There’s lots of licensing news to report, some of it from the recent Toy Fair, including word on new Clone Wars tie-ins, Uglydolls books from Random House and Yo Gabba Gabba titles from Simon & Schuster. Also news about Kim Parker, Thunderbirds and Playhouse Disney, along with a sheaf of briefs.
A Galaxy of Clone Wars Books
The forthcoming Star Wars-based 3D-animated franchise Star Wars: The Clone Wars will be supported by a full line of licensed publishing for all ages. “This is the first time we’re going out with a concerted effort for kids,” said Carol Roeder, Lucasfilm’s director of publishing. She notes there will be significant interest among adult fans, although the main target is ages 6-12.
Clone Wars, which takes place between Episodes II and III of the films, will premiere as a Warner Bros. theatrical film in August, followed by a weekly half-hour series on Cartoon Network in the fall. It will feature well-known characters such as Obi-Wan, Anakin and Yoda, as well as new ones, including a female, Padawan Ahsoka.
Grosset & Dunlap will be the primary licensee for children’s formats including junior novelizations, 8x8s, readers, movie photo books and activity books, starting with movie tie-ins this summer—the on-sale date for all books and merchandise is July 26—followed by TV-based titles in the fall. Other juvenile licensees include DK for sticker books, Visual Guides and DK Readers and Dalmatian for coloring and activity books. For older readers, Random House’s Del Rey imprint will publish one movie and four TV novelizations, and Dark Horse will release monthly comics and digest-size graphic novels. An “Art Of” title is expected as well.
Meanwhile, classic Star Wars publishing will continue; Scholastic will introduce a new series next year.
Uglydolls Licensed for Uglybooks
Random House has acquired the publishing rights to Uglydolls, the fanciful high-end plush line created by David Horvath and Sun Min Kim, for paperbacks, board books, picture books, story books, a pop-up and other formats. “What appealed to me most about it was that it wasn’t generated in a licensing incubator,” said Kate Klimo, v-p and publisher at Random House/Golden Books Young Readers Group. “It was a people’s choice sort of property that developed organically.” The line started when Horvath would send Kim (now his wife) sketches of the original Uglydoll, Wage, when she was in Korea; she sewed him a plush version as a gift and the rest is history.
The core of the line is the paperback series Guides to the Ugly Universe. “They’re about every aspect of life in the Uglyverse,” Klimo reports, from geography and vehicles to cultural mores and life philosophy. “It’s like Richard Scarry if Richard Scarry had undergone a mind-altering experience.” Each format is geared to a different audience, but the property has a wide fan base and “almost every book can appeal to the whole range, from baby to adult.”
Another attractive quality of Uglydolls, according to Klimo, is the exquisite color palette. “They’re just stunning,” she says. “A real eyeful.” The specialty distribution also was appealing. “We expect more than the usual percentage of sales in the so-called special markets.” The first Random House books came out this March; other Uglydoll publishers include Walter Foster for how-to-draw titles and Chronicle for journals.
Yo! S&S to Publish Yo Gabba Gabba
Yo Gabba Gabba, a magazine-style preschool TV series created by Wild Brain and airing on Nick Jr., is making its way to bookshelves through a licensing deal with Simon & Schuster. “We liked it right away,” said Valerie Garfield, v-p and publisher of novelty and licensed publishing at S&S. “Even though there’s a ton of buzz about the license, we saw immediately that there was a fresh voice. It’s different, but it’s accessible. It has really endearing characters that come out and grab you right way.”
The program will include story books, beginning readers, board books, coloring and activity, and novelty titles. The program will mimic the magazine format of the show, with certain formats lending themselves to certain segments, such as 8x8s for storytime or board books for songs. The first nine titles will launch in January 2009.
As with any license, factors such as the consumer products program, the vast amount of content and Wild Brain’s potential as a partner played into the decision. “But, honestly, we really made the offer based on the YouTube clip that we saw,” said Garfield, adding, “How often do you work with a property where you smile every time you say it?”
Playhouse for Preschoolers
Sales of books based on the Disney Channel’s Playhouse Disney preschool block are taking off, with licensees reporting that Mickey Mouse Clubhouse—one of four Playhouse properties along with The Little Einsteins, Handy Manny and My Friends Tigger and Pooh—is among their hottest current licenses. All told, more than four million Playhouse Disney books have shipped worldwide since the launch a year ago, including 2.3 million from licensee Dalmatian.
The shows in the block are based on a whole child development curriculum, which focuses on emotional, cognitive, physical and social development, according to Tonya Agurto, director of North American licensing for Disney Publishing Worldwide. “Its mission is to encourage preschoolers to imagine and learn through song, movement and entertainment,” she said. “It’s a perfect fit for us in publishing.”
Disney Press is creating readers, 8x8s and some novelty titles. In addition to Dalmatian, which publishes coloring and activity books and a full Tigger and Pooh program, licensees include Bendon for educational formats, Walter Foster for art activity titles, Reader’s Digest and Publications International for electronic and sound books, Giddyup for specialty-ink books, and Modern for a magazine based on the umbrella brand, featuring content from all four shows.
Counting on Kim Parker
Kim Parker’s Counting in the Garden, published by Scholastic in spring 2006, is the foundation of a licensing effort focusing on home furnishings and accessories. “We thought the art was really beautiful and could represent an opportunity for a more design-oriented program,” said Leslye Schaefer, Scholastic Entertainment’s senior v-p marketing and consumer products. “Admittedly, it is different for us.” Parker already has an established art-based licensing program for adults, but Counting in the Garden was her entrée into the juvenile market.
Rather than being character-based, products will focus on the floral patterns Parker is known for, as well as some of the florally decorated animals in the book. “Typically, we have a style guide in conjunction with art from the books and we give it to the licensees,” Schaefer said. “But Kim is really hands-on and is working with licensees to develop art specific to their products.” Some of the product art is derived from the books and some is completely original but with the same look and feel.
Yottoy, which recently took over the management of Scholastic’s Sidekicks business, is marketing a line of plush animals; other licensees include All Wrapped Up for wrapping paper and Editions Limited for wall art of images from the book. In addition to home décor and plush, potential products include puzzles, board games and early learning toys. Barnes & Noble did a Mother’s Day promotion last spring, featuring the books and plush on endcaps, and holding a signing at the Union Square store in New York City.
Thunderbirds Are Go
FTL Publications, a small press in Minnetonka, Minn., has secured the rights for a series of novels in North America based on the classic British TV series Thunderbirds. “I am a big Thunderbirds and [creator] Gerry Anderson fan,” says Joan Marie Verba, FTL’s publisher and author of the books. “I remember sitting in my pajamas watching the ‘supermarionation’ programs on Saturday morning TV back in the 1960s.” She approached the rights holder, Granada Ventures, about doing a series of original novels, and won the license for North America. “Nobody is publishing books on this series, and it has a lot of potential for stories.”
Verba says she’s seen a lot of interest from adults she’s met at comic book conventions who have fond memories of the show, but she hopes to bring in new fans. “They’re original stories for all ages, from baby boomers who watched it in the 1960s like I did, to younger people who may never have heard of the series but would enjoy the stories.”
One of the leading Thunderbirds artists, Steve Kyte, who has illustrated everything from DVD packages to commemorative plates based on the property, is providing the cover art. The first novel will be published in June 2008 and the second in November, with two per year planned. Initial sales channels will be Amazon, the publisher’s website and Diamond Comic Distribution.
Agent The Sharpe Company signed a number of licenses for HarperCollins’s The Dangerous Book for Boys in North America: University Games for games and puzzles, Uncle Milton Industries for science kits, Thames and Kosmos for chemistry and electricity sets, Andrews McMeel for mini boxed kits. Hasbro and Rizzoli are producing board games and calendars, respectively, for worldwide distribution.... Applehead Factory’s Teddy Scares line of “scary-cute” plush is the inspiration for a line of graphic novels from Ape Entertainment for ages 13 and up.... New licenses for Brighter Minds include Dreamworks’s Kung Fu Panda and DC Heroes.... MerryMakers is debuting dolls tied to Ezra Jack Keats’s A Very Snowy Day and Emily Post.... HarperCollins launched four Fisher-Price early learning board books in November, to be followed by more titles this spring.... Walter Foster signed a license with Sesame Workshop for Sesame Street learn-to-draw books.... Another new Sesame Street licensee is Paradise Press, for foam board books, squeaky books, scratch and sniff and other novelty titles, primarily for dollar store distribution.... Wiley licensee BE Innovative Group introduced a For Dummies SAT board game to help teens study for the test.... Restaurant chain IHOP is creating four menu items, including green eggs and ham, to tie in with Twentieth Century Fox’s animated film Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who!.... Starz Media partnered with Simon & Schuster for a series of Raggedy Adventures DVD movies based on the updated Raggedy Ann and Me! books. Russ Berrie’s dolls will be merchandised with the books and videos this fall.... Simon & Schuster signed Chorion for merchandising and entertainment rights for Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown, as well as Pearson School for a Reading Street curriculum.... Grosset & Dunlap will publish chapter books in North America based on Shaftesbury Films’s Life with Derek, which airs on The Disney Channel in the U.S. and The Family Channel in Canada. Joy Tashjian Marketing Group is the licensing agent.... The Licensing International trade show will move to Las Vegas in 2009, with dates of June 2—4. The 2008 show, scheduled for June 10—12, will remain at the Javits Center in New York City.