Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Opposites attract

October 15, 2006|Richard Rayner | Richard Rayner is the author of several books, most recently the novel "The Devil's Wind."

-----

Moomin

The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip -- Book One

Tove Jansson

Drawn & Quarterly: 96 pp., $19.95

-----

Abandon the Old in Tokyo

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Drawn & Quarterly: 194 pp., $19.95

-----

TOVE JANSSON, the Finnish writer, died five years ago at the age of 86. Her best-known creations are the Moomins, a family of hippo-shaped creatures -- trolls, she called them -- that live in a wooden tower beside a lake in Moominvalley and, with their eccentric friends, have adventures, often involving planet-threatening ecological disasters like floods or comets. Jansson was in some ways the Rachel Carson of the kids-book world, always hip to the big issues. That said, her work is intimate and, though sometimes frightening, finally unthreatening. "Life is like a river. Some sail on it slowly, some quickly, and some capsize," she writes in "Moominvalley in November," one of the eight Moomin novels, which enchant every kid I know who has come in contact with them; her cool, nonchalant wisdom and her alert eye for darkness and danger delight (not to mention educate) adults too.

In Finland, Jansson is a legend, as much a part of daily culture as Nokia, Sibelius and the idlers who congregate outside the state-run liquor stores before the shutters come down on a Saturday afternoon. In Japan, theme parks derive from her fiction. This global fame began not in 1948 with the publication of her breakthrough book, "Finn Family Moomintroll," but in 1953, when a tabloid newspaper, the London Evening News, invited her to create an all-ages Moomin comic strip. This took off immediately and was syndicated worldwide -- though not, for some reason, in America. Now, it finally appears here with "Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip -- Book One."

That Jansson should have produced a comic is no surprise. She trained as an artist, did her first work as an artist, came from a family of artists. Her mother illustrated books and magazines; her father was the famous sculptor Victor Jansson. She wrote about them in her "adult" book, the wonderful (and ripe for reprinting) "Sculptor's Daughter." Her family was liberal bohemian, but her father's whims ruled the household, leaving her mother to steady a perpetually unstable domestic boat. This dynamic transposes itself into Moominvalley, where Moominpappa, the dilettante, wears a top hat, engages in the never-ending task of writing his memoirs and thinks life "would be even more wonderful if something exciting and awful happened"; Moominmamma sports an apron, is never without her handbag and responds serenely when those exciting, awful things indeed occur.

The four long stories in this volume (which is the first in a series of five books that will eventually collect the strip's entire run) fill in the gaps in the novels' fertile soil. We see the character Moomintroll's friendship with the loyal but occasionally insufferable Sniff, who, Jansson writes in the novel "Comet in Moominland," forever dreams of money and "shiny things that I can hold and stroke and call my own." We see Moomintroll's attempt to drown himself, resulting in a happy reunion with his father and mother, who, years before, thought they'd lost him forever. We see flocks of tiny and threatening Hattifatteners, milling about aimlessly (a chilling and brilliantly funny metaphor for anxiety) -- uninvited houseguests that grow, it turns out, from seeds planted by Snufkin, the heroic wanderer.

Snufkin is a much beloved and charismatic figure, but in Jansson's universe, charisma has unexpected consequences. Good deeds might get punished. Bad ones can likewise have unexpected results. This feels true, doesn't it? There's optimism, sure, but always with complexity. Jansson knew the ugly score and yet creates gorgeous butterflies to fly in its face. Her work soars with lightness and speed, and her drawings only echo her writing: delicate but precise, observant yet suggestive. She always knew what to leave unsaid, what to leave to the reader's imagination. In one episode, Moominpappa transplants the family to the French Riviera, in search of gambling and parties through the night. "Do you think there will be a lot of nobility? How about changing our name to De Moomin?" he wonders. What follows is gorgeous, funny, wise and fast -- 20 pages that offer more than most full-length Hollywood features.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|