Titan Finds Strength in 'Alita: Battle Angel'

Titan Books is publishing tie-ins to Alita: Battle Angel, a movie based on the manga series by Yukito Kishiro. The film, which premieres in theaters globally on February 5 and in the U.S. on February 14, is handled for licensing by Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products.

“It’s the sort of genre licensed publishing that is at the heart of what Titan does,” said editorial director Laura Price. “You have the underlying manga, which is always very popular, and then you add [filmmakers] Robert Rodriguez, James Cameron, and Jon Landau, the great storytelling, a strong female lead, and visuals that are just eye-wateringly gorgeous.”

Formats include a prequel novel, Alita: Battle Angel—Iron City, which is set in the period before the film and manga begin; an official movie novelization; a making-of book, Alita: Battle Angel: The Art and Making of the Movie; and an in-world character dossier, Dr. Ido’s Journal. The last format tends to be especially relevant with this sort of universe-based film, Price said. “There’s a lot of storytelling that goes on offscreen, especially when there is underlying source material, and the journal is a different way of telling that story without being prose fiction,” she explained. “We’ve done it in the past and it works extremely well with the fans.”

With Alita, Price believes the female hero will be a draw. “It’s a story of self-realization, coming-of-age, and developing that inner strength to rise above expectations and become a hero,” she said. “It has a rare emotional intelligence about it, both in the original manga and in the film, that is nice to see.”

Titan will be among the licensees participating in “Passport to Iron City,” an experiential event to support the film, running for a limited time in Austin, Los Angeles, and New York City.

IDW and Hasbro Reboot Transformers Comics

Longtime Transformers licensee IDW is working with Hasbro on a reboot of its comic book series. The previous core storyline ended in November, while the refreshed new version—a twice-monthly comic series that will be collected into trade editions—will launch this coming March.

“We got to a point that the continuity was 13 years long,” said Michael Kelly, v-p of global publishing at Hasbro. “The story was very strong and we had great fan engagement and reaction to it, but it was very hard for a new fan to jump into the story. It was almost a barrier to entry, because you’d have to read a thousand issues to understand what is happening in the current monthly comic.”

John Barber, IDW’s editor-in-chief and a former Transformers writer, noted that he and the other writers had long been discussing how to end the series. “We all had a good idea of how to bring the universe to a close with these stories,” he said. “We had endgames in mind.”

“The opportunity to create a momentous end is rare in the comic book world,” Kelly said. “We were able to wrap it up and make it pay off for the fans.”

The new story takes place in a peaceful Cybertron, before the famous war between the Autobots and the Decepticons that is at the center of the Transformers franchise. “We can tell the story from the beginning and watch the events unfold, not in flashbacks but with the story told in front of you,” Barber said. “It’s a very grand story, but it’s told from the point of view of the people on the ground. The robots are metal and are 20 or 30 feet tall, but you can identify with them as people. It’s that mix of a personal story and this epic story that makes it new.”

The hope is to attract younger readers to the franchise, while retaining longtime fans. “There are pieces of Transformers history and lore that are sort of immutable,” Barber said. “To the fans, they’ve become important texts. This is not an alternative bizarro world.” He noted that, unlike other 1980s properties, Transformers has never really been perceived as a retro brand. “We spend a lot of time with the fans, and they’re from every age, every gender, every race, and every nationality. It’s always been important for Transformers to bring in new audiences, and this new series is a particularly good way to do it.”

“There’s a reason Transformers has been successful and we won’t walk away from that,” Kelly said. “We can reboot it in a way that the old fans will come back and also create an opportunity for new fans to jump in. It’s not watered down, but the way it’s presented there’s a sense of excitement, wonder, and discovery. If you’re 12 and like science fiction but are new to Transformers, or you’re a 45-year-old who played with Transformers in the 1980s, there will be something for you.”

Brian Ruckley authored the series, which is illustrated by Angel Hernandez and Ron Joseph. “The story is fresh and unique and strange and wonderful,” Barber said.

Insight Edition Concocts More Licensed Cookbooks

Insight Editions is releasing two additions to its licensed cookbook line. WWE: The Official Cookbook by Allison Robicelli features more than 75 favorite recipes of the wrestlers (e.g. John Cena’s Fruity Pebble Treats and The Rock’s Jabroni Macaroni Salad) and foods for tailgating and watch parties, along with color photos. The Elder Scrolls: The Official Cookbook by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel, based on the massively multiplayer online gaming universe from Bethesda Game Studios, features recipes for foods eaten by characters throughout the different regions, villages, and taverns that appear in the world.

While Insight had done licensed cookbooks in the past, the recent crop of very immersive, in-world books dates back to 2016, when it published World of Warcraft: The Official Cookbook and Adventure Time: The Official Cookbook. The latter has a cookbook-in-a-cookbook format that is very on-brand, according to associate publisher Vanessa Lopez. “We approached the format by asking, what could we do in the cookbook space that would be a bit more immersive and different in a crowded space?” she said.

Insight’s current roster of titles includes Fallout: The Vault Dweller’s Official Cookbook and Hearthstone: Innkeeper’s Tavern Cookbook, both tied to interactive games, and TV tie-ins including The Walking Dead: The Official Cookbook and Survival Guide and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Pizza Cookbook, where one retailer-exclusive edition was packaged in a pizza box.

Properties that work well in the format typically have some sort of food component, such as in-world foods that can be recreated, locations where food and drink are consumed, or characters that cook or create. As with any cookbook, recipes must work well, taste good, and be easy to follow, but the immersion in the world is paramount. “You have to stay true to the brand to really resonate with the fans,” Lopez said. “They have to be able to open the book and say, yeah, this is Fallout.”

More licensed cookbooks—most of which are part of a broader, multiformat licensing deal—are planned for this year and next.

FanGirl Launches Literary Licensing Programs

FanGirl Consulting & Brand Management is about to debut two literary properties for consumer products licensing. CEO Anita Castellar, who has been involved in the licensed toy and consumer products business throughout her career, working at Disney, Hasbro, and Lucasfilm, founded the licensing agency in April 2018.

Next month’s New York Toy Fair will serve as the official launch for the Bunnylou brand, a digital picture book property by Angie Wilson. Castellar and Wilson met when both were at Lucasfilm. Wilson was in the business affairs department writing licensing contracts, but was working on her photography, illustration, and writing, including Bunnylou, in the meantime.

The property, which focuses on themes of friendship, literacy, creativity, discovery, and wonder, is currently available online only. Castellar and Wilson are looking to expand into content areas such as physical books, apps, and digital keyboards, as well as toys, plush, stationery, tea sets, and potentially fashion. “The themes, the cute kawaii art style, and the great storytelling give it a lot of potential,” Castellar said.

The core audience is ages five to eight, but Castellar feels there is also potential for a wider market for merchandise. “It’s young, and young at heart,” she said. “It’s timeless and not just for kids.”

FanGirl’s second property is CupOfTherapy, a Finnish cartoon brand that debuted in 2017 in book form and consists of animal drawings that deal with mental health issues, large and small, in a gentle way. Ferly is the global licensing agent and oversees publishing worldwide; FanGirl recently signed on to handle consumer products in North America. There is broad potential for products directed to different age groups, as well as alliances with mental health organizations, Castellar said. “And there’s a give-back component.” Ten percent of sales revenue is being donated to promote mental health groups.

In Brief

Simon & Schuster is publishing five tie-in titles for the February 22 feature film release How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. They include a guide, two 8x8 storybooks, a junior novelization, and a Level 2 Ready-to-Read.... Titan has published The World of The Orville, a behind-the-scenes book based on Fox’s comedic space-adventure TV series The Orville. Dark Horse is the licensee for comics, and Rizzoli is on board for calendars.... IDW is publishing a four-issue miniseries tied to the Netflix Original comedy GLOW, written by Tini Howard and drawn by Hannah Templer, in collaboration with show co-creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch. The publisher is also releasing Synergy: A Hasbro Creators Showcase, a 48-page illustrated anthology featuring five brand-new stories by women creators. It includes Transformers, Jem and the Holograms, and G.I. Joe stories plus autobiographical tales by Hasbro comics writers Mairghread Scott (Transformers) and Katie Cook (My Little Pony).... DC Comics and Warner Bros. signed a three-year deal with Spin Master as the master toy licensee for the DC characters, focusing on boys’ action toys, remote-control and robotic vehicles, water toys, and games and puzzles. Mattel was the former licensee.... Dark Horse is debuting a second Disney Frozen comic book series, called Disney Frozen: Reunion Road, as well as publishing a graphic novel, Disney Frozen: Breaking Boundaries, which collects the first series into one volume.... Ferly has licensed Horace & Co. to Signature Books, a U.K.-based company, for three personalized picture books....

U.K. agent Bulldog Licensing has signed Ravensburger for jigsaw puzzles and memory card games and Dreamtex for bedding featuring Usborne’s That’s Not My…, a 25 million-copy-selling series.... Middle-earth Enterprises teamed with Athlon Games for a free-to-play online game based on The Lord of the Rings universe.... New licensees for The Little Prince, represented by LicenseWorks!, include Moonlite for storybook projector content and Pickatale for learn-to-read apps.... Valiant Comics partnered with Silent Legends for a collectible card game app, Battle of the Valiant Universe.... All American Licensing is representing Chicken Soup for the Soul for further brand extension in the pet product category. The 250-title book franchise has sold 100 million-plus copies in the U.S. and Canada alone, and the brand has been in the pet food industry for 15 years. It now plans to expand into pet toys, collars, beds, and the like.... Mattel’s American Girl is being featured in a 37-city stage show, “American Girl Live,” which launched in December.