From the moment I met Dick Bruna I knew instantly he was a very special man. It was 2005 and he was in London to join Miffy’s 50th anniversary celebrations. During a busy book signing in Waterstones Piccadilly, the staff in the children’s department commented that only he and Michael Bond could attract this level of preschool crowd.
Yet Dick – approaching 80 at the time – chatted warmly to everyone in the queue as they held out their books to be signed. Children clutched recently purchased shiny new titles, while many adults held out old, dog-eared Bruna hardbacks, clearly much loved treasures from their own childhood.
Sadly on February 16 2017 Dick Bruna passed away, aged 89. The last three weeks has seen an extraordinary outpouring of affection and respect for this graphic designer turned children’s picture book author.
Tributes have come not just from his native Holland but from all corners of the globe: thousands of comments on social media to numerous obituaries in major media outlets including BBC Radio 4, The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent, Creative Review, Design Week, The Bookseller plus internationally in the New York Times, Washington Post, Die Zeit and many other titles in Japan and other parts of Asia. The file sharing service We Transfer even created its own memorial graphic the week following his death.
Dick Bruna is known as the creator of Miffy but he started his career in the early ‘50s freelancing in his father’s publishing company where he designed over 2,000 book jackets, including detective stories by authors such as George Simenon and Leslie Charteris.
During this period of his life, Dick also started publishing children’s picture books in his spare time, but in 1955 while on a rainy seaside holiday in North Holland, he entertained his young son by sketching a bunny that kept hopping around the garden of their holiday home. Every evening he would make up a bedtime story for his son and soon ‘nijntje’ (derived from the word ‘konijntje’ meaning ‘little bunny’ in Dutch) was born.
Miffy at the Seaside was the first picture book to appear that year; others in the series soon followed, bringing overnight success for Dick. Children could relate to Miffy’s character and form; together with the minimal style of illustration, bright colours and familiar stories depicting universal childhood experiences, it proved a winning formula and international acclaim followed.
62 years on, Miffy has her own TV series, movie, musical, museum and worldwide merchandise programme. Testament to her status as a true global icon came in 2003, when the New York Tourist Board used Miffy as a symbol in a poster campaign to attract international visitors back to the city post 911.
Meanwhile Dick’s art has been exhibited at major museums from Tokyo to London to Amsterdam, his designs have been used by global charities such as UNICEF, Amnesty International and the Red Cross, and his books have won him numerous literary and illustration awards. He has been knighted twice in the Netherlands.
In all the years I’ve been licensing different brands, I can honestly say that I feel luckiest to have worked on Miffy.
Despite his success, Dick Bruna maintained a simple way of life, cycling every day to his attic studio in Utrecht. He was always modest about his achievements, saying: “I have a small talent and have to work very hard at it!”
That special warmth that I felt so keenly when I first met him is a feeling shared by many others who currently work on Miffy around the world. This remarkable man created something exceptional; I feel very privileged to be part of it.