Insight Kids Finds ‘Missing Link’

Insight Editions is publishing movie tie-ins to LAIKA’s upcoming stop-motion animated release Missing Link. Formats include a licensed picture book—a first for Insight—called A Smile for Sasquatch: A Missing Link Story, which serves as a prologue to the film. Insight Kids will publish the $16.99, 32-page picture book on April 2, 10 days before the movie’s theatrical release.

Written by Steven Marten with art by Aaron Cushley, and created in close collaboration with the film’s writer/director Chris Butler, A Smile for Sasquatch reveals the main character’s backstory and explains why he wants to learn to read and write, bringing readers up to the moment the film begins.

“The whole process was really refreshing,” says Elaine Piechowski, Insight’s v-p of children’s publishing and business development. Butler and the LAIKA team immersed Marten, Cushley, and Insight’s editors in the studio’s creative process, their vision for the colorful and patterned look of the film, and what they were trying to achieve in the storytelling.

“[Butler] didn’t want just a retelling of the film, he wanted something more,” Piechowski says. “He brought all of us into their world so we could see what they were seeing and understand it from the inside. He really wanted to open up the creative process and then encourage the writer and illustrator to use that as a springboard to create something new.” That was followed by a lot of back-and-forth during the writing and illustration process. “It was welcome collaboration. They were always open to conversation and receptive to feedback.”

The result? “It’s a very sweet story that touches on difficult themes of acceptance and belonging,” Piechowski says. “It has fun treats hidden in it, and it’s very funny too. The art has a childlike feel and is captivatingly beautiful to look at. Steven and Aaron really stepped up to the plate and executed above our vision for it.”

In addition to the picture book, Insight will also release a Missing Link Art Of book and an IncrediBuilds title.

Cottage Door Press Is Open to New Brand

Cottage Door Press has expanded its portfolio of licensed publishing programs. It is adding three brands—Lamaze, Colorforms, and PBS Kids—and a new preschool character property, Panda Panda, to a list that already includes Smithsonian Kids, Daniel Tiger, and Baby Einstein. Another deal is expected soon.

“We’re conscious about the licenses we take,” says director of marketing and partnerships Melissa Tigges, noting that licensing will always represent a relatively small portion of the company’s list. “We look at properties that fill a strategic niche for us or hit a target we aren’t hitting, where a license can really drive that segment. It has to enhance our expertise.” Cottage Door focuses on books for children ages 0–5, with a focus on the younger end of that spectrum

Lamaze, licensed from toy company Tomy, will launch this fall with three titles for babies and toddlers, including a three-button sound book, Flip-a-Flap Board Book, and a touch-and-feel title inspired by Tomy’s Lamaze Peek-a-Boo Forest cloth book. Colorforms, licensed from 9 Story Media Group, gives Cottage Door a foray into creativity formats; the first three titles will include two activity books with handles and a deluxe take-along activity format. For PBS Kids, a brand that carries weight with parents, the company is developing four to six educational titles for a fall 2020 launch.

While most of the company’s licenses are established brands, Panda Panda is a brand-new property, represented for licensing in the U.S. by the ThinkTank Emporium. Developed by two animators, it stars twin brother and sister pandas, Dot and Beau. “It’s so beautifully done and well thought-out,” says Tigges. “It gives us the ability to get in on the ground floor to help drive the messaging, and then be there when they have a broader reach.” Other attributes that appealed to the company were the thick-lined, mostly black-and-white look that is well-suited to attract babies’ attention; the social-emotional learning themes; and the on-trend Japanese anime style and panda characters.

A soft launch of the first four Panda Panda titles—all straight board books without the interactive elements for which Cottage Door is best known—is planned via e-commerce in fall 2019, with broader distribution anticipated for 2020.

Scholastic Calls on ‘Detective Pikachu’

Scholastic is publishing three books tied to the May 10 feature film Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, the latest extension of its long-running Pokémon publishing franchise. “It’s a really fun crime story,” says v-p and publisher, global licensing, media, and brands Debra Dorfman. “It has a lot of mishaps and humor, it introduces some new characters, and the trailer had record-breaking views in a matter of hours.” Actor Ryan Reynolds is the voice of the CG-animated lead character in the live-action film, which is based on an interactive game that debuted in the U.S. last year.

The Pokémon Company is putting a premium on secrecy surrounding the film, in the hopes of preventing spoilers. As a result, “we’re limited in what we can do,” Dorfman says. Scholastic will release an 80-page in-world guidebook, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu: Case Files, a $7.99 paperback releasing six weeks prior to the film’s debut. It includes CGI images from the movie, the detective’s notes, a pull-out poster, and other details. In September will come two titles for school book clubs and fairs only, a novelization of the film and a reader that retells a portion of the story, both with movie photo.

Meanwhile, the greater Pokémon program continues. Dorfman reports that the latest edition of the Pokémon: Essential Handbook, published last fall, is doing “extremely well,” while the chapter book series continues to perform steadily at retail. This summer, Scholastic is releasing its first graphic story based on the property.

New Tricks for Dog Man

Merrymakers is launching a global licensing program for Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man series, whose latest title from Scholastic’s Graphix imprint, Brawl of the Wild, had a five million-copy first printing and knocked Michelle Obama’s Becoming off the top of some bestseller lists. The first merchandise—which will encompass toys and games, apparel and accessories, home goods, and school supplies—is being fast-tracked for fall 2019.

All told, Scholastic has printed more than 23 million copies of the graphic novel series. Merrymakers’ gift division introduced its first Dog Man plush toy almost simultaneously with the launch of the first book in August 2016. Since then, plush figures of the Dog Man, Cat Kid, and Petey characters have become some of the company’s bestsellers. But the relationship between Pilkey and Merrymakers goes back even further. “We’ve worked with Dav since 2001, when we signed a deal for the original Captain Underpants doll,” says Merrymakers president Clair Frederick. “He’s been wonderful to work with, and there’s an element of trust there after more than 15 years.”

While licensing activities tied to Pilkey’s characters have been limited in the past, they have increased of late, thanks in large part to DreamWorks’ merchandising program for the Captain Underpants movie and TV series. The experience that Merrymakers’ five-year-old licensing division has had with children’s book properties added to Pilkey’s comfort level, Frederick believes. “We’ve proven ourselves with the rollout of our program for Pete the Cat,” she says. “We’ve worked closely with [author-illustrator] James Dean and demonstrated that we could further the book content by choosing the right categories and best-in-class partners.”

Frederick predicts that Dog Man licensed products will do well in trade and specialty stores, which are the sweet spot for plush sales, and in mass retailers, which have strongly supported the books. The target customer base is also wide, with the property appealing to both boys and girls and to an age range of three to 12. “I’ve heard customers tell me at the shows that their seven-year-old reads the books to their three-year-old, or that their reluctant 11-year-old is a big fan,” Frederick says.

With two books published per year, there are also plenty of storylines and images for licensees to utilize. “There’s so much to work with because of the comic book style, and the zany adventures are just endless,” Frederick notes. “We’ll do the full bandwidth, but there has to be a reason for the related product to exist.”

Miffy to Celebrate 65 Years with New Merchandise

Mercis, the company that manages the commercial activities for late author-illustrator Dick Bruna, has retained the Joester Loria Group as the licensing agent for Bruna’s Miffy character in North America. The program is ramping up for a full array of products to coincide with the property’s 65th anniversary celebrations in 2020.

The focus of the licensing initiative will be products for two main customer groups, infants/toddlers and adults, with products sold through specialty stores and other higher-end retail channels, according to Debra Joester, president and CEO of the licensing agency. While much of the recent licensing activity in North America has been tied to the 3D-animated TV show, which continues to air on Nickelodeon, the emphasis now will be on the classic book art and the 10 style guides Mercis has developed for on-trend lifestyle products. Collaborations with fashion-forward designers and experiential initiatives such as touring museum shows, which have been important internationally, are also part of the plan.

“Miffy is a sophisticated, art-based property,” Joester says. “The black-and-white artwork, a centerpiece of the global collection of products, is beautifully on-trend while the entire portfolio of 2D art provides exceptional creative assets for lifestyle categories.” She notes that Bruna was a respected post-World War II graphic designer and has an entire floor of the Centraal Museum in his hometown of Utrecht in Holland devoted to him. A Miffy lamp from licensee Mr. Maria, which is sold globally, including at the MoMA Design Store and other U.S. specialty retailers, is a product that typifies the approach, she says. “It’s a beautiful execution of Miffy and a good example of tapping into Dick Bruna’s minimalist art.”

Bruna wrote 124 original picture books that have sold 85 million copies worldwide, with 32 of those featuring Miffy. Simon Schuster is the current U.S. publisher and will release Sweet Dreams, Miffy—its first book in the style of Bruna’s classic publishing rather than the TV tie-in look—this spring.

The Miffy brand, which drives approximately $300 million globally in retail sales of books and merchandise annually, is particularly popular in Europe and Asia. “The successful programs in Asia are the result of over a decade of development and growth. Miffy has a solid following in the North America, but we don’t have the depth of history or nostalgia that exists in Europe and Asia,” Joester says. “Our plan is to align with the approach in Europe and Asia by focusing on the classic 2D art, plush, soft goods for infants and adults, and products for the home. The 65th anniversary in 2020 will provide the ideal platform to elevate Miffy in North America with new products and global collaborations.”

In Brief

Viz Media has secured the rights from Rooster Teeth for The World of RWBY: The Official Companion; it is already the English-language publisher for RWBY manga. Separately, Viz, which is the master North American publisher for the Dragon Ball series, will release Dragonball: A Visual History in the fall under its Shonen Jump imprint…. LicensingWorks! the new U.S. licensing agent for Where’s Spot?, in association with Penguin Ventures and Puffin, will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Eric Hill’s lift-the-flap storybook Where’s Spot? with new licensed merchandise for infants and toddlers…. KidKraft is introducing a new collection of reading nooks, activity tables, and other furniture under its license with The World of Eric Carle…. BBC Books will publish two Doctor Who episode novelizations by long-time script editor Eric Saward.