Marvel Comics and HarperCollins Children's Books are teaming up to launch a reading program based around Marvel's popular character Spider-Man. The new line, called simply, Spider-Man, will release its first titles in winter 2009; it will focus on a variety of children's formats, including beginning readers, story books, chapter books, phonics sets and novelty publications.

The initial line—21 titles in all—will launch with four books, including a beginning reader (Spider-Man Versus the Vulture), two chapter books and a story book. The program will not include comics, but the books will have illustrations.

Jodi Harris, editorial director of HarperFestival, which will oversee the program, explained that Harper worked with Marvel to choose the Spider-Man character as well as a number of villains featured in Spider-Man comics who will star in each of the kids' books. The books will be developed and produced by HarperCollins, which will come up with story lines and hire writers and illustrators. HarperCollins has worked in the past with Marvel to create tie-in books for the Spider-Man movies, and Harris said working on those books prepared her to work on the children's publishing program. Harper will handle distribution to trade and mass market accounts as well as comics shops. “Our special markets group has worked closely with Diamond Comics for our Spider-Man tie-ins,” Harris noted, “so we'll have comics shop distribution.”

Paul Gitter, Marvel Entertainment's president of consumer products, said the reading program is the first time Marvel has licensed its franchise character for a major line of prose books for kids. “Our licensing has been very fragmented. Now we're stepping back and trying to find the best partner. HarperCollins is a major publisher with a cohesive strategy for the property,” Gitter said. He added that books are “a catalyst to influence children and move them on to other Marvel characters and properties. Spider-Man is our flagship brand. He's safe and appeals to kids in a way that will make reading fun.”