The Book of Hope by Tommi Musturi Review

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<i>The Book of Hope</i> by Tommi Musturi Review

Writer/Artist: Tommi Musturi (translated by Pauliina Haasjoki)
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Release Date: February 1, 2016

Although renowned in his native Finland, cartoonist Tommi Musturi has published little of his oeuvre in English, so Fantagraphics’ translation and beautiful printing of this five-part novel should increase his profile in Anglo countries substantially. The Book of Hope reads like a serialized newspaper comic; with few exceptions, each two-page horizontal spread contains four four-panel strips. Plot isn’t very important. You could digest each set of 16 panels in isolated readings, or keep the book in the bathroom and dip in and out of its rambling progression. It would be easy to miss that each section (its five parts were originally published separately) has its own color, both literally and (more) figuratively. But if you read the book as a piece, like a Peanuts compilation, the sense of what Musturi’s approaches sharpens like a fresh lens clicked into place at the optometrist.

To summarize the narrative, an aging couple lives in the Finnish countryside. Work and social life are completely absent. Even the wife barely makes an appearance until the fourth and fifth sections, shouting her lines from offscreen. The urban environment forms the basis of a few strips, but is far outweighed by the slower pace of the natural world. The seasons change, with little meditation on their doing so. But our central character isn’t just a fisher and observer of animal life. He’s a dreamer. The middle portion comprises the protagonist’s extended cowboy fantasy, painted in wild and beautiful reds and greens. He mopes; he meditates; he wishes things were other than they are. His wife is the practical one, yanking him down to earth. She starts out Wilma Flintstone and ends up Laura Petrie, a true partner rather than a nag.

The Book of Hope Interior Art by Tommi Musturi

Nothing more exciting happens than the desire to eat too much ice cream and the regrets and faint sweatiness that follow doing so. Our protagonist spends a lot of time in profile, sitting in his easy chair. Musturi’s use of color is particularly strong, reminiscent of ‘60s black-light posters, but applied to less majestic scenes. Pacing is a particular concern. He might spend three or four panels just watching dandelion seeds drift in the breeze. It might seem a little slow (and one can be inclined to side with the wife in wishing our hero would stop his dreaming and get on to doing something), but The Book of Hope conveys a lovely strangeness to the stripped-down lifestyle it captures.

The Book of Hope Interior Art by Tommi Musturi

The Book of Hope Interior Art by Tommi Musturi