Random House Children’s Books is the new master publishing licensee for The Cuphead Show! from Netflix Animation, through a deal with Cuphead licensing agent King Features. The TV series debuted in February 2018 and is based on Studio MDHR’s video game Cuphead, which has sold more than eight million units since its debut in 2017. The property, starring the characters Cuphead and Mugman, features a retro 1930s art style.
The level of storytelling in the original video game, expanded upon in the TV show, was a draw for Random House. “Unlike some video game properties, the original game has a rich story and tapestry, and lots of characters, and it translates very well to TV,” said Dennis Shealy, editorial director, licensed publishing. “The show is a natural springboard to expand on a narrative that’s already there in the game, and the same applies to books.”
The look-and-feel of the property is also unique in today’s marketplace, with a hand-drawn style inspired by 1930s animation. “The show draws energy from those early Jazz-Age cartoons,” Shealy said. “It’s very kinetic, and it’s funny.”
The publishing program starts this May with two offerings: a Screen Comix book called Handle with Care, and a Level 3 Step into Reading title called Welcome to the Inkwell Isles. Another Screen Comix title will follow in fall 2022, and an 8x8 and a Little Golden Book in spring 2023. The retro art style lends itself especially well to the latter, Shealy said. “It looks like it’s been a Golden Book for 40 years.” Future formats will include older-skewing coloring and activity titles and storybook formats beyond 8x8s. Most titles will be episode-based at first, but will eventually expand into original content.
The property has been increasing its presence in licensed products as well, including both video game- and TV-based merchandise. Some of its partners include iam8bit for t-shirts, socks, pins, and a limited-edition poster; Mad Engine for activewear, dresses, loungewear, and jackets; Jade City Foods for craft hot sauces and coffees; Displate for metal art posters; Toynk for puzzles and novelties; Funko for collectible figures, apparel, and accessories; Scotty Gear Retail Co. for hats, stickers, and keychains; and Youtooz for collectible figures. A second video game, The Delicious Last Course, will release on June 30.
In addition to Random House’s TV tie-ins, video game-based Cuphead publishing partners include Dark Horse for comics, graphic novels, and art books; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for middle-grade prose novels; and Running Press for a mini kit due in summer 2022.
While most of Random House’s TV-based Cuphead titles are geared toward six- to 11-year-olds, there is likely to be spillover into younger and older readers as well, Shealy believes. “It’s just very different,” he said. “It’s not like anything else going on right now. Anyone who appreciates that era of cartoons or is a collector will love it.”