Like many children of the 90s, I was introduced to Moomin in the form of the Japanese animated version. I can’t overemphasise what a huge influence this show had on my sapling imagination. There was a feeling, a contradictory vibe about it: gently fantastical, frightening but endlessly comforting. I know in hindsight that this influence must be attributed to Tove Jansson herself—although it was not an exact adaptation of her books, her world and vision were very much intact.
It was a joy, then, to discover that her original drawings were even more strange, beautiful and atmospheric than the memories I had from that show. Drifting somewhere between woodcut art and mid-century cartooning, the illustrations that fill the Moomin books are masterworks of composition, designed with scientific precision while feeling spontaneous and natural. The environments are shadowy, built up from a thousand foreboding lines, yet the endearing characters that populate them make them feel strangely cosy. The imagery has an incredible power to make you long to be in there with them. I can’t think of a much higher aspiration than to one day evoke a similar feeling with my own work.
The characters themselves are completely unique (nothing else really looks like a Moomintroll) and Jansson imbues them with a range of hysterically spot on expressions that’s as broad as the best cartoonists in history (especially impressive considering how few facial features some characters have). This is particularly evident in the background-free character illustrations in which heaps of personality is captured in just a few, casual-looking lines.
There is also something just plain good about the Moomin world. There is nothing at all cynical about it. For what can seem like a strange and quietly sinister place, you come away from it feeling enlightened and optimistic, willing to see the best in people. I think that this unique feeling is part of the ‘vibe’ that has stuck with me since first visiting Moominvalley as a child and forms one of the unwritten aims I have for pretty much every piece of work I do.
As an artist, there isn’t anything that is not inspiring to me about Jansson’s work, both as artist and writer. I’m moved by it and impressed by it in equal measure. As a comic artist there is a lot to learn from her marriage of text and image. She mastered prose, illustration and the comic strip, created an unparalleled, original world and produced poignant and timeless works within it. Artistically and otherwise, my childhood and adult selves have both felt the influence of the Moomins and their creator. I imagine my future selves will as well.
I painted this small gouache tribute to Snufkin (who should be a literary hero to anyone who considers themselves laid back) about a year ago because I needed something ‘Moomin’ to go on my wall. The sheer amount of Moomin fan art out there is a testament to the strength of Jansson’s creations.