Review by Tina Koyama
Readers of the Desk may associate me more with pencils, erasers, sharpeners and brush pens and less with fountain pens. Several years ago, however, I took myself on an epic journey to find my ideal fountain pen for drawing – one that would give me variable line widths. Although I tried a variety of specialty nibs and semi-flexible nibs, nothing gave me the lovely, organic line of a fude nib, and using one felt more natural and intuitive than other nib types. Ultimately, I found my grail (spoiler alert) in the then-hard-to-find 21kt gold Sailor Naginata Fude de Mannen (which is apparently not as elusive as it used to be; Pen Boutique has it in stock occasionally. Incidentally, if I had to choose a second-best fude that is more affordable and slightly easier to acquire, it would be Franklin-Christoph’s).
Before acquiring my grail, I tried many steel fude nibs, and even after, curiosity occasionally prompted me to continue trying fudes that crossed my radar. That curiosity still gives me a nudge now and then – which brings me to the Moonman.
I didn’t know much about the Chinese pen maker other than that its pens generally seem to be getting decent reviews (Ana and Laura have reviewed different models here at the Desk). When I saw that JetPens offered a fude version, I decided it was a good opportunity to give a Moonman a try. I chose the S1 model in koi red ($23.50) with bent nib. (I know that fude nibs are colloquially known as “bent” nibs, but why give something as elegant as a fude, which means brush, a descriptor like “bent”? I’ve heard every joke about whether I have dropped them, stepped on them or taken pliers to them to get my fude nibs to look that way. Yawn.)
I don’t usually have much to say about pen packaging, but it’s worth mentioning that my Moonman came in a simple but sturdy cardboard box that can be recycled easily. As you might guess, I have a bunch of plastic clamshell boxes that can’t be recycled, and since I don’t resell my pens often, they can be a nuisance. I appreciate simple, recyclable boxes.
The resin pen body weighs 15 grams, which is comfortable for me, as I tend to prefer lighter-weight pens. While some pens with fude nibs have long bodies to emulate traditional Asian calligraphy brushes or have ridiculously huge or heavy bodies (the Duke Confucius comes to mind; I needed a winch to lift it), the Moonman’s barrel has a conventional size and shape. The screw-on cap posts securely, which is a non-negotiable detail for me when I sketch on the street (believe me, a pen cap that doesn’t post will not remain with me long).
As mentioned earlier, I’ve used several steel fude nibs, and the Moonman has a bit more finesse than others in a similar price range. Its curved profile looks similar to several other Chinese fude pens I have owned (most of which were so terrible that I won’t name them).
The fude I cut my teeth on is Sailor’s 55-degree Fude de Mannen (steel nib). The 55-degree Sailor has a sharply angled bend, and it can be a challenge to learn to use. The Moonman’s curved nib is much easier to use by comparison. Since the price is not too much out of the range of the 55-degree Sailor, I’d probably recommend the Moonman over the Sailor to someone who wanted to try a fude for the first time.
The Moonman S1 comes with a converter that contains a spring-like agitator.
I inked it up with Diamine Sargasso Sea and took it out for a walk. Right away, I was pleased by how flawlessly it started. Smooth and responsive, it didn’t need any “breaking in,” like shoes, as some pens do. I chose some trees and shrubs in an alley to see the range of organic marks it could produce. Practicing the full range in this one sketch, I turned its widest angle sideways to get the broadest marks, like the large shadows. (Sketch made in Field Notes Brand Sweet Tooth notebook.)
Pleased with it, I came home and gave it a more formal scribble. That’s when I realized I had forgotten to test its reverse side on the sketch. I don’t use a fude nib upside-down too often, but occasionally when I need an extra-fine line or detail, turning it over comes in handy. Unfortunately, the Moonman’s reversed nib is dry, scratchy and non-useable. (What – you’re not supposed to use nibs upside-down?) That was disappointing, because otherwise the nib performs very well at all right-side up angles. (Testing done in Maruman Mnemosyne Special Memo Notepad.)
Upside-down usability is not a deal-breaker for me, but it might be for others. For a fude nib in its price range, the Moonman is a good value. I’m going to enjoy taking it out for walks.