Gold Key Comics

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Gold Key Comics
Private
Industry Publishing
Founded 1962
Defunct 1984
Headquarters Poughkeepsie, New York, United States
Products Comic books
Owner Random House
DreamWorks Classics (Comcast)
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[edit]

Gold Key Comics was created in 1962, when its parent company Western Publishing switched to in-house publishing rather than packaging content for branding and distribution by its business partner, Dell Comics.[1] Hoping to make their comics more like traditional children's books, they initially eliminated panel line-borders, using just the panel, with its ink and artwork evenly edged but not bordered by a "container" line. Within a year they had reverted to using inked panel borders and oval balloons. They experimented with new formats, including Whitman Comic Book, a black-and-white 136 page hardcover series containing reprints[2] and Golden Picture Story Book, a tabloid-sized 52-page hardcover containing new material.[3] In 1967, Gold Key reprinted a number of selected issues of their comics under the title Top Comics which were sold in plastic bags containing five comics, at gas stations and various eateries. 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.[4]

Properties[edit]

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 of 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.[1] It was also the first company to publish comic books based upon Star Trek.[5] 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.[6]

Editor Chase Craig stated that Gold Key would launch titles with Hanna-Barbera characters with 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".[7]

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,[8] and Star Trek to Marvel Comics in 1979.

Creators[edit]

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 the Disney Program and Western. Writer/artist Russ Manning and editor Chase Craig launched the Magnus, Robot Fighter series in 1963.[9][10] Jack Sparling co-created the superhero Tiger Girl with Jerry Siegel in 1968,[11] drew the toyline tie-in Microbots one-shot,[12] and illustrated comic book adaptations of the television series Family Affair, The Outer Limits, and Adam-12.[13][14] Dan Spiegle worked on Space Family Robinson,[6] The Green Hornet, The Invaders, Korak, Son of Tarzan, Brothers of the Spear, and many of Gold Key's mystery/occult titles.[15][16] Among the other creators at Gold Key were writers Donald F. Glut, Len Wein, Bob Ogle, John David Warner, Steve Skeates, and Mark Evanier; and artists Cliff Voorhees, Joe Messerli,[17] Carol Lay, Jesse Santos,[18] and Mike Royer. Glut created and wrote several series including The Occult Files of Dr. Spektor,[19] Dagar the Invincible,[20] and Tragg and the Sky Gods.[21] Also in the 1970s, writer Bob Gregory started drawing stories, mostly for Daisy and Donald. Artist/writer Frank Miller had his first published comic book artwork in The Twilight Zone for Gold Key in 1978.[22]

Diana Gabaldon began her career writing for Gold Key, initially sending a query that stated "I’ve been reading your comics for the last 25 years, and they’ve been getting worse and worse. I’m not sure if I could do better myself, but I’d like to try." Editor Del Connell provided a script sample and bought her second submission.[23]

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, also did scripts for Gold Key while writing for leading TV sitcoms like The Dick Van Dyke Show. Among the comics he wrote for were The Flintstones, Uncle Scrooge, Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, The Three Stooges, and Woody Woodpecker.[24]

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."[25]

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.[26]

Later years[edit]

The comics industry experienced a downswing in the 1970s and Gold Key was among the hardest hit.[1] Its editorial policies had not kept pace with changing times and suffered an erosion of its base of sales among children, who could now watch cartoons and other entertainment on television for free instead. It is also alleged by Carmine Infantino that in the mid-to-late 1960s DC Comics attempted to pressure Gold Key from the comics business through sheer weight of output.[27] Among the original titles launched by Gold Key in the 1970s were Baby Snoots[28] and Wacky Witch[29] By 1977 many of the company's series had been cancelled and the surviving titles featured 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 also lost 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, with the final Gold Key-published Star Trek title being issued in March 1979.[30]

In this period, Gold Key experimented with digests with some success. In a similar manner, 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),[31][32] plus Starstream, a four-issue series adapting classic science fiction stories by authors such as Isaac Asimov and John W. Campbell.[33] Golden Press released trade paperback reprint collections such as Walt Disney Christmas Parade,[34] Bugs Bunny Comics-Go-Round,[35] and Star Trek: The Enterprise Logs [36][37] while the distribution of comic books on spinners and racks at drug stores and supermarkets and similar stores continued under the Gold Key label. The same comics were simultaneously distributed, usually three comics in plastic bags, to toy and department stores, newsstands at airports, bus/train stations, "as well as other outlets that weren't conducive to conventional comic racks",[38] under the Whitman logo, which it also used for products like coloring books. Western, at one point, also distributed bagged comics from its rival DC Comics under the Whitman logo. Former DC Comics Executive Paul Levitz stated that 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)."[38] The continued decline in 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.[1] Eventually arrangements were made to distribute these releases to the nascent national network of comic book stores. Western also prepared a prospectus in the early 1980s for a deluxe Carl Barks reprint project aimed at the collector market that was never published.[39] All these efforts ultimately proved unsuccessful and by 1984 Western was out of the comic book business.[citation needed]

Relaunches, reprints, and legacy[edit]

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' fictional universe.[citation needed]

Dark Horse Comics (and later, Dynamite Entertainment) have 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;[40][41] [42][43] and some of the Russ Manning-produced Tarzan series.[44] They started several revivals of characters under Jim Shooter, including Doctor Solar, Magnus, Turok, and Mighty Samson.[45] The Checker Book Publishing Group, in conjunction with Paramount Pictures, began reprinting the Gold Key Star Trek series in 2004.[46] Hermes Press reprinted the three series based on Irwin Allen's science-fiction TV series,[47] as well as Gold Key's Dark Shadows,[48] My Favorite Martian,[49] and the Phantom.[48]

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".[50]

In 2001, Western Publishing, including the Gold Key properties, was bought by Classic Media.[51] In 2012, Classic Media was bought out by DreamWorks Animation SKG and rebranded as DreamWorks Classics, who currently own the Gold Key properties.[52] On April 28, 2016, NBCUniversal acquired DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 billion.[53]

Titles include[edit]

Original series[edit]

Licensed series[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Markstein, Don (2010). "Gold Key Comics". Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on October 29, 2015. 
  2. ^ A Whitman Comic Book at the Grand Comics Database
  3. ^ Sampson, Wade (February 6, 2008). "The Biggest Disney Comic Book in the World". Mouse Planet. Archived from the original on October 29, 2015. 
  4. ^ Booker, M. Keith (2014). Comics through Time: A History of Icons, Idols, and Ideas. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. xxviii. ISBN 978-0313397509. 
  5. ^ Church, Kevin (August 27, 2013). "A Navigational Guide To 45 Years Of Star Trek Comics". ComicsAlliance. Archived from the original on September 7, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Markstein, Don (2007). "Space Family Robinson". Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on October 29, 2015. Gold Key didn't sue, because it had some very lucrative licensing deals going with various TV producers and didn't want to upset any apple carts. 
  7. ^ Evanier, Mark (April 25, 2006). "Goodbye, Charlie!". News From ME. Archived from the original on September 5, 2015. 
  8. ^ Markstein, Don (2010). "Charlton Comics". Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on October 30, 2015. After abandoning licensing for a decade or so, Charlton re-entered that field in 1967, by picking up the titles of King Comics — Flash Gordon, Popeye, The Phantom, Blondie, Jungle Jim, and Beetle Bailey...In 1970, most of the Hanna-Barbera characters, including Yogi Bear and The Flintstones, went from Gold Key Comics to Charlton. 
  9. ^ Markstein, Don (2005). "Magnus, Robot Fighter 4000 AD". Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on October 30, 2015. 
  10. ^ "Russell Manning". Lambiek Comiclopedia. March 22, 2015. Archived from the original on October 15, 2015. Russ Manning also created...Magnus, Robot Fighter (1963-68) for the Gold Key comic books. Especially Magnus, stood out for its excellent artwork. 
  11. ^ Markstein, Don (2010). "Tiger Girl". Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on June 8, 2014. Tiger Girl's comic was drawn by Jack Sparling...The writer was no less a personage than Jerry Siegel, who co-created Superman himself. 
  12. ^ Friedt, Stephan (October 2014). "Here Come the Microbots". Back Issue!. TwoMorrows Publishing (76): 11–13. 
  13. ^ Jack Sparling at the Grand Comics Database
  14. ^ "Jack Sparling". Lambiek Comiclopedia. 2015. Archived from the original on October 2, 2015. 
  15. ^ Dan Spiegle at the Grand Comics Database
  16. ^ "Dan Spiegle". Lambiek Comiclopedia. July 7, 2013. Archived from the original on September 19, 2015. He also did fillers and issues of Space Family Robinson, Magnus Robot Fighter, Maverick, Tarzan, Brothers of the Spear, Flipper, and Lassie. When Russ Manning left Dell in 1967, Spiegle took over the Korak title. 
  17. ^ Evanier, Mark (June 30, 2010). "Joe Messerli, R.I.P.". NewsFromMe. Archived from the original on October 29, 2015. 
  18. ^ "Jesse Santos". Lambiek Comiclopedia. May 9, 2013. Archived from the original on October 5, 2015. He began an association with Western Publications in 1970...and illustrated Gold Key titles like Brothers of the Spear, Dagar, Dr. Spektor, and Tragg. 
  19. ^ Markstein, Don (2007). "Doctor Spektor". Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on October 25, 2015. Dr. Adam Spektor, a researcher of the supernatural, was introduced in Mystery Comics Digest #5 (July, 1972)...The story was written by Don Glut...and drawn by Dan Spiegle. 
  20. ^ Markstein, Don (2009). "Dagar the Invincible". Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on October 25, 2015. Dagar started as a non-series character, the hero of a story that writer Don Glut...wrote for Gold Key's Mystery Comics Digest. 
  21. ^ Markstein, Don (2007). "Tragg and the Sky Gods". Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on October 25, 2015. Writer Don Glut...and artist Jesse Santos...supplied the comic, in which aliens from interstellar space had a profound effect on a tribe of Stone Age people. 
  22. ^ "The Complete Works of Frank Miller". Moebiusgraphics.com. n.d. Archived from the original on September 8, 2015. 
  23. ^ Lee, Stephan (November 26, 2011). "Diana Gabaldon on her favorite and least-favorite books: The EW Book Quiz!". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on October 29, 2015. 
  24. ^ Evanier, Mark (October 12, 2006). "Jerry Belson, R.I.P.". News From ME. Archived from the original on October 29, 2015. 
  25. ^ Evanier, Mark (May 29, 2009). "More on Leo Dorfman". News From Me. Archived from the original on November 3, 2012. Retrieved November 3, 2012. 
  26. ^ "Gold Key & Charlton [News]". The Comic Reader (96). April 1973. Archived from the original on March 17, 2014. Retrieved March 17, 2014. 
  27. ^ Ro, Ronin (2004). Tales to Astonish: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and the American Comic Book Revolution. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 158. ISBN 978-1422359013. 
  28. ^ Markstein, Don (2007). "Baby Snoots". Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on March 6, 2015. Baby Snoots, a Gold Key original launched with an August, 1970 cover date, was a young elephant...Snoots lasted a respectable 22 issues. 
  29. ^ Markstein, Don (2007). "Wacky Witch". Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on October 30, 2015. Wacky ran 21 issues, ending with a December, 1975 cover date. 
  30. ^ Darius, Julian (May 13, 2013). "On the Very First Star Trek #1". Sequart Organization. Archived from the original on September 12, 2015. 
  31. ^ "Scott's Classic Comics Corner: Shedding Some Light on Dynabrite". Comic Book Resources. September 28, 2010. Archived from the original on June 9, 2011. 
  32. ^ "The Last Word in Comics...Dynabrite!". Gold Key Comics. n.d. Archived from the original on September 5, 2015. 
  33. ^ Starstream at the Grand Comics Database
  34. ^ Walt Disney Christmas Parade at the Grand Comics Database
  35. ^ Bugs Bunny Comics-Go-Round at the Grand Comics Database
  36. ^ Star Trek: The Enterprise Logs at the Grand Comics Database
  37. ^ Danhauser, Curt (n.d.). "Guide to the Gold Key Star Trek Comics". Curtdanhauser.com. Archived from the original on August 1, 2015. 
  38. ^ a b Evanier, Mark (May 2, 2007). "More on Comicpacs". News From ME. Archived from the original on October 29, 2015. 
  39. ^ Gunnarsson, Joakim (March 31, 2013). "The Collectors Editions that never was". Sekvenskonst. Archived from the original on May 2, 2014. 
  40. ^ "Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years Vol. 1". Dark Horse Comics. Archived from the original on July 28, 2014. Retrieved October 7, 2012. 
  41. ^ "Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years Vol. 2". Dark Horse Comics. Archived from the original on July 28, 2014. Retrieved October 7, 2012. 
  42. ^ "Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years Vol. 3". Dark Horse Comics. Archived from the original on July 6, 2014. Retrieved October 7, 2012. 
  43. ^ "Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years Vol. 4". Dark Horse Comics. Archived from the original on July 28, 2014. Retrieved October 7, 2012. 
  44. ^ "Tarzan: The Russ Manning Years Vol. 1". Dark Horse Comics. Archived from the original on July 21, 2013. Retrieved October 7, 2012. 
  45. ^ Manning, Shaun (July 25, 2009). "CCI: Jim Shooter Talks Gold Key at Dark Horse". Comic Book Resources. Archived from the original on June 10, 2015. 
  46. ^ Weiland, Jonah (January 29, 2004). "Checker collects Gold Key Star Trek issues". Comic Book Resources. Archived from the original on October 29, 2015. 
  47. ^ "Hermes to Collect Irwin Allen Comics". Newsarama. October 16, 2008. Archived from the original on October 29, 2015. 
  48. ^ a b Adair, Torsten (December 10, 2011). "Coming Attractions: Fall 2011: Hermes Press". ComicsBeat. Archived from the original on September 28, 2015. 
  49. ^ My Favorite Martian The Complete Series at the Grand Comics Database
  50. ^ Isabella, Tony (May 17, 2003). "Tony's Online Tips". World Famous Comics. Archived from the original on September 6, 2015. Retrieved June 20, 2014. 
  51. ^ Kirkpatrick, David D. (August 16, 2001). "2 Companies Pay $84 Million for Golden Books". The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 12, 2015. Retrieved June 20, 2014. 
  52. ^ Kung, Michelle (July 22, 2012). "DreamWorks Buys Classics: Studio Expands Library With Staples Such as Casper, Boosting Its IP Portfolio". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on August 14, 2015. Retrieved June 20, 2014. 
  53. ^ "Comcast's NBCUniversal buys DreamWorks Animation in $3.8-billion deal". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 28 April 2016. 
  54. ^ The Little Monsters at the Grand Comics Database.
  55. ^ Markstein, Don (2007). "The Little Monsters". Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on November 12, 2015. Retrieved November 12, 2015. 

External links[edit]