Gold Key Comics

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Gold Key Comics
Former type Private
Industry Publishing
Founded 1962
Defunct 1984
Headquarters Poughkeepsie, New York, United States
Products Comic books
Parent Western Publishing
Subsidiaries Whitman Comics

Gold Key Comics was an imprint of Western Publishing created for comic books distributed to newsstands. Also known as Whitman Comics, Gold Key operated from 1962 to 1984.

History

Gold Key Comics was created in 1962, when Western switched to in-house publishing rather than packaging content for branding and distribution by its business partner, Dell Comics. Hoping to make their comics more like traditional children's books, they initially eliminated panel line-borders (using just the panel — its ink and artwork evenly edged but not bordered by a "container" line — a novel idea at the time — and making the comic look more like "artwork"), and had word and thought balloons that were rectangular rather than oval, giving the titles a cleaner, more modern look. Within a year they had reverted to using inked panel borders and oval balloons. They also experimented with new formats, including black-and-white 136 page hardcovers containing reprints (Whitman Comic Book) and tabloid-sized 52-page hardcovers containing new material (Golden Picture Story Book)1 In 1967, Gold Key reprinted a number of selected issues of their comics under the title Top Comics which were sold in plastic bags of five at gas stations and various eateries; some locations removed them from the bags and sold them individually with price stickers attached to the covers.citation needed

Like Dell, Gold Key was one of the few major American publishers of comic books never to display the Comics Code Authority seal on its covers.

Properties

Gold Key featured a number of licensed properties and several original titles (including a number of publications that spun off from Dell's Four Color series, or were published as standalones by Dell). It maintained decent sales numbers throughout the 1960s, thanks to its offering many titles based upon popular TV series of the day, as well as numerous titles based upon both Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros. animated properties. It was also the first company to publish comic books based upon Star Trek. While some titles, such as Star Trek and The Twilight Zone, were published for many years, many other licensed titles were characterized by short runs, sometimes publishing no more than one or two issues. Gold Key considered suing over the similarly themed television series Lost in Space for its resemblance to the pre-existing Space Family Robinson but decided their business relationship with CBS and Irwin Allen was more important than any monetary reward resulting from such a suit.

Editor Chase Craig once told writer Mark Evanier that to launch titles with Hanna-Barbera characters usually the early issues would be direct adaptations of episodes of the program because "[t]he studio had approval rights and the people there could get pointlessly picky about the material... but they rarely bothered looking at any issue after the first few. Therefore, it simplified the procedure to do the first issue as an adaptation and maybe the second. They couldn't very well complain that a plot taken from the show was inappropriate".2

Over the years, it lost several properties, including the King Features Syndicate characters (Popeye, Flash Gordon, The Phantom, etc., to Charlton Comics) in 1966, numerous (but not all) Hanna-Barbera characters (also to Charlton Comics) in 1970, and Star Trek (to Marvel Comics) in 1979.

Key creators

The stable of writers and artists built up by Western Publishing during the Dell Comics era mostly continued into the Gold Key era. In the mid-1960s a number of artists were recruited by the newly formed Disney Studio Program and thereafter divided their output between Western and it. Among the few new creators at Gold Key were writers Don Glut, Len Wein, Bob Ogle, John David Warner, Steve Skeates and Mark Evanier; and artists Cliff Voorhees, Joe Messerli, Carol Lay and Mike Royer. Also in the 1970s, writer Bob Gregory started drawing stories, mostly for Daisy and Donald. Acclaimed artist/writer Frank Miller had his first published comic book artwork in The Twilight Zone for Gold Key in 1978.3

Diana Gabaldon began her career writing for Gold Key, initially sending a query that stated "I've been reading Disney comics for the last twenty-odd years, and they've been getting worse and worse. I don't know that I could do it better myself, but I'd like to try." Editor Del Connell provided a script sample and bought her second submission.4

According to former Western Publishing writer Mark Evanier, during the mid-1960s comedy writer Jerry Belson (whose writing partner at the time was Garry Marshall), while writing for leading TV sitcoms like The Dick Van Dyke Show, also did scripts for Gold Key. Among the comics he wrote for were The Flintstones, Uncle Scrooge, Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, The Three Stooges and Woody Woodpecker.5

Leo Dorfman, creator of Ghosts for DC Comics, also produced supernatural stories for Gold Key's similarly themed Twilight Zone, Ripley's Believe it or Not, Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery and Grimm's Ghost Stories. One of Gold Key's editors at the time told Mark Evanier, "Leo writes stories and then he decides whether he's going to sell them to DC [for Ghosts or to us. He tells us that if they come out good, they go to us and if they don't, they go to DC. I assume he tells DC the opposite."6

Editor Frank Tedeschi, who left in 1973 for a job in book publishing, helped bring in such new comics professionals as Walt Simonson, Gerry Boudreau, and John David Warner.7

Hard times

The comics industry experienced a downswing in the 1970s and Gold Key was among the hardest hit. Its editorial policies had not kept pace with changing times and suffered an erosion of its base of sales among children, who could now instead watch cartoons and other entertainment on free television. It is also alleged by Carmine Infantino that in the mid-to-late 1960s DC Comics attempted to pressure Gold Key from the stands through sheer weight of output.8 By 1977 many of the company's original series had been cancelled (especially circa 1973-1974), and its licensed series had more reprinted material, although Gold Key was able to obtain the rights to publish a comic book series based upon Buck Rogers in the 25th Century between 1979 and 1981. It did however, lose the rights to publish Star Trek-based comic books to Marvel Comics just prior to the revival of the franchise via Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the final Gold Key-published Star Trek title being issued in March 1979.

In this period, Gold Key experimented with digests with some success. In a similar vein, to explore new markets, in the mid-1970s it produced a four-volume series, with somewhat better production values and printing aimed at the emerging collector market, containing classic stories of the Disney characters by Carl Barks and Floyd Gottfredson (Best of Walt Disney's Comics). In the late 1970s, came somewhat higher grade reprints of various licensed characters also aimed at new venues (Dynabrites),9 plus a four-issue series adapting classic science fiction stories by authors such as Isaac Asimov and John W. Campbell (Starstream).10 Golden Press released trade paperback reprint collections (Walt Disney Christmas Parade, Bugs Bunny Comics-Go-Round,11 Star Trek Enterprise Logs12), while the distribution of comic books on spinners and racks at drug stores, supermarkets and such continued under the Gold Key label- the same comics being simultaneously distributed (usually in plastic bags of three) to toy and department stores, newsstands at airports, bus/train stations, "as well as other outlets that weren't conducive to conventional comic racks",13 under the Whitman logo, which it also used for products such as coloring books. Western, at one point, also distributed bagged comics from its rival DC Comics under the Whitman logo. Former President of DC Comics Paul Levitz has stated: "The Western program was enormous — even well into the 1970s they were taking very large numbers of DC titles for distribution (I recall 50,000+ copies offhand)."13 Continued declining sales forced Western to cease newsstand distribution in 1981, and thereafter it released all its comics solely in bags as "Whitman Comics" and the "Gold Key" logo was discontinued. Eventually arrangements were made to distribute these releases to the nascent national network of comic book stores. Western also in the early 1980s prepared a prospectus for a deluxe Carl Barks reprint project aimed at the collector market that was never published.14 All these efforts ultimately proved unsuccessful and by 1984 Western was out of the comic book business.

Relaunches, reprints and legacy

Three of Gold Key's original characters — Magnus, Robot Fighter; Doctor Solar; and Turok, Son of Stone — were used in the 1990s to launch Valiant Comics' "Valiant Universe".

Dark Horse Comics has published reprints, including several in hardcover collections, of such original Gold Key titles as Magnus, Robot Fighter; Doctor Solar; Mighty Samson; M.A.R.S. Patrol; Turok: Son of Stone; The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor; Dagar the Invincible; Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery; Space Family Robinson; Flash Gordon; the Jesse Marsh drawn Tarzan; and some of the Russ Manning-produced Tarzan series.citation needed They have begun several revivals of characters under Jim Shooter, including Doctor Solar, Magnus, Turok, and Mighty Samson.citation needed The Checker Book Publishing Group, in conjunction with Paramount Pictures, began reprinting the Gold Key Star Trek series in 2004.citation needed Hermes Press will be reprinting the three series based on Irwin Allen's SF TV series, as well as Gold Key's Dark Shadows, My Favorite Martian and the Phantom.citation needed

Bongo Comics published a parody of Gold Key in Radioactive Man #106 (volume 2 #6, Nov. 2002) with script/layout by Batton Lash and finished art by Mike DeCarlo that Tony Isabella dubbed "a nigh-flawless facsimile of the Gold Key comics published by Western in the early 1960s...from the painting with tasteful come-on copy on the front cover to the same painting, sans logo or other type, presented as a "pin-up" on the back cover".15

In 2001, Western Publishing, including the Gold Key properties, was brought by Classic Media.16 In 2012, Classic Media was bought out by DreamWorks Animation SKG and rebranded as DreamWorks Classics, who currently own the Gold Key properties.17

Selected titles

Original series

Licensed series

References

External links









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