Original article (French only) : Le Soleil
“Our animated series Agent Jean! is now part of the Zodiak Kids catalogue. They’re a major international distributor of content for kids,” says the president and executive producer of Happy Camper Média, which is headquartered on Rue Saint Joseph in Quebec City. “Zodiak Kids is in charge of selling Agent Jean! internationally, including at Kidscreen (the world’s largest children’s entertainment industry event), which takes place in February.”
Sylvain, who holds a bachelor’s degree in cultural affairs and a master’s in management and tech entrepreneurship, has a strong interest in cultural entrepreneurship. He caught the production bug at a videogame and animation studio where he worked in communications, marketing, and distribution. He describes it as the beginning of a love affair with production and animation, a medium that offers endless possibilities.
“There are so many different ways to tell stories. We have a completely different set of constraints compared to live action. We can imagine new worlds or take inspiration from our own.”
Sylvain had just started as an executive producer on Agent Jean!, a series based on the comic book by Alex A., when his studio decided to refocus entirely on video games. He decided to take over Agent Jean! with two partners, and Happy Camper Média was born.
“I felt like I had found my calling in production, and I also had colleagues who wanted to continue on with the project.” - Renaud Sylvain
When Happy Camper Média launched, Sylvain released ten 90-second Agent Jean! videos that had been completed before he left his former employer. The public embraced the show immediately.
“We knew Agent Jean! was a runaway success in children’s publishing, so we figured there would be an appetite for an animated series. But we needed to be sure. Shortly after the videos went live, a new order arrived for 40 more 90-second episodes. We did those and worked concurrently on a seven-minute format that just launched on TOU.TV. All in all, we’re doing 80 episodes, 30 of which will be delivered in mid-March. The remaining 50 will be delivered gradually through the end of summer 2022.”
Agent Jean! is a team effort. Staff at Happy Camper Média work alongside representatives from publisher Presse Adventure, and Alex A., the comic book’s author and illustrator.
“We’ve got a very close working relationship. The folks at Presse Adventure and Alex A. have their Facebook communities and take part in book fairs, so they have a connection with the fans. That’s allowed us to zero in on what young people like in terms of humor and comic books. Plus we’re really lucky to have Alex along for the ride. We get to ask questions and make sure we’re staying true to the universe he created.”
“There so many different ways to tell a story. We have a completely different set of constraints compared to live action. We can imagine new worlds or take inspiration from our own.”- Renaud Sylvain
According to Sylvain, bringing the comic book universe to the screen has been a largely organic process. He notes that comic books are a lot like animation in some ways. The challenge here was to transform a 100-page book into a full-scale production, especially with episodes that are only 90 seconds long, while staying true to the world and visual identity created by the author.
Sylvain doesn’t hide the fact that showing the first episode of Agent Jean! to its creator was stressful. “It was the good kind of stress. There had been several rounds of approval throughout the process and communication was very open, so we knew there weren’t going to be any huge surprises. We had already made adjustments along the way.”
Agent Jean! has been as successful on the screen as it was on the shelves. The series is steadily gaining fans. Plus, it garnered two Geminis from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television.
“It’s always great to be honored with awards. We’re happy because it reflects well on the team. The cool thing about the Geminis is that they’re voted on by our peers—producers and industry professionals. Having people in the industry recognize the value in and quality of our production is very rewarding. But we can’t rest on our laurels. We have to keep moving forward.”
A hit on screen and on shelf
In July 2019 Happy Camper Média had about ten employees. It has now grown to 45. In addition to producing Agent Jean!, the company is working on two other hit children’s books from Quebec: Dragouille for elementary school children and Petite Dragouille for preschoolers. It has also received funding to develop an original script and has launched an Agent Jean! podcast and web games.
“We’ve started to dip our toes into the service side of things, too. We want to make our expertise available to producers who don’t have animation studios.”
Speaking on his company’s rapid growth, Sylvain says it is important to take things one step at a time.
“I find it more exciting than scary. We realize we have to keep things moving to ensure our long-term viability. Our growth has stabilized to some extent because we have projects that extend into 2022. That gives us valuable planning time.”
“We want to hire a talent development officer to help our employees map out their career plans, learn the things they want to learn, and take their skills to another level.”