Maneki-neko may very well be one of the most ubiquitous mammals in the world, certainly in the Far East. The feline figurines feature in shops, restaurants and residences worldwide, believed to bring good fortune to their owner. It’s a squatting cat, pawing at the air, beckoning the viewer. (Not waving; greeting gestures differ in Japan, where the figure emerged.) Many modern versions are mechanised, with a limb endlessly rotating. It can be mesmeric.
Lore has it that a cat with its left paw raised is seeking to attract customers; the right paw aloft denotes a cat seeking good fortune and cash. The new venture of Jenny Broom and Rachel Williams, Magic Cat Publishing, features a sparse yet memorable logo with the cat’s left paw gesturing, echoing their mission statement of creating books that will attract custom from parents and children alike, as well as titles with a global flavour and appeal. They say that as “a symbol of good fortune and curiosity, our Magic Cat mascot reflects our international approach to book-making and business”.
It’s evident in their list, too, which the pair will be débuting at the Frankfurt Book Fair, before introducing to readers in the UK in March 2020. Magic Cat plans to issue 10 books in its first year, all for readers under the age of 12, with six launch titles in advanced stages (see below). The company is selling coedition rights to the titles at Frankfurt, and will also be visiting November’s Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair.
The texts are something of a departure for Broom and Williams, who have worked together on two previous ventures: first at Templar list Big Picture Press, then as co-founders of Quarto imprint Wide-Eyed Editions.
Their output to date includes the bestselling Little People, Big Dreams series and large-format titles such as Animalium (authored by Broom and illustrated by Katie Scott) and Illuminature (written by Williams and illustrated by Carnovsky), texts widely heralded as having spurred a resurgence in the field of illustrated non-fiction. The vibrant, colourful and often unexpected illustration styles used—and art-directed by Nicola Price, whom the duo recently snared from Quarto to join them at Magic Cat—became something of a signature. Broom, Price and Williams were all named Bookseller Rising Stars for their work.
Rachel Williams and Jenny Broom
So how do the Magic Cat titles differ? There’s a slightly younger focus: two of the six launch titles are in the Baby Animal Tales series for the very young. And there’s also a slightly more photographic, perhaps even more commercial bent: mental-health guide It’s OK Not to be OK uses large, cut-out illustrations of celebrities, tattooed with brash, outlined drawings by Ana Strumpf. Think Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls on acid. Both Broom and Williams believe the new titles have slightly more of a narrative focus, and are less reliant on graphics carrying the narrative. And, they add, a leaner list as an independent means they can give each publication more attention.
The pair say the younger focus was in part forced on them: both recently became mothers, and they claim the ensuing “baby brain” has helped them to tune into the reading needs of toddlers—and notice gaps in the market. “We are in a period of our lives in which we are being inspired by our children every day,” Broom says. “It is crucial that we make the most of this opportunity and harness its creative potential.” The Baby Animal Tales series, she says, is a slightly more visually sophisticated offer for the pre-school market; the texts were written by Templar founding publisher Amanda Wood, who is a former colleague to the pair and now a current one, too—she is a partner in their new venture.
Book-wise, there’s slightly more familiar ground with Old Enough to Save the Planet, a beautifully illustrated (by Adelina Lirius) guide to going green for picture book-aged readers. The author’s advance for the title—part of Magic Cat’s Young Activists series—will be donated to the School Strike for Climate Change group. Visually, Adventure Starts at Bedtime is on equally strong territory; its subject matter is alien territories explored by fearless adventurers—“30 real-life stories of danger and intrigue” from around the world. Adventurer Ness Knight wrote the text, with Qu Lan’s brilliant draughtsmanship enlivening the spreads.
Broom, Williams and Price revealed the early-stage artwork for their autumn/winter 2020 titles at their new digs at east London co-working space Second Home, and sneak-preview dummies will be making the journey to the Messe. There are collaborations with Croatian illustrator Tomislav Tomic (tentatively The Dragon Ark); a tour of Forbidden Places (Area 51, Her Royal Highness’ chamber, etc); and a tie-up with Victo Ngai, an illustrator more used to advertising and commercial briefs, which utilises a hidden layer of UV-ink graphics that is only discoverable under certain light. (A miniature torch is included.)
Making a stand
Broom and Williams say the list “reflects what we do best: create profit with beautiful books that inspire care for our world”, adding that they were motivated to launch their indie in part because of the make-up of the publishing sector: nearly four-fifths female, yet rarely female-led—at least at director level. They look set to make a splash, too, with distribution deals inked in the UK (with Abrams & Chronicle) and Australasia (Walker Australia), while the list will be an imprint of Abrams Children’s Books in North America.
Yet the key to its success could be how a partnership with a Chinese publisher pans out. Magic Cat will be an imprint of the Ronshin Group, a family-owned independent based in Xi’an; the introduction was conducted by Wood. The Xi’an list offered advice on certain aspects of the titles—the inclusion of certain Chinese adventurers in Adventure Starts at Bedtime, for instance, and pointers on other cultural dos and dont’s—but not overbearingly so; its interest in Magic Cat, the pair say, is because “[Ronshin] sees it as an innovative publisher of books for children”, and believes its potential is vast in China’s kids’ market.
With that market set to swell dramatically following the cessation of its one-child policy, it looks as though that maneki-neko has brought with it good fortune, too.