Moomin Book 10: The Complete Lars Jansson Comic Strip Review

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<i>Moomin Book 10: The Complete Lars Jansson Comic Strip</i> Review

When his sister, Tove, ended her tenure on the Moomin comic strip she created, author and translator Lars Jansson taught himself to draw. He took over the Finnish title from 1960 to 1975 (twice as long as his sister), assuming stewardship for the Moomins, a family of hippo-like trolls that humorously struggle to make sense of the world around them. (Confusingly, Moomin is also the given name of the youngest member of the family.) Lars’ work features less hatching, but is an effective imitation of his predecessor. The run also instills a sense of continuity, as the strip was handed down from one sibling to the other. Like his sister, Lars favors a four-panel format that recalls Charles Schulz’ Peanuts, with an occasional alteration to three-panel layouts, depending on the story.

Drawn & Quarterly’s 10th volume in its series of Moomin reprints collects four stories by Lars—all the strips published during 1964—that also serve as solid representations of his style. Each chapter is a shaggy dog that twists and turns and branches off into strange, banal directions that allow the cartoonist to demonstrate his abilities as a raconteur and humorist. While Lars’ thin, scratchy line is admirable, he lacks the compositional skills of his sister, and his acting doesn’t hold as broad a range. That’s not to demean his skill—the cartoonist’s art stacks comparably to most illustrators (especially current ones), but he’s never more than an able imitator. But as someone who had only been practicing for five years at that point, Lars still impresses—no mistake. He also realizes that aesthetics aren’t everything, allowing his writing (including his writing with images) to shore up his weak spots.

The most interesting aspect of Lars’ writing is its exploration of the common anxieties of the time, but excoriated with levity and joy. “Moomin and the TV” is a protracted story about television addiction. Television wasn’t introduced to Finland until 1957, so in 1964 the technology was still new. Readers of Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451 can empathize with the anxiety that new technology can induce. But unlike Bradbury’s illiterate utopia, Moominpappa (Moomin’s dad) and Snork Maiden (Moomin’s girlfriend) eventually—realizing that even smelly Beatnicks enjoy it too—reject the vice. Whereas Bradbury treats television as a serious threat to literacy, Lars handles the anxiety like anxiety: a thing that needlessly causes discomfort.

Moomin Interior Art by Lars Jansson

“The Underdeveloped Moomins” similarly dismantles the notion of Eurocentric supremacy and ethnocentric notions of civilization. It takes a very serious subject—European colonization—and turns it into a farcical comedy of manners, wherein the citizens of Moominvalley are so blundering and happy-go-lucky that they eventually force out an aid worker without realizing it.

The staying power and latter-day popularity of the Moomins are identifiable in a cursory glance. The strip’s blend of social consciousness and light humor lend a polysemantic quality that makes it a more accessible and timeless work than other strips of equal aesthetic caliber. While Lars’ inexperience as an artist definitely shows when compared with his sister’s work, his journeyman status doesn’t degrade the work or stymie its flow. Even the second best cartoonist in the Jansson family is still miles ahead of most cartoonists before or after.

Moomin Interior Art by Lars Jansson