Penguin Workshop: From Classics to Coding

In October, the new Penguin Workshop imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group will publish The Phantom of the Opera, the first of four books in its licensed Muppets Meet the Classics series. Grimm’s Fairy Tales will follow in summer 2018.

“Disney approached us with the idea of doing this mashup of the Muppets with classic literature,” said editorial director Sarah Fabiny. “They came to us because of our Penguin Classics line, but we had a lot of discussion about the best way to bring this idea to life, and we ended up pairing the characters with Puffin Classics, because we didn’t want to limit it just to kids. The characters appeal to a younger reader, but also to adults.” The series will be aimed at middle-grade readers and up.

There was a lot of back-and-forth among Disney, Penguin, and Erik Forrest Jackson—who is credited as co-author with Phantom author Gaston Leroux—about which titles to Muppetize and which characters should play each role. “Erik was an amazing choice,” Fabiny said. “He has woven in the zaniness of the Muppets without changing the storyline at all.” Noting that there is some precedent, in that the Muppets have starred in films of A Christmas Carol and Treasure Island, Fabiny reported that retail buyers are curious about the project.

Separately, Penguin Workshop is publishing four novels, four board books, a journal, and an activity book with Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization that oversees coding clubs across the country. The first fiction title will release this summer, followed by a second novel and the activity book in fall 2017. Penguin’s Viking imprint will publish a nonfiction book in the fall as well. Board books, a journal, and more novels will hit stores in 2018.

Fabiny described the fiction, which focuses on friendship and teamwork, as “coding meets The Baby-Sitters Club.” Girls Who Code is very involved, she said, signing off on the outlines, providing age-appropriate coding language, and contributing coding exercises. A letter from the group’s founder, Reshma Saujani, will be included in each title. “These books will make people realize there is nothing mysterious or unknowable about coding, that it’s included in everything we do all day long,” Fabiny said. “It’s not a daunting thing.”

Papercutz Sculpts Gumby Comics Deal

Papercutz has signed a deal with Premavision/Clokey Productions for a series of all-ages comics and graphic novels featuring Gumby, the green clay star of the 1960s stop-motion animated TV show. The 10-times-per-year comic series will debut in July, with the first graphic novel, a three-comic compilation, coming out in November.

“Gumby has always been an original and fun property, and it has an exciting future ahead of it,” said Terry Nantier, Papercutz owner, who reported that a new TV series (with the Jim Henson Company) and a movie are in development. “It’s a great property for comics and a great fit for our mix of licenses.” When the property turned 60 in 2015, he noted, more than 4,000 people attended Gumby Fest in San Diego, and recent DVD releases have sold well. “That’s a pretty strong fan following,” Nantier said. “It’s amazing how it’s endured over the years.”

The 200 four-minute episodes that constituted the original show serve as a springboard for the new, original stories, which will feature Gumby and other characters, including Pokey and the Blockheads. A rotating cast of artists, including Kyle Baker, Art Baltazar, and others, will contribute. “They’re bringing their own style to it, which is great since he’s so flexible,” said Jeff Whitman, associate managing editor and one of the writers on the series. “Gumby’s an icon, and he can handle so many interpretations.”

The family of Gumby creator Art Clokey is still overseeing the property. “We’re on the phone with the Clokeys a few times a week,” Whitman said. “They’re very involved.”

In addition to Gumby, other new licensed series from Papercutz include Sony’s Hotel Transylvania, a film franchise that will debut as a TV series on the Disney Channel this fall; and Nickelodeon’s The Loud House. For the latter, Papercutz is working with the show’s creator and animation team.

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: Back on the Case

Dynamite Entertainment launched a new comic book series, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Big Lie, in March, under license from Simon & Schuster. The series brings together the three mystery-solvers into a single storyline for an older teen and adult audience.

Author Anthony Del Col, known for Kill Shakespeare (IDW), Sherlock Holmes vs. Harry Houdini (Dynamite), and Assassin’s Creed: Trial by Fire (Titan)—and a fan of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew since childhood— brought the idea to Dynamite, according to Matt Idelson, senior editor. Werther Dell’Edera is the illustrator.

Idelson believes the story will appeal to both nostalgic fans and new readers. “You don’t need to know the backstory to enjoy it,” he said, adding, “The critical response from the industry and the fans has been really positive.” Initial plans call for six 22-page monthly comics, followed by a compilation, with all six forming a single, multi-layered storyline.

The series is not for younger readers, Idelson cautioned. He revealed that the company is developing a separate treatment for that audience featuring age-appropriate content and relatable character traits.

Adding Fashion Flair to Coloring Books

Fox Chapel, one of the pioneers in adult coloring since it launched into the format back in 2013, has signed its first license, with fashion accessories label Vera Bradley. “We’ve always been looking at how we can differentiate,” said Peg Couch, Fox Chapel’s editorial director for crafts. “In the spirit of continuing to up the quality of our program, we had started thinking about where else we could go.”

In the past the company has commissioned artists to create imagery specifically for adult coloring books. But it felt the Vera Bradley brand was a good match, not only because of its colors and patterns but because of the demographics of its consumer. “There’s really a connection between people who love the Vera Bradley brand and people who love coloring books,” Couch said.

Fox Chapel’s Vera Bradley program launched primarily in Michaels, with a smaller selection at Hallmark, in the fourth quarter of 2016, and expanded to broader trade distribution in January. The launch included two standard trim-size books featuring extras such as 16 pages of coloring technique and craft ideas, gold foil, lay-flat bindings, and formatted color-in postcards, gift cards, and greeting cards. “They’re upscale, special, and giftable,” Couch said. The launch also included a boxed set of postcard books, which are also available separately. More large-format titles came out this spring, and the company is working on additional books, including both coloring and DIY paper crafts and home décor titles.

The license has enabled Fox Chapel to make inroads into some additional distribution channels, including department stores and Vera Bradley stores, as well as secure more meaningful placement in the gift market, said Couch. “The adult coloring market has come down, but licensed books are the cream of the crop,” she added. “They are really holding strong. And the core fans are still committed to the category.”

Debbie Macomber: From Author to Lifestyle Brand

Debbie Macomber, the prolific, bestselling romance and inspirational author, has retained Seltzer Licensing Group to help her extend her name into products, starting with reading chairs and other furniture, reading glasses, and gifts.

“She’s a powerhouse in the genre of inspiration and romance,” said Stu Seltzer, president of Seltzer Licensing Group, noting that she has sold more than 200 million books, has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for the last 1,000 weeks, has more than five million fans on Facebook, and has seen her books translated into movies and TV dramas. “The key is to move her into being a lifestyle brand,” he said.

Future product extensions could include tabletop and kitchen products, craft and knitting kits, gardening items, and other merchandise. Products will reflect the world Macomber has developed in her Cedar Grove series and others, and fit with the demographics of her readership.

“Debbie is more than a writer,” Seltzer said. “She has a really sharp team around her, including her daughter, and she sees the possibilities for capitalizing on what she’s built to give her fans more to engage with.”

In Brief

New licensed titles from Viz Media include a Hello Kitty & Friends coloring book, licensed by Sanrio, and The Art of My Little Pony: The Movie, under license from Hasbro.... Scholastic is releasing two movie tie-ins, including an official handbook and a fill-in-the-stories title, for Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, which opens June 2.... IDW is expanding its publishing program with Disney, adding Star Wars comics for young readers as part of this fall’s Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi publishing program leading up to the next Star Wars film. It is also developing a series of Star Wars newspaper strips and comic books tied to DuckTales and Tangled: The Series.... School Zone has licensed its Charlie & Company preschool video series, developed for its Little Scholar tablet, to Oznoz for bilingual streaming.... Egmont has signed a deal with The Sacconjolys, a family that boasts the top-rated YouTube family channel in Europe, for a picture book called The Great Cat Nap, which publishes this October in the U.K.