Tove Jansson’s Moomin stories (whether in chapter book, picture book, or comic form) all have a similar quality—a quality that is rare in today’s world. There’s a distinctly carefree individualist vibe mixed with a hint of playful cynicism, a kind of embrace-life-and-live-it-to-its-fullest-but-maybe-don’t-get-too-carried-away ethos. The Moomins can be selfish, cruel, and petty at times but more often than not they are generous, nurturing, and involved—like real people. The Moomin world is populated by cranks, misanthropes, beasts, monsters, fretters, hagglers, and poets. The Moomin family clashes or organizes with these folks against common enemies or natural disasters or themselves.
One of my personal favorite aspects of the Moomin stories is how Jansson never preaches. The world is what it is and the Moomins are who they are and maybe we should all just stop and have some tea and jam or go for a walk. And the drawings! Tove Jansson is in that elite class of illustrators who can say so much with so little in the simplest illustration but then turn around and fill a page with undulating lines of darkness and water. Her drawings are a revelation—deep black ink or gorgeous fulsome watercolors demand we stop and drink them in while clearly propelling us forward to the next adventure. Has any children’s author ever so eloquently stated book after book, story after story “you are alone but that’s okay, we’re all alone”—and made it seem like an affirmation?
I didn’t read the Moomin books as a kid. I only heard about them as an adult. The descriptions people used seemed improbable. These books couldn’t possibly exist. Small mushroom-like beings that emitted an electrical charge (Hattifatteners)—no way! A muskrat that carries a book called The Uselessness of Everything—never! But I was intrigued. And even better, there seemed to be a little-known comic strip…I was designing this book series for Drawn and Quarterly in my head the moment I heard about it. I remember holding oversized slim hardcover books in my tiny hands as a child. They felt important; they enveloped me as I read them. I was physically in the book’s world. I knew that was what a Moomin comic book should be. It should feel ageless, heavy (but not too heavy!), and there should be a bunch of books—to talk about, to lend, to lose, to find again, to fall asleep clutching. They should feel like the most important thing I had ever touched.