Papercutz, a New York City-based graphic novel publisher focused on teen readers, has reached an agreement to produce a series of graphic novels based on Disney Fairies, a series of bestselling prose chapter books drawn from the novels of Gail Carson Levine and constructed around the well-known Disney fairy character Tinker Bell. The acquisition is the latest deal in a publishing strategy by Papercutz focused on licensing classic prose and comics properties and even popular toy and European comics series and producing book-format comics based on them aimed at “tweens.”

Papercutz publisher Terry Nantier said the house will produce four novels a year in both paperback ($7.99) and hardcover ($12.99) based on Disney Fairies; the first titles will appear in April 2010. Nantier said “the graphic novels are all-new stories, not adaptations of existing ones,” and said this will be the first time the prose series has been turned into book format comics. “87% of girls aged 6-11 are familiar with Tinker Bell and 45% say she’s a favorite,” he said. Papercutz will oversee the production of the books and its titles are distributed to the book trade by Macmillan and to the comics shop market by Diamond Comics Distribution.

Originally published by Random House, the Disney Fairies chapter books have sold more than nine million copies worldwide, Nantier said. The series’ popularity has also been driven by the release of direct-to-DVD animated features under the direction of Pixar’s John Lasseter. Disney plans four animated features and will release a new DVD in November 2009. The Tinker Bell DVD released in 2008 has sold more than three million copies and Nantier was quick to point out that the Disney Fairies franchise also features a variety of licensing and online entertainment and promotional Web sites.

Founded in 2005 by Nantier and editor-in-chief Jim Salicrup, Papercutz has focused on a growing market for full-color, book-format comics aimed at teens and preteens, licensing such recently revived franchises as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. “We started slowly and just focused on steady growth,” said Salicrup, “and we’re still here.” Indeed, Papercutz has two big releases for the fall. The house is creating a series of full-color graphic novels based on the Geronimo Stilton property, a popular Italian chapter book series about a time-traveling mouse that teaches history lessons. Papercutz will launch the series with three graphic novel volumes of Geronimo Stilton with first printings of 30,000 copies each for volumes 1 and 2. Published in the U.S. by Scholastic, the Geronimo Stilton chapter books have sold more than 10 million copies. “An animated TV series will launch in Italy and France in the fall,” said Nantier. “Expectations are that it will roll out in the U.S. and bring merchandising and other licensing with it. We think it has a lot of potential,” said Nantier.

The company has produced a 17-volume manga-style graphic novel series based on the classic girl-detective Nancy Drew (licensed from Simon & Schuster, the series has sold nearly 400,000 copies combined) and a 17-volume series based on the updated adventures of the classic Hardy Boys series done in a style Nantier said “combines the manga and super-hero style.” The Hardy Boys series has sold a combined 350,000 copies. Papercutz also reprints previously created comics based on Bionicle, a Transformers-like sci-fi adventure series based on a LEGO toy line that has sold about 100,000 copies over five volumes, that also offers secret codes that send readers to a popular online game based on the series. Nantier said that Papercutz will begin creating all-new Bionicle stories for the series beginning in 2010.

Nantier, also the publisher of NBM, a separate company that publishes comics aimed older readers, said that focusing on classic, even slightly out-of-date but recognizable characters has been a boon for his small independent house. He emphasized that chains like B&N and Borders—as well as the library and school market—are interested in well-known properties as well as series publishing and graphic novels for kids. The chains are experimenting with kids' graphic novel sections, he added. “It’s tough launching original characters,” said Nantier. “Booksellers are inundated with new books but they all know Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.”

Papercutz also publishes multi-volume graphic novels based on the classic tongue-in-cheek horror series Tales From the Crypt and reprints the 1990s graphic novel revivals of the original Classics Illustrated series as well as what it calls Classic Illustrated Deluxe, translated Euro-comics adaptations of such literary works as Wind in the Willows and Frankenstein. And Salicrup said the house has big expectations for the forthcoming Diary of a Stinky Dead Kid, a zombie parody of Jeff Kinney’s bestselling Diary of a Wimpy Kid books that will be published in October as part of the Tales From the Crypt line. “We find stuff with a good base,” said Nantier, “school and reader-friendly comics. Series books also help. The big growth is in kids' graphic novels."