Since it was founded in 1994, Merrymakers has been known as a licensee, creating plush and other gift items tied to children’s book properties and selling them to the specialty and book trade. Now it is moving to the other side of the negotiating table for the first time. The company announced this week it will represent pop artist and children’s book illustrator James Dean for a global licensing program based on Pete the Cat.

“It’s been clear for a while that we have all these relationships with other specialty companies, and that our friends in the industry are interested in the types of literary characters we work with,” says Merrymakers president Clair Frederick. “It just seemed like a natural progression, and when this opportunity came up, we seized it.”

Merrymakers has been working with Dean on Pete the Cat plush figures for the last couple of years. Potential licensing plans include games, shoes, musical instruments, school supplies, apparel, and gifts for children and adults, with products sold through specialty stores first and mass retailers thereafter. “It’ll go out in a fairly substantial way,” Frederick says, adding that the first items will be introduced for the 2013 holiday season.

Pete was created in 1999 and later starred in a self-published book authored by Eric Litwin. HarperCollins is about to introduce its fourth Pete the Cat title; combined sales for the books are expected to reach one million units by the end of the year. Dean sells his original artwork (much of it featuring Pete) in galleries around the world, including in Japan, which Frederick expects will be a key territory for licensed goods internationally. Pete’s YouTube videos have generated more than five million hits.

Frederick says that Merrymakers is looking to take on other literary properties for licensing representation. “We feel the future is bright for the right properties in the right marketplace.”