Little Bee Heads to Riverdale
Little Bee has acquired the rights to publish children’s books tied to the world of Archie Comics. The program, which will fall under Little Bee’s BuzzPop pop-culture imprint, will start with two board books in fall 2019.
Little Bee editor Rachel Gluckstern previously worked at DC Comics, where one of her colleagues was current Archie Comics co-president Alex Segura. “When I came on board [at Little Bee], I thought, hey, it would be really great to show some innovation with the legendary [Archie] brand and bring it into formats it’s never really been in before,” she said. “It’s been great to bring something new to the trade market, especially something that feels criminally overlooked.”
The wide portfolio of Archie Comics characters was also attractive. “There’s a depth and diversity to the property, with its vast array of characters. With our commitment to diversity and inclusion, that alone seemed to build a connection,” Gluckstern said. “There is a whole fleet of characters, some not well known to the general public, that will allow us to lean in more to that diversity aspect.
Noting the current popularity of the Archie Comics-based TV shows Riverdale and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and that another character, Katy Keene, has been optioned for television, Gluckstern added, “They’re really enjoying a moment in the public mind.”
The Archie characters were created nearly 80 years ago, back in 1941. “We’re using that classic look that everyone instantly recognizes,” Gluckstern said. “If you see a blonde with a ponytail and a brunette with bangs, you know it’s Betty and Veronica. But the Archies have always been updated to keep up with the times. You have the retro art style but you can put contemporary outfits on them and have them do modern activities.”
The two fall titles will include Archie ABC in September, which is seen both as an introduction to the property for younger kids and a gift book for adults’ and Jughead’s Food Hunt, a lift-the-flap title, in October. Next spring will bring a coloring and activity book and a novelty mix-and-match, with another board book and a seek-and-find following in summer 2020. Other formats are in development, including an original graphic novel series. (The latter will complement the collections of previously published Archie comics released by Random House.)
Barbie 60th Birthday Titles Target Adults
Mattel is celebrating the 60th anniversary of Barbie this year with a number of book titles geared toward adult fans. “We’re celebrating the history and heritage of the brand,” said Ryan Ferguson, director of global publishing at Mattel.
This spring, Assouline is publishing Barbie: Sixty Years of Inspiration, a nearly nine-pound tome that connects Barbie’s history with the achievements of women over the past six decades. Also in spring, long-time Barbie licensee Bendon is publishing an advanced coloring book, similar to the successful Hot Wheels 50th anniversary title it produced last year.
In the fall, Australian publisher Five Mile Press will introduce four titles; a giftwrap pack, two paper doll books, and a paint-with-water book. And Becker & Mayer!, also a licensee for Hot Wheels’ 50th anniversary, will publish Barbie Forever: Her Inspiration, History, and Legacy, which includes interviews with people who have been inspired by Barbie, as well as vintage photos and advertisements, a foldout timeline, and original sketches. Becker & Mayer! parent Quarto will distribute the book.
Beyond the anniversary, the core Barbie publishing program continues. One current area of focus consists of books about careers—Barbie has had more than 200 of them to date—under the You Can Be Anything banner. Among the global publishers offering such titles include Hachette in France and U.S. master publisher Random House, the longest-serving of all Barbie licensees; its list includes treasuries, readers, and 8x8s.
Another area of interest: books in various formats tied to the animated series Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures, which launched on Netflix in the U.S. in 2018 and airs around the world. “It’s about Barbie and her friends and family and their lives in Malibu,” Ferguson said.
Mattel has had a long history of producing fantasy-based movies starring Barbie, released on DVD and/or streaming channels and accompanied by tie-in books. “We used to have two to three different tentpoles per year that we supported, mostly standalones,” Ferguson said. “This is the first time in a while we’ve had an ongoing series to tie into. And it’s about Barbie as Barbie, so we can really see who this person is.”
Ferguson expects to see some new formats come on the market in the near future. “At Bologna, we shared our concepts with publishers, and our partners also came to us with ideas,” he said. “One licensee came in with a unique editorial direction for Barbie, and we had this ‘aha!’ moment where we realized we had never told her story in this way before. I think in the next two years you’ll see a lot of white space being filled in a way only Barbie can.”
Other licensees publishing Barbie books in North America include Studio Fun, Phidal, and PaperCutz, and content is available through the Amazon Kindle FreeTime subscription service as well. Mattel also has a robust publishing program globally, with licensees in France, Brazil, Australia/New Zealand, and many other territories producing similar thematic content in formats that fit their markets.
Lerner and Garfield Pair for Nonfiction
Lerner Publishing Group has secured the rights to the comic strip property Garfield for a variety of nonfiction subjects, with five titles planned for fall 2019 and another five for spring 2020. The books will be released in library bindings for the school and library market and in paperback for retail stores.
“When [licensor Paws Inc.] came to us, we went out and asked librarians and teachers about Garfield, to gauge the popularity of the property and whether they thought it would be something they would want,” said Jenny Krueger, Lerner’s publishing director. “They all said, and it was universal, that it was very popular at a specific age—third and fourth grade. We confirmed with Paws Inc. that that was the sweet spot for them too, and we do a lot in that age range, so we thought it would be a good fit.”
The first titles this fall will include a four-book series, Garfield’s Fat Cat Guide to STEM Breakthroughs. The books highlight important STEM discoveries and are illustrated with photographs combined with character art. Titles include Garfield’s Almost-as-Great-as-Doughnuts Guide to Math, Garfield’s Almost-as-Great-as-Lasagna Guide to Science, Garfield’s Almost-as-Great-as-Naps Guide to Engineering, and Garfield’s Almost-as-Great-as-Pizza Guide to Technology. The information is punctuated by comedic asides, and there are sections such as “Achievements in Ignorance,” about the scientific failures that drive progress. “STEM is probably our strongest category right now, and the humor is a good addition,” Krueger said.
The fifth fall title is Garfield’s Guide to Creating Your Own Comic Strip. Meanwhile, in spring 2020, Lerner will release a four-book series called Garfield’s Guide to Digital Citizenship, which ties in with Paws Inc.’s curriculum partnership with the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, a program overseen by (ISC)2, a nonprofit association for information security leaders. The books, designed in a comic book-like style, will work through questions such as “if someone takes an unflattering picture of Garfield, should you put it online?” The fifth spring title is a cookbook, Garfield’s Guide to Lasagna, Nature’s Preferred Food. A guide to drawing and a joke book are in the works for fall 2020.
As always with licensed publishing programs, the development process is collaborative. “The personality of our partnership with Paws Inc. is very Garfield-like, low-stress and entertaining,” Krueger said.
Snoopy Returns to Space Through NASA Deal
Peanuts Worldwide, a division of DHX Media, has renewed its 50-year relationship with NASA under the U.S. Space Act, which governs commercial activities related to space exploration. The new pact includes books, the first of which will be released this summer to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Apollo 10 lunar landing. The NASA-Peanuts relationship goes back to the 1960s, when NASA used Snoopy on spaceflight safety materials, named its employee achievement award the Silver Snoopy, and dubbed the Apollo 10 command and lunar modules “Charlie Brown” and “Snoopy.”
Peanuts licensee Simon & Schuster is releasing the first two NASA-connected books in July, including a ready-to-read for ages 5–7 and an 8x8 for ages 3–7, both under the Simon Spotlight imprint. Boom! Studios’ Kaboom! imprint will release a graphic novel in the fall. All are fictional stories interwoven with STEM content. Future publishing, likely in spring 2020, will be inspired by a new space-themed TV series on the Apple+ subscription service featuring Astronaut Snoopy. The NASA agreement also incorporates space- and STEM-themed educational curriculum guides for schools, as well as museum exhibits around the country.
“Publishing is a really important part of the whole campaign,” said Craig Herman, senior director, category management, for Peanuts Worldwide Entertainment. “It’s an important way for us to get a new generation of kids to connect with Peanuts and for NASA to get kids interested in STEM and space exploration.”
The books will be featured in Planet Snoopy attractions at 11 Cedar Fair parks, as well as in the museum exhibits. “Books will be front and center in all of this,” Herman said, adding, “NASA has a rather huge marketing platform, with a school newsletter, email blasts, and other things, and we’ll be part of that. That campaign will be invaluable to our publishers as a way to reach educators, and the kids, too.”
IDW Launches Care Bears TV Tie-Ins
IDW Publishing is launching a series of comic books and graphic novels tied to Care Bears: Unlock the Magic, a 2D-animated streaming series on Cartoon Network’s Boomerang platform, produced by Care Bears licensor Cloudco Entertainment. The series launched in early 2019. The first issue of an initial three-book series written by Matthew Erman and Nadia Shammas and illustrated by Agnes Garbowska (with a variant cover by Tony Fleecs) will debut this July.
Garbowska has worked with IDW for six years on projects such as My Little Pony and DC Super Hero Girls. During a conversation with her editors about what might be ahead, Care Bears was mentioned. “I said, Oh my gosh, I grew up on Care Bears,” she remembers. After a positive response to her tryout drawings, the publisher asked her if she’d be interested in working on the project. “I said, I’m not going to say no to Care Bears, are you kidding me?”
Care Bears first launched in 1982 as a greeting card, plush toy, and consumer products brand, and has inspired a number of television shows and movies over the years. Garbowska noted that while the animation style and look of the new series is different from the original, “it still has the heart and soul of the original Care Bears: the caring, the positivity, and the working together to find solutions to problems.”
Erman and Shammas, meanwhile, both have spent a lot of time working in the horror genre. “This is literally the farthest thing away from whatever I expected in my career,” said Erman, who watched the Care Bears TV show after school in the 1990s. “But it’s an incredible honor to be working on it. When IDW told me about it and I went home and watched the new series with my wife, I was taken aback by the quality of it. I think what they’re doing with the new show is interesting. It’s kind of like My Little Pony; it does a good job of bridging the gap between a show kids can enjoy, but also taps into things that make young adults and adults enjoy it too.”
Erman brought in Shammas, who as a child made trades with her friends to build a respectable collection of Care Bears plush. “I thought, ‘That’s the coolest thing ever,’ ” she said. “It’s such a wholesome childhood staple, but it was also so of that time. It was a challenge to think about how you could weave a story about something that is so ’80s and ’90s.”
She noted that the new show has been updated with jokes and a tone that appeals to today’s kids. “It’s unmistakeably Care Bears, but for a new generation,” she said. “The core elements are still there. The Care Bears are sweet, kind, and empathetic, and they have the same very colorful aesthetic.”
“I’m a legit fan of the show,” said Erman. “It’s fun, interesting, quirky, and a little weird, which is what the Care Bears are at the end of the day.”
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