Gold Key Comics: Wikis

  
  
  

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Gold Key Comics
Former type Private
Founded 1962
Defunct 1984
Headquarters Poughkeepsie, New York, United States
Industry Publishing
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.

Contents

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 Books) and tabloid-sized 52-page hardcovers containing new material (Golden Picture Story Book)[1] 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.[2]

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.[citation needed]

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). 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.

Over the years, it lost several properties, including the King Features Syndicate characters (Popeye, Flash Gordon, The Phantom, etc) in 1966, the Hanna-Barbera characters (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 left to work for the newly formed Disney Studio Program. Among the few new creators at Gold Key were writers Don Glut, Len Wein, and Mark Evanier; and artists Cliff Voorhees 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 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]

Hard times

In the 1970s, when the comics industry experienced a downswing, Gold Key was among the hardest hit. Its editorial policies had not kept pace with changing times and suffered 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 by sheer weight of output.[7] By 1977, all of the company's original series had been cancelled (most had been dropped circa 1973-1974), and its licensed series were virtually all reprint-only, although Gold Key was still able to obtain the rights to publish a comic book series based upon Buck Rogers in the 25th Century between 1979 and 1981.

In this period, Gold Key experimented with digests which had some success. In a similar vein to explore new markets, they produced in the mid-1970s 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)[8] plus a four issue series adaptating classic science fiction stories by authors such as Issac Asimov and John W. Campbell (Starstream).[9] Golden Press released trade paperback reprint collections (Walt Disney Christmas Parade, Bugs Bunny Comics-Go-Round,[10] Star Trek Enterprise Logs[11]). And while still distributing comic books on spinners and racks at drug stores, supermarkets and such under the Gold Key label simultaneously distributing the same comics — usually in plastic bags of three — to toy and department stores plus newsstands at airports and bus/train stations "as well as other outlets that weren't conducive to conventional comic racks"[12] under the Whitman logo which it also used for such products as coloring books. Western at one point also distributed bagged comics from its rivals DC Comics and Marvel Comics under the Whitman logo. 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 in 1981 to cease newsstand distribution and thereafter release all its comics solely in bags as "Whitman Comics". The "Gold Key" logo was discontinued. Eventually arrangements were made to distribute these releases to the nascent national network of comic book stores as part of the Whitman alternate methods of distribution. All these efforts proved ultimately 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, M.A.R.S. Patrol, Turok, the Jesse Marsh drawn Tarzan, and some of the Russ Manning-produced Tarzan series. They are preparing revivals of several characters under Jim Shooter, including Doctor Solar, Magnus, 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 3 series based on Irwin Allen's SF tv series.

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."[14]

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.[citation needed]

Footnotes

Selected titles

Original series

Licensed series

External links








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