Hairy Maclary: 'The Books Lead the Way'
This article was commissioned by The Sapling and first published on 26 September 2017.
The twenty-first title in the Hairy Maclary and Friends series is coming out in October 2017, and we thought that this made it the perfect time to get Elizabeth Heritage to have a talk to Lynley Dodd, and many of the other people involved in the phenomenon that is Hairy Maclary.
Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy was first published in 1983: this makes Hairy Maclary the same age as my little brother. The most recent book in the series, Scarface Claw, Hold Tight!, is due out in October 2017, and my brother will be reading it to his 3-year-old daughter, just as our parents read the books to us. Times have changed since the 80s though: as well as reading the books, these days you can interact with Hairy and pals in a variety of ways; from attending the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra’s Slinky Malinki’s Christmas Cracker, to putting Hairy Maclary-themed nappies on your baby, to playing the memory card game online.
The story of the cultural and merchandising phenomenon that is Hairy Maclary begins with Hairy Maclary’s two most important kaitiaki: creator Lynley Dodd and original publisher Ann Mallinson. Mallinson says: 'Once I read Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy I knew instantly it was going to be a bestseller. Anyone would be immediately attracted to it! It’s got everything: rhyme, rhythm, humour, lovely drawings. I have never met a child who didn’t like it.'
And indeed, so it proved. The books kept coming: four more in the 80s, then eight more in the 90s, then eight more so far this century – Scarface Claw, Hold Tight! will be the 21st story in the Hairy Maclary and Friends series, all of which are available in hardback, paperback, board book, and ebook formats.
Dodd is remarkably modest about Hairy Maclary’s success. 'I hadn’t given any thought to the possibility of a second Hairy Maclary book, but when Ann suggested that there might be more mileage in him, she was right. Hairy always led the way, and I’ve been rushing along behind ever since, trying to hang on tight.'
Hairy Maclary’s first branching out of books was into theatre. In the early 90s, the NZ School of Dance asked if they could use Hairy Maclary for the students’ final show, after Ann Hunt, the Karori Librarian, had recommended the books to Paul Jenden. Jenden was given permission to direct and choreograph the performance, and Mallinson put him in touch with Jan Bolton, who had written a school production of Hairy Maclary in the Hutt Valley.
The NZ School of Dance production was so successful that a year later Mallinson, Jenden and Bolton formed Maclary Theatre Productions. Every year, for ten years, in the July school holidays Maclary Theatre Productions put on a new show in Wellington and Auckland, directed by Jenden with music by Bolton and sung and narrated by Jackie Clarke. Jenden’s costumes are now held by Te Papa. These days the stage rights are held by Nonsense Room Productions, which has been touring the stage show internationally since 2011.
Dog Star, Gallery Star
Hairy also made a brief foray into television in the mid 90s, with ten short films (the first here) directed and animated by Euan Frizzell and narrated by Miranda Harcourt. In a documentary on the history of NZ animation, From Len Lye to Gollum, Frizzell said 'Hairy is one of the hardest of the lot [to animate]. He's almost Lynley's handwriting.' As a screen star, though, Hairy didn’t really ‘take’. He remains at his best on the page – even if that page is on the wall.
Penelope Jackson has curated exhibitions of Dodd’s work that have toured Aotearoa and Australia. She says she has avoided digital content and focussed on Dodd’s hand-drawn original artworks. 'In the first exhibition of Lynley’s work we had an iPad with David Tennant reading the original Hairy Maclary book. But in all honesty it didn’t work because it distracted the children. It spoiled the sense of calm that we wanted to achieve so that visitors would read the books themselves and engage with the artworks.'
Instead, the exhibitions have plenty of books and space to read. And it seems to work – the family fun day for Lynley Dodd: A Retrospective in Adelaide attracted more than ten thousand visitors, and in Perth no less a personage than Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
Books Lead the Way
But what about the merch? How do we get from the royal family to Hairy Maclary brand nappies? Dodd says: 'As the books have always led the Hairy Maclary brand, and because we sought quality rather than quantity, it took a long time to build even a modest range of merchandise. We have always been prepared to turn down approaches that we feel don’t ‘fit’.'
In the 90s, Dodd and Mallinson started working with a merchandising agent – it was they who pushed for the animation to be made. They wanted 52 episodes for television, but there weren’t enough books. Mallinson says: 'We had table mats, t-shirts, puzzles, games, and so on. Our merchandising agent was a bit disappointed because sales were not better. People think merchandising is a money spinner, but we never found it so.'
It’s very clear from everyone I’ve spoken to that the books are absolutely central to the Hairy Maclary phenomenon, and that Dodd is – as Finlay Macdonald said in his book The Life and Art of Lynley Dodd – the head of the Hairy Maclary empire. All licensing decisions are made carefully, and all Hairy Maclary brand products are held to Dodd’s extremely high standards: for example, it took 17 prototypes to get the Hairy Maclary soft toy right. Dodd says it’s essential to keep the integrity of the original characters. 'We mustn’t get carried away by slickness.' Mallinson says: 'With Hairy Maclary, books lead the way, always have and always will.'
Debra Millar is the Publishing Director of Penguin Random House NZ (PRHNZ) and has overseen the Hairy Maclary and Friends licensing programme since Penguin acquired Dodd’s original publisher Mallinson Rendel in 2009. Hairy Maclary books have been translated into Slovenian, Korean, Russian, Japanese, and Swedish, and PRHNZ has just licensed the Chinese and Icelandic rights as well. Importantly for a home-grown creation, Hairy also exists in te reo Māori. As well as in book form, Hairy is helping Kiwis learn te reo via the Kia Taurite app by Kiwa Digital.
I work in copyright licensing as well as the book trade, and one of the things that fascinates me is the concept and practice of owning characters, text, artwork, and designs; and the extent to which one can permit or forbid others to copy and reuse these things. In terms of pure practicalities, copying has never been easier: you could go online right now, find an image of Hairy Maclary, and save it to your computer (that is, make a copy without Dodd’s permission, which infringes her copyright).
Morally and legally, though, copying and reusing is as complex as ever. As a publisher with strong commercial interests in a particular piece of intellectual property (IP), how do you draw the line between encouraging readers to engage with Hairy Maclary on the internet – which is essentially one giant copying and distribution machine – and maintaining brand integrity?
It’s a question of balance. One tactic is to create attractive online spaces where readers can copy and reuse protected IP assets in an officially sanctioned manner. On Hairy’s official website, run by PRHNZ, you can make as many copies as you like of various free downloads – for example, Slinky Malinki’s 25th birthday activity sheets, which include drawings to colour in. The copyright in these sheets belongs to Lynley Dodd, and both ‘Hairy Maclary’ and ‘Hairy Maclary and Friends’ are registered trademarks in NZ and other countries owned by PRHNZ.
Millar says: 'We want to encourage children to interact and have fun, but we also need to keep an eye out for if anyone is denigrating the brand or commercialising it in their own favour. From time to time we do need to draw people’s attention to the trademark, but we recognise that any infringement is generally done from love for the brand. It’s not about us policing, it’s about making people aware if we feel their actions might impact our licensees.'
The official Hairy Maclary(R) Facebook page is run by the PRHNZ marketing team. The user-generated content there has lots of examples of the kinds of non-commercial copying and creative reuse by readers that, strictly speaking under current NZ IP law, could be called unlawful infringement; but which PRHNZ is savvy enough to encourage as positive community engagement that adds value to the brand.
Siobhan Clare, head of marketing at PRHNZ, says: 'The Hairy Maclary social community send us everything from pictures of birthday cakes and their kids dressed up as Hairy Maclary and Friends, to pictures of their animals that they think look like one of the Hairy Maclary gang. The aim is to connect with fans. We also team up with the licensees and offer giveaways when we have new products, for example when the latest clothing range is available at The Warehouse.'
I also asked Dodd how she feels about people copying and changing her work. 'I don't mind that children draw their own versions of my characters – it's harmless fun. However, it becomes a copyright infringement matter if adults copy another's artwork, especially if they do so in order to use it in some way. That is not acceptable.'
Dodd says readers’ involvement with the characters gives her huge satisfaction. 'In their fan letters, children often draw hilarious versions of my characters, including a more anatomically complete version of Schnitzel von Krumm, from a child who lived on an Australian farm!' Dodd says she used to study illustrations closely when she was a child to see how they were done. 'I did attempt to copy styles that appealed to me but I remember wanting to do my own thing – if I could only produce something good enough!'
In many ways the primary avenue of Hairy merch isn’t really merch at all, it’s spinoff publishing (that is, publishing that repurposes existing text and artwork). Catherine O’Loughlin, children’s publisher at PRHNZ, says: 'We’ve published a quantity of story collections, including the Hairy Maclary Treasury, and a number of Hairy Maclary and Friends books designed for babies. These include two touch-and-feel titles, a cloth book, an early learning series (ABC, 123, Colours and Opposites), and a lift-the-flap book.'
The touch-and-feel book, which has been particularly popular, was the brain-child of another of Hairy Maclary’s kaitiaki, Katie Haworth. Haworth started at Mallinson Rendel in 2007 when she was studying publishing at Whitireia NZ, and then travelled with the Hairy Maclary rights to Penguin NZ in 2010. (She currently works for Templar Publishing in London.)
Haworth says: 'Every time a small child sees a dog, they hold out their hand and want to pat it. That was the genesis of the touch-and-feel book, a truncated version of the Hairy story with just character names and different things to touch. 'It was astonishingly successful, and took Hairy to a younger audience.' Haworth says their strategy with spinoff publishing was to have a slow and steady list of things coming through; enough novelty to keep readers engaged but not so much that it flooded the market and devalued the brand.
It seems to be working a treat. Hairy continues to occupy a special place in Kiwis’ hearts and keeps popping up in all kinds of places. In 2015, Dodd opened a group of bronze statues of Hairy Maclary and pals on the Tauranga waterfront, created by Brigitte Wuest and fundraised by Creative Tauranga. And in 2017, the Beyond the Page literary festival chose Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy for a special project: they made videos of various Kiwis (some famous, some ordinary) reciting one line of the book each.
I teach sales and marketing on the Whitireia publishing course, and one of the things I always have in the back of my mind is – what could my students learn from this? If I were doing a lesson plan, it would be something like: Popular story/art combo + strategic licensing + meticulous brand management = national treasure. But that’s only part of the story. There’s something very special at the heart of the Hairy Maclary phenomenon.