William Joyce, whose Guardians of Childhood series and 2012 bestseller, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, are published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, has teamed up with that imprint and his Moonbot Studios to create a new imprint, Moonbot Books. Caitlyn Dlouhy, v-p and editorial director of Atheneum, will edit the Moonbot Books list, which will be illustrated by William Joyce and other Moonbot Studios artists.
Joyce founded the Shreveport, La., studio in 2009 with partners Brandon Oldenburg and Lampton Enochs. The studio’s 50-person team focuses on storytelling across a number of platforms, including book publishing, app development, film production, and other interactive media.
“Bill Joyce and his colleagues at Moonbot Studios have so many wonderful story ideas to do as books,” Dlouhy said. “When I visited the studio, they showed me the ideas they were working on, and each one was so different, but they all had the same spark and had a way to tap into the innermost child of anyone. As I went from storyboard to storyboard, I thought, ‘There are so many good books here. How will we ever decide which to publish?’ ”
Launching Moonbot Books, which will release an average of three books annually, provided a solution to that dilemma. Dlouhy said the imprint will encompass picture books and middle grade, and possibly chapter books and YA in the future. “Bill Joyce’s personal touch will be on every book, though he won’t necessarily do the art for every book,” she explained. “The books will draw from the best talents of the Moonbot Studios team. There’s always a delightful quirkiness about everything they do.”
The imprint’s first release, due in October, is The Mischievians, a picture book that catalogs the ancient race of mischievous beings responsible for life’s unsolvable annoyances like lost car keys, missing remote controls, and unreachable itches.
Joyce, who said he is “very excited” about Moonbot Books’ debut, expects and hopes that the list will follow in the tradition of The Fantastic Flying Books, for which the studio also developed an iPad app and an Academy Award-winning animated short film (both of which, in this case, appeared before the actual book, which has more than 165,000 copies in print).
New Directions in a New Era
“It’s an amazing time for storytelling,” said the author. “The changes and opportunities in publishing and other media are just the beginning. We want to bridge the gap between what books are and whatever venues new technology provides to tell a story and create a different experience. Everything we do at Moonbot starts as a book, but an app or a short film can coexist and complement each other. From the start of Moonbot Studios, we wanted to shake it up, take advantage of new technology, and explore how it can be part of publishing without at all contributing to what people worried would be the demise of the book. I wanted to plant my flag firmly in the realm of books. To me, books are practically holy.”
Though Joyce doesn’t recall the exact moment that the idea for The Mischievians came to him, he recalled, “I began thinking about all the stuff that goes on that plagues everyone – where do those missing single socks go, and where does belly button lint come from? So we decided to catalogue the fiends responsible for these things, and our researchers at the studio uncovered their histories, size, color, and different methodologies. We traced their evolution back to the Stone Age.” The picture book includes blank pages for kids to describe and draw the mischievians in their own homes.
In summer 2014, Moonbot Books will release The Numberlys, a vertical picture book that explains how everything was dreary and drab until the numbers decided to create the alphabet, and words brought color to the world. Initially produced as an iPad app, it won a Webby Award and became a bestseller. “As usual, I thought of the story first as a book, but then decided to do it beforehand as an app,” Joyce said. “It’s rewarding to have the book come out after the app or a film, because we get to tell the story in a slightly different way and adapt it to the different medium.” Joyce wrote the text for The Numberlys and developed the illustrations with a Moonbot Studios colleague, Christina Ellis.
Working collaboratively with the Moonbot team, said Joyce, is “a big part of the fun for me these days. Christina brought something to The Numberlys that was very different from what I would have done. That’s exciting, since I have a hard time breaking out of my own style, and with these collaborators I’m able to find new styles.” Joyce said he is now painting digitally roughly 70 percent of the time. “The tools available when you’re painting on the computer are amazing,” he said, “and I can get effects that I was never able to get when painting with watercolors or oil. The young artists at the studio are very versed in Photoshop, and I’m learning, but this old dog doesn’t take to all of it overnight.”
Calling this “a fun phase of my life,” Joyce is looking forward to moving in new artistic directions with Moonbot Books. “We are having so much fun with it, and we’ll be doing lots of different kinds of books – even some scary stuff,” he said. “I’ll sometimes do everything on a book, sometimes do some things, but I’ll always have a finger in it. There have been so many stories inside me that have been trying to get out for such a long time, so it’s great to now have a vehicle for them.”