Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip Vol. 5

Written by Lars Jansson
Art by Tove Jansson
88 pages, black and white
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

I picked up the first volume of Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip solely due to a friend of mine (also named Greg), who grew up reading Tove Jansson’s Moomin books and had utterly fallen in love with them. His descriptions over the years had intrigued me, with promises of whimsy and silliness mixed in with satire and cleverness. That’s exactly what I found in these collections of comic strips drawn for London’s The Evening News. The fourth volume, however, was the first to feature some strips written by Tove Jansson’s brother Lars Jansson, and this fifth volume published the final collaborations between Tove and Lars before Tove quit the strip entirely. This book, then, was a test. Would Lars be able to grow into the strip enough to make me want to read it once Tove was gone?

Having felt slightly lukewarm about Lars’s writing in the previous volume, Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip Vol. 5 was a bit of a relief. It’s still not as strong as Tove’s own writing, but there’s definite signs of improvement. The first story, "Moomin Winter," has the Moomin family trying to settle down to hibernate but has them continually interrupted by new visitors asking to stay with them for the season. It’s a cute enough story, especially once a special delivery of a Nibling appears and begins to wreak havoc with his continual sharp observations and discovery of everyone’s secrets. It’s probably the best of the three stories in Vol. 5, aided in part by a confined setting that forces Lars to keep a relatively sharp focus on the plot.

By contrast, "Moomin Under Sail" is much more meandering, taking the characters along with Too-Ticki onto a sea voyage that includes stowaways and pirates, among other obstacles. It’s not a bad story, but it seems to go every which way at a moment’s notice. Lars still hasn’t quite mastered the rambling story in the way that Tove had, and there are times when it feels almost like Lars himself has no idea where his characters are headed. "Fuddler’s Courtship," likewise, shifts positions wildly, going from a romance gone wrong to a strong and pointed satire of psychiatry. The slightly more adult subject material here actually feels off-putting in places when Lars’s script feels slightly strident, but before too long it calms down and goes back into a tone we’re more used to.

There are some nice bits with Lars’s writing that weren’t evident with Tove’s, most notably when Lars breaks the proverbial fourth wall. When the Nibling arrives at the Moomin house, the Nibling says his mother asked for him to be sent to the Moomin family "in the papers" and that clearly they were much more well-off as a result. "Moomin Under Sail" is even more blatant, with the first three strips revolving around the fact that the Moomins are trying to find a new plot for their latest storyline, at one point Moominpapa even staring out at the audience and saying, "My goodness! Readers…" It’s never overused, and comes across as cute and sweet.

Tove’s art looks as adorable as always, the Moomins looking like ambulatory hippos with their wide eyes and huge snouts. There’s such a wide variety of body types here, each new crazy looking creature more fantastic than the previous. My favorite character design here is probably the young Nibling in "Moomin Winter," with his schoolboy hat and innocent expression even when he’s tormenting everyone else. He’s so adorable you want to kill him, which is exactly what Lars’s script calls for.

I’m going to miss Tove in Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, so much that I’ve finally broken down and bought the first two Moomin novels (which are being reissued in North America, hurrah!) for once the withdrawal hits. And while Lars’s take on the Moomin characters is certainly slightly different than Tove’s, after this book I’m interested enough in his version that I’ll take a look next year when Drawn & Quarterly releases the first collection of strips both written and drawn by Lars. Until then, though, I’ll probably just re-read some of the earlier strips. They’re great enough that they never get old. It’s nice to finally see what all the fuss is about with the Moomins.

Purchase Links: | Powell’s Books

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