Godzilla Reawakens in Middle-Grade Comics
IDW is building on its longtime relationship with Toho, signing a new licensing deal that expands its classic Godzilla publishing program into younger age brackets; formats include art books, coloring books, and journals; and categories such as tabletop games and puzzles.
The first project under the new agreement is a five-comic middle-grade mini-series called Godzilla: Monsters & Protectors, with the first issue set for release in fall 2021. The series is written by Erik Burnham, with artist Dan Schoening and colorist Luis Antonio Delgado. The plan moving forward is to publish at least one Godzilla book per month, across all age groups.
While IDW’s Godzilla publishing since its first title in 2011 has focused on comics for the teen and adult markets, which continue under the new deal, both IDW and Toho were interested in bringing Godzilla to younger audiences. “The characters and settings have a natural appeal to younger readers,” said Nachie Marsham, IDW’s new publisher. “It’s not just a trendy thing to do. We can do right by the storytelling.”
“IDW’s bread and butter is licensed properties,” said Chris Mowry, associate brand manager at Toho International, who formerly worked at IDW and has written some of the publisher’s Godzilla titles. “They are known for doing unique and new stuff and they’ve had recent successes with that in the young adult market. This gives us an opportunity to expand our business into spaces that we haven’t been into yet.”
Godzilla was introduced in 1954 as a metaphor for the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and is still relevant as a representation of current issues such as wars, plagues, or climate change, the last of which is the theme of the first mini-series. “Godzilla is beloved, but he also represents what’s scary in the world, and that can change over time,” said Tom Waltz, IDW’s editor overseeing the property.
Toho International has recently become more proactive about expanding the classic Godzilla brand with new entertainment and licensing initiatives. There are currently 30 licensees signed to market classic Godzilla product, a Netflix series coming in April 2021, and a new YouTube channel. “We have an aggressive content rollout strategy, and the deal with IDW is another way of getting our content out there,” said managing director Lora Cohn. “We’re looking at Godzilla holistically as a classic brand, and the reaction by fans old and young in North America has been great.”
IDW’s plan is to include a number of creator-driven titles, as has been the case in the past, for all ages. “Tons of creators reached out to us right away when the news of this deal came out,” Waltz said, adding, “We have an opportunity as creators and fans to see Godzilla in a whole new light.”
New from Scholastic: Lethal Lit and Doodle Boy
Scholastic has secured a license to publish YA books based on the podcast Lethal Lit: A Tig Torres Mystery, marking the first time it has tied in with this form of entertainment. “It’s another new way of licensing and an opportunity to expand on what was already a great story,” said Debra Dorfman, v-p and publisher, global licensing, media and brands. The podcast is created by Einhorn’s Epic Productions and distributed as an iHeartRadio Original. Cavalry Media is also adapting the series for television. “I just loved it, and my teen did also,” Dorfman said. “For teens, horror mysteries ripped from the headlines work so well.”
The fictional podcast features a Cuban-American teen detective working to solve the murder of her aunt and exonerate her from accusations of being the serial killer known as the Lit Killer. The first novel, authored by K. Ancrum and set for a fall 2021 release, is an original story that serves as a bridge between season 1 of the podcast, which launched in 2018, and season 2, coming next fall. A second book will follow, probably in late spring 2022. “We’re planning some great new marketing approaches,” Dorfman said. The book is for ages 12 and up, and “we’re treating it as a crossover book. We don’t directly sell to adults, but a lot of adults shop in the YA section.”
Separately, Scholastic signed a license with 10-year-old Briton Joe Whale, a.k.a. The Doodle Boy, for a series of chapter books, guided journals, and activity books. Whale has gained recognition for his YouTube videos and has been commissioned for several art projects in the U.K. In the U.S., viewers may have seen his appearance on Little Big Shots.
Whale is represented for licensing by Striker Entertainment, with whom Scholastic has worked on Five Nights at Freddy’s and other properties. “I had seen the videos on YouTube and knew he was adorable,” Dorfman said. “We thought if we paired him with a good author we could come up with a great illustrated story.” Eric Luper, author of the Key Hunters series, among others, is collaborating with Whale. The two speak regularly, with Whale providing a lot of feedback. “He’s such a key part of it,” Dorfman said. “He’s so full of ideas.”
The inaugural book, called Bad Food and scheduled for fall 2021, is planned as the first in a series of chapter books featuring the same characters, which are lunchroom foods and office supplies come to life. The second is set for spring 2022, accompanied by either an activity book or guided journal.
Holiday Expectations High for ‘Baby Yoda’ and Friends
Among the licensed toys expected to top the bestseller lists this holiday season are playthings featuring The Child from the Disney+ series The Mandalorian, whose name was recently revealed to be Grogu and is more popularly known as “Baby Yoda.” Examples range from an animatronic replica of the character to a version of the game Bop It. There are also plenty of books available to sate consumers’ desire for Grogu and the series’ other characters.
Tie-ins were introduced in December 2019, just a month after the November 2019 premiere of the show, the first live-action TV series connected to Star Wars. “It was important for fans to experience The Mandalorian on D+ first, before any books or comics were published,” said Mike Siglain, creative director, Disney Lucasfilm Press. “But to coincide with the incredible popularity of The Child, Disney Lucasfilm Press released a poster book based on season one of The Mandalorian in time for the holidays, and we released a season two poster book earlier this year.”
More books have followed, mostly in the second half of 2020. Siglain described the tie-ins for the show as “a curated program” of fan-favorite formats. “For The Mandalorian, there were a few formats that we knew right away that we wanted to publish,” he said, citing The Art of Star Wars: The Mandalorian from Abrams and This Is the Way, a Little Golden Book from Random House. The Abrams format is one that Disney has included for all of its recent films; Siglain saiad that the Mandalorian edition was made all the more popular by the fact that the show used concept art in the end credits.
“Obviously, once the world saw ‘Baby Yoda,’ everyone wanted a book with The Child,” Siglain said. “I don’t think anyone expected the unbelievable popularity of The Child. He was an instant fan-favorite, and the conversation of how much of him to include was definitely something we discussed. But, in addition to telling compelling stories, part of our job is to make sure that we’re not saturating the market—or giving away story points before they get to be properly revealed on the show.” The character is featured on the covers of several titles, including juvenile formats such as Disney Lucasfilm Press’ Allies & Enemies Level Two Reader and A Clan of Two 8x8. But there are books highlighting other key characters, such as the lead, Din Djarin, or Mando, who is depicted on DK’s The Ultimate Visual Guide.
Plans for 2021 include a novel from Del Rey, written by Adam Christopher, and a project with Marvel, among other publishing for all ages.
Raggedy Ann Joins Oasis Audio’s Children’s Portfolio
In November, Oasis Audio announced it will publish audio books based on Johnny Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann and Andy. Launched in 1996 as a publisher of Christian and inspirational audiobooks, building on parent company Oasis Media’s history in religious broadcasting, the company started to diversify into mainstream children’s, YA, and other family-friendly content in 2010. Most of its licensed titles are based on nostalgic licensed IP, with Raggedy Ann just the latest example.
“I’ve been going for offbeat, niche things,” Smith said. The Raggedy series includes the first 10 titles written by Gruelle, published from 1924 to 1937, marking the first time they have been in the audiobook format. Another recent acquisition, in January 2020, is the full Edgar Rice Burroughs collection, which encompasses 80 titles across several IP, including Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. The titles, published starting in 1912, are edited for today’s readers and include classic books as well as new series such as the Edgar Rice Burroughs Universe novels. “The idea is to introduce these titles to a new generation,” Smith said.
The company currently offers about 500 titles for children, out of about 1,800 in total. Other properties include The Boxcar Children, its largest collection with 155 titles, The Nancy Drew Diaries with 20 titles, The Hardy Boys Adventures, The Great Mouse Detective, Prince Valiant, and Flash Gordon. New additions include an audio version of a Scholastic YA tie-in to the CW series Katy Keene, and the Phantom Stallion series by Terri Farley, a HarperCollins series of 36 readers for upper elementary ages. The Boxcar Children and The Nancy Drew Diaries are Oasis’s bestsellers in the children’s space to date.
The company also acquires titles for adults, including audio versions of 32 paperback tie-ins to the 1960s Dark Shadows TV series. Smith acquired the IP to appeal to a nostalgic audience, but the books have taken off with older teens as well. “They’re selling like crazy,” he said. “The property appeals to a lot of different people.”
Most of Oasis’s titles are audio versions of existing books, but the company is getting into original publications where rights can be secured. “We are aggressively moving toward that,” Smith said. He is working on a deal for a 1960s TV character that would include original audio stories, as well as talking with some existing licensors about doing original audio (and possibly print) novels.
“What sets us apart, as a small shop, is our artistry and imagination,” Smith said. “My goal is to spark a sense of wonder in young readers and listeners, because that’s what Jules Verne did for me when I was young.”
Artist and Publishing Exec Michael Storrings Signs with Jewel
Author, artist, and illustrator Michael Storrings, creator of “Art That Celebrates”—who also serves as v-p and creative director at St. Martin’s Press—has selected Jewel Branding and Licensing as his representative for licensing globally. “We saw right away there was something special about his art,” said Samira Henley, v-p of brand licensing at Jewel. “It’s collectible and highly giftable, and it makes you feel good, which is so needed, especially in this time.”
Working on his art and illustrations on evenings and weekends while progressing in his publishing career, Storrings became intrigued by licensing years ago. In the early 2000s, after he started doing pen and watercolor illustrations based on his travel journals—marking the launch of his current style—he signed a handful of licensees for products such as t-shirts and mousepads. A 2005 license with Landmark Creations for ornaments was a turning point, as it resulted in a deal with Saks for a custom ornament program and led to his first book, A Very New York Christmas. A number of collaborations with high-end retailers, such as Bloomingdales and Bergdorf’s, and several more books, including The 12 Days of Christmas in New York, New York in Four Seasons, and Seasons of New York Coloring Book, led in turn to more companies asking to use his art for stationery products and puzzles.
Storrings’ existing licensing program includes wall art and gifts, as well as the puzzles and ornaments, sold through retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Target, and TJ Maxx. Puzzles, from Galison, have been the bestsellers among his products to date, with retail sales of $1.4 million in 2019 alone, and that success has continued into 2020. “The past year has been unbelievable,” Storrings said.
He discovered Jewel at Licensing Week Virtual, this year’s online version of the Licensing Expo in June. “I wanted to reach a wider audience with my artwork,” Storrings said. “I have kept my boutique art business high end so that it is manageable for me, but with the success of my puzzles I felt my art could have more of a voice in the market. I needed a licensing agent to do that.”
Plans include stationery, home décor, gifts, paper, electronic accessories, tabletop items, and gift-with-purchase promotions with big brands, according to Henley. Jewel also expects to grow the brand internationally and expand distribution to more bricks-and-mortar and online channels. “Jewel has such a breadth of experience, I’m in their hands at the moment,” Storrings said. “I’m open to anything they bring me.” The program will initially focus on products for adults, but there is potential for children’s merchandise as well. Storrings’ books are often purchased as gifts for young people, and he is mulling over ideas for a children’s book and graphic novel down the road.
Storrings is unusual among licensed artists in that his 30 years’ of publishing experience gives him an understanding of the world of commerce, the pressures licensees face, the nuances of production, and how to market a product successfully. He believes his career as a creative director makes him a better artist, and vice versa. “People usually want to talk about one or the other, but they’re so intertwined,” he said.
Hasbro and its eOne division have released a batch of 10 Peppa Pig audio stories, based on select TV episodes, on Amazon Prime, Apple Music, and Spotify, with more channels to come.... Warner Bros. signed Spin Master to create dolls, figures, playsets, vehicles, and games tied to the Wizarding World franchise, based on the Harry Potter books and films. The line will launch globally in fall 2021.... U.K. publisher Michael O’Mara signed a deal with Ameet Publishing to release Lego activity, sticker, and coloring books under its Buster Books imprint in Europe, southeast Asia, the Middle East, and South Africa.... The Joester Loria Group signed Rashti & Rashti to market World of Eric Carle infant and toddler sleepwear, as well as Ripple Junction for adult t-shirts.