Running Press Cozies Up to Pajanimals

Running Press has secured the rights for Pajanimals, a musical TV series from Jim Henson Productions. “It’s a major license for us,” says publisher Christopher Navratil. The show features four furry puppets who learn life skills through imaginary journeys. “The message is something that’s very direct,” Navratil says, “and it helps children move through a number of issues, like fear of the dark.”

A two-season list is in the works, starting with seven titles for a July 2013 release. Formats include episode-inspired 8x8s and board books (with and without stickers), as well as an original holiday picture book in collaboration with the show’s writers.

The TV series launched on PBS Sprout three years ago and added Saturday morning airings on NBC earlier this year. “The ratings are terrific,” Navratil reports. In addition to strong viewership, he cites other attractive attributes including the accessibility of the characters, the property’s compatibility with Running Press’s other licenses (John Deere and Peanuts), and the commitment of retailers such as Toys ‘R’ Us. “When we told our key retailers, they were very excited about it,” he adds.

A licensing program is rolling out, starting with toys from Tomy this year, followed by books and other merchandise next fall. Products on the way include board games, puzzles, party goods, costumes, fabrics, sleepwear, hosiery, illuminated headboards, DVDs, apps, and parade balloons. Running Press is in the midst of meeting with other licensees about cross-promotional opportunities.

For VIZ, Ugly Is the New Cute

VIZ Kids has announced a new license with the specialty plush brand Uglydoll for a series of graphic novels in North America, the U.K., and Australia/New Zealand. (Random House holds the Uglydoll license for trade formats.)

“We definitely went after the license,” says Beth Kawasaki, senior editorial director. She notes that Uglydoll figures have been available since the early 2000s in Giant Robot and other stores where indie comics and related merchandise are sold. In the last year or two, the property has expanded into stores such as Toys ‘R’ Us and Party City, and eventually the creators, David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim, decided the time was right to put a deal together for graphic novels. “As soon as we announced the deal, our sales director got quite a few queries from some pretty big accounts,” says Kawasaki.

The four 80-page books, to be released quarterly starting at 2013 Comic-Con, will feature the most popular Uglydoll characters: Ox, Wage, Babo, and Ice-Bat. In addition to the main stories, each title will contain short bonus sections featuring interpretations by leading indie artists, including Eisner Award-winning comic artist James Kochalka and vinyl collectible creator Bwana Spoons.

In other licensing news, VIZ Kids recently signed Monsuno, an anime-style action-adventure TV and collectible card game series from toy company Jakks Pacific and Dentsu Entertainment USA, in association with FremantleMedia and Topps. The first of the 64-page quarterly volumes will be released in June.

“There was a stellar, A-list team behind the property,” Kawasaki explains, noting that VIZ works with Dentsu on another license, Mameshiba. “They had the right things in the right places with their retail placement, TV, and licensing strategy.” Nicktoons airs the show, Jakks is producing the toy line, Topps markets the collectible trading card games, and a full licensing program is in the works.

Both properties are likely to help expand distribution for VIZ’s titles, according to Kawasaki. “They will appeal to a lot of readers who may not go to the comic book store,” she says. For example, Monsuno might achieve placement in the mass merchant channel while Uglydoll may open doors in special markets such as Party City, Old Navy, and warehouse clubs. “These channels don’t take graphic novels very often,” she adds.

Reader’s Digest Puts Babies First

Reader’s Digest Association has introduced its first two books tied to BabyFirst, an infant and toddler-focused TV channel and new media company. Priced at $5.99 to $6.99, the initial titles are Peek-A-Boo Farm and Rainbow Horse: Colors All Around, to be followed in the spring by Where’s the Acorn? and My Feelings: A Look-at-Me Book.

“When we were first exposed to it, at least a year and a half ago, I was fascinated that the world had gotten to this level of specialization, that there was enough programming for a 24-hour channel in this niche,” says Harold Clarke, president and publisher of books and home entertainment at Reader’s Digest. The books feature the network’s most popular programs and characters, most of which are created by BabyFirst internally, in consultation with experts on early childhood development and cognition. “This is usually the kind of content that makes the best baby books,” Clarke says.

Programming constructs on the channel fall into seven categories – Thinking Journey, Numbers Parade, Language Playground, Sensory Wonderland, Feelings Garden, Rainbow Dreams, and Imagination Lane – and each book is marked accordingly. “It’s not overdirected or overdidactic,” Clarke says. “The play patterns are all intuitive and consistent with the precepts we already know about kids at this early development stage.”

The channel is available to 80 million households in 35 countries, including the U.S., where it is in the basic package on DirecTV, Dish Network, and Comcast, and available as a premium service in Time-Warner and Charter markets. RDA has global rights, and is launching first in the U.S. and Canada.

“We don’t usually buy into the emerging brands,” Clarke says. “BabyFirst has reached brand status in other markets, but it is an emerging brand for North America. We were willing to come in early and be a part of it from the beginning, and have a role in guiding it. Had there not been a brand association, they would still be strong baby books. Now we’re looking for a growing awareness of the brand.”

Penguin Goes Multiplatform with Puffin Rock

Penguin Children’s Books in the U.K. is co-financing a new natural history-focused multiplatform brand, Puffin Rock, which will encompass TV animation, apps, and digital and physical books. It came about when Eric Huang, director of new business and IP acquisitions, met Laura Campbell, formerly of Pan Macmillan and eOne and now with Irish media company Dog Ears, at a “speed-dating” session at a British children’s media conference last July.

The property had been created independently of Penguin or its Puffin imprint, and was already being developed for animation by Dog Ears and Cartoon Saloon. “The artwork was awesome,” Huang says. “I thought, I wish we had created this. If our Puffin logo were to manifest as a children’s character, it would look something like this.”

Huang notes that three years ago, Penguin’s involvement with TV properties was as a pure licensee, but now it is looking at getting involved earlier, coproducing and financing animation, apps, and other media, as well as publishing print and digital books globally. “I think what’s really exciting about this, aside from the look of it, is that it’s a new way of working for us. We’re partnering with a TV and media company and actively driving a brand by investing in the TV and making it happen.”

Discussions are ongoing with broadcasters, with a self-published picture book from Dog Ears, an animation clip, and an in-development app being used to pitch the property. Penguin will release the original picture book globally within a year before the show’s launch (which could be as soon as late 2014), followed by an e-book just prior to the premiere. Licensing, tie-in books, and more picture books are expected to follow the TV debut. “The reason we’re so confident about bringing the book out before the show is because we would publish it even without the TV,” Huang explains. “If we had seen it at Bologna, we would’ve acquired it.”

In Brief

Stella McCartney created a limited-edition fashion collection featuring the Mr. Men and Little Miss character Little Miss Stella, licensed by Sanrio. Author and illustrator Adam Hargreaves created a 32-page book exclusively for the designer, available as a gift-with-purchase…. JLK Brand signed Pressman Toys as its first Dork Diaries licensee, for a Dork Diaries No-So-Truth-Telling Game and other board games. It also named Mighty Fine as its Dork Diaries t-shirt licensee.... Sesame Workshop launched an Elmo Story Collection app for the iPad, consisting of three ebooks and three audio ebooks (with two of the latter exclusive), through its eBookstore partner, Impelsys.... Book-and-toy property StinkyKids has retained ICM Partners as its licensing agent.... DHX Media has signed ID Toys (playthings), Karmin (puzzles), Percy3D (digital party invitations), Buy Seasons (party goods), Centura Brands (health and beauty products), Garel Sales Agencies (storage containers), Daytime Entertainment (meet-and-greet costumes), and Komar Kids (sleepwear) for its book-based PBS Kids series Caillou.... SD Entertainment will create e-books and e-publications based on the kids’ magazines Turtle, Humpty Dumpty, and Jack and Jill, as well as other properties owned by the Saturday Evening Post Society and licensed by its Curtis Licensing division.... Random House introduced its first original coloring and activity app for Mattel’s Barbie.... Lawless Entertainment signed Zuuka for iStorytime e-books tied to Suzy’s Zoo, as well as Mighty Fine for children’s apparel based on The Little Prince.... Scholastic Media announced several new partners for Clifford, in association with its 50th anniversary: American Home & Textiles for bed and bath products; Hybrid Apparel for clothing in infants’ through men’s sizes; J-Corp for children’s apparel in Canada; A&A Global for arcade-game toys; Andrews Blaine for bookmarks and book lights; Young Scientists Club for science kits; and Color-A-Cookie for boxed animal crackers and baking kits.... Prometheus Books’ Pyr imprint acquired the license to miniature games manufacturer Privateer Press’s Warmachine and Iron Kingdoms properties, for a series of paperback and digital novels starting in June 2013.