Owners: Michigan-based Mark Crilley and Dover, New Jersey-based Sirius Entertainment
Concept: Akiko began as a comic series in 1996, published by Sirius Entertainment after a successful one-off in 1995. Now in its 39th issue, and distributed by Diamond Comic Distributors worldwide, the comedy/fantasy story was originally created by Crilley as a teaching tool while he was teaching English in Japan.
Description: Crilley describes it as ‘Wizard of Oz meets Star Wars.’ It’s a fantasy story with aspects of anime storytelling, surrounding a fourth-grade Japanese-American named Akiko and her intergalactic travels with other space adventurers like Gax and Poog.
The latest: Vancouver’s Bardel Animation and Montreal’s Cinar are in production on a 13 x half-hour, 2-D animated series for a March 2001 delivery on Canada’s Teletoon, and Random House is publishing the second of four hardcover children’s books, Akiko in the Sprubly Islands, this fall, based on the first 18 books in the series. The property has also garnered ten Eisner Award nominations (comic industry awards) since its inception.
Rights: Mark Crilley/Sirius Entertainment have rights to comic book publishing and merchandise derived from the comic series; Bardel Animation and Cinar have rights to the television series, international distribution and ancillary rights derived from the television series; Random House has non-comic book publishing rights.
Demo: Random House positioned the first book, Akiko on the Planet Smoo (which hit stores in February) to appeal to an eight to 12 demo, but Crilley likens the property to Calvin & Hobbes in terms of its wider appeal to children of all ages.
Although the main character is female, Crilley says there are many elements like space travel and fantasy adventure that will appeal to both sexes. The cleanly drawn, black and white graphics are inspired by a ‘myriad of other influences,’ says Crilley. The comic has aspects of Hergé Rémi’s Tintin and Japanese anime, while the artist himself says he was influenced by Calvin & Hobbes. Teletoon’s Kevin Wright, VP of programming, says the look reminds him of the drawings of American comic artist Robert Crumb. The story lines are somewhat influenced by anime, and one character named Poog is drawn with big, round eyes.
Wright says Teletoon chose the series because the illustrations are so distinct. ‘It’s really a clean, graphical approach. There’s definitely a European and Japanese feel to it.’
Crilley says he drew the comic viewing the characters as 3-D entities, and can envision toys like space ships and robots. One, Gax, is like a Swiss Army knife-different gadgets pop out of him. Crilley can also see interactive games and high-tech toys as other categories for Akiko products.
Because of its cross-cultural background, the property also has an international appeal. Crilley receives fan mail and has fan-club members from as far away as South Africa and Argentina. ‘That’s what you get when you set something in a fantasyland on another planet.’
The comic series has also piqued interest from Hollywood. In 1998, Crilley was named one of 100 most creative people on Entertainment Weekly’s It List.
Market Reality check:
Licensing experts agree the market is still extremely ripe for tween girl properties.
‘The market has a huge appetite for girls’ properties,’ says Len Reiter, president of New Jersey’s Bradford Licensing Associates. ‘There’s plenty of room for new opportunities.’ Reiter qualifies that the property still must be exposed through careful marketing and the appropriate licensing categories have to be chosen in order for a tween girl property to make it. It’s not automatic. ‘Often times, there’s a thought that properties developed in other parts of the world will work just because of what’s happened with Power Rangers or Digimon.’
‘Obviously it never hurts to have a show with a strong female character,’ adds Wright, saying he thinks it will also appeal to anime audiences and may cast a net as high as age 17.