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Immedium updates age-old book formulas

When it comes to preschool books, connecting with the audience largely rests on piquing the parent's interest so they'll 'do the voices' and deliver the story in an engaging way. But it can be hard for these constant narrators to get into a book the 20th time around. 'If parents are going through the motions by the second read, that's bad,' says Oliver Chin, founder of Immedium. Sensitive to the problem, this year-old San Francisco-based indie publisher is putting a modern spin on some classic genres, and mixing in Asian flavoring and dynamic action to make storytime more enjoyable for everyone involved.
November 1, 2005

When it comes to preschool books, connecting with the audience largely rests on piquing the parent’s interest so they’ll ‘do the voices’ and deliver the story in an engaging way. But it can be hard for these constant narrators to get into a book the 20th time around. ‘If parents are going through the motions by the second read, that’s bad,’ says Oliver Chin, founder of Immedium. Sensitive to the problem, this year-old San Francisco-based indie publisher is putting a modern spin on some classic genres, and mixing in Asian flavoring and dynamic action to make storytime more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Immedium brought its first titles to market this fall, including an amped-up version of an alphabet book in October. But rather than sticking with the traditional ‘A is for apple’ format, Chin came up with The Adventures of WonderBaby: From A to Z, featuring an infant superhero who transforms into an animal with a special super-power tied to every letter of the alphabet. If it’s successful, second and third installments of the WonderBaby franchise are already in the works as storybooks in which the hero uses his powers to discover things on daytrips to places like the zoo.

But the company’s tentpole property is still to come in the spring, and it draws heavily on Chin’s own background. Tales From the Chinese Zodiac is a series of 12 books about these iconic calendar denizens, starting with The Year of the Dog. Written by Chin and illustrated by Jeremiah Alcorn, each book targets four- to eight-year-olds and stars a baby animal coming of age and learning how to personify the year it represents.

Immedium’s catalogue is distributed by Minneapolis, Minnesota’s Consortium in North America, and by John Reed Books in Australia and New Zealand, and Chin is on the lookout for more international partners. The plan is to release four books next year, eight in 2007, and eventually hit a cruising output of roughly 10 books a year.

Once the franchises are established, Chin will begin exploring licensing opportunities. But before the focus shifts to spinning the books out into other media, the creative has to be rock solid. To that end, Immedium brings in illustrators and authors to work on its books as full partners on a per-project basis, as well as agreeing to hand over 50% of any future licensing revenue. ‘We’re not looking at artists as work-for-hire staff,’ says Chin. ‘Instead, they get a stake in the creation, and I think that gives them a much greater incentive to come and work with us, rather than for a huge corporation where they never really own their own characters.’

The strategy has so far attracted comic book artist Joe Chiodo (who’s worked for Marvel and DC on series that include Spider-Man, X-Men and Daredevil) and filmmaker and writer Greg Pak (Robot Stories). To keep his books fresh with contemporary styles that blend traditional and digital elements, Chin is also sourcing art schools, galleries and on-line and print media for up-and-coming artists.

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