The Dark Side of Dick Bruna

The Dark Side of Dick Bruna

Kunsthal in Rotterdam is now showing ‘The Dark Side of Dick Bruna’, which focuses on the illustrator’s alternative visual language. Best know for his illustrations of the children’s character Miffy, between 1955 and 1970 he also designed more than 2,000 covers for crime stories and other thrillers in the Zwarte Beertjes series of paperbacks published by A.W. Bruna & Zoon. The more than 350 book covers, sketches, posters and collages in this exhibition reveal Dick Bruna’s craftsmanship and eye for narrative.

The sale of paperbacks rose sharply at the beginning of the 1950s. The Zwarte Beertjes series became tremendously popular thanks to the idiosyncratic figures of the detectives that Dick Bruna and the writers created together. The covers played a crucial role and boosted sales in the hundreds of railway station kiosks. Using minimal graphic elements, Bruna knew how to confer significance in the tiniest detail and to stir the imagination. Bizarre titles such as ‘The whisper in the dark’ and ‘The voice in the night’ were already enough to make the reader fear the worst, and Bruna managed to reinforce that effect with his direct visual idiom. He presented Havank’s inspector Charles C.M. Carlier as a man of precision as he steps resolutely across the cover, calmly smoking a cigar. For The Saint, a trigger-happy, adventurous hero, Bruna developed a wire figure who always seems to be in motion. And for George Simenon’s commissaire Maigret, Bruna left readers with nothing but an object as the clue, yet that iconic pipe succeeded in conveying the mood and big questions that were worrying the detective.

The innocent little black bear, the familiar logo designed by Dick Bruna for the Zwarte Beertjes series, also came to lead a life of its own and was featured on several posters as well as on the spine of the paperbacks. It is tempting to suppose that the name was chosen as a counterpart to the little white rabbit created in the same year. However, it was while Jaap Romijn, director of the Bruna firm, was looking for an appropriate title for a new series of paperbacks together with Dick and his father Abs in 1954, that he hit upon the little black bear via ‘Bruna’ and ‘brown’. Dick Bruna was very fond of his black bear. He regarded him as his alter ego and gave the title ‘The Bear is Dead’ to the book that he wanted to be published after his death.

Until 19th August 2018

Westzeedijk 341
3015 AA Rotterdam

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