We were taken by bus through the beautiful golden landscape to a floridly named Flower Mound to visit Real and Muff Musgrave. They had invited us to see their house, see their work, and have a lovely lunch on a large deck overlooking all sorts of trees just ready to burst with blooms (albeit, the holly bushes were glossy and gorgeous). We were greeted at the driveway by both of our hosts and made immediately to feel at ease and welcome--by explaining what we were going to do and then eating lunch with us. It was so cute the way they had tablecloths on all sorts of different sized tables and brilliant parasols with little golden dangling charms around the edges just to make it even more a party. There were stacks of examples of their promotional print pieces, their newsletters and cookbooks all surrounding the promotion of the centerpiece of their success, the Pocket Dragon.
The Pocket Dragon evolved from Real's work in college which manifested itself in inflatables--18' dragons and large drawings of dragons that Real showed in galleries to great effect. When Real and Muff decided it was time to go to Europe, they parked their beloved small, brown dog, Flower with Real's parents and flew across the big pond with $800 with the plans that they would stay as long as the money lasted. While they were there, Real drew dragons, small dragons on paper that fit right in your pocket. A Pocket Dragon was born. The spirit of this little creature was as Real said, as if the world was viewed from the view point of their little dog, Flower, and how Flower would respond to or interpret situations. The dragons took on aspects of Flowers personna from gesture to the floppy ears. When they came back, the two Musgraves formed the team to bring Pocket Dragons to the world of collecting and collectables.
Real muses on his recent retirement from a life of creating thousands of these dragons, their whimsical packaging somehow linking books, candy and cookies to the creatures, print, and the care and feeding of their fans (who, I was intrigued to find out was a broad demographic from kids to parents to grandparents--here in the US and in Europe), 104 animated television shows, and the care, maintentance and strong guidance of their brand. This is where Real and Muff (Muff is a nickname derived from a childhood moniker spun from Little Miss Muffet) really, for me, stand out. They are totally true to their brand...saying no to big money, challenging and pushing back to make sure their dragons are of the right spirit, the right quality, the right design--not compromising or giving in to short term gains. Real said that he and Muff could not believe that they fell into a life where they were able to make these dragons and with their fans, have people who were actively interested in their lives, the lives of their pets and the simple doings that made up the Pocket Dragon myth and legend. But it did happen--down to fans sending them boxes of cookies in the mail, banana bread, muffins and afghans crocheted with Pocket Dragon imagery in a rainbow of colors...letter and notes to Real and Muff as if they were (I guess they are) family.
The couple's first dog, Flower, with her loving, mischievous nature inspired Real during his life-size dragon period. Her expressions and antics later formed a basis for the persona of the Pocket Dragon. "Flower had an intense love of cookies and chocolate in general," Real states reflectively. "Whenever you see a Pocket Dragon hiding or sneaking a cookie, that's Flower. Every time she did something it sparked an idea for me. When Flower passed on, I thought my career was over because I couldn't imagine doing it without her. Little did I know then that she was secretly training a couple of cats to take over."
Muff and Real love their cats, who have become their muses since Flower. The cats have inspired thinking, dragons and their poses, and have on occasion, suggested things about the design of aspects of the dragons to Real by example and gesture. Real mentioned that he was struggling with the design of the original group of Pocket Dragons as their eyes were drawn and needed a great deal of skill to paint in the final production of the pieces. He was thinking about that when one of their ginger colored, male cats (Muff confirmed they were the cats they liked (as did their vet) as they are filled with antics and personality) brought Real a struggling mouse. The cat leapt up onto his drawing table and left the stunned mouse for Real to pick up and observe as if to say, "there..look at this mouse...the idea for the eyes are there". After Real thanked the mouse for it's assistance, he put it out of one door and the cat at another. Problem solved. The cats have their own protected outdoor space called the "Kitty Palace"--a contained outdoor room that would protect them from coyotes. The Musgraves have, in their retirement become involved in the local SPCA and were raising money with hard bound, self published (I think) books on their retirement plans and with little buttons. Real cited that he has had a career making money for himself and others. In this next chapter he would like to make money to benefit others--and I think the Flower Mound SPCA may be a beneficiary. And why not? Real and Muff's cats have been a source of humor, inspiration and central to driving their business. So why not give back? It seems very right.
In celebration of their retirement, Muff and Real invited 10,000. people to a party at Flower Mound. Here is what happened (from dragonsintheattic.com>>). My goodness, these guys do not do things by halves. I am exhausted thinking about it...the strangers, the pizzas, the cats, and so on.
I like Real's drawn work the best. His illustrations have a sweetness and an aspect that somehow reminds me of Maurice Sendak. With Real and Muff's beginnings at Renaissance Fairs, their interest in that slice peeks out of his work--but it's charming and not cloying nor does it feel like Dungeons and Dragons. I guess one might term it more fantasy.
The Musgraves are wonderful, kind people who have had great success pursuing their bliss--winding their love of books, cookies, chocolate, cats and the wonder of life into a world of imagination and whimsy. Bless them. They are an inspiration to seek out what you are good at and lean on it--making the most of it with integrity and common sense. They are illustrators, marketers, character developers who know who they are, and what represents them properly. They put their beliefs to the test and end up able to sleep at night after doing the right thing because, its right.