Andrews McMeel Embarks on a Journey with ‘Ticket to Ride’
Andrews McMeel Publishing has become the official publisher for the bestselling train-themed family board game Ticket to Ride, under license from Asmodee, the parent company of the game’s developer, Days of Wonder.
The program will focus on middle-grade novels, with the first to launch in January 2025 followed by a second in fall 2025. More titles are being planned. The books will be authored by Adrienne Kress, who writes the licensed Bendy and the Ink Machine series for Scholastic, and illustrated by David Miles.
In the Ticket to Ride games, players collect and play matching train cards to claim railway routes connecting different cities, earning more points for longer routes. In the books, a 12-year-old boy is trying to get to a destination while being rerouted along the way, a premise that offers lots of potential for new stories, according to Erinn Pascal, senior editor, children’s books and licensing at Andrews McMeel and a fan of the board game.
“The game is so well known and so rich in storytelling,” she said. “The books will have that magical realism element and a little bite to them. Middle grade is the age where you can start having complex conversations about hard subjects.” Given the wide age range of the game’s fans, she believes YA and adult readers will be drawn to the title as well.
The deal has been a long time coming. “One of my first meetings when I got to Andrews McMeel [in 2021] was with Asmodee,” Pascal said.
Separately, Andrews McMeel is publishing the Piñata Smashlings Collector’s Guide, based on the collectible toy brand and Roblox game from Toikido, which is represented for licensing by Retail Monster. The company is working with Toikido’s master publishing licensee, Penguin Random House imprint Ladybird in the U.K., to bring the title to the U.S. market. The book will be updated to account for new toy releases between Ladybird’s November 2023, launch and Andrews McMeel’s May 2024 debut, allowing fans to keep track of and learn about all the latest collectibles.
Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat and The Grinch Star in New Podcasts
Dr. Seuss Enterprises is among the latest children’s content companies to enter the world of podcasting, through a deal with Wondery Kids & Family. The first two series to debut under the agreement, each with new episodes dropping weekly, are Season 1 of The Cat in the Hat Cast, which premiered September 18, and the seasonal ’Tis The Grinch Holiday Talk Show, which launched November 6 and will run through December.
“I had my eye on this space during Covid,” said Susan Brandt, CEO and president of Dr. Seuss Enterprises. “Family listening really exploded, and it didn’t fall off. Podcasts have such great potential for a shared family experience.” The new deal builds on DSE’s other entertainment partnerships with Warner Animation Group, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video, and marks its entry into audio entertainment.
Wondery looks to partner with properties that have high awareness and affinity, multigenerational appeal, and shared values, and lend themselves to the audio experience, according to Nicole Blake, head of franchise development for Wondery. “We’re looking to delight our existing listeners and also bring in new listeners,” she said. “Dr. Seuss, of course, was at the top of the list. He wrote some of the most linguistically entertaining books of all time. The Seussical rhymes and the bespoke and individual characters really translate well to the podcast format. And we both have the same mission to unlock kids’ curiosity, imagination, and wonder.”
The Cat in the Hat Cast is a segment-based variety show that pairs well with the Cat’s reputation as a master of mischief, Brandt said. The ’Tis The Grinch Holiday Talk Show features the Grinch, voiced by Saturday Night Live comedian James Austin Johnson as host, with guests including gymnast Sean Johnson East, actor and vegan influencer Tabitha Brown, WWE wrestler Cody Rhodes, and singer Meghan Trainor, among others. It capitalizes on the character’s relatable grumpiness and leads to heartfelt conversations about the positive emotions of the holiday, according to Brandt. “It all starts with the characters themselves, their DNA and personalities, and that goes back to the books,” she said. “It’s the same basic storyline, introduced in a new format.”
The Cat in the Hat Cast debuted among the top 100 podcasts in listenership, a strong showing for a family production in this space, and has stayed highly ranked. “The debut is the power of the Cat, and the staying power is the show itself,” Brandt said. ’Tis The Grinch Holiday Talk Show, meanwhile, premiered as the top series on Apple, and is also garnering strong reviews and interest in traditional and social media. “The buzziness of the Grinch [podcast] really took us by surprise,” Brandt said.
Another as-yet-unannounced Seuss podcast is in development, with more expected to follow.
New Merchandise Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Tortall Universe’s Alanna
Dual Wield Studio, the master licensee producing merchandise for Tamora Pierce’s YA Tortall universe since November 2018, is debuting an Alanna 40th Anniversary Collection next May. The new products celebrate four decades of Alanna: The First Adventure, published in September 1983, the first of the four-book Song of the Lioness series that launched the world of Tortall.
The Alanna merchandise will be the 14th Tortall collection from Dual Wield to date and the first to focus on a single character. “We really drilled down on Alanna since she started it all,” said Zara Varin, art director and senior product designer at Dual Wield, who oversaw the development of the collection with Dual Wield producer Paulomi Pratap and created images for some of the products.
Dual Wield makes sustainable, ethical merchandise for authors—including Xiran Jay Zhao, author of the Iron Window YA trilogy—as well as independent artists and game developers, sold primarily through its e-commerce site. All told, the company has created 50 Tortall products to date, including apparel, blankets, prints, maps, candles (via sub-licensee Briarwick), and in-world products like a badger claw and fertility charm.
Cole Mirza, social media and PR manager for Tamora Pierce, says the products have had a positive impact on the book series. “At first we just wanted to make some cool stuff for the fans who want to share their affiliation,” they said. “But now [the licensing program] is bringing Tammy’s work to a new audience; we see new followers with any new product release. It keeps the existing fans happy, and it fuels the fans’ passion, especially between books.”
Products are for all ages, from home décor for those who discovered the Tortall Universe in the early days and still love it, to plush dragons for the children and grandchildren they are introducing it to. Mirza noted that the 40th anniversary has really resonated with people who were exposed to Pierce’s books in their childhood. “We’ve heard from people who said Alanna was their first heroine and that they became a writer or a pilot because of her,” they said. “There are so many stories.”
The artists who contributed work to the new collection are long-time fans of the property and, rather than giving them strict guidelines, Dual Wield asked them to focus on elements of the series that resonated with them personally. The pieces include a sand-carved mug, hand-thrown by Ruby Farms Pottery and engraved by Bread & Badger, using art by Kaiti Infante; a limited-edition print of Alanna the Lioness, designed by Elisabeth Alba; a long-sleeve t-shirt and acrylic phone standee, both with art by Erika Hollice; a hat embroidered by Clammy Heart, featuring art by Savanna Mayer; a mini-sword and pin designed by Alyssa Maynard with a 3D sculpt by Courtney Clay and Varin; a zipper bag with the art of Courtney Donkersteeg; a pregnancy charm crafted by Topolski Jewelry and featuring Varin’s artwork; and an Alanna 40th Anniversary page overlay set highlighting the art of Hollis, Mayer, and Varin.
The fans play a big role in helping the company identify artists to work with. “The fandom is our North Star,” Varin said. “We also actively seek out marginalized artists who might not be engaging with or are unintentionally excluded from traditional platforms.”
“It’s really important that we work with people who will respect our IP and our fan base and understand what our fan base would want,” Mirza said. “Tammy loves her fans. We didn’t want cheap cash-grab stuff. We wanted to bring the joy, experience, and love of Tortall to the fans in a different way.”
Writer-Licensees Bring Dick Tracy to Mad Cave
Mad Cave has been named publisher for a new series of Dick Tracy comics written by Alex Segura and Michael Moreci, with creative consultation by Chantelle Aimée Osman and art by Geraldo Borges.
In an unusual twist, Segura, Moreci, and Osman acquired the rights to the property from licensor Tribune Content Agency, which publishes the newspaper strips. Segura and Moreci had been scheduled to work on a Dick Tracy project with another publisher, but it fell through, leading them, along with Osman—all fans of the property—to approach the licensor directly.
They then pitched the project to Mad Cave, which signed on as the publisher. “They’re great to work with and their reputation and experience with licensed publishing has been helpful,” Segura said. “We know their editorial team, and their enthusiasm has been through the roof. They’ve turned up the volume on what we had planned.”
There is white space in the market for this property, the team believes. “In comics, IP is the bread and butter of what we do. It’s an overwhelming portion of the direct market and there are lots of evergreen properties out there,” Moreci said. Dick Tracy is an established IP, and there have been some comics emulating the style of the original Dick Tracy stories over the years, he explained. “But no one has said, ‘How do we take this rich, full world and these characters and not just make a continuation of what has been done before but create something relevant and salient to those who know the comic and those who are new to it?’ ”
That is the plan this time around. The series, which is for teens and up, will have a story that is relatable for modern readers and artwork by Borges that is contemporary-looking but honors the heritage of creator Chester Gould. “This isn’t your grandfather’s Dick Tracy,” Osman said.
The detective, which Gould debuted in 1931—the comics still run in newspapers today—solves crimes involving a range of interesting villains and has much to offer today’s readers, the team believes. “We’re writing it to appeal to as many people as we can,” Segura said. “Hardcore fans will find a lot to enjoy, but the array of amazing characters will appeal to a wider audience. We want to show the property in a different, but also familiar, light.”
The program will include one main Dick Tracy series initially. It will be rolled out in monthly floppy comics, starting with the first issue in March 2024, punctuated by periodic trade collections.
Celebrating ‘Spookley Season’ with New Books, Products, and Content
Spookley the Square Pumpkin got its start more than two decades ago as a Halloween bedtime story by the property’s creator Joe Troiano, published in-house by Barnes & Noble in 2001. More than eight million unit sales later, Spookley has become a perennial favorite encompassing year-round seasonal content. “Most of the sales happen during what we call Spookley season, from back to school through Christmas,” said Aaron Burakoff, principal of Holiday Hill Enterprises, the property’s licensor. “Fans love it so deeply and feel a profound connection. Everyone feels like a square in a round world at times.”
Spookley, which features themes of kindness, acceptance, and inclusion, is currently expanding with new publishing, consumer products, and entertainment. In 2023, Barnes & Noble—still, along with Scholastic Book Clubs, a primary sales channel for the books—published a special edition of the original title, Spookley the Square Pumpkin, supported by in-store readings and appearances. In addition, through a new deal with Two Rivers Distribution, the titles were featured in the Target Halloween planogram for the first time this year, achieving close to 90% sell-through. Burakoff hopes that will lead to more placement in Target and other mass retail channels in 2024.
The publishing program now includes five titles starring Spookley, including the original story, spin-offs about the first day of school and Thanksgiving, and two tie-ins to Disney Junior holiday TV specials. Three of the five have been published since 2022. There are also four books tied to other holidays featuring different characters that reside with Spookley on Holiday Hill Farm. An early reader series and novelty books are under consideration for the future, as is, potentially, a master publishing deal.
Disney Junior is the primary broadcast partner, and in 2023 Spookley content was available on the network throughout Spookley season for the first time, thanks to Halloween and Christmas specials and two music videos, about experiencing firsts and giving thanks, respectively. Spookley content is also available on Netflix and video-on-demand platforms including YouTube and Kidoodle, as well as on broadcast and streaming channels internationally. Holiday Hill Enterprises recently released music from its specials to audio streaming platforms as well.
Live entertainment is another facet of the Spookley brand, with seasonal appearances featuring character meet-and-greets, scavenger hunts, and activities at Sesame Place, Boo at the L.A. Zoo, Six Flags, and other locations. More than 250 pumpkin patches across the country feature the character in corn mazes, story trails, and puppet shows. Spookley the Square Pumpkin: The Musical is available for theater productions; a second show, Spookley and the Christmas Kittens: The Musical, will debut in 2024.
The character has particularly resonated with children who have diverse needs, and this year Holiday Hill partnered with Autism Speaks for charity walks. It also has a longtime relationship with PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, with Spookley serving as the spokescharacter for Bullying Prevention Month.
As for licensing, the company has recently signed deals with Gund for plush, Tonies for audio players, and Wholesale Sugar Flower for bakery cake toppers. The newest addition is Oriental Trading, a maker of party supplies, toys, and crafts for individuals, nonprofits, churches, and schools, which will launch its first products in 2024. Other licensees are expected to be announced soon.
HarperCollins has partnered with Babybel Cheese for a promotion supporting the latest picture book in The Food Group series by Jory John and Pete Oswald, The Big Cheese. The book is being featured on the brand’s packaging at Target, including a QR code that leads to a Big Cheese x Babybel trailer. In addition, consumers can get a 20% discount on Babybel cheese with a purchase of the book at Target…. Kraft Heinz brought four of its brands into the kids’ publishing space under the FUNdamental Textbooks umbrella. The educational books are Jiggleometry featuring Jell-O, Nibbleomics featuring Kraft Mac & Cheese, Slurpstory featuring Capri Sun, and Stackonomy featuring Lunchables. Each contains a surprise snack in a hollowed-out portion of the pages. The books were available gratis on a dedicated website and each book that was claimed resulted in a $10 donation to First Book, adding to a one-time donation of $50,000…. Sesame Workshop released new content for Children’s Grief Awareness Month focusing on the death of Elmo’s Uncle Jack. The materials, in English and Spanish, include a digital storybook, Something New, featuring Elmo’s cousin and Jack’s daughter Jesse, as well as videos, a digital game, and printable resources produced withthe New York Life Foundation…. Story Publishing launched a free-to-play digital experience on Roblox, developed with Dubit, inspired by its Backpack Explorer book series. The Roblox activities, from scavenger hunts to art projects, reflect those included in the books…. Worldwide Buddies is releasing a new picture book, The Little Explorer’s Words, about the character Lexi and her adventures collecting 30 untranslatable words from around the world. Worldwide Buddies is a book-and-toy brand whose flagship title, The Book of Cultures, has led to a number of spin-off titles and other products…. Author Janice Kenyatta is introducing a 14-inch cut-and-sew doll of Abena, the main character in her children’s book, Just As It Is!…. Ablaze has launched a full-color original monthly comic book series based on the classic manga by Masami Kurumada, Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac. The new work is written by Jérôme Alquié and Arnaud Dollen and illustrated by Alquié. The property is now an anime series on Netflix and soon to be a live-action movie…. IMG has been named the licensing agent for BOOM!’s BRZRKER comic book series created by actor Keanu Reeves…. Haynes Group, the U.K.-based publisher of vehicle manuals, has retained Licensing Link as its licensing agency, charged with revitalizing and expanding its outbound licensing program.