (1914-2001) couldn’t be bound by one genre. Besides comic strips, her work includes chapter and picture books for childrennovels for adults and memoir. This treasury of more than 400 pages, released to honor the 100th anniversary of her birth, collects all the “Moomin” comic strips she created for The Evening News in London in the 1950s. But while McCay is something of a forgotten man in America, Jansson is revered in her homeland.
McCay reveled in Art Nouveau detail, but Jansson’s drawing line is as simple and humble as her main character, Moomin, a hippo-looking fellow whose main goal in life is “to live in peace and plant potatoes and dream.”
But where’s the conflict in that? In his childlike innocence, Moomin finds himself tangled up in gentle satires of pushy relatives, winter sports (it is Finland, after all), and male-female roles. And, oh, the constant catastrophes: gales and avalanches, comets and Martians, jungle infestations and premature winters.
But with a sincere childlike nature and a stoic acceptance of misadventure (similar to another child of the wintry North, Charles M. Schulz’s Charlie Brown), Moomin and company — Moominmamma, Snufkin, Stinky and Snork Maiden, to name a few — emerge from each story full of tolerance and quiet humor.
As the character Mymble once told those who worry too much: “Lie on the bridge and watch the water flowing past. Or run, or wade through the swamp in your red boots. Or roll yourself up and listen to the rain falling on the roof.”
And if you relish that pouring rain . . . can Slumberland be far behind?