The multimillion dollar rabbit

Miffy, Dick Bruna House, Utrecht, Netherlands

The multimillion dollar rabbit


Miffy the cartoon rabbit

Who would have thought that such a simple design would prove to be so popular for so long?

Miffy is a rabbit – that is clear from immediately looking at her. But you might not realise that she is the world’s most successful rabbit, at the head of a US$250 million empire. And that fortune has come about despite (or, perhaps, because of) a sterile simplicity. Dick Bruna created her with just a few shapes and one colour. There’s no intricate detail or deep expression in her face but Miffy has managed to capture the hearts of children across the world.

Miffy, Dick Bruna House, Utrecht, Netherlands

The cartoon character was created by Dutch artist Dick Bruna, who has made about 30 books based on Miffy’s adventures. (If you can call going to school or going to the doctor an ‘adventure’.) Together they have been translated into 40 different languages and have sold more than 85 million copies. The books have bred even faster than a real rabbit could!

Miffy, Dick Bruna House, Utrecht, Netherlands

Even though the result looks simple, there’s a very precise and special technique used to make the images in the books. Dick Bruna spends about a day on each full page picture and will try different colours and shapes until he is completely happy. Sometimes he will revisit the result and make small changes – taking away a single tear from a crying Miffy, for instance. Each book has only sixteen pages, so making each one perfect is important.

Miffy, Dick Bruna House, Utrecht, Netherlands

Miffy, Dick Bruna House, Utrecht, Netherlands

Dick Bruna House, Utrecht, The Netherlands

Dick Bruna is from Utrecht and the people of the Dutch city are proud of their son. The city’s main museum, Centraal Museum, has turned a whole building opposite the main exhibitions into what they’ve named ‘the Dick Bruna House’. It’s a collection of his work that tells the story of Miffy’s birth and life – along with some of the other characters he’s created.

Miffy, Dick Bruna House, Utrecht, Netherlands

Miffy, Dick Bruna House, Utrecht, Netherlands

At the age of 85, he still works at his studio in Utrecht, albeit much slower than he once did. There hasn’t been a new Miffy book since 2008. But the routine he’s kept for decades hasn’t changed too much. He still wakes up early – by six o’clock – and cycles to his favourite café for a coffee and then on to the studio. He works on his drawings before cycling home for lunch and then back to the office for administrative work.

Miffy, Dick Bruna House, Utrecht, Netherlands

It’s a simple life for a man who has created a global multimillion dollar publishing company… but it’s fitting for the drawings and the characters that have helped him to this point. But it also probably reflects, in some part, this city he has called home for his whole life. Utrecht is a beautiful city based around canals and small friendly streets. It has a lot more visual noise to it than a Miffy book but it shares a humble and unassuming attitude.

Miffy, Dick Bruna House, Utrecht, Netherlands

The city’s son now seems more like its grandfather and the people are rightly proud of Dick Bruna and the rabbit that has made them known around the world.

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Visit Utrecht but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

  • Jeremy Branham | Jun 13, 2013 at 7:39 am

    Wow, that’s pretty crazy! Such a simple rabbit and yet he made all that money from it. I guess when your passion inspires you and you work hard, anything is possible.
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    • Michael Turtle | Jun 23, 2013 at 1:02 am

      It’s also wonderful to see how much success you can have from a simple idea that people fall in love with. Dick Bruna obviously worked very hard for everything, but it was never a complicated story that he was sharing.

  • OCDemon | Jun 13, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    I totally had a few Miffy books as a kid. But I always thought it was called Bruna Miffy, because the author’s last name (Bruna) was on the spine, without much to let a 5 year old know you weren’t supposed to stick the Miffy on the end. For some reason it’s still Bruna Miffy in my head, somewhat.
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    • Michael Turtle | Jun 23, 2013 at 1:03 am

      That’s so cute! I think it would be easy to make that mistake. I seem to vaguely remember doing the same thing when I was younger 🙂

  • Vera | Jun 14, 2013 at 12:58 am

    MIFFY!! …Didn’t know Miffy was Dutch. She was somehow part of my childhood, but in a very vague way. A rabbit that always seemed strangely familiar. And I only learned her name when I was in my Twenties – but that sold it, man, that sold it. How is ‘Miffy’ not the best name EVER?! …And I would know because I can also tell you the crappiest name ever: Tiffy. Tiffy was a pink bird-thing in the German version of Sesame Street. She had potential but the name just killed it. I mean: TIFFY! What do you expect? Then again: Tiffy the Turtle would work. And you know why? Because a turtle is round and Tiffy sounds pointy, and it balances out. But a bird is pointy and Tiffy sounds pointy, and the pink colour can’t save this disaster. And that is my opinion on that. …There seems to be money in children books. I can draw a pretty good pig, but it’s a copy from a cartoon I saw somewhere. Should I write more? Probably not. Just don’t decide to nickname yourself ‘Tiffy the turtle’ now because you found it was brilliant as I will still just imagine the bloody pink bird and not the turtle. The name is totally spoiled. Sorry, Michael. But you could secretly call yourself ‘Tiffy the turtle’, of course. That’s up to you.
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    • Michael Turtle | Jun 23, 2013 at 1:04 am

      I think you could be on to something here, Vera! Perhaps you could start a series of books called Tiffy the Turtle but draw it like a pig. That would confuse people enough that they would look twice and by then they will want to buy the book because they’ll see how wonderfully the pig is drawn and want to know more about why it’s also a turtle. Genius!!

  • Matthew Karsten | Jun 15, 2013 at 3:47 am

    Fascinating story! Miffy may be a simple character, but like most creative endeavors, there’s always more work involved than we think.
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    • Michael Turtle | Jun 23, 2013 at 1:10 am

      It was really interesting learning more about it. Although I knew about Miffy from my childhood, I certainly didn’t know anything about Dick Bruna. And you’re right – there’s a lot of work in making something look simple! Just ask any modern designer! 🙂

  • Laura @Travelocafe | Jun 16, 2013 at 2:19 am

    I love rabbits. I would love to see this exhibition.
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    • Michael Turtle | Jun 23, 2013 at 1:12 am

      They had a temporary exhibit there as well with all sorts of other famous rabbits – Peter, Bugs, etc. That was pretty cool.

  • T.W. Anderson @ Marginal Boundaries | Jun 18, 2013 at 3:20 am

    Never heard of Miffy before!
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    • Michael Turtle | Jun 23, 2013 at 1:14 am

      It’s never too late!! 🙂

  • Mellisa Turner | Jun 21, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    Success stories behind the creation of such characters never fail to fascinate me. Whether it is the most famous cartoon character Mickey Mouse or the book character of Sherlock holmes, the stories behind their creation are as appealing as are the characters themselves.

    • Michael Turtle | Jun 23, 2013 at 1:28 am

      You’re so right. The people that come up with these things have to be pretty interesting in their own right… or at least have an interesting story. The characters are an extension of them in some ways.

  • Jennifer | Jun 22, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    I had no idea Miffy was Dutch! I had Miffy stuff as a kid and I would have loved to visit this exhibit had I known about it. That explains why I saw Miffy all over the airport in Amsterdam.
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    • Michael Turtle | Jun 23, 2013 at 1:28 am

      The whole country has adopted Miffy, it seems. And why not? She’s pretty cute!

  • Stephanie - The Travel Chica | Jun 24, 2013 at 3:45 am

    Amazing story.
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