Best known for bestselling book collections of major syndicated comic strips and illustrated works of humor, Andrews McMeel Publishing is in the process of “reimagining” itself after launching AMP!, a kids’ comics and graphic novel line last year. The publisher is expanding the AMP! line with the launch of a major new work, Mark Tatulli’s Desmond Pucket: Makes Monster Magic, a hardcover illustrated kids’ story and activity book, while adding new titles from Lincoln Pierce’s bestselling Big Nate series (and adding color to the Big Nate backlist). The house is also releasing its first adult graphic novel, Agent Gates and The Secret Adventures of Devonton Abbey, a parody of the popular Downton Abbey TV series.

“We’re reimagining who we are,” Kirsty Melville, president of the Andrews McMeel Publishing book division, told PW in a phone interview along with editor Andrea Colvin, v-p, content/executive producer, book division. Andrew McMeel publishes cookbooks, puzzles and games, calendars and nonfiction as well as many bsetselling humor, cartoon and illustrated collections. “But we’re also staying true to the humor, illustrated works and comics we’ve always published. We’re moving in new directions as the world changes.” Aimed at middle grade readers, AMP!, the company’s first comics and graphic novel line for kids, was launched at last year’s BookExpo America. The AMP! series generally collect comic strips, like the Big Nate series, into books, but the release of of Desmond Pucket: Makes Monster Magic in October will mark AMP’s first releases of long form kids fiction.

Colvin called Desmond Pucket, “a big new launch for us and an exciting new arena, long form stories grounded in humor. It makes sense for us.” While the house has built its success on bestselling collections of comic strips, “comic strips and newspapers are declining, so we needed something new,” Colvin said.

New in this case means Tatulli, an internationally syndicated cartoonist (Heart of the City and Lio also available from AMP!) and Emmy Award winning animator. His new book is the story of Desmond, a 6th grader who loves monsters and scary effects. Desmond also loves to pull hair-raising pranks on friends and teachers that inevitably get him in trouble. Acquired at auction, the book itself is not a work of pure comics but more of a heavily illustrated middle grade novel as well as an activity workbook that teaches kids how to reproduce the funny and scary monster effects and pranks that Desmond uses in the book. “He’s a compelling character,” Melville said, “he’s the star of his own life and kids will be able to join in and do all the games and projects along with him.”

Melville said the book will launch with a 100,000 copy first printing and major marketing and promotional support that includes a Desmond Pucket website, teachers guide, posters, activity books, a book trailer and promotion through, one of the largest web sites for syndicated newspaper comics strips. Tatulli will do signings at the ABA’s Winter Institute, BEA, the San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic Con, and go on a ten city author tour. AMP will also be on hand at the ALA annual convention in Chicago and at International Reading Association’s convention in April in San Antonio. The house is also working with experts Katie Monnin, an expert on teaching with comics, and Josh Elder, cartoonist and director of Reading with Pictures, an anthology and curriculum for using comics in the classroom, to produce a brochure called Teaching with Comics and Illustrated Novels: A Guide for Librarians, Educators, and Parents .

There’s even more new stuff coming from AMP! Originally launched with a collection of Lincoln Peirce’s bestselling Big Nate comics series, AMP! is adding two new Big Nate titles in 2013—Game On! and I Can’t Take It! coming in April—and all six of Peirce’s Big Nate backlist titles will get full color added to each. AMP! is also at work on a series of enhanced interactive e-books based on Desmond Pucket activities and other AMP! Series. “Our comic strips were originally intended to get kids reading,” Colvin said, “but kids don’t read newspapers anymore so we’re integrating print and digital and we’re creating content around content in the e-books.”

And in another new offering from Andrews McMeel, the adult book division released its first original adult humor graphic novel, Agent Gates and The Secret Adventures of Devonton Abbey by Camaren Subhiyah and Kyle Hilton, in January. A funny take on the Downton Abbey TV show that features a cheerfully ridiculous story about a network of steampunk secret agents scattered through English country estates, funny romantic encounters and much more in a book likely to attract fans (and there are millions of them) of the wildly popular TV series. “It’s all in loving fun,” said Melville, who counts herself a fan of Downton Abbey, the story of an English family and their servants, “and it expands our humor publishing into new areas.”