Review: ‘Moominmamma’s Maid’
Writer/artist: Tove Jansson
Drawn and Quarterly; $9.95
The late Finnish writer, artist, and cartoonist Tove Jansson’s Moomin characters have delighted readers of all ages in several very distinct corners of the globe for generations now. In our corner of the globe, Canadian publisher Drawn and Quarterly has been re-packaging and republishing Jansson’s comic strip iteration of the characters and their adventures in a five-volume series Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip since 2006, complementing the line with other Moomin-related releases.
The big comic strip collections are, in terms of content, perfectly appropriate for the youngest of readers, but the format isn’t terribly well suited to little hands or shorter attention spans. That’s where books like Moominmamma’s Maid come in.
The slim, 45-page, landscape-format paperback collects a 1956 run of strips that tell a complete story. It is, in essence, a story arc-specific collection, but unlike so many story strips in so many newspapers, Jansson’s didn’t overly fret regarding recapping the action of the previous installment, or even necessarily adhering to a strict set-up, set-up, set-up, punchline structure.
The result is a series of comic strips that, when assembled in a book like this, read as if they were always intended to be read this way. They may have been published serially in Britain’s Evening News in the middle of the last century, but in this century and in this form, they read like an original graphic novel.
That lack of fret on the cartoonist’s part is, appropriately enough, reflective of the attitude of the characters towards their domestic lives, particularly where housework is concerned.
If you are completely unfamiliar with the Moomin Family, a quick introduction is perhaps in order. They are a family of pale, big-snouted cartoon fantasy characters that resemble nothing so much as anthropomorphic hippopotamuses. (Their original, Swedish name was Moomintroll.) There’s Moomin, Moominpappa, Moominmamma and, um, Snorkmaiden–if her name doesn’t fit the motif of the others, that’s because she’s not technically a blood relative, but let’s not got into the Moomin family tree here.
The Moomin Family are a carefree bunch, with the patriarch and matriarch just as devoted to play and pretend as the children. This means that their household is a fun one, but not exactly a tidy one.
That fact is pointed out repeatedly to Moominmamma by their new neighbor Mrs. Fillyjonk, an expert at “housekeeping and mother-craft.” After some difficulties between the two, Moominmamma eventually decides to try and get a maid, but only one “as small as possible,” as she’s somewhat afraid of maids.
She gets Misabel, who is very small indeed–and even more miserable than her name suggests. She has several mysterious peculiarities and is poorly suited to work as a maid to such a peculiar family, although the Moomins eventually win her over and transform her and her equally miserable dog, Pimple, with what amounts to child-like aversion therapy.
The subtleties of Jansson’s masterful cartooning might be lost on the youngest of readers, but then, that’s often the mark of the best cartooning and illustration, of which Jansson’s most assuredly is–it’s so effective, it’s easy to forget that someone drew all those lines on paper at some point, and that you’re not actually in the Moomin Family’s world with them.
Jansson’s work is remarkably fresh, and it both looks and reads like it could have been created in 2016, rather than six decades ago. You would have a difficult time counting enough comic strips to account for all ten of your fingers of which the same thing could be said, and that timelessness is as strong an argument as any that Jansson’s Moomin strip is a true classic.
I don’t know if Momminmamma’s Maid is necessarily the perfect place to start, but only because I don’t know that there’s any bad place to start. This one is definitely formatted for kids though, and it has the added benefit of presenting two characters from outside the Moomins’ immediate circle–Mrs. Fillyjonk and Misabel–who meet the characters and react quite differently, which means this storyline comes with strong point-of-view characters to serve as guides.
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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