S&S Goes ‘A Little Gross’ with Ubisoft’s Rabbids
Simon & Schuster has acquired the rights to produce books based on Ubisoft’s Rabbids videogame franchise. Simon Spotlight will release the first chapter books, joke book, and ready-to-reads in summer 2014, followed by new titles each season, including an irreverent Christmas title for fall.
“I see so many licenses cross my desk on a daily basis,” said Valerie Garfield, v-p and publisher, novelty and licensed publishing. “Some are great for kids, some have parent appeal, and some are really sweet. But very few just make me laugh out loud and spend 30 minutes watching video clips online.”
This is the first videogame-based license that Simon Spotlight has acquired. “We’ve looked at many, many videogame properties and have, sometimes reluctantly, passed on them, because they are often missing this kind of narrative and character development,” Garfield said. The Rabbids Invasion television series on Nickelodeon is a plus for generating exposure, she added, but the underlying property, especially the short clips Ubisoft has posted online, sold it.
“It’s a little edgy and a little gross,” Garfield admitted, noting that she was initially concerned that retail buyers and others might resist. “I thought, ‘Hmmm, I have to sell this to parents and teachers and librarians,” she said. “But once they see it, they get it. It really taps into the being of a 7- to 10-year-old boy. It has everything they find hilarious. We’re really thrilled with the retail response, especially since the property is slightly off-center.”
Another challenge was that the characters make noises and gestures, but there’s no dialogue. The question was how to capture the narrative and character development from visual cues, without putting words in the characters’ mouths or flattening the energy and humor. “We had to get a little creative,” Garfield said, explaining that a case file format was used rather than a traditional narrator. “It’s a marvel that we were able to create a chapter book program based on characters that don’t speak.”
Monkey Business: Random House to Publish Julius Jr.
Random House has secured world English rights to Julius Jr., an animated series for preschoolers airing weekly on Nick Jr. The show, which is licensed by Saban and stresses imagination and problem-solving, is based on the Paul Frank lifestyle brand, which is familiar around the world through apparel, accessories, and other products.
The fall launch list will include six titles from the Random House Books for Young Readers and Golden Books imprints, including a picture book, board book, novelty and activity titles, and a leveled reader. “Even if it weren’t based on a globally recognized brand in Paul Frank, we would have acquired the rights to Julius Jr.,” said Chris Angelilli, v-p, editor-in-chief, and executive director of licensed publishing. “It has a striking look and a retro style that we think lends itself perfectly to children’s publishing.”
Many of the titles are deluxe editions, with foils or value-added items such as stickers and chunky crayons. A $14.99 lift-the-flap title ties in with a feature on the TV show called the Hall of Doors, in which the characters are introduced to new lands and find solutions to their questions.
Angelilli said that Saban and Paul Frank Industries provided Random House with lots of creative assets and were flexible in rushing approvals, which allowed the development process to move forward quickly. “We signed on late and got a late start, but despite that we were able to pull the program together in time to meet our deadlines,” he said.
The partners are developing the spring and fall 2015 lists, which will include many of the same formats as the first, as well as some additions.
IDW Happy to Acquire Angry Birds
After holding a position as one of the top properties in licensing for two years, Rovio’s Angry Birds finally has a comic book licensee for the U.S. and Canada. IDW will launch a monthly comic book for the direct market in June – with six pages more per issue than is standard for comics – followed by a compilation of the first four issues for trade bookstores in the fourth quarter. It will also create four Micro-Fun Packs, a new format it launched last year with My Little Pony, which are merchandised with trading cards at mass retailers.
“We feel that there’s a lot of story to be told,” said IDW managing editor David Hedgecock. “Where are the Angry Birds coming from? Why are they fighting the pigs? What is the story there?” In a twist from the standard process, Rovio created the first titles in-house. “Usually we’re building the content and story for the licensor,” Hedgecock said. “But it turned out Rovio has been doing a lot of comic-building on their own. They’re supplying us with finished comic books they’ve been holding in inventory. And I haven’t seen a thing yet that I haven’t said, ‘That’s awesome.’ ”
IDW will contribute some creative, such as art for Micro Fun Pack components and special covers for the comic book series, including a Kiss x Angry Birds mash-up. It is also likely to spearhead editorial and art development for some titles in the future.
“A lot of people have been pursuing this for some time,” Hedgecock said. “Angry Birds Go [the latest incarnation of the gaming franchise] is burning up the charts just fine, and they have a good program for new projects over the next year or so. We’re excited about the new offerings and how we can pair with those.”
Since its release in 2009, the Angry Birds franchise, which now includes nine different game editions, has generated more than two billion downloads. In addition to a wide licensing program – which includes Kappa for coloring and activity books – a series of animated shorts is distributed online, and a feature film is in development for 2016.
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