R.L. Stine Finds the Funny in the World of Garbage Pail Kids
Abrams is releasing an original middle-grade book series tied to The Garbage Pail Kids, a line of collectible sticker cards launched in 1985 as a parody of the Cabbage Patch Kids. The cards, drawn by underground cartoonists, became a pop-culture sensation even as they were banned by schools. Thirty-five years later, on September 29, comes Garbage Pail Kids: Welcome to Smellville, written by Goosebumps, Fear Street, and Rotten School author R.L. Stine and produced under license from Topps. Two more titles will follow in spring and fall 2021.
Abrams has done art books with Topps in the past, including one featuring the collectible Wacky Packages brand in 2008 and one on The Garbage Pail Kids in 2012. The two companies were talking about what they could do to mark the 35th anniversary of the Kids when Charles Kochman, Abrams’s editorial director (who edits middle-grade series including Diary of a Wimpy Kid as well as Abrams ComicArts titles), suggested a middle-grade series written by Stine, whom he has known since 1987.
The idea of writing a funny series for middle graders was a selling point for Stine, who earlier in his career wrote novelizations for properties like the Pee-wee Herman movie but had never done an original series based on existing characters. “Those are my kids,” he said of middle graders. “This is the stuff I love writing. [The characters] were these gross, horrible, disgusting kids on these cards that sold like crazy and kept going for years and years. [Topps and Abrams] wanted me to see if there was a way to bring them back and turn them into a middle-grade book series. And I say yes to everything.”
Unlike with many licensed properties, there was no established world or character attributes to build on. “All we had was the brand, a sticker image, and a name, and that’s it,” Kochman said. Topps wanted to put the best-selling character, Adam Bomb—whose head is constantly exploding—front and center, but other than that they were open to just about anything. “They knew we were creating this from scratch and they knew Bob would bring a lot to the table,” Kochman explained. “I knew he was good at world-building, and basically he created a whole universe that didn’t exist. He knows how to appeal to kids and brings his own personal style to it.”
Stine came up with a premise of 10 kids living in a big old house, with no parents, in a town called Smellville. Their enemies are Peter and Patty Perfect across the street. He selected the characters, aside from Adam Bomb—“he does explode in every book,” Stine pointed out—from Abrams’s previous Garbage Patch Kids title. “There are hundreds of these disgusting kids. I just picked out ones that I thought I could create believable characters from and that were fun and funny, and not too disgusting,” he said. He turned two of the original characters, Wacky Jackie and Handy Randy, into girls. “The hard part is there are so many characters. There are 10 main characters and they all have to make sense, and two others across the street, and the kids in the classroom. That was the real challenge.”
Kochman noted that many of today’s middle-graders are not familiar with Garbage Pail Kids. “But I think parents will recognize the brand and buy it for their kids. The kids know Bob. And an eight- to 12-year-old would gravitate toward the title, Welcome to Smellville, and the artwork.” The book is set up to maintain interest, with interludes like quizzes, fictional TV episodes, and exercises that make sense within the story, as well as illustrations on every page. “You always hear about reluctant readers, and we know it’s code for boys,” Kochman said. “But boys will read if you give them something they want to read.”
The books feature cover art by Joe Simko and interior illustrations by Jeff Zapata, both key artists for the brand, and each is packaged with four exclusive collectible sticker cards, including one featuring a familiar-looking character named R.L. Slime.
Penguin Goes Down Under to Find ‘Bluey’
Penguin Random House has signed on as the U.S. master publishing licensee for Bluey, an Australian animated TV series for preschoolers that is in its second season in the U.S. on Disney Channel, Disney Junior, and Disney+. The show is co-commissioned by Australian broadcaster ABC Kids and BBC Studios (which handles licensing in the U.S.), and produced by Ludo Studio.
Bluey is about a family of dogs, including energetic, curious, and imaginative six-year-old Bluey; her sister, four-year-old Bingo; and their parents, Bandit and Chilli. In each episode, Bluey plays games that move forward with unexpected twists and turns and involve her entire family and her neighborhood. Each character in the show is a specific breed of dog; Bluey is a blue heeler, a type of Australian cattle dog.
“We see a lot of properties, but this one really jumped out at us,” said Daniel Moreton, v-p and associate publisher at Penguin Workshop. “It’s all about the interaction between Bluey and Bingo and their parents, and all of the four main characters immediately grab you. It’s a positive family show with a really warm dynamic, and it’s different from anything else out there.”
In its home country, Bluey books sold a million copies in the first seven months since being introduced last November, with all three titles ranking among the five top-selling children’s books in 2019 and eight out of nine titles published as of mid-2020 ranking in the top 20 at that time, according to Nielsen BookScan. “The reception in Australia was astronomical,” Moreton said. “They’re seeing success that licensed books just don’t have.” That early track record led PRH’s U.S. team to partner with its U.K. counterparts to secure the license for the rest of the world (outside of China).
The TV series has been embraced in the U.S. since its debut in late 2019 as well, becoming a top-rated show on Disney’s channels with both boys and girls aged two to five. The first three tie-in books will debut on October 20, along with the broader consumer products program. Playthings from licensee Moose Toys got things started this summer and have been selling out at retail, Moreton said.
The initial list, which Moreton reported has generated strong preorders, will include two Americanized versions of episode-based 8x8s released first in Australia: Good Night, Fruit Bat and The Creek, both for ages three to five, plus Time to Play!: A Sticker & Activity Book, for ages four to six. The fact that the TV series was completed and already airing in Australia and that Australian titles were available for localization made it possible for a faster-than-usual development process and introduction in the U.S.
Spring 2021 will bring a coloring and activity title, Big Backyard, and another 8x8, Bob Bilby, followed by a shaped board book of Bluey and another 8x8 in summer 2021. “The narrative and the interaction and the characters are so compelling that we knew we wanted to do 8x8s,” Moreton said, adding that character-centric formats such as shaped board books and “get-to-know-you” books also make sense for the brand. “It’s the irresistibility of the characters on the shelf.”
The plan is to grow the program slowly. “We want to get a place on the shelf and build smartly and strategically from there,” Moreton says. “With so many properties, you want to get in when it’s hot, and it seems like the lifespan is shrinking compared to what it was. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with Bluey. We feel the show has longevity.”
Moreton noted that while there was no thought of pandemics when PRH acquired the rights, Bluey seems to be perfect for the times, with its focus on a family’s life at home. “It’s so much to do with imagination,” he said. “It makes this small little world feel so big.”
LBYR Visits Paris with Ladybug and Cat Noir
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers is publishing tie-ins for Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir, a series produced by French property owner ZAG and ON kids & family. The show, which airs in 120 countries, has garnered more than 19 billion views globally on YouTube, including official and user-generated content.
The series got a slower start in the U.S. “It’s been an issue of discoverability,” said Samantha Schutz, LBYR’s publishing director, brand, licensed, and tie-in publishing. “There’s so much competition in this space.” The show aired on Nickelodeon in 2015 and 2016, before being acquired by the Disney Channel in spring of 2019. In the interim, it aired on Netflix, where it is still available.
“We were aware of the property for some time and we knew it was beloved overseas,” Schutz said. “We’re in constant communication with our sister companies around the world, sharing intel on what brands are hot, so we knew Hachette Livre has been publishing it for a few years with some nice success. And we had seen a lot of fans at Comic Con with homemade or imported costumes. Once it went on the Disney Channel about a year ago, we knew it was go-time. Disney is excited and committed to the brand and that will really increase exposure.”
Seasons four and five of the TV series are currently in production, two new TV movies are set for Disney Channel and Disney+ at the end of 2021, and a theatrical movie release is in the works. ZAG’s toy division, ZAG Lab, and Playmates Toys are producing a line of products that will debut in the U.S. in 2021, after launching abroad this fall, and a number of other licensees are developing products for the U.S. market. “ZAG is putting a lot of weight behind the franchise,” Schutz said.
The series’ fan base consists of girls 6–12 and boys 4–7, along with an additional group of fangirls aged 15–25, known as Miraculers. LBYR’s rights include picture books, leveled readers, storybooks, chapter books, middle grade novels, guidebooks, and sticker books, but it will initially focus on readers and chapter books for ages 5–10. “It will be interesting to see which performs better, or if it’s evenly split,” Schutz said, noting that the balance may change as time goes on. Currently, all the titles are based on episodes of the TV series.
The first chapter book, Peril in Paris, came out this month, with a holiday reader, Christmas Rescue!, scheduled for October. Another reader, Friends and Foes, and a second chapter book, Bubble Trouble, are set for next spring, with more chapter books and readers planned for later in 2021 and additional formats expected in 2022.
“One thing we adore about the show is the cute double love story,” Schutz said. When the characters are students in a typical Parisian high school, lead character Marinette has a crush on her fellow student, Adrien. But during the times when the two have transformed into secret superhero partners, Adrien’s alter ego, Cat Noir, has a crush on Marinette’s alter ego, Ladybug. “There’s a really fun tension there.”
The look of the show is another draw. “The ZAG animation is so beautiful, and Paris really shines,” Schutz says.
Scholastic Introduces Marsha Mello and Other Kindi Kids to Books
Scholastic is continuing its long-term relationship with Australian company Moose Toys, securing publishing rights to Kindi Kids, a diverse collectible doll line for ages three and up. In the past, Scholastic has published books tied to other Moose brands, including Shopkins and Shoppies. The Licensing Shop represents all of the Moose properties for licensing in the U.S. and Canada.
“Moose is the premium collectible toy manufacturer. They have such a great track record,” says Debra Dorfman, Scholastic’s v-p and publisher, global licensing, media, and brands. “There are fun names for all the characters, they have new characters and themes each season, and Moose is open to us creating new stories.” The dolls, which have names such as Marsha Mello, Jessicakes, Cindy Pops, and Summer Peaches, were introduced in August 2019 and quickly became a top seller, according to NPD Group estimates, with designated space carved out at retailers including Target and Walmart. The brand’s YouTube channel has generated more than 80 million views, across both Moose-produced webisodes and user-generated content.
Scholastic’s first two titles, an 8x8, Kindi Kids: Halloween, and a higher price point 64-page chunky sticker activity book, Kindi Kids: Let’s Play!, hit the market in July. They were followed by another 8x8, Kindi Kids: We Love to Share, this month. More titles are planned for next year including Easter Fun and Meet the Doctor.
Shopkins drove sales of more than five million books for Scholastic and remained a vibrant franchise for a long time, especially for a toy line with minimal media exposure to sustain it. “Moose was very smart about it,” Dorfman said. “They have a really great plan for Kindi Kids, too.”
Sesame Workshop is offering a number of new editions of its classic The Monster at the End of this Book—which has 20 million copies in print across formats—in advance of a new animated special that will air on HBO Max this fall. Random House Books for Young Readers is introducing a Little Golden Book, Put Me in the Story is releasing a customizable version, Studio Fun is publishing an interactive lift-the-flap edition, and PI Kids is debuting a sound book featuring Grover’s voice…. IDW has launched its new middle-grade comic book series Marvel Action: Origins, starting with a Peter Parker/Spider-Man title…. Insight Editions’ interactive board book series, PlayPop, has added two new licensed titles, Back to the Future: Telling Time with Marty McFly and The Dark Crystal: Book of Opposites…. British licensing agent The Point.1888 is now representing The Brilliant World of Tom Gates, a Sky Original TV series based on the Tom Gates series of books from Scholastic U.K., written and illustrated by Liz Pichon…. The Jim Henson Company paired with Felix & Paul Studios to launch an augmented reality storybook, with Neil Gaiman performing the role of the narrator, based on its 1980s puppet-live action series The Storyteller…. Random House Children’s Books’ Yearling imprint is publishing a movie tie-in edition of Robert Kimmel Smith’s The War with Grandpa, timed to the October theatrical release of a film starring Robert De Niro…. Penguin Random House’s Clarkson Potter division is launching Outlander Knitting, a book of 20 projects tied to the Sony TV show, which is based on a series of novels by Diana Gabaldon…. Dr. Seuss Enterprises has added Exim as its licensing agent in Mexico, Chile, and Peru, and Pinta as its cross-cultural marketing firm to strengthen Dr. Seuss’s presence in the U.S. Hispanic market through advertising, digital and influencer media, and PR.