I will admit that while most English majors are capable of listing authors, such as Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, or Twain as their favorite, I have no problem admitting that my list contains 90% children’s book authors. I love Tolkien, Lewis, and Norton with a passion. My favorite book is about a toy bunny who gets lost and has to find his way home. Basically, I’m like an English major who never graduated from elementary school. So when one of my best friends, who is currently going to graduate school in Finland, introduced me to Moomin, I immediately found one of my favorite comic books.
The Moomin series follows a family of trolls that actually are very adorable and look like hippos more than anything. They were first published as books in Finland, but were then made into comics in 1954. These comics are designed to teach a set of values that is unlike any other comic designed for children that I have read.
In one example, Moominmamma enjoys seeing her as an adventure and lives life for excitement, rather than practicality. In one exchange between Moominmamma and Fillyjonk, Moominmamma explains that she cleans when she feels like it, or when she can imagine cleaning to be part of a bigger, more adventurous activity. While this is not the normal example of what you want your children to learn (no doubt parents cringe when they realize their kid is being fed Romantic sediments instead of practical information), it presents Moomin in a more adult, philosophical light.
The Moomin’s have a Romantic idealism of how one should interact with nature. As the previous image showed, they have a tree in their house because they don’t have the heart to move it. The Moomins are constantly trying to live in the moment, while dealing with issues such as work ethic, consumerism, love, and responsibility, which are not only presented in a way that are accessible to children, but to adults too. These ideas are presented through the lens of a graphic narrative, using adorable figures that aren’t too adult-like, which children might not be able to identify with, but aren’t too childish to turn off parents. Instead, the comic are presented using characters that are clearly not human, but are still human-like so that their actions are recognizable so that the reader can identify with the subject. By making the characters have personified characteristics, children can relate and begin to grasp some of the deeper, more philosophical meaning behind comics.
Another graphic narrative, although not a comic, is Wanda Gag’s novel, Millions of Cats, published in 1928. This story, published with illustrations done by the author treats the illustrations as a supplement to the reading of the story, with the words twisted around the images just like William Blake’s works. The images and the depiction of the scene changes how the story is read, therefore the work must be read as an imagetext, as Mitchell has defined to mean “synthetic works that combine image and text”. The story is not the same on its own as an image or a text, therefore this children’s story should be considered part of the graphic novel canon. Like Moomin, this graphic narrative is published as a work for children, but has a more sincere meaning that shows values such as greed and contentment.
I think that it is wrong to view comics as something for children that should be disregarded for adults completely, even when the story is marketed towards children. Well written children’s books and graphic narratives have timeless qualities that are applicable both to the lives of children and adults.
Overview and information on Moomin.
Images from Millions Of Cats from this blog.
Also, one of the Moomin animated series is available on Netflix. It’s pretty creepy, I don’t suggest watching it before bed.