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Primary Product: Comic books
Producing from: 1962-84
Noted For: Comic book adaptations of many licensed properties, including Warner Bros., Disney, Walter Lantz, and more; and some original material.
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To the average comic book reader of the early 1960s, Gold Key seemed to burst on the scene from nowhere. But in reality, it was just a new imprint of a company that had been …

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… an important, behind-the-scenes part of the comic book industry since the very beginning.

Gold Key's parent company, Western Printing and Lithographing Co., was the publishing arm of Kay Kamen, a prominent figure in the history of character licensing, who had been the first to license the cartoon characters of Walt Disney — among others — for use in other media. From 1938-62, Western contracted with Dell Comics to produce its comic books. In 1962, the arrangement came to an end, and Western launched Gold Key to perform that function.

The majority of Dell's licensed titles — which by that time included not just the Disneys, but also the characters of Warner Bros., Walter Lantz, Hanna-Barbera, and many others, plus a wide variety of TV shows, newspaper strips, etc. — were not the only ones included in the Gold Key launch. There were also properties Western had not licensed previously, such as The Phantom and those of puppet animator Gerry Anderson, and original titles, such as Magnus, Doctor Solar and Space Family Robinson. (The latter, in fact, did the licensing routine in reverse, becoming the basis for television's Lost in Space.)

Gold Key continued to license new properties, such as those of the DePatie-Freleng studio and new movies and TV shows, and to produce its own original works, such as Wacky Witch and Baby Snoots, for the rest of the 1960s and '70s. By the late 1970s, however, comic book sales in general were down, and Gold Key, which had started out with sales in the millions, felt the crunch particularly badly. Exacerbating the situation was the fact that other publishers were compensating for sales shortfalls with revenue from licensing their characters — but Gold Key was mostly a licensee, not a licensor, and therefore couldn't tap this resource.

In the late '70s, they experimented with pulling their comics off of newsstands and distributing them through toy stores and other non-traditional outlets, in bags of three comics each; but this was a dismal failure. In 1981, Western dropped the Gold Key logo and put the comics under the Whitman imprint, which had long been used for coloring books, Big Little Books, and some comics. Eventually, they started doing what had once been unthinkable — voluntarily letting some of the licenses lapse. By 1984, they were completely out of the comic book business.

Today, the Warner and Hanna-Barbera comics are published by DC Comics, with which the companies now have corporate ties. The Disneys go through Gemstone Publishing, which exists largely just to publish them. Most of the others have completely disappeared from American comic books.


Gold Key Comics articles in Don Markstein's Toonopedia™:

101 DalmatiansThe Addams FamilyAlice in WonderlandThe Amazing Chan and the Chan ClanAndy PandaThe AristocatsAtom AntAugie Doggie and Doggie DaddyAutocat and MotormouseBaby SnootsBambiCarl BarksBarney GoogleBeetle BaileyBelieve It or NotThe Big Bad WolfBirdmanBongo BearBrer RabbitBrothers of the SpearBuck RogersBugs BunnyBullwinkleThe Cattanooga CatsCave KidsChip'n'DaleCinderellaThe Close Shaves of Pauline PerilDaffy DuckDagar the InvincibleDastardly & Muttley in Their Flying MachinesDell ComicsDeputy DawgDewey, Huey and LouieDick DastardlyDinky DuckDino BoyDoctor Solar, Man of the AtomDoctor SpektorDonald DuckDonald Duck's nephewsDopeyDumboElmer FuddFat Albert and the Cosby KidsFearless FlyFlash GordonThe FlintstonesFractured Fairy TalesFrankenstein Jr.The Funky PhantomThe Galaxy TrioGeorge of the JungleGladstone GanderGoofyGrandma DuckGyro GearlooseHanna-Barbera StudioThe Harlem GlobetrottersHashimoto-SanHeckle and JeckleHector HeathcoteThe HerculoidsHokey WolfHuey, Dewey and LouieHuckleberry HoundThe ImpossiblesInch High, Private EyeThe InspectorJay Ward ProductionsThe JetsonsJonny QuestThe Jungle BookThe Jungle TwinsThe Junior WoodchucksKing Leonardo and His Short SubjectsKorak, Son of TarzanLady and the TrampLi'l Bad WolfLittle LuluThe Little MonstersLooney TunesLost in SpaceLouie, Huey and DeweyMagilla GorillaMagnus, Robot Fighter, 4000 ADM.A.R.S. PatrolMGM cartoonsMickey MouseThe Mighty HerculesThe Mighty MightorMighty MouseMighty SamsonMilton the MonsterMoby DickMoby DuckMr. and Mrs. J. Evil ScientistMushmouse and Punkin PussThe Minute and a Half ManMotormouse and AutocatThe Occult Files of Doctor SpektorO.G. Wotasnozzle101 DalmatiansOona GoosepimpleThe OwlPauline PerilPeanutsPenelope PitstopThe Perils of Penelope PitstopPeter PanPeter PotamusThe PhantomThe Phantom BlotThe Pink PantherPinocchioPixie and DixiePlutoPoohPopeye the SailorPorky PigPunkin' Puss and MushmouseQuick Draw McGrawRaggedy Ann and AndyThe Reluctant DragonRicochet RabbitRipley's Believe It or NotRoad RunnerRocky and BullwinkleThe Roman HolidaysSamson and GoliathScampScooby-DooScrooge McDuckSecret SquirrelShazzanSleeping BeautySnagglepussSnooper and BlabberSnow White and the Seven DwarfsSnuffy SmithSong of the SouthSpace Family RobinsonSpace KidettesSpace GhostSpace MouseSpeed BuggySuper GoofSylvester PussycatTarzanTasmanian DevilTerrytoonsTiger GirlTom and JerryTom SlickTono and Kono, the Jungle TwinsTooter TurtleTop CatTotal WarTragg and the Sky GodsTurok, Son of StoneTweety BirdUncle RemusUncle ScroogeUnderdogUniversal Studios CartoonsWacky RacesWacky WitchThe Walt Disney CompanyWalter Lantz StudioWarner Bros. CartoonsWhere's Huddles?Wile E. CoyoteWinnie the PoohWoodsy OwlWoody WoodpeckerYakky DoodleYellow SubmarineYosemite SamYogi BearYoung Samson

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Text ©2000-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Gold Key Comics.