2014 marks the centennial of the late Tove Jansson. One of the great Finnish writers and artists of the 20th Century, Jansson was a novelist, designer and painter, but she is best known as the creator of the Moomins, a bonafide global multimedia sensation. Beyond the books that Jansson made, there are movies and television shows, theme parks, and cafes dedicated to her fantastical creatures — but she and her characters have a much lower profile in North America.
Tom Devlin is the Creative Director at Drawn and Quarterly, where he edits and oversees a wide range of books for the publisher. One of the projects he’s been most passionate about has been bringing Jansson’s work back to print, in particular, the “Moomin” comic strip.
To mark Jansson’s centennial, D+Q has published “Moomin: The Deluxe Anniversary Edition,” a slipcased hardcover collecting all of the comics that she worked on. Below, we discuss the genesis of the special collection which is, as Devlin describes, a “beautiful monument to one of the greatest comics ever made.”
CBR News: You’ve said a number of times that you think this is one of the great comic strips; for people who haven’t read it, since “Moomins” isn’t particularly well known in the United States, could you articulate why?
Tom Devlin: Very specifically, I think it’s the air of melancholy. Tove also has a great sarcastic sense of humor that balances well with the whimsy in the strip, and I don’t think there is anything quite like it. It’s sarcastic, but it’s not mean. And, of course, her drawing is just flawless. Such simple choices always correct and beautiful to look at.Â
For people who know the Moomin novels, how are the comics like them and how are they something different?
Well, they are different by virtue of the short episodic bursts of a daily strip. But they’re surprisingly similar in many ways. And you get a lot more drawing, which is certainly a plus.
D+Q has been publishing the Moomin comic strip for the past few years. This is Jansson’s centennial. Have you known for a while that you wanted to do something to mark the occasion?
Yeah, I knew once the books were successful that one day I would want to do a slipcase or boxed set. This was the perfect timing.
How did you approach “Moomin: The Deluxe Anniversary Edition,” and what were you trying to do?
Really, the idea was just to make an irresistible object. The comics had been out for a while, but this was the first chance to just make this beautiful monument to one of the greatest comics ever made.
Besides collecting all the comic strips she worked on, the book has a number of extras, as well.
For the text, I asked a few people who shared their love of the Moomins with me before I knew anything about the work of Tove Jansson — people like Tom Hart, Dylan Horrocks, Megan Kelso and James Kochalka. I wrote a history on how D+Q came to publish “Moomin” in the first place. The real kicker though, is we asked if there might be any unseen material we could add. We knew that almost all the original art for the strips had been destroyed but hoped there might be something left behind. We had asked before, and there wasn’t anything, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to ask again. And I’m glad I did, because the licensor, Bulls, sent us 50 pages of character tests for each story. It’s pretty amazing — just page after page of surprisingly tight ink studies for all the characters that appear in the strip over those first few years.
This book collects all the comic strips that she worked on, but the strip continued for years after. Could you tell that story of who took it over?
It’s a fascinating story. Tove tired of the daily grind of the strip pretty quickly and enlisted her brother Lars to help out with scripting after a few years. He actually wrote a handful of the stories in the “Moomin Deluxe,” but Tove still drew them. Tove wanted to quit, but her mother and Lars had a different idea. Lars spent several months in secret, teaching himself to draw. When he thought he was ready, he presented his comics to her and Tove just handed the strip over to him.
D+Q has been publishing the individual Moomin storylines in these smaller flex cover books, including “Moomins on the Riveria,” which was the basis for the recent movie. How has the response been to those books?
We wanted to test out a couple of ideas. We wanted to make little graphic novel versions with a low price point, and I’d been toying with the idea of seeing how the strips would take color. Basically, we wanted to see if we could expand the readership of this amazing strip.
Have you managed to build a bigger or different readership?
It’s pretty early to tell, but we’ve had some success. Whether or not we’ve reached many new people is hard to tell, but I think it’s only a matter of time as the catalog expands. For the price, these really are the perfect gift item.
Is the plan to collect the entire run of the Moomin strip?
Yes. I forget how many volumes total that will be — maybe 18? Initially it was just going to be the Tove strips, but we received a lot of mail from people asking about Lars. He’s never been very well served by the reprints in Scandinavia over the years, so we thought it would be nice to pay tribute to the complete history of the comic.
Now I want a few companion volumes to this one, collecting Lars’ run on the strip.
I certainly wouldn’t rule that out!
Jansson did so much. Besides the Moomin books and comics, she wrote books for adults, she was a painter, an illustrator. Do you see a common thread running through her work?
She had a very forceful personality, so I think that shines through. Her painting is actually very traditional and somber, while her writing tends to be more playful. I think that’s what makes her comics so great.
Do you have a favorite Moomin character?
Snufkin is my obvious favorite for his outsider iconoclast role, but I love how mean Little My is. The strips are always funnier when she shows up.
What are some of the other projects you’re in the midst of?
Well, I hope to one day do a collection of her magazine covers. I’ve seen a few, and they are brilliant. Otherwise, I’m just always on the lookout for things like Moomin or the Pippi comics, as well as the best comics being made by living cartoonists.
I know that you’re in contact with the Jansson estate, so I have to ask for all the other fans out there — is there any chance we’ll see a Moomin Cafe open in North America soon?
Oh, it’s my dream. Maybe someday!
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