Adam Hargreaves had always been keen on drawing. He was like his father, Roger, in that way, the man who created the world of Mr. Men Little Miss. If you’ve ever picked up one of the dozens upon dozens of Mr. Men Little Miss books, you’ll have seen Roger’s signature right there on the front.
Despite having a father who almost certainly could have provided good contacts, Adam decided at a relatively early age that he couldn’t make a living from art and decided to have a go at farming instead. By his own admission, he wasn’t terribly good at it but he gave it his best effort. Then, in 1988, when Adam was just 25 years old, his life changed. His father suddenly and unexpectedly became ill and passed away at the age of 53.
The family was shocked and heartbroken but one thing was clear: they wanted what Roger had started to carry on, and they wanted the family business to stay in the family. It was a big ask, but eventually the responsibility of keeping the Mr. Men Little Miss characters alive was placed on Adam’s shoulders. In a lot of ways that made sense: he was the eldest of the children, he was artistically talented, and he had helped to inspire the whole thing in the first place.
That inspirational moment had come in 1971, when Adam was 8 years old. Back then, Roger Hargreaves was a successful copywriter who yearned to spend more time with his family. Keen on drawing from an early age, he enjoyed making sketches and thought he might like to create children’s books but couldn’t quite figure out how to get the ball rolling. That was until Adam playfully asked his father what he would later describe as ‘an impossible question’: what does a tickle look like?
His initial response was playful, but the question continued to spin in his imagination and eventually he created the first of many Mr. Men characters: Mr. Tickle. These were quickly followed by icons like Mr. Happy, who features on one of the UK coins we have struck in celebration of 50 years of Mr. Men Little Miss. Getting the books published was initially a little tricky, with a number of traditional publishers rejecting the idea. However, once Roger found a home for Mr. Men the idea took off and within three years the first books had sold more than 1 million copies.
When Roger died, Adam inherited a world of stories and characters loved by people around the world but later admitted to feeling a certain amount of pressure to get things right. His father had been so full of energy and playfulness, and Adam worked hard to adapt his style to better reflect that of his father. He has often said that one of the difficult characters to master was Mr. Happy, whose almost perfect circular shape Roger had been able to draw freehand.
Eventually, Adam honed his skills enough that he felt confident presenting new characters of his own. Amongst the first of those were Mr. Cool and Little Miss Whoops, who were introduced in 2003. Since then, the world of Mr. Men Little Miss has roughly doubled in size, with books to be found in multiple languages and dozens of countries around the world. All the while, Adam has remained integral, continuing to serve as the series’ primary author and illustrator. He does sometimes think forward to a time when he might choose to put the pen down but, when that day comes, he hopes the characters will carry on.
“It’s such a fun idea that my dad came up with. I hope that it continues to be enjoyed by children for many more decades … Even when the Mr. Men and Little Misses are 100 years old, their readers will always be 5.”