Gold Key Comics
|Headquarters||Poughkeepsie, New York, United States|
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) These evidently were aimed at the book trade and department stores, in the manner of Western Publishing's popular Little Golden Books. 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.
A striking difference between Gold Key and other publishers (which had been done by Dell as well) was to publish most of their mystery, jungle, science-fiction, adventure and similar series with full-color painted covers rather than the standard line-artwork.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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. 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), plus a four-issue series adapting classic science fiction stories by authors such as Isaac Asimov and John W. Campbell (Starstream). Golden Press released trade paperback reprint collections (Walt Disney Christmas Parade, Bugs Bunny Comics-Go-Round, Star Trek Enterprise Logs), 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", 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)." 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. All these efforts ultimately proved unsuccessful and by 1984 Western was out of the comic book business.
Relaunches, reprints and legacy
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. They have begun several revivals of characters under Jim Shooter, including Doctor Solar, Magnus, Turok, and Mighty Samson. The Checker Book Publishing Group, in conjunction with Paramount Pictures, began reprinting the Gold Key Star Trek series in 2004. 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.
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".
In the 1990s new Gold Key comics from the late 1970s would occasionally turn up in Australia, in two-for-the-price-of-one bags, sold through newsagents.
In 2001, Western Publishing, including the Gold Key properties, was brought by Classic Media. In 2012, Classic Media was bought out by DreamWorks Animation SKG and rebranded as DreamWorks Classics, who currently own the Gold Key properties.
In 2014, the Gold Key properties will be revived by Dynamite Entertainment, starting with Turok, Magnus, Robot Fighter, Doctor Spektor, and Solar, Man of the Atom.
- The Biggest Disney Comic Book in the World
- Top Comics: What the heck are these?
- Goodbye, Charlie!
- "The Complete Frank Miller: The Twilight Zone".
- Interview with a Freelancer: Diana Gabaldon, Author
- Evanier, Mark. "Jerry Belson R.I.P.," New From Me (October 12, 2006).
- Evanier, Mark. "More on Leo Dorfman," News From Me (May 29, 2005).
- Ro, Ronin. Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and the American Comic Book Revolution (Bloomsbury, 2004).
- Starstream #3 1976
- Bugs Bunny Comics-Go-Round (Golden Press comic book) - 1 issues
- Reprint Editions - The Enterprise Logs
- News from Me (column): "More on Comicpacs" (May 2, 2007), by Mark Evanier
- The Collectors Editions that never was
- Review of Radioactive Man #106
- 2 Companies Pay $84 Million for Golden Books - New York Times
- DreamWorks Buys Collection of Old Characters, Including Casper, Lassie, Waldo, and Golden Books - WSJ.com
- Baby Snoots
- Brothers of the Spear (originally a backup series in Tarzan)
- The Close Shaves of Pauline Peril
- Doctor Solar
- The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor
- Golden Comics Digest
- Grimm's Ghost Stories
- Jungle Twins
- Little Monsters
- M.A.R.S. Patrol Total War (formerly Total War)
- Magnus, Robot Fighter
- Mighty Samson
- Mod Wheels
- Mystery Comics Digest
- O.G. Whiz
- Space Family Robinson - predated similar television series Lost in Space
- Tales of Sword and Sorcery, featuring "Dagar the Invincible"
- Turok, Son of Stone
- Tragg and the Sky Gods
- UFO Flying Saucers (retitled/reprinted as UFO and Outer Space)
- Wacky Adventures of Cracky
- Wacky Witch
- The Addams Family (based on the 1974 Hanna-Barbera animated series)
- Astro Boy
- The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan
- The Avengers (published as John Steed & Emma Peel, due to Marvel Comics' superhero title)
- The Banana Splits
- Battle of the Planets
- The Beagle Boys (Walt Disney's)
- Beep Beep the Road Runner
- Beetle Bailey
- Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery (based upon the TV series Thriller)
- Buck Rogers
- Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
- Bugs Bunny
- Bullwinkle and Rocky
- Daffy Duck
- Dark Shadows
- Doc Savage (unproduced 1966 movie tie-in)
- Donald Duck (Walt Disney's)
- Ellery Queen
- Family Affair
- Fireball XL5
- Flash Gordon
- The Flintstones
- The Funky Phantom
- The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.
- The Green Hornet
- Hanna-Barbera Fun-In
- Have Gun, Will Travel
- The Hardy Boys (based on the Filmation cartoon series)
- Help!... It's the Hair Bear Bunch!
- Honey West
- H.R. Pufnstuf
- I Spy
- Korak, Son of Tarzan
- Happy Days
- Huey, Dewey and Louie, Junior Woodchucks
- The Inspector (Pink Panther spinoff)
- Krofft Supershow
- Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp
- Little Lulu
- The Lone Ranger
- Looney Tunes
- The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
- Mickey Mouse (Walt Disney's)
- Mighty Mouse
- Moby Duck (Walt Disney's)
- The Munsters (from TV series)
- My Favorite Martian
- The Phantom
- The Pink Panther
- Popeye the Sailor
- Porky Pig
- Ripley's Believe It or Not! with three subtitles: "True War Stories" (#1 and #5), "True Demons & Monsters" (#7, #10, #19, #22, #25, #26, and #29) and "True Ghost stories" (remaining numbers)
- Secret Agent (based upon the TV series, Danger Man)
- Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (later changed to Scooby-Doo Mystery Comics)
- Star Trek
- Super Goof (Walt Disney's)
- The Three Stooges
- Tom and Jerry
- Tweety and Sylvester
- The Twilight Zone
- Uncle Scrooge
- Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
- Wacky Races
- Walt Disney Comics Digest
- Walt Disney's Comics and Stories
- Walt Disney's Showcase
- Where's Huddles?
- The Wild Wild West
- Woody Woodpecker
- Yosemite Sam (and Bugs Bunny)
- Database and Cover Gallery of Gold Key Comics
- Gold Key Comics at the INDUCKS
- Toonopedia's Article on Gold Key Comics
- Comic book historian Joe Torcivia The Issue at Hand blog entry "Happy 50th Anniversary to Gold Key Comics!"
- Complete Listing of all Gold Key Comics and known variants
- Mark Evanier on the failure of Gold Key's attempt to distribute their comics in bags of three
- Golden Picture Story Book covers
- 1964 Gold Key subscription ad
- Photo of Top Comics 5 pack
- Joe Messerli, R.I.P.