By Nina J P Evans

Sunday, February 07, 2010

A Hero of Mine Dick Bruna

These book covers designed from 1955 to 1972. The illustrations are quirky and seemly simplistic in style, colour, form and content. Also, the illustrations are not inhibited by today’s political correctness, which I enjoy all the more for it. That wasn’t all I noticed, the designer’s name was none other than Dick Bruna the guy who invented Miffi.

The stories of Miffy were some of my very first picture books. My admiration for Miffy hasn’t faltered; I greatly admire the fact that though still popular amongst young readers, Miffy has integrity. She is not overly merchandized to saturation point contrary to Hello Kitty. Yet, it’s Hello Kitty that has helped keep Miffy to be as popular as ever, which is great! Some say that Miffy is Japanese when she isn't. Hello Kitty was produced for a company Sanrio and first designed by Ikuko Shimizu 1974 from the wiki page you can see that there’s very little info on this designer. In Japan Hello Kitty is a remarkable success, shops are full of stuff with girls trying to copy her style and look as cute as her. This is explained by the fact that Hello Kitty is aimed at an older audience, books are sold as journals and such — offering makeup advice and sleepover tips, there’s also a Hello Kitty Theme Park. Hello Kitty’s uses seem to be extensive; she is completely adaptive, she adopts the needs of the user very well.

Miffy in comparison to Hello Kitty was first designed much earlier in 1955 her name meaning little rabbit and was made into a series of picture books drawn and written by Dutch artist Dick Bruna. From the book cover illustrations you can already see that Miffy was a character that interacted with other characters. Dick Bruna originally made Miffy up as a way to entertain his young son. The best stories often are: like Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, The Wind in the Willows the list goes on. In an interview for The Daily Telegraph, Bruna expresses his feelings about Hello Kitty. “That, he says darkly, “is a copy [of Miffy], I think. I don't like that at all. I always think, no, don’t do that. Try to make something that you think of yourself. After all,” he adds, mood already lifting — “There’s so many nice things.”

However, if you detach yourself from any differences and just look at Hello Kitty and Miffy together it is true that there is a similar simple direct draughtsman’s ship outline, with regard to the proportions there are subtle differences, Hello Kitty has fingers and bigger feet a more oval type of head and a little body. She’s also very influenced by fashion and popular culture; rather than Dick Bruna’s vision I feel is more artistic and influenced by the story the emotions and the other characters in her stories—not fashion at all. What’s rather amusing is that to spite their differences and the gap between Holland to Japan they look as if they could be best of friends. In fact, the Japanese pre-school audience totally adore Miffy. In all the world it is the Japanese who are Miffy’s biggest fans!

As you’d expect Dick Bruna’s wiki page is pretty full and rich in comparison. Miffy is still merchandised with toys and a TV programme, interestingly voiced by a female, when in fact Miffy was originally a male little rabbit that adapted according to its audience needs. Miffy and her friends through stories and pictures depict typical family issues, children can relate to easily and thus feel a little more safe in the understanding that whatever the situation, there’s always a happy ending. The books aren’t supposed to be didactic. He quotes: “I’m not doing teaching at all. I couldn’t do that.” But they do ask  questions through Miffy’s character,  It’s a way to encourage dialogue through a storytelling.

Besides being most known for being the author and illustrator the creator of Miffy. Wiki states: over the years dick Bruna has illustrated over 2,000 covers and over 100 posters for the family business, A.W.Bruna & Zoon.

Designing 2,000 covers that's a truly an astounding amount of work indeed! Now at the age of 82 Dick Bruna is still travelling on his bicycle to his studio and continues creating. I think he’s awe-inspiring; he’s a hero of mine for his dedication, passion and works. The book covers that interest me mostly are seemly innocent, but deceptively so to enhance much darker themes, maybe inspired from Film Noir and Saul Bass cut outs. Detectives wander through the dark often silhouetted mysterious characters are smoking in mid step, rats, guns, playing cards and evil Santa’s—all these types of visuals themes theatrically play out with a sense of directness and dynamic simplicity. He draws with the skill of a draughtsman, reducing elements to the simplest of forms. There is an art to the well-balanced compositional elements arranged on the page. The lines rendered and limited colour pallets are used with constant consideration. What a perfect contrast in doing these designs with very adult complex themes.

It is the art of the cover that at last is beginning to be more considered more now than when they were originally produced. I think it's great that his work has stood the test of time and I was very pleased at discovering the book covers. In Japan comic book illustrators are often referred to as artists rather than illustrators, their works are considered an art form. As so are Dick Bruna’s works; as now they are celebrated, collected and displayed in museums and exhibitions. From his little rabbit Miffy through to 2,000 book covers, his complete works are now collectable being universally acknowledged.

References: Dick Bruna coverdesign A.W Bruna & Zoon. Utrecht, 1955 - 72 Zwarte Beerties Black Bears.
Dick Bruna, creator of the Miffy books, talks about his life and work here
Dick Bruna Wiki
About Dick Bruna here

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