Up to Mischief
Many adults who grew up in the 1970s onwards will have fond memories of the Mr Men and Little Miss books. And it is a testament to the appeal of these quirky characters that their own kids have bookshelves crammed with the likes of Mr Bounce, Mr Lazy and Little Miss Helpful.
First published in 1971, Roger Hargreaves’ books combined bright colourful illustrations, zany humour and a good old moral at the end – however simple that may be – look at what happened to poor old Mr Nosey’s hooter when he couldn’t mind his own business. The first creation, Mr Tickle, was inspired by Roger’s then young son Adam, who asked what a tickle looked like, and it was Adam who later took over the company when his dad died suddenly at 53. Says Adam: “It was a huge shock. I was 25 and initially was on the business side, and then was on the creative side. It was not what I’d imagined I’d get involved with, certainly not at that early stage”
But it continued to go from strength to strength. In 2004, Chorion bought the rights to Mr Men for £28m. and was later acquired by Hello Kitty creators Sanrio. There are now over 100 creations, including Little Miss Stella, made for the designer Stella McCartney, and has even spawned spoofs such as Mr Happy and the Office Party.
And Adam’s favourite? “Mr Silly. It encapsulates my father’s sense of humour and what these books are about with their mini morals but it is essentially their daft humour.” He puts the books’ enduring appeal down to the fact that the characters are about us, they have human characteristics and emotions that we can relate to.
Adam was around eight when the books came out. Initially it was business as usual for the family from Woldingham in Surrey but as Mr Men became more popular in the mid 70s, Roger was in the limelight, and by that time Adam was a teenager. “Suddenly it was on television. It was in shops, and my dad was on TV being interviewed. I was very aware of their success – in rather an awkward teenage way!” His father encouraged his son’s creative side, and Adam describes how drawing became a great escape as a shy child.
“This is the first [book] with my name on the front cover. I’m chuffed. It was an ambition I’ve always had but I’d never found a publisher before.”
As well as creating new Mr Men and Little Miss characters, Adam also created a Doctor Who and Mr Men ‘mash-up’ with each of the doctors in the Mr Men style.
He has now created his own character, Molly Mischief, but he admits it has been a long time to bring to fruition. “I’ve written and illustrated over 100 books, and worked on the Mr Men account for
over 30 years, but this is the first with my name on the front cover. I’m chuffed. It was an ambition I’ve always had but I’d never found a publisher before.”
Adam will be holding a Molly Mischief workshop during Kington’s Children’s Literary Festival, which will include a book reading and tips on how to draw Molly. “I’ve had the character in my mind for a long time. The power of the imagination is what is behind this. I’ve always loved that when children are playing imagination games, it becomes real to them. I remember when my son was young, when he dressed up as Batman, he was Batman. Molly Mischief is a little girl that can do whatever she wants to do in real life.”
And Adam’s advice for those wanting to do their own kids’ book? “It is not an easy task. It took me many years and that is with publishing connections. But if you have an idea, you have to believe in it and have a go. My dad always used to say, ‘if you don’t have a go, you’ll never know.’ And it is very true.”