Today, I would like to tell you all about someone I admire very much. She was a Finnish author, artist and queer icon. Her name? Tove Jansson.
Tove Jansson is very well-known in Finland especially for her Moomin books and comics. The books are mainly for children but Jansson’s unconventional and interesting style of writing attracts many adults as well. Most of the books have also been adapted into a tv-series which has guaranteed an even larger audience for them. Jansson’s works have attracted international attention as well, and they are loved especially in Japan. However, in countries like the US, they are much less known.
Tove Jansson was born in Finland (that was under Russian rule at the time) in 1914. Both her parents were artists, so it was no surprise that Tove decided to become one herself. She studied art in Finland, Sweden and France. During her studies, she had many of her artworks displayed in various exhibitions. She also drew illustrations to a magazine called Garm, a Finnish-Swedish anti-fascist magazine. The Moomintroll figure actually made its first appearance in Jansson’s political cartoons.
Jansson wrote the first Moomin book during the Second World War, and it was published in 1945. This started a series of books about the Moomins. Moomins are fictional characters who live in Moominvalley and the books follow their adventures. All this doesn’t sound too special but Jansson’s insightful way of writing truly makes these books stand out from any others. The Moomin books, while usually being cheerful in tone, contemplate heavy topics like the possibility of nuclear war. The books have been translated into English and I truly recommend reading them. Jansson also illustrated and wrote several Moomin-related picture books.
Jansson also published Moomin-related stories in comic form. A comic strip by the name of Moomintroll started publishing in a British magazine called Evening News in 1954. Jansson drew the comic for five years by herself and with her brother, after which her brother fully took over the publishing since Tove wanted to focus on her art. That’s right: while making a name for herself as an author, Tove also became fairly well-known for her painting skills. In addition to all this, she also designed stage settings and dresses for a Moomin-themed theater production and later on, she also wrote a play by herself.
Jansson was briefly engaged to Amos Wirtanen, a (male) political philosopher. However, while working on the Moomin theater production, Jansson started a secret relationship with director Viveca Bandler, who was in a heterosexual marriage. They eventually ended the relationship but in 1956, Jansson met Tuulikki Pietilä. Pietilä was also an artist and would go on to become Jansson’s lifelong partner. They never married because that was not allowed for gay couples in Finland until 2017. However, they stayed together until Jansson died in 2001 at the age of 86. Pietilä lived for eight more years and died in 2009.
Jansson was brave, creative and opinionated at a time when being any of those things was not deemed suitable for women. She made a name for herself and created art that continues to be hugely influential to this day for kids and adults alike. She was political and not afraid to speak out for what she believed in the best way she knew how – through art. Jansson is also a huge inspiration for me as a queer woman. Even though same-sex couples were absolutely not accepted when she met Tuulikki Pietilä in the 50s, she loved her shamelessly and fearlessly until her death some 20 years ago. For me, Tove Jansson is a role model and her books and comics continue to bring me joy and enjoyment. I hope that you decide to pick up some of her works as well after reading this article.