Preschool Superheroes Join Simon & Schuster

Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing has become the North American master publishing licensee for PJ Masks, an animated TV series for preschoolers that airs on Disney Junior and is licensed by Entertainment One. The show, which premiered in September 2015 and quickly achieved high viewership ratings, features pajama-wearing superheroes Catboy, Gecko, and Owlette.

“There’s a huge trend and desire for superheroes for kids now,” says Valerie Garfield, v-p and publisher of novelty and licensed publishing at S&S. “The trend has reached younger kids, but there’s not a ton of stuff out there that’s appropriate for the preschool set.” Noting that most superhero properties feature dark themes, she adds, “This is a safe superhero. There are no weapons. There is no violence. But it’s still relatable and empowering.”

The show features all the standard superhero conventions, according to Garfield. “The heroes have gadgets and vehicles and a headquarters,” she says. “But the baddies are funny, and they behave in the same not-nice ways that preschoolers behave in.”

The books, including four titles to start – a tabbed board book of the heroes and villains, an 8x8 storybook, a ready-to-read title, and a shaped board book of Catboy’s vehicle – will go on sale in early November. The spring list will follow quickly in December, with another ready-to-read, shaped board book, and two 8x8s, one with punch-out masks. “We accelerated our program due to market demand,” Garfield says. “The retailers are eager to get books on shelves.”

In fact, the licensor sped up the development of the entire licensing program. “We didn’t realize how quickly this would take off and how hot the consumer demand would be so close to the TV launch,” says Joan Grasso, eOne’s v-p of licensing for North America. “Retailers were seeing failed searches on their sites from consumers looking for products that weren’t available.”

The initial range of products will include toys from Just Play, Halloween costumes, apparel, sleepwear, bags and backpacks, lunch kits, and arts and crafts items, in addition to publishing. “Simon and Schuster did a great job interpreting the brand through the books,” Grasso says. “Their line really brings the show to life.”

Papercutz to Produce First Barbie Comics Since 1990s

Papercutz has secured the rights from Mattel to publish Barbie graphic novels, marking the first time Barbie has been in the comic book format since 1996, when Marvel was the publisher.

The first titles, to be released in both paperback and hardcover, will release in fall 2016 and will be tied to the core Barbie brand and to two DVD movies, Barbie Starlight and Barbie Puppy Adventures. Another DVD tie-in, Barbie Video Game Hero, which features Barbie as a game programmer who uses her tech skills to beat the bad guys, will follow in winter 2017.

“It was something we had been pursuing for a while,” says Terry Nantier, CEO and publisher. “Barbie has been under attack and criticized for promoting values no longer in sync with how society has been evolving. But Mattel has been showing a lot of creativity in relaunching her, and lately they’ve been stepping it up quite a bit. They’re empowering her a lot more.”

Nantier notes that Mattel has renewed its focus on Barbie’s various professions, and is stressing diversity in race, ethnicity, and body types. The Barbie graphic novel line will continue in this direction, featuring Barbie and her sisters and incorporating a “be what you can be” theme. Books inspired by DVDs will stick closely to the themes of the entertainment, including sci-fi/fantasy for Starlight and a simple sleuthing story for Puppy Adventures.

The Barbie line will add new books every three to four months, while various DVD-connected series will cycle in and out each year. All are wholly original, rather than adaptations of existing entertainment, and will skew slightly younger than Papercutz’s core audience of ages 8–12.

Separately, Papercutz has secured the rights for graphic novels tied to Trolls, a tentpole film release from DreamWorks Animation (which was recently acquired by NBCUniversal). The first title, published at the end of September, will be a prequel to the film; further books will be released every three months. “Orders are looking really, really good,” Nantier reports.

More Hatsune Miku for Dark Horse

Dark Horse is following up its bestselling Unofficial Hatsune Mix, released in August 2014, with Hatsune Miku: Mikubon!, a second title featuring the Japanese Vocaloid cybercelebrity Hatsune Miku. Mikubon! is a compilation of four-panel comic strip vignettes (yon-kama) focusing on Hatsune Miku’s adventures at the St. Diva Academy for Vocaloids.

Vocaloid software, first developed by Yamaha, combines a synthesizer and animation. Using a Vocaloid application, users can create vocals and dances, which are then performed by a singing anime-style character. Many Vocaloid characters exist; Hatsune Miku, developed by Crypton Future Media, is the most famous.

Vocaloids are developed by a variety of companies and possess few personal traits when launched; user-generated content makes them come alive and in turn become part of the characters’ folklore and personality. These fan-created elements are then integrated into official releases, according to Dark Horse’s manga editor Carl Horn and director of international publishing and licensing Michael Gombos, translator of the Hatsune Miku books.

The open-source element is reflected in the Hatsune Miku manga. The first title was created by Kei, the character’s original visual designer; the latest is by Ontama, a duo consisting of music producer Otomania and artist Tamago, who created Ievan Polkka, the first user-generated music video to feature the character. Ontama’s video has been viewed more than 14 million times on YouTube since 2007 and streams on the Nico Nico Douga platform in Japan.

Exposure for Hatsune Miku in the U.S. has included live concert tours – the character is projected on a screen in a hologram-like display – including one this year that is filling 2,000- to 3,000-seat theaters in 10 cities. The character has also opened for Lady Gaga, appeared on David Letterman, and appeared in advertising from the likes of Toyota and LG. She is also popular among cosplayers.

The cosplay and live-event attendance illustrate the fans’ attachment to the character, according to Gombos. “It’s proof of all the human feelings that they have for her,” he says. “This is the opposite of cold computer stuff.”

In Brief

Sourcebooks’ Put Me in the Story personalized book site has partnered with National Geographic Kids for two books, National Geographic Little Kids Book of Dinosaurs and National Geographic Little Kids Book of Animals. Put Me in the Story is also working with DHX Media and Chouette Publishing on the first personalized titles for Caillou.... Rainbow Fish is also entering the personalized book space, with Pint Size Productions offering a personalized version of the board book Good Night, Little Rainbow Fish, under license from NorthSouth Books and RJM Licensing.... DC Entertainment is releasing a line of comics featuring Hanna-Barbera classic characters, reimagined and modernized, often in a darker, edgier fashion. Comic creators including Jim Lee, Keith Giffen, and Howard Porter (Scooby-Doo); Jeff Parker and Evan “Doc” Shaner (Jonny Quest); Ken Pontac and Leonardo Manco (Wacky Races); and Amanda Conner and Mark Russell (Flintstones) are involved.... Tie-in licensees for The Angry Birds Movie, licensed by Rovio and Kaiken Publishing, include HarperCollins, National Geographic, Centum, and Sellers Publishing.... Warner Bros. licensed a range of properties, including Batman, DC Super Friends, and Scooby-Doo, to Flycatcher for its Painting Lulu augmented-reality coloring book line.... Viz Media is releasing The Pokemon Cookbook: Easy and Fun Recipes, in North America in December 2016. Created by Maki Kudo and first published in Japan, the book’s 35 recipes include Pikachu ramen, Poke ball sushi rolls, mashed Meowth potatoes, and Psyduck omelettes. Separately, Viz partnered with United Talent Agency to develop live-action programming based on its manga and anime properties.... The Joester Loria Group licensed Wildkin for bedding and room décor, including nap mats, rugs, lamps, clocks, and organization accessories, tied to The World of Eric Carle, to debut in spring 2017.