Nosy Crow Enlists University of Cambridge for STEAM Expertise

Nosy Crow is publishing a line of nonfiction children’s books through a global partnership with the University of Cambridge. The titles will focus on science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM). The first title, set for release in the U.K. in June 2024 and in North America a year later, will be Beasts from the Deep, followed by There’s No Such Thing as a Silly Question: 213 Weird and Wonderful Questions About the World, Expertly Answered!, on sale in the U.K. and U.S. in October of 2024 and 2025, respectively.

Nosy Crow has partnerships in place with the British Museum for history titles and the National Trust for books about nature. It has been publishing STEAM titles under the Nosy Crow imprint but wanted a partner for those titles as well. The company decided to approach the university to fill the gap. “It seemed a very pie-in-the-sky idea at the beginning,” said Rachel Kellehar, Nosy Crow’s publishing director for nonfiction, preschool, and activity.

Eventually the team connected with Ruth McPhee, product development manager at the University of Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum Enterprises, the commercial arm of Cambridge’s art and antiquities museum, who serves as the publishing program coordinator for the Nosy Crow partnership. It turned out the University had been wanting to bring the Cambridge name further into the children’s market, so the timing was right.

McPhee is responsible for seeking out the right experts and facilitating the relationships between the specialists and Nosy Crow’s authors. The deal with the University gives the publisher access to the knowledge of academics, curators, and subject specialists from the university’s research laboratories, its nine museums, and its collections. Experts and assets come from a diverse range of holdings, from the BabyLab in the department of psychology, to the Institute of Manufacturing, to the Museum of Zoology.

“A partnership with the University of Cambridge or the British Museum is not just about the advantages for selling and promotion,” Kellehar said. “It gives you the expertise. Whatever question we have, there’s a specialist.”

The core age group for the publishing program is 6–12, with some titles reaching down as young as age three. The books will be sold globally through export, rights sales, and co-editions. All releases will feature the imprimatur of both Cambridge and Nosy Crow, and some will also be identified by sub-brands tied to specific museums or other parts of the institution.

Although there will likely be interest from schools and libraries, the books are made with trade channels in mind. “The kind of books we publish are meant to inspire awe and wonder,” Kellehar said. Under the Cambridge partnership, “some books will be concept-driven, and some will be silly, imaginative, and playful. We’ll have everything from books that will pique the curiosity of a six-year-old who wants to know about a particular topic to gifty books of the kind you would read with a torch under the duvet. We want to bring science into every aspect of the readers’ lives and we want them to say, ‘Wow, I’ve never thought about that.’ ”

In North America, the books will be republished in fully Americanized editions, with changes to the cover design, if needed, as well as to the interior images and text. While the University of Cambridge is associated closely with Britain, Mendelson feels that the combination of the two brands will be attractive to U.S. retail buyers and consumers.

“What sets the books under this partnership apart will be how child-friendly and family-friendly they are,” added John Mendelson, president of Nosy Crow Inc. “They’re not formulaic and they’re really accessible. We want to get the readers excited about these topics. And the expertise of the University of Cambridge is a value-add. It’s a magical combination.”

Curiosity Ink and Dynamite Pit ‘Cats Vs Pickles’

Curiosity Ink Media and its strategic publishing partner, Dynamite Entertainment, are publishing a series of children’s books based on toymaker Cepia’s collectible plush brand, Cats Vs Pickles. The program starts this summer with an 8x8 storybook, Everybody Loves Cats Vs Pickles, set for an August release. In October come the second and third titles, a holiday story called How the Gherkins Stole Christmas and a coloring and activity title with stickers, Cats on the Run. Plans for 2024 include a handful of other titles, including a sticker coloring-activity book, Adventures with Cats Vs Pickles, and a handbook.

“We believe in the strength of Cats Vs Pickles because of the strength of the plush,” said Jon Rosenberg, executive v-p of Curiosity Ink Media and publisher of Curiosity Books. The toys, which have been on the market for two years and are accompanied by content on YouTube, have been bestsellers in retailers including Target, Five Below, and Walmart, where they were featured on an endcap.

The premise of the Cats Vs Pickles franchise is that cats, which are scared of cucumbers, are being pursued by lovable but misunderstood pickles who just want to be friends. Cats Vs Pickles is part of a broader Vs World, which also includes Dogs Vs Squirls, Bears Vs Donuts, and Cows Vs Aliens, as well as baby versions of the Cats Vs Pickles known as Kittens Vs Gherkins.

Curiosity Ink Media, a unit of Grom Social Enterprises, serves as the licensing agent for Cats Vs Pickles and the other components of the Vs World and is developing an animated series in which all of the different animals and beings interact with each other. “It’s definitely a growth brand,” said Jared Wolfson, CEO of Curiosity Ink. “It has a very heavy fan following, and Cepia engages with them about who is collecting and why they’re buying.”

Curiosity Ink and Dynamite are also publishing a series of children’s books under Curiosity’s proprietary brand, which is both an entertainment property being developed as a feature film and a website with two sections, one offering holiday tips to parents and the other featuring content and activities for children. While the entertainment franchise and the site are mostly separate, there are some synergies.

The brand lends itself to many different book series taking place within the world of the North Pole, Rosenberg said. Three titles will come out this fall leading up to the holiday. They include How the North Pole Works, a 64-page insider’s guide to the North Pole, narrated by an elf called Yoyo; Baldwin’s Big Christmas Delivery, which stars a young train who delivers a Christmas package that Santa forgot, while learning about friendship and other social-emotional lessons; and Snow Boy, a picture book about a snowman who wants to be part of a family. Next year’s titles will include Reindeer Flight School, the origin story of Santa’s reindeer, among others.

All told, Curiosity Ink Media has 20 to 25 properties in different stages of development, Wolfson said.

Mad Cave Expands Licensing Portfolio

Mad Cave has recently added three licenses to its list, with the first titles to debut in the first quarter of 2024. The new brands include Miraculous, with rights secured from licensor ZAG; Winx Club from Rainbow S.p.A; and Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders from 41 Entertainment.

Mad Cave got its start in 2014 and initially published only proprietary titles, later adding creator-owned properties as well. It launched its Maverick graphic novel imprint for young adults in 2020. The company has expanded since then. It brought in Mark Irwin, who has had stints at IDW, Insight Editions, and Upper Deck, among others, as senior v-p, business development in 2021; acquired licensing-heavy graphic novel publisher Papercutz in 2022; and moved distribution to Simon & Schuster this past January.

Prior to the Papercutz acquisition, Mad Cave had stayed away from licensing. But once Papercutz came into the fold, the company started adding licenses not only to Papercutz’s list but also, in the case of properties that would appeal to a YA audience, to Maverick’s. In fact, some of its licensed brands are strictly YA and published by Maverick only. “Our goal is to remain balanced,” Irwin said. “We don’t want to be over-reliant on licensed publishing, or to be too deep in the woods on creator-owned publishing.”

When the Mad Cave team first took a look at Miraculous, the strong growth of the brand was appealing. Even more attractive were the art styles. “What was intriguing to us at the time was the design work they had done for a chibi version and a manga version,” Irwin said, referring to two popular Japanese art and publishing styles. “That fit what we were looking for much more than the animation, and they were open to us doing publishing in that style.”

The TV series, whose core audience is 6–12, has a strong fan base in the 15–25 age range, known as Miraculers. Globally, the property has generated more than 35 billion views on YouTube (of official and user-generated content), 300 million downloads of the official app, 550 million plays on Roblox, and $1 billion in retail sales of consumer products worldwide. Miraculous: Ladybug & Cat Noir, The Movie launches on Netflix at the end of July.

The publishing program will include quarterly anthologies in the TV-based animation style from Papercutz, for middle-grade readers, and in the manga style from Maverick, for YA fans, both interspersed with additional specials. The anthologies will be a mix of episode-based stories and original storytelling.

Irwin was familiar with Winx Club from when he was working at Upper Deck years ago, as that company had published comics and a trading card game based on the series during its original run. Winx Club launched in Italy in 2004 and in the U.S. on Cartoon Network in 2005. It was broadcast by Nickelodeon from 2010 to 2019, albeit with some gaps, and Viz Media served as the graphic novel licensee from 2012 to 2013. Most recently the property appeared on Netflix in 2021 and 2022, in a live-action version for teens called Fate: The Winx Saga. “The bigger part of the deal for us was the Fate license,” Irwin said. “We wanted to do graphic storytelling in the Fate universe.”

Papercutz will publish middle-grade Winx Club graphic novels with all-new storytelling, based on the core animation, while Maverick will create YA stories that will continue the storyline introduced on the Netflix series.

Finally, Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders is a TV series that aired in 1995 and 1996, licensed from 41 Entertainment. “It was a favorite of our senior editor, who loved the cartoon and really wanted it,” Irwin said. “It has a tried-and-true online audience that is very active and it has great themes of sisterhood, girl power, and teamwork.” The books will be released under the Maverick imprint.

More announcements of new licenses are expected in time for this year’s San Diego and New York Comic Cons. “It’s very interesting being at a company in this stage of its growth, when it’s willing to take chances and go big,” Irwin said.

New Twists and Turns in Hasbro’s Licensed Comics Program

Hasbro and its new comic book licensee Skybound Entertainment, an imprint of Image Comics, are publishing a new series of comic books that combines the worlds of Hasbro’s Transformers and G.I. Joe franchises into a single Energon Universe. The first title, Void Rivals #1, is a G.I. Joe story in which the Transformer Jetfire makes a surprise appearance at the end, a fact that everyone involved managed to keep secret until the book was published on June 14.

Robert Kirkman, co-creator of The Walking Dead franchise and co-founder of Skybound Entertainment, wrote Void Rivals #1, which was illustrated by Lorenzo De Felici. Kirkman will oversee all the Energon Universe books, which will include interconnected series for each franchise. Transformers #1, the first Transformers title taking place in the Energon Universe, will debut in October. Two Energon-set G.I. Joe titles, Duke #1 and Cobra Commander #1, will follow in December and January, respectively, marking the debuts of the first two of four planned G.I. Joe limited series taking place in the Energon Universe.

In other recent Hasbro comic news, the toy company has partnered with Marvel to republish vintage comic books tied to Rom the Spaceknight and Micronauts. “This is an interesting situation,” said Michael Kelly, Hasbro’s v-p global publishing. “Marvel has the copyright on the comics and Hasbro owns the underlying rights. When the contract expired in the 1980s, neither company could publish, and Marvel couldn’t hand over the backlist to the licensor. So nothing has been available all this time.”

The two companies recently agreed to rerelease the entire original run of both series, starting with a collection and a facsimile edition of the first issues. There will be no new original publishing, but there will be opportunities for plenty of storytelling for fans new and old. “They originally ran for several years, so that’s a lot of content,” Kelly said.

Micronauts is based on a line of toys from Japanese toy company Takara, released by Mego in the U.S. The Micronauts comics originally ran from 1979 to 1986, outlasting the production of the toys, which stopped in 1980. Rom the Spaceknight, meanwhile, also had a successful run in comics during the same years, with a total of 75 issues that also continued well beyond the lifetime of the toys. Rom was even integrated into the Marvel Universe. Both properties have periodically appeared in comic book series with other publishers since then, but these new programs represent the first rerelease of the popular original series.

‘Love You Forever’ Pairs with Drake and Nike, Expands Licensing

Love You Forever, by author Robert Munsch and illustrator Sheila McGraw, was published in 1986 by Firefly Books. About a year later, sales of the book started to take off, despite little marketing support, and over its lifetime it has sold more than 36 million copies across a variety of editions, driven by word of mouth. In June of this year, McGraw exhibited the property at Licensing Expo. “It was taking-the-plunge time,” she said, reporting that the property garnered interest from potential licensing agents and licensees at the show.

The biggest news for the brand recently is its 2022 collaboration with rapper Drake and Nike. The two marketers acquired the rights to create a limited-edition pair of shoes tied to the property as part of the promotional activity for Drake’s album Certified Loverboy. The white shoes, which sold out immediately, featured a subtle treatment of the brand name in script along the side of the sole. They came packaged with a custom limited-edition version of the book that included a Nike Swoosh on the cover and a dedication from Drake to his mother.

In the early days after the book’s publication, its popularity and the nature of the Love You Forever phrase resulted in a lot of infringement, so McGraw decided to seek trademark protection. “That was an enormous undertaking,” she said. “But people were using the phrase for products that were wildly inappropriate.” Once involved in the process of applying for and receiving the trademark, she discovered that in order to keep the rights in effect, she needed to have merchandise on the market, so she started to seek out licensees. “I wanted to make products that would take the book into our everyday lives,” she said.

McGraw completed a non-exclusive deal with a small customization company in Texas called YouCustomizeIt, which covers many of the categories included under the trademark, especially baby products. She also separately sourced merchandise not available through the print-on-demand service, such as toiletries and gift baskets, and sells them in a Shopify boutique.

All categories are open for consideration for licensing deals, including paper goods, luggage, furniture, storage containers, bedding, apparel, toys, children’s toiletries, and more, and the book can be included with the licensed products where it makes sense. McGraw also recently introduced a new logo consisting of a heart overlaid with an infinity sign, paired with the Love You Forever brand name, and hopes to sign a jewelry licensee.

In Brief

Candlewick’s Bears in Chairs series, written by Shirley Parenteau and illustrated by David Walker, joined the Uniqlo UT brand’s Storybook Collection of infant apparel tied to book properties from around the world.... Universal Products & Entertainment licensed Hachette Children’s Publishing U.K. to publish sticker, activity, and search-and-find books tied to the DreamWorks Animation preschool series Gabby’s Dollhouse. Scholastic is the primary trade publisher in the U.S.... Mattel has partnered with Gershwin Entertainment for a national concert tour, American Girl Live!, which will premiere this fall.