Thursday, September 28, 2017

Artist and storyteller Dick Bruna and his Miffy from a scrapbook of memories

By Nancy T. Lu

Miffy, the storybook rabbit, was born many years ago during the Dutch creator’s vacation on a beach in the Netherlands.  Rabbits were running around and Dick Bruna had to play parental storyteller. He came up with “Miffy at the Seaside.”

Illustrator Bruna decided from the beginning to keep his cartoon character very simple. Even his own parents who were in the publishing business did not believe that Miffy would be a success.

Dick Bruna decided that Miffy would not be illustrated like a real rabbit. While favoring the expression of the literal, he likewise wanted to invite the viewer’s participation in fleshing out the character.

French artist Matisse inspired his minimalist approach to art, Bruna revealed during a visit to Taipei years ago. He used simple black lines to outline his rabbit. Miffy was given a strictly frontal countenance. The facial angle never changed.

The capture of emotional expression became a big challenge. To arrive at consistency in simplicity, he often had to draw hundreds of sketches to create a picture. Solid colors were introduced. He left a lot of space for children and even adults to fill up with their imagination.

A single tear on the iconic character’s face caught the attention of  the Miffy Museum website visitors last February for it was bigger than usual. The reason: creator Dick Bruna had passed away at the age of 89 in Utrecht, the Netherlands, on February 16. 

Bruna confessed in an interview that he had great difficulty making Miffy express sadness. He drew as many as six teardrops on Miffy’s face and still felt that he could not get the emotional expression right. He finally decided to leave just a single tear on the face.

Storybooks revolving around Miffy had been translated into more than 50 languages and even in Braille during Bruna’s career as author and illustrator of children’s books spanning at least six decades. Miffy also came to life on the movie screen as well as on television.

Bruna originally gave Miffy the Dutch name Nijntje, meaning Little Rabbit. Bruna’s first English translator gave it the name Miffy. In France, Miffy is known as Le Petit Lapin. In Japan, Miffy takes the name Usako. Avid Japanese fans of Miffy were reported to fly all the way to the Netherlands just to hang out at Bruna’s favorite coffee shop  in Utrecht, 40 minutes by train from Amsterdam, in the hope of catching him to seek his autograph and a souvenir picture with him.

But Bruna is gone. His Miffy, however, lives on in the hearts of many fans. 

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