For the past several years, Drawn and Quarterly has been bringing out large, hardcover, gorgeous collections of Tove Jansson’s classic Moomin comic strips. Each volume holds four stories in black and white. Now, they’re releasing selected stories in individual paperbacks and in color.
Moominvalley Turns Jungle is a delightfully nonsensical story of an unexpected change in the seasons. During a drought, the Moomins plant some strange seeds they find. One big storm later their valley turns into a jungle! There are frightening carnivorous plants in the wardrobe (which fortunately turn out to be tamed by music), tropical fruit, and mysterious flowers. There’s also the rival botanist and zoologist, who turns up after Stinky decides the Moomins need some wild animals for their jungle and releases the animals from a zoo. There are exciting encounters with snakes, tigers, and alligators, but this being Moominvalley, everyone is fine, if a little surprised at the unexpected results.
Moomin’s Winter Follies takes the reader to a different season and gently pokes fun at sports enthusiasts and romantic entanglements alike. The Moomins decide to go against their ancestral tradition and not hibernate during the winter. Venturing out in the frozen landscape, they meet Mr. Brisk who is obsessed with winter sports and soon becomes the object of not only Mymble’s affections, but also the Snork Maiden’s, much to Moomintroll’s despair. Mr. Brisk quickly succumbs to depression when he loses to Mymble in the skiing contest, and various winter sports are set up to help him win and recover his spirits. However, when the snow melts, away goes Mr. Brisk, leaving a heart-broken Mymble and an embarrassed Snork Maiden behind.
The books are formatted in a rectangular shape, which allows space for two comic strips per page. The brilliantly-colored covers echo the color scheme of each book. Jungle has purple backgrounds, ranging from pale lavender to deep violet with splashes of orange and green in the jungle plants and animals. Winter Follies’ night scenes are in dark blue purples, but the bulk of the story shows contrasting pink skies and pale green snows. Colored, the comics still retain the subtle expressions of emotion in the characters eyes and attitudes and in the delightfully insane landscape as well as all the strange but lovable characters.
Fans of the comic strip will recognize the Moomins, Mymble, Little My, Stinky, and other characters, but there’s no guide for new readers or an explanation of the Moomins’ world. Then again, perhaps that’s the best way to approach this unique fantasy, plunging straight into the childlike logic and adventures of Jansson’s odd creatures. The plot of Jungle is the one I think would most appeal to kids, although Mr. Brisk’s obsession with winning and the silly accidents will elicit some giggles. The books are small, but a nice size for children’s hands and quick browsing. The black and white comics were a hard sell to kids, at least in my library. Unless it’s a character they know, like Garfield or Calvin and Hobbes, black and white comics aren’t generally popular. The Moomin stories are a little odd and a little different, but the colors and gentle sense of humor will appeal to enough children that they’re worth the investment, even if you’ve previously bought the hardcover collections.