Miffy rules: Celebrating 55 years of our favourite Easter bunny
For 55 years, Dick Bruna's Miffy has been delighting children and adults alike. Rebecca Armstrong celebrates a very special rabbit
Saturday 03 April 2010
On a white background, two black dots and a cross have become shorthand for a rabbit. Not Roger or Bugs, Peter or Thumper, but a bunny whose simple features are every bit as familiar as her big-name brothers. You might remember Miffy from your own early adventures in reading. You might be one of the 85 million people who have bought a Miffy storybook. You might have seen her peeping out from a pencil case. Chances are, even if you're not familiar with the books she stars in, you'll recognise her face. After all, this little rabbit is getting on a bit – she's just turned 55 – but is still going strong. Just like her creator, 82-year-old Dick Bruna, who continues to spend every day drawing Miffy, as he has done for more than half a century.
Bruna was born in The Netherlands in 1927 (the year of the rabbit, according to the Japanese zodiac), while Miffy was conceived in 1955. "I first drew Miffy for my eldest son, who is now 56," explains Bruna from his studio in Utrecht. "We were at the seaside for a holiday and I saw a rabbit running round. I thought I'd try to make a little drawing of it, and that's how Miffy was born." But these early sketches were a world away from the bunny who conquered the world's bookshelves. "There really is an enormous difference between how she looked then and now. She's much more like a human being now," he says. Despite their uniformity of line, Bruna's illustrations are based on observations of the real world. "When I start to draw an animal, I go to the zoo and make very exact drawings of it. Then I go to my studio and remove everything that is not necessary. I keep just the shapes and try to work out what the most important things are."
Using a strict palette of black, white, red, blue, yellow and green ("I'd never use pink or turquoise. Sometimes I use grey when I'm drawing a mouse – I have to"), Bruna has created 118 children's books that, despite their sparse aesthetic, run the gamut of human emotion from friendship and happiness to grief and sadness. Not bad for one little bunny with a cross for a nose. It's this elegant simplicity that Bruna strives for every day when he sits down to create another illustration of Miffy. "In the beginning, I had the idea that I wanted to make things as simple as possible and I still do. It leaves lots of room for children's imaginations." Keeping his work uncluttered and precise is, says Bruna, always difficult. "But in my work I've always been very, very simple. When I was 20, I spent a year in Paris and I was very fond of the work of Henri Matisse. Especially the work he did in his last years, paper cuttings and so on. I thought that that was so simple and beautiful that when I did something, it had to be like that."
Leaf through any of Bruna's books – Miffy at the Seaside, Miffy at the Zoo or, appropriately, Miffy at the Gallery – and you can see that Bruna's work is unashamedly modernist. And those block colours and stark shapes appealed, it's said, to none other than Picasso, who once commented on the beautiful shapes in a Bruna illustration. "I went round with my head in the clouds for weeks afterwards," he says. It's not just Cubists and children who are fans of Miffy, though. She's huge in Japan, a fact that Bruna believes to be down to the similarity between Japanese art and his own work. "In Japan, you'll see gardens with almost nothing in them – but what is there is in exactly the right place. They try to find the same simplicity that I do." But this popularity has had a downside, in the shape of Miffy's nemesis, another pale-faced cutie you might be familiar with – Hello Kitty. Created in 1974 by the Sanrio corporation, her curved lines and back story bear an uncanny resemblance to Miffy. Asked whether he feels the creators of Hello Kitty have taken advantage of Miffy's simplicity, Bruna answers brusquely, "Yes".
But catfights aside, Miffy seems a very happy bunny. With worldwide fame and her very own museum – the Dick Bruna Huis in Utrecht, opened in 2006 – she is also a lucky one: Miffy is brought to life every day by someone who cares about every single brushstroke. "I always work with the same brushes. I never work with a pen, always with a brush and black watercolour. I draw my lines and it takes me lots of time with my little brush. Sometimes it takes me half a day to get a drawing of Miffy really right. When I think it's not right, I do it over. It has to be 100 per cent."
Visit miffy.com. For details about the Miffy museum, go to dickbrunahuis.com. 'Miffy' books are published in the UK by Egmont
game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers
North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 2 'Fire at every person you see': Israeli soldiers reveal they were ordered to shoot to kill in Gaza – even if the targets may have been civilians
- 3 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
- 4 Uploading pictures to find out how old you are gives Microsoft the right to post them wherever they want
- 5 YouTube social experiment shows just how easy it is to kidnap a child
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
X-Men Apocalypse: First look at Jubilee and Jean Grey played by Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner
American Horror Story: Hotel Angela Bassett set to make 'lots of trouble' with Lady Gaga in season 5
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 4 - review: Sansa is in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
In defence of liberal democracy
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils