Posted by: Sally Ingraham | November 9, 2015

Erm…”Real Books”? I think not.

My sister and I were engrossed in a cider list, yesterday evening, when our server interrupted by asking “Are you St. John’s students?” We both blinked at her in confusion for a moment.

St. John’s College has been around in some form since 1784 (and some would tack another hundred years on that), with the Santa Fe campus coming into existence in 1964. It’s a place where folks go to read – the Santa Fe campus is well known for it’s Master of Arts in Eastern Classics. I know people who have gotten that degree, as well as people who love to hate on the college.

“I just saw the books, and I wondered,” our server added, and I remembered that I was sitting next to a couple of used books I’d picked up earlier that day. Kurt Vonnegut’s Hocus Pocus was sitting on top.

“Oh no, no,” my sister and I admitted with bemused grins. “We just like reading.”

“And real books, too,” our server said. “Are you ready to order?”

Wait…real books? As opposed to…?

As we were walking home later, I was still puzzling a little over being mistaken for a “Serious Reader”, ah la St. John’s student, based on the fact that I appeared in proximity to Vonnegut. My sister hastened to remind me that she’d only ever read Vonnegut for a class assignment.

Which is when this whole scenario made my forehead crinkle. I read Hellboy comics and Andrei Bely’s Petersburg in the same week. I read Vonnegut for giggles and ideas (for fun, basically). My appetite for story can be (temporarily) satiated in the Literature section of Powell’s City of Books as well as on the stationary aisle at the corner Rite Aid. I can claim to read widely, and sometimes well, but you won’t catch me with a “real book” in my hands.

It annoys me that the myth of the “real book” is endlessly used as a way to build walls around folks, break connections, or feed ego at the expense of others. There are far more important things to do than make such illusory distinctions. The fact that we let folks nitpick such (usually) minor details as what type of books we read, is part of why we let folks get away with making other profound (but equally illusory) distinctions.

They’re all REAL books, folks. Let’s move on.


Posted by: Sally Ingraham | November 6, 2015

This again…


Since my last post I: visited New Mexico (April), finished the school part of my AmeriCorps term (May), finished the rest of my AmeriCorps term at the Braddock Carnegie Library, in Braddock, PA (June-July), became engrossed in Pittsburgh Pirates baseball (summer), moved to Santa Fe, NM (August), started making and self-publishing comics (Sept.-Oct.-present), and here we are.

I have been utilizing Tumblr a great deal over the past year, since it was a very fast and easy way to communicate and share and be part of the internet community while I was outrageously busy. By now it is an important hub for my adventure into comic making, and you can even read my comics for free on my page. (Specifically, ’cause I gotta plug them when I can, Dawn Chorus here, and Walkabout here!)

However, I was looking for a list of Christmas movies that I made on this blog in 2012, and I fell in love with this corner of the internet again today. Look at all the nutty things I wrote about! Those lists of tags remind me of things I like about the way my mind works – looking for the connections, the threads.

I was reading a book of interviews with Edward Gorey recently, and he listed Dreyer’s Vampyr as one of his favorite movies. I had to grin, thinking that I’d watched that movie (back in 2009!) after Richard of Caravana de recuerdos recommended it. What crazy adventures I had with the book blogging community back then. And I’m still friends with people I met through this space. How cool.

Anyway, I’m not making any clamorous promises about writing prolifically on here starting NOW, but I am looking forward to posting again and scribbling down some thoughts on books, movies, and comics. After all, WordPress just demanded that I renew my domain name, so I may as well keep alive and well for another year…!

Here’s a drawing of my friend LE exploring the Seldom Seen Arch, near Pittsburgh, PA (which I went back to visit recently), followed by some big, bad New Mexican landscapes. More mutterings to follow soon…!



Posted by: Sally Ingraham | March 15, 2015

Layers of Communication in Comics

I just finished Ray Fawkes’ One Soul. It is a pretty fascinating experiment in storytelling, and although the story and characters themselves didn’t grab me, I appreciate what Fawkes did and am filing it away into my growing library of ideas about visual literacy and communication.

I’m excited about comics right now, as you can probably gather, because it seems to me that they bring together so many types of communication – and they do it well. In my last post I talked about the connection between comics and music, which I’ve been thinking about a lot thanks to Frank Santoro. In his recent article for The Comics Journal Frank quoted Chris Ware (whose work I need to find) saying this about music and comics:

As far as the musical sense of comics goes, in 1988 when I first quit using words in my comics, and I decided to use pictures only, what I was trying to get at was that sense of unheard music in a comic. If you read any comic without words you’ll still ‘hear’ something in your head. It’s not really like music. It’s not even really tones, it’s just a broken pattern of soundless rhythm. I had the inkling that these ‘sounds’ were probably the root of what the real power of comics was: that sort of visual patterning that would then be reinterpreted as a perceived rhythm in the mind.

Frank goes on to wonder if the reason comics aren’t readily embraced by the literary world has to do with folks not knowing how to “read” the images – “Their visual literacy is limited.” This makes sense to me, as I have noticed myself learning, over the past few years, how to read comics better. I’ve been able to let go of a lot of my reading habits that are based solely on understanding written words, and be able to see (and hear) more of what is going on on a page. Accept the layers of communication that are going on.

It can be overwhelming at times. One Soul is overwhelming. It tells 18 tales at once. Fawkes used an 18 panel grid, spread across two pages, and devoted one panel to each of his 18 souls (or perhaps they are the same one, being reincarnated over centuries?) They are born at the same time, each in their panel, and then their lives spool out. You could follow one life across the pages, reading just the 5th panels for instance, and get to know a Chinese silk-worker, or a priestess in a Greek temple, or a Revolutionary War soldier, or a British punk kid – or you can read all the lives at once.

The narration pushes the individual stories along while tying them together, a sort of poem, the thoughts behind the eyes of the 18 souls, the one soul. It can be confusing if you try to focus too hard on one story, but if you let the beat catch you up it works pretty well. Like I mentioned, I wasn’t pulled in by the characters or the overall story, but I liked what Fawkes dared to try. (He’s a writer/artist who seems especially keen to play with communicating in new ways, as his current project – Intersect – clearly shows.)

Lilli Carré likes to experiment too. Her collection of short stories – Heads or Tails – is a fine example. Her stories are trippy and insightful, and the colors she uses always surprise me. My favorite story in the book is ‘Rainbow Moment’, which unrolls in layers – two men are having coffee and one talks about his tipsy wife, who was telling him about an adventure in a bookstore, where the shopkeeper told her about bat-watching with her uncle, who once brought a bat home to show his girlfriend, who locked herself in the bathroom like she had as a child…and each layer has it’s own color pallet, and you get deep in it and then come back out through the layers. Pretty cool.

Then there’s Emily Carroll and her collection Through the Woods which is just about the creepiest thing I’ve read in a long time. What Carroll does with words and pictures is amazing. Her work, even at it’s darkest and most horrific, is glowingly beautiful, so that I couldn’t look away even when I wanted to. I often watch scary movies through my fingers (blurred images becoming bearable…) and I wanted to do that with this book! The stories reminded me of Poe, and other fairy tales gone wrong, and while the narration carries some of the weight it is the visuals that make you flinch and squirm. It is a startlingly good example of how much can be going on in the play of words, images, color, design, and the soundless rhythms of the comic or graphic novel form.

The mind’s ability to stitch it all together, to gather the clues and be suddenly alive in another place, to be communicating with another person like this, amazes me. To be walking through Frank Santoro’s Storeyville and hear music and feel wind and be surrounded by a grey and yellow landscape that is lovely and melancholy…is a wonder.

I have a lot more to learn from comics and the ways that people are trying to communicate through them. And of course, many more fabulous stories to experience!

Posted by: Sally Ingraham | March 5, 2015

Comics to the beat


A riff on the Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, and Pittsburgh’s 40th Street Bridge – Sally Ingraham 2015

I woke up thinking about things Frank Santoro said last night about music and comics at the Pittsburgh Comics Salon that I attend monthly. While I lay in bed around 5:45 a.m. waiting to see if my school would call for a snow day (last storm of the winter, perhaps?) I read his extensive notes for a recent symposium on page layout, and thinking about comics in musical terms.

Thank goodness I did get my snow day, because by 7:30 a.m. my head was so full of ideas I would never have been able to focus on the kids I was supposed to be mentoring…!

The Comics Salon had really loosened me up, shifting me away from the clear and careful black and white lines that I’d been using in February. The drawing exercise we did put colors and scribbles in my hands, and produced a one page comic that I was really pleased with.

Frank (author of Pompeii and Storeyville) had just briefly touched on his ideas about comics and music at the Salon, but it was enough to set my mind spinning. I’ve been working with beats a lot this week at school, creating new ones from established melodies so that our students can spit rhymes during these manufactured “breaks” in songs (for our upcoming Hip Hopera!)

Because I’ve got beats on the brain, the idea of structuring panels or pages of a comic like the beat of a song, or letting the movement of the story flow like a musical phrase makes so much sense to me – and is really exciting!

Directly after tumbling out of bed and inhaling some cereal, I set to work, unleashing a collection of experiments for myself. Inspired by the Comics Salon exercise, I chose to scribble shapes and then go back with lines (using my own photographs as reference.)

I picked just two colors to use. (I’ve been in love with minimal pallets lately in the comics I’ve been reading – Luke Pearson’s Everything We Miss, and Isabel Greenberg’s The Encyclopedia of Early Earth do lovely things with just a few colors.)

And of course, the music – the Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony came into my head (it often does, I’m obsessed with those cellos!) and I decided to draw it. The comic you see above is built from the first phrase of the 2nd movement of the symphony (ish).

FullSizeRender (6)

Never mind the first two bars … My comic is composed of the 3rd-6th bars, with each frame equaling one note, the size of the frame indicating the speed of the note, and each line equaling a bar. 2/4 time in the music is represented by the typical-sized panel in an eight panel grid equaling a quarter note (or one beat).

I hope that the content of the frames also represents an aspect of the music. Give it a listen and see what you think (my comic takes place from 0:05-0:12…):

Now I pretty much want to draw the rest of the piece! Determining how to represent other parts of the musical notation would be fun, if I wanted to get really literal about it. But just thinking about “composing” a comic as opposed to writing one is helping me think about my process entirely differently.

We’ll see where this takes me.

Posted by: Sally Ingraham | March 2, 2015

Riding the Tail End of Winter

I ventured out in sketchy weather yesterday to catch the last of the Winter Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show at the Phipps. It was slushing outside, but cozy among the plants – even steamy, in the new Tropical Forest Conservatory done over as a Congo jungle.

It felt good to make a conscious move toward spring in my mind and heart on the first day of March, even if the skies were grey and pouting. What could be cheerier than a tree of orchids?

Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show - March 1st 2015

I filled my eyes with pink things and felt better for it.

Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show - March 1st 2015

These funny beaded folks can’t replace the glass Longfellows (up to their secret ways in the Orchid room) as my favorite art insulation, but they are a nice addition to the Congo jungle.

Tropical Forest Congo - March 1st 2015

And for all the glitz and glamour of the rest of the conservatory, the Desert Room always provides me with the most consistently fascinating visual displays.

Desert Room - March 1st 2015

The bonsai’s were the same little trees as last year – I plan to spend some time drawing their roots, but once again I wasn’t blown away by them. Although it’s hard not to smile when faced with this bit of lovely:

Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show - March 1st 2015

Soon enough the dogwoods and magnolias on the streets of Pittsburgh will be just as heavy with blooms, and I can’t wait! This will tide me over until then though. This, and the gradual warming and lightening of the days.

I left school today at 5:30 and it was bright out and above freezing, so I sat in the nearby park in a patchily sunny bench, surrounded by fragments of snow, and for a few moments just…basked. Then, energetic from even those few drops of sunlight, I walked through Homestead and over the Homestead Grays Bridge to catch sight of the sun setting over the Monongahela River.


(The 12 smokestacks in this picture are remnants from the famous Homestead Steelworks, which once spread all along the bank of the river in both directions. Now there’s a mall covering much of the same ground.)


You can vaguely see the Glenwood B&O Railroad Bridge and the Glenwood Bridge in this picture, the 8th and 9th crossings of the Mon, with the bridge I’m standing on – Homestead Grays – being the 10th. Not sure where my bridge count lies these days… Once it’s properly warm out again, I have some bridge hunting to get back to!

So much to look forward to in the days ahead – but I keep plenty busy as it is. I hope you can find some pleasure in the tail end of winter, and that spring finds us all soon!



Last time I saw the Winter Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show I was obsessed with the cacti

All the times I’ve talked about Pittsburgh bridges

Posted by: Sally Ingraham | February 24, 2015

Girl Power! (even more of it) Pt. 2

I picked up Ellen Linder‘s The Black Feather Falls Book One at Copacetic Comics in January because the cover was soooo pretty.

The insides of the comic were pretty too, and the series’ strength so far is definitely the glowing colors, strong lines, and detailed settings of the artwork. The Black Feather Falls is a 1920s murder mystery, set mostly in London and starring American Tina Swift. She’s a shop girl, trying to create a life for herself beyond the reaches of her family and a past that haunts her. One morning she witnesses the murder of a homeless war veteran on the street outside her shop. After seeing how little the police care about solving the murder, she takes it upon herself to get to the bottom of it.

She seeks out a newspaper editor whom she vaguely knows, but discovers that he has disappeared without a trace. His secretary, Ms. McInteer (a proud Scottish spinster), is persuaded that something is afoot, and joins Tina in investigating the death of the vet and the disappearance of her boss, which seem to be connected. The ladies continue to team up in Books Two and Three of the series, and their adventures take them from a remote Scottish island to the London docks and the lair of a famous crook. 

The plot could be tighter, but via the artwork 1920s London comes to vibrant life, and so far I’m finding the series to be quite fun. There’s good commentary on the dismal way that the non-officer vets of WWI were treated, too.

I just figured out that the series is available as a web comic at act-i-vate, so I’ll be catching up on Book Four there, as well as checking out the other comics that are being published on that site. Good discovery!

After reading Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics I made a list of all the artists who contributed and added a selection of their work to my TBR list. Almost immediately, but by accident, I found Luke Pearson‘s debut comic Hildafolk at Copacetic Comics. This store has piles and piles of independent and small press comics, and I find such randomly awesome stuff there that I rarely go in with a mission. It’s better to just let the comic I want find me. Hildafolk was buried at the back of a stack of other similarly sized/shaped comics, but the cool geometric borders caught my eye and then Hilda’s face caught my heart.

How could I not take that sweet, blue-haired gal home? Hilda lives in a slightly magical Scandinavian valley with her mother, a little antlered fox-like creature, and the mysterious Wood Man who drifts into their cabin on a regular basis. She goes hiking and draws and investigates troll rocks. She’s delightful, and I think we’re going to be fast friends. Thank goodness there are plenty more books about her!

I thoroughly enjoyed the artwork. The windy meadows and snowy woods are fanciful but familiar, and the balance of mythic and no nonsense adventuring is perfect. I loved when Hilda went camping in the rain on purpose, and the random encounter with a giant (who was lost – those frames make brilliant use of the comic book format!)

I’m excited to read the longer Hilda stories, and whatever else Luke Pearson chooses to scribble and doodle about.

Posted by: Sally Ingraham | February 23, 2015

Girl Power! (like, so much of it) Pt. 1

I came across this post by Memory (who writes In The Forest Of Stories) on ladybusiness last week. It’s about her picks for the Best Graphic Story category at the Hugo Awards, with good details about what qualifies and how you can nominate things. It added about 9 more comics to my TBR pile…

I’ve knocked two of those off already, and can concur with what Memory said regarding Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch (“It’s the secondary world fantasy comic I never quite dared to want.”)

Nimona is a web comic by one of the creators of Lumberjanes, and although it will be released as a graphic novel in May, it’s still available online for you to read for free. So you should go do that. Now. Here’s the link again: Chapter 1 Page 1.

It’s about a shapeshifter who thinks she’d be the perfect sidekick for Ballister Blackheart. He’s a former hero turned evil scientist who is determined to bring down The Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics and get revenge on his arch-nemesis Ambrosius Goldenloin.

Nimona quickly proves her worth to the initially reluctant Ballister, and a cautious friendship forms (in the midst of explosions, fierce battles, and the sudden appearance of sharks and dragons). Things start to escalate, and as the stakes get higher old secrets test friends and foes alike. The conclusion is incredible and heartbreaking and if at times the comic seems merely funny and entertaining, the ending rams home the fact that it is so much more.

Nimona is a complex character, a teenager with a lot of trauma in her past who is not very good at being loved. She is spunky and hilarious and passionate, and her relationship with Ballister is unusual, defying so many tropes that I can’t even… That relationship is the heart of the story – it’s non-romantic, a friendship where both characters support and challenge each other, while kicking ass and taking names and ordering pizza.

I loved this comic sooooooo much. It made me laugh (a lot) and cheer and cry a bit and then whoop for joy. I haven’t read a web comic from start to finish before, or in nearly one sitting, so that was a fun aspect. Noelle Stevenson’s little comments at the bottom of each update were a huge part of the fun, and the comments from other readers were great too. I felt bad for them, left hanging on the edge of their chairs week upon week!

Memory wrote another guest post for ladybusiness all about Nimona and what makes her such a well written and important character, and why the comic as a whole is fantastic, and it is totally worth the read and the consideration of the thoughts it will inspire. (There are mild spoilers, but if anything they’ll make you want to read the comic more.) After reading her post I want to read Nimona again, and I know that when it comes out in book form I will be buying a copy or two and passing them out with grim determination to everyone I know.

Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch pales in comparison, but only slightly. It is about a troop of lady mercenaries who brawl and party their way through the Middle-Earth style world they inhabit, leaving a bloody trail of wreckage and laughter behind them.

Betty is a Smidgen (Hobbit-like), and a tiny badass thief, while Violet is a sword-slinging dwarf (who looks even hotter with a beard, she claims). Hannah is a saucy elven spellcaster, and Dee is a human who used to be part of an octopus-worshiping cult (her healing tricks make me question if she still believes in the octo-god).

In Vol. 1 the Queens avoid an assassination attempt, try to solve a local mystery, and take on an army of trolls, all while drinking hard, doing mushrooms, getting badly injured, and trying to stay on top of their romantic entanglements. They accomplish all these things with plenty of swearing, high spirits, friendship (to the max!), and heart. And they look incredible doing it.

The plot is a little loose and loopy, but the artwork is so on fleek that I found myself dropping delighted expletives of my own as I turned the pages. The Queens are each gorgeous in their own way, with so much personality tangled up in a single frame that I was a little bit in love with all of them by page 2. Upchurch’s ability to capture expressions is kind of incredible, from quirking eyebrows to clenched teeth, to the crushing disappointment a pair of shoulders can display when grand hopes are squelched.

The action is fierce and gory, the hangovers are something to see, and the friendship between the Queens is worth being jealous of. (Seriously, the quiet moments between episodes of “large wholesale slaughter” are just lovely sometimes.) With the cliff-hanger ending to Vol. 1 (which captures issues #1-5) everyone knows that I’ll be hitting up my comic book store asap and digging out #6-11!

Posted by: Sally Ingraham | February 21, 2015


It’s been very cold in Pittsburgh the last few weeks, although we have nowhere near as much snow as places further north. I’ve taken advantage of my host site being closed for snow days by tucking myself into my house and reading and drawing and watching episodes of Vikings and Arrow.

After making the somewhat rash decision to sign up for a longsword fighting course yesterday, however, I kicked myself out of the house and went for a long wander down by the river.

It had warmed up to 7 degrees and was brutally sunny, and I’d remembered to bring gloves for once, so I had a great time taking pictures. I found a lot of new graffiti and artwork in hidden places, and trekked about on top of the icy Allegheny for awhile. Standing beneath the 40th Street Bridge is something one can rarely do!

Feb. 20th 2015

40th Street Bridge, Feb. 20th 2015

40th Street Bridge, Feb. 20th 2015

Allegheny River, Feb. 20th 2015

40th Street Bridge, Feb. 20th 2015

Further down the river, the riverside trail dries up and the more adventurous soul can hike down under the railroad (below), in a maze of trestles.

Railroad tracks in Lawrenceville, Feb. 20th 2015

Under the railroad trestles - Feb. 20th 2015

There is usually artwork tucked here and there, some of it more permanent than others, and all of it collaborative. I hadn’t seen the stuff pictured above before, but it looks like it’s been there quite awhile.

Fort Wayne Railroad Bridge - Feb. 20th 2015

I love seeing the shadow of the Fort Wayne Railroad Bridge on the ice!

Feb. 20th 2015

Fort Wayne Railroad Bridge - Feb. 20th 2015

Feb. 20th 2015

31st Street Bridge - Feb. 20th 2015

The ice on the river starts to open up right about here (pic taken from the boat ramp beneath the Fort Wayne Bridge). There were glittering patches of open water in the middle, probably where the Allegheny starts to mingle it’s waters with the Ohio.

Today it is snowing and 19 degrees, so I don’t think the ice is really going anywhere yet. There are a few weeks of winter left… I’ve spent the majority of it indoors, but I’m awfully glad I poked my nose outside yesterday to see what my bridges and river were up to!

Posted by: Sally Ingraham | February 20, 2015

Sally Bone on my mind


Here’s the thing, folks – I am going to make a comic about Sally Bone for REAL this year. Something that’s longer than a page. Something with a plot. Something tangible.

I’ve been obsessed with comic books lately because they’re cool and important, but also because I am researching and exploring and teaching myself more about the format. I have been trailing artists and writers around the web via Tumblr and Twitter, and have been hanging out with other comic makers in Pittsburgh – picking their brains and peeking over their shoulders to see what they’re making. These are exciting times.

I need to sit down, compose myself, and actually write a script for this thing though. My ideas are too vague to be executed right now. I enjoyed reading one of Neil Gaiman’s scripts for The Sandman the other day, and was blown away by how similar it was to a film script. I don’t know that it’s absolutely necessary to write something so detailed if I’m doing my own artwork, but it would be a fun exercise. And I really want to do some mock-ups of characters. I believe I’ll need to set some more definitive goals, in order to keep myself on track…

I have been practicing my drawing skills a bit, when I can squeeze a little time and energy out of my hectic life. (I know I could be drawing instead of reading comics, but let’s not get into that struggle right now…) I even drew two proper comics, on un-Sally-Bone-related topics, in January:



(Yes, if I can draw skeletons I will draw skeletons…!)

Today I finally sat down and did something I’ve been meaning to do, as a practice-for-Sally-Bone exercise. I love Pittsburgher Chancelor Humphrey’s street style photography, and was pleasantly surprised when he took a picture of me downtown last October. I redrew it as a Sally Bone piece (observe, at the top of this post) and I have been meaning to go on drawing skeletonized versions of his pictures. His website (#KeepPittsburghDope) is full of fun material to draw.

FullSizeRender (1)

Such good practice for clothing details, hair, body language, and of course getting that skull right – which I didn’t on that bottom right gal I’m realizing. She’s missing part of her jaw bone, poor thing! I do like the knitting on her scarf however – it’s a process…! I very much like how this guy came out:

Chancelor Humphrey - #KeepPittsburghDope


It’s so bitterly cold here that school was canceled yesterday and today. I have a lovely long weekend to do all of the things! And that’ll include plenty of drawing.

Stay tuned for a proper Sally Bone adventure, coming Spring 2015. (Whoops, I made a deadline…now I have to keep it!)

Posted by: Sally Ingraham | February 19, 2015

“The main thing in life is to know your own mind.”

Nailed it again, Snufkin!


I’ve been hanging out with the Moomins pretty frequently this year, partially because I’ve been dealing with a lot of feels and the Moomins all feel so much, so honestly. And partially because they’re just great fun!

I began with the first volume of the complete collected comic strip, which contains the adventures Moomin and the Brigands, Moomin and Family Life, Moomin on the Riviera, and Moomin’s Desert Island. Half the fun of the novels are the quirky and charming illustrations scattered throughout, so of course the stories work wonderfully well as comic strips. As in the novels, the Moomins make friends and get up to mischief and casually drop profound bits of wisdom about how to live well in a weird world.


This is one of my favorite strips, and I love how it pokes quiet fun at the ‘vanity and vacuity of the modern art world’, as Alisia Grace Chase writes in her little essay at the end of Moomin Vol. 1. Tove Jansson truly wrote what she knew, drawing inspiration from her own seaside upbringing in an eccentric household, where relishing the moment was forged into a life-long philosophy.

I relate so hard to the Moomins that it hurts sometimes. In Moominsummer Madness (trans. Thomas Warburton) Snufkin meets Little My for the first time and tells her “You’re a strange child” (which is rich coming from him!) and Little My replies, “You’re dead right there, pal!” I have been the Little My in this same conversation as recently as two weeks ago. It is increasingly rare for people to truly know their own mind…

As I read Jansson’s books I’m often startled by the way she captures the things that I feel that seem indescribable. For instance:

Later in the evening Misabel went for a solitary stroll by the sea. She saw the moon rise and start his lonesome journey through the night.

“He’s exactly like me,” Misabel thought sadly. “So plump and lonely.”

At this thought she felt so forsaken and mild that she had to cry a little.

“What are you crying for?” asked Whomper nearby.

“I don’t know, but it feels nice,” replied Misabel.

“But people cry because they feel sorry, don’t they?” objected Whomper.

“Well, yes – the moon,” Misabel replied vaguely and blew her nose. “The moon and the night and all the sadness there is…”

“Oh, yes,” said Whomper.

– p. 48 Moominsummer Madness

Ugh, yes…this.

I’ve just begun Moominpappa at Sea and it is already full of such passages, as Moominpappa struggles with the unease and restlessness of August, unexplainable melancholy, and the desire to be busy but the lack of gumption to get anything done. Been there. I’ve been here too:


Heh. I love Moominpappa almost as much as I love Snufkin (who didn’t feature as much in these books as he did in the last couple I read.)

The most appropriate book I read recently was Moominland Midwinter (trans. Thomas Warburton), which features lots of snow and cold and all the pleasures and pains of wintertime. The Moomins usually sleep through it, but Moomintroll wakes from the deep winter nap for some reason and has to survive through the long dark cold while the rest of his family snoozes. At first he is frightened and very lonely, for the valley looks entirely unfamiliar in it’s blanket of snow, and someone mysterious is living under the stove, and his beloved sun is gone – perhaps forever!

The silence and stillness of the wood were complete. Only now and then a large sheaf of snow came thumping down from a tree. The branch from which it had fallen rocked awhile, and then all was lifeless again.

“The world’s asleep,” Moomintroll thought. “It’s only I who am awake and sleepless. It’s only I who have to wander and wander, day after day, and week upon week, until I, too, become a snowdrift that no one will know about.”

– p. 20 Moominland Midwinter

Even when Little My also wakes up, Moomintroll isn’t much comforted. He remains disconcerted, while she takes to winter like a fish to water, immediately embracing all of the snow sports and befriending the other winter wakers. But gradually, with the help of Too-ticky, who lives in the Moomin’s bathhouse during the cold months, Moomintroll starts to warm up to winter and with his usual resilience he finds things to admire and adventures to embrace.

There are such lovely passages in this book about a time of year that I struggle to enjoy myself, sometimes, and as per usual, many insights into the mystery of being alive.

“What song is that?” asked Moomintroll.

“It’s a song of myself… A song of Too-ticky…but the refrain is about wholly other things.”

“I see,” Moomintroll said and seated himself in the snow.

“No, you don’t,” replied Too-ticky genially… “Because the refrain is about the things one can’t understand. I’m thinking about the aurora borealis. You can’t tell if it really does exist or if it just looks like existing. All things are so very uncertain, and that’s exactly what makes me feel reassured.”

– p. 22 Moominland Midwinter

Too-ticky rubbed her nose and thought. “Well, it’s like this,” she said. “There are such a lot of things that have no place in summer and autumn and spring. Everything that’s a little shy and a little rum. Some kinds of night animals and people that don’t fit in with others and that nobody really believes in. They keep out of the way all the year. And then when everything’s quiet and white and the nights are long and most people are asleep – then they appear.”

– p. 46 Moominland Midwinter

And characters like Moominmama and anyone else who provides the tea and sandwiches, and makes sure people go to bed on time and keep their feet warm – the ones who keep watch at the window, and light the night lanterns – get a shout out:

Moomintroll was already on his way out to her rescue. Too-ticky stood looking on for awhile, and then she went inside the bathing-house and put a kettle of water on the stove. “Quite, quite,” she thought with a little sigh. “It’s always like this in their adventures. To save and be saved. I wish somebody would write a story about the people who warm up the heroes afterwards.”

– p. 141 Moominland Midwinter

Oh Moomins, kind, brave souls who are as comforting and funny and inspiring as my family and closest friends… What a pleasure it is to hang out with them.

I really want to read some of Jansson’s novels written for adults, and her memoir. I feel that whatever she has to share, it will teach me something new about how to get along in life, and relate to people, and be at peace with myself (and enjoy the whiskey again, in a week!)

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