BuzzPop Signs Smooshy Mushy

Bonnier Publishing USA’s BuzzPop licensing imprint has acquired the publishing rights to the collectible toy brand Smooshy Mushy for the U.S., Canada, and the Philippines markets. The deal—representing the first time the imprint has served as a master publishing licensee—calls for a line of coloring, activity, and storybooks to be published starting in spring 2019. The agreement was brokered by Evolution USA, the licensing agent representing Smooshy Mushy and its licensor Olo Industries.

“The characters are really cute and eye-catching,” said Sonali Fry, publisher of BuzzPop. “Kids love anything with the collecting aspect, and it was also scented, which is a fun element in a book. The toy line won a 2018 National Parenting Product Award, which gives us street cred among parents and educators as well.”

Smooshy Mushy toys—which include collectible pets (Smooshies) and their food-based companions (Besties)—launched exclusively at Walmart in fall 2017 before expanding to retailers ranging from Target and Amazon to Claire’s and Barnes & Noble. That retail traction was appealing to BuzzPop. “It gave us confidence that it wouldn’t be as in-and-out as some collectibles, and that it’s not too late to do books,” Fry said.

A YouTube channel featuring stop-motion animated shorts supports the play pattern of the collectibles, which are marketed by RedwoodVentures, and has attracted about 70 million subscribers. The property has a growing viral base, including on Instagram, where it has 96,000 followers and counting. Fans actively post their own videos starring the characters.

BuzzPop’s first title, releasing in February, will be a collector’s guide with a fold-out poster. “We started with the guidebook because it is perfectly on-brand,” Fry said. Other books planned for 2019 include a coloring book, a seek-and-find title, and two sticker activity books, with all four packaged with scented stickers. Future titles may include fiction, although plans so far include only coloring and activity formats.

New Adventures for Dungeons & Dragons Comics

Dungeons & Dragons, the classic role-playing game from Wizards of the Coast, is having a pop-culture moment, gaining fans through streaming and appearances on TV shows including Stranger Things. In fact, the game boasted its best sales ever in 2017. Longtime licensee IDW is capitalizing on the interest with new initiatives, while still maintaining a flow of miniseries that appeal to hardcore fans.

This year, the company teamed with Oni Press, licensee of Cartoon Network’s Rick and Morty, for a crossover event authored by Patrick Rothfuss and Jim Zub, illustrated by Troy Little. The first of four oversized issues (with 25 pages of story, versus the typical 20) debuted in August. “It’s a funny, charming, and sweet story and a nice homage to Dungeons j& Dragons,” said David Hedgecock, associate publisher at IDW. “It delivered on all of its promises, somehow, even with all the hype around it. It was able to walk that line of being all things to all fans of both [properties].” The crossover generated strong sales, with the first issue reaching number 65 on Diamond’s monthly bestseller list for August 2018.

Rick and Morty marks a bit of a change for us in our approach,” Hedgecock explained. “As Dungeons & Dragons has fallen back into the zeitgeist and become more mainstream, Wizards has started looking at it as a much more inclusive type of brand.” Rather than being for a targeted group of superfans, the game is positioned more as something the whole family can play. And the comics are able to feature more diverse creators and storylines that are not tied to specific game themes. “They have encouraged us to push for that a little more,” Hedgecock said. “We can take a few more risks in terms of the types of stories we do.”

The last issue of the Rick and Morty crossover is set for publication in January 2019. In the spring, an exclusive hardcover that collects all four titles and includes an original eight-page game module, will be sold through GameStop stores, while Barnes & Noble will sell a softcover collection with extras including a pull-out poster and an introduction by Rothfuss.

The core D&D franchise, meanwhile, has been a consistent performer for the last several years, Hedgecock reported, with a steady stream of mini-series tied to Wizards of the Coast themes. “The mini-series format allows us to be nimble and stay in step with what they’re doing,” Hedgecock said. “It’s a good fit for this brand.”

Next up is a five-issue arc called Dungeons & Dragons: A Darkened Wish, which is set for a February 2019 debut. Written by B. Dave Walters and illustrated by Tess Fowler, it takes place in the property’s Forgotten Realms world. “Tess called out of the blue and asked if I had any interest in working on a D&D project,” said Walters, who has been active in streaming and cosplay projects involving D&D and other role-playing games as well as co-creating the Electropunk comic book series. “I said, ‘Stop right there. I don’t need to know any details, I’ll do it.’ I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons since I was 13 and have played pretty much nonstop since then.”

Walters estimated that about 90% of his original idea is intact in the final story, even after the back-and-forth during the creative and approvals process with Wizards of the Coast and IDW. “I knew I wanted the story to be about legendary heroes that come out of retirement to save the world one more time,” Walters said. “I knew I wanted it to be a time-jumping biopic of the characters’ lives, and I wanted it to be very intense. I was afraid that intensity would be watered down, but it wasn’t. A lot of my non-negotiables turned out to be their non-negotiables.”

The original Dungeons & Dragons game came out in 1974. “[The longevity] is a testament to the strength and quality of the storytelling, the setting, and the environment,” Walters said. “And there are still new and interesting things to say and stories to tell.”

Moonlite Illuminates the Path to a Love of Reading

As a collector and lover of children’s books, Natalie Rebot, inventor of the Moonlite Storytime Projector, wanted to pass along a passion for reading to her daughter. But at age three or four, “she wasn’t as interested as I wanted her to be,” Rebot said. “I wanted to make her reading experience more fun and interactive.” Rebot used her smartphone as a flashlight and told the stories featured in books accompanied by shadow puppets on the walls. Her daughter immediately became engaged.

That led to the birth of Moonlite, a device that attaches to a cell phone and projects artwork from favorite books onto a ceiling or wall as the parent or caregiver reads the text from the phone’s screen. After seeking funding in traditional ways and spending a year in development, Rebot launched Moonlite on Kickstarter to gauge interest. She thought she would meet her $20,000 funding goal, but was surprised when the total ended up at close to $350,000. “The biggest shock was how successful it was,” she said. “It was amazing how many people fell in love with the concept.”

The success of that campaign, along with a booth at Toy Fair and previous cold calls, led to the first two licenses with publishers, as Hachette and HarperCollins came on board to provide content. Since then, most of the major publishers and many smaller houses, as well as individual authors, illustrators, and licensors such as Sanrio and Disney, have signed on, offering titles for boys and girls ages one through seven. “Some kids, and their parents, want to stick to traditional publishing and literature, but others want books of favorite Disney characters,” Rebot said. “We want to have a mix that includes them all.”

In May 2017, toy company Spin Master took over manufacturing and distribution of the product, through a licensing agreement with Moonlite, and by November 2017 projectors and content were shipping to stores such as Target. In the product’s first year, from fall 2017 through spring 2018, 15 stories were released, including starter packs, gift packs, and individual titles. This year, there will be a total of 65 titles released globally, with 90 more planned for 2019–2020.

Each title incorporates the original book’s full text. The projected artwork is faithful to the original but is often consolidated to fit the format, which can accommodate a maximum of 12 images. Parents can choose between English or French, with Spanish, German, Italian, simplified Chinese, and Portuguese being added in the next 12 months. Music and sound effects are paired with the text, but there is no voiceover mode. “It’s designed for the parent to read to the child and keep the purity of that experience,” Rebot said. “I think we’ve stumbled onto this nice hybrid between digital and traditional publishing.”

In Brief

Macmillan has signed two agreements with Rights & Brands to extend its master publishing deal for the Moomins property. It has acquired global rights for tie-ins to the new Moominvalley animated TV series, as well as a license to produce new illustrated picture books and storybooks inspired by the original stories of Moomin creator Tove Jansson. The agreements are global.... Firefly Books has signed a master publishing agreement from Imagine Create Media for books based on the live action and stop-motion-animated preschool series The Gumboot Kids. The TV show, which airs on CBC Kids in Canada and streams on Curious World and Kidstream in the U.S., will be featured in four titles in 2019.... Netflix is creating a series of shows based on the books of Roald Dahl. The deal includes high-profile titles such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda as well as lesser-known works such as George’s Marvellous Medicine and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Separately, Dahl characters will be featured on an assortment of gift items from three licensees, sold exclusively through U.K. retailer Sainsbury’s.... Penguin Random House and Inception have partnered to launch a platform for augmented-reality experiences based on books, starting with several Beatrix Potter titles as well as DK’s Children’s Encyclopedia and two Step into Reading titles.... Penguin Random House also paired with Barnes & Noble for a Grinch-themed holiday takeover of 536 B&N stores. Featured products are ornaments, puzzles, games, toys, and books, including an exclusive edition of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, as well as an exclusive ornament and snowglobe.