Friday, July 20, 2012

Happy 50th Anniversary to Gold Key Comics!


By sheer quirk of coincidence, many notables turn 50 this year. 

The Rolling Stones.


The New York Mets.

The Jetsons.


McHale’s Navy. (Hey, I LIKE it!  So what!)


Three of my closest friends… though, I won’t reveal who. 

…And, on some now-impossible-to-recall date in the month of July… Gold Key Comics! 
Since I’ll never know that actual date, TODAY is as good as any for the celebration. 

In decades prior, Dell Comics (produced and packaged by the venerable Western Publishing Company) ruled the roost in terms of licensed animated characters, other properties from the movies and later television, and even a fair number of original creations.  Under its own banner, Dell successfully distributed these comics for many years – and is said to have had the highest circulation comic book of all time, with WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES in the early 1950s. 

Then, one day in the early 1960s, the unthinkable happened.  When most newsstand comic books sold for 10 or maybe 12 cents, Dell Comics raised their cover price to an apocalyptical FIFTEEN CENTS!

Those pennies ADD UP!
THREE CENTS more than the competition!  Hard to believe, but that was a BIG deal in those days! 
As a result, sales plummeted.  Western Publishing ended its distribution arrangement with Dell – and Gold Key Comics, a new imprint of Western Pub., was born. 

In July of 1962, with no fanfare whatsoever, familiar comic books (with equally familiar title characters) began to appear on newsstands with a strange and curious “Gold Key” Logo supplanting that of “Dell”.  I’d imagine the brand name “Gold Key” was somehow derived from Western’s phenomenally successful line of children’s “Golden Books”.  

THIS was the first one I ever saw! 


THIS was the second. 


And, very likely but no longer certain, THIS was the third. 


I also may have had THIS ONE, because it looks and feels so familiar, but I no longer have it in my collection to verify. 

The earliest of the Gold Key titles – including the FIRST THREE ABOVE – were clearly constructed from leftover Dell inventory material.  They were IDENTICAL to their Dell predecessors in every way - save two.  The Gold Key Logo, of course, and that the advertisement or “back cover gag” was eliminated in favor of a PIN-UP! 
Did someone say...


...Pin-Up?


No, not the kind of pin-up involving curves, legs, or dare I suggest even breasts!  This particular brand of pin-up was a reproduction of the FRONT COVER ART – sans logo, any cover captioning, list price, etc.  It was the ART in pure unadulterated form – kinda like a modern TV image might be without “logo bugs” and pop-ups!  …However, it WOULD tell you that it was part of a series – and which number WITHIN that series it was.  The Flintstones Pin-Up # 1”, it would say.  This would also act as an accurate indicator of which was the FIRST Gold Key issue of a series, the SECOND, THIRD, and so on. 

Thankfully, for future generations of collectors, few (if any) kids of the Silver Age ripped these pin-ups off the back of their comics and hung them on their bedroom walls!  Even THEN, I could never actually bring myself to do so!  (SHUDDER!) 

A Potamus Pin-Up!

These initial changes served as a mere “opening shot” in Gold Key’s aesthetic demarcation from Dell.  The “innovations” would hardly end here. 

In short order, said “innovations” would come SO fast and furious that, by the autumn of 1962, these comic books would literally NO LONGER RESEMBLE their earlier numbers from the preceding spring!
Even Wile E. can't keep up with all the changes!
The “new look” Gold Key Comics adopted a peculiar, almost UPA-influenced graphic style!  This is characterized by reduced background detail, panel backgrounds (and often the incidental objects within) covered over in ONE FLAT COLOR, square dialogue balloons, and wider gutters.  Panels were often “borderless”, or alternatively surrounded by thick borders of PASTEL COLORS!


The work of better artists like Carl Barks, Harvey Eisenberg, and Paul Murry particularly suffered under this system.   The lone example of Carl Barks straining against his publisher’s imposition can be seen in UNCLE SCROOGE # 40 (above).  After that, Barks’ visuals would return to normal, though the coloring quirks, outside of Barks’ control, would remain for a short time longer. 

Like Real Gone Gags, Man!

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES would abandon its “Donald Duck Cover Gag” format – in place since 1940 – for segmented covers illustrating some of the different stories contained therein.  Strangely, it made for some interesting covers, combining art from Carl Barks, Paul Murry, Tony Strobl, and, with the addition of Zorro, even Alex Toth!  You might occasionally find a photo of Guy Williams!

Covers illustrating a Gold Key issue’s “main adventure story” would return for the first time since the early-mid 1950s. 

New graphic designs were experimented with – and quickly discarded – such as THIS ONE that more resembles a RECORD ALBUM COVER than a comic book!  Look at the SIZE of that LOGO vs. the illustration!

Many titles were converted to 80 page “giants”, which featured a “Primary Character” and laced with additional stories of the ancillary characters from the same licensed studio as the Primary Character.  Among the titles to bulk-up were: BUGS BUNNY, HUCKLEBERRY HOUND, YOGI BEAR, QUICK DRAW McGRAW, WOODY WOODPECKER, TOM AND JERRY, ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS, LITTLE LULU, and POPEYE.   As an example of the "Primary/Ancillary Pairings", note Wally Gator being associated with Huckleberry Hound! 

Has anyone seen Hokey Wolf?
Hail, hail, the Lantz ancillary gang's all here!

Bugs "goes up"!
This was accompanied by a corresponding LOSS of ancillary titles, as the other characters were folded into the giants.  Titles departing at this time were ALL of the other Warner Bros. titles (save DAFFY DUCK). 

Cancellations included LOONEY TUNES, PORKY PIG, TWEETY AND SYLVESTER, BEEP BEEP THE ROAD RUNNER – and, beyond Warners, WALTER LANTZ NEW (TV) FUNNIES, CHILLY WILLY, and SPIKE AND TYKE.
Bugs "comes down"!
Within a few months, or a few issues, all of these “Giant” titles reverted to standard size.  …But, in many cases, the “other titles” were not reinstated.  Eventually, though, the Warner titles would return slowly and pretty much “be back” by 1965 and many Hanna-Barbera one-shots, limited series, and ongoing series would be released.
We're b-b-b-back!

Don't call us "limited", Dah-ling!


Oddly, no DISNEY titles were subject to this radical redirecting though, as noted, ZORRO lost his title and was folded-into WDC&S. 

Zorro and Pete: Symmetry in Disembodied Floating Heads!
Finally, the oddest quirk of all…

DONALD DUCK and THE FLINTSTONES – and I believe ONLY those titles – for a duration of about a year – began their featured stories ON THE FRONT COVER… and continued them on Page One of the issue.  See below for this most unusual editorial innovation.  I suppose it was a way of hooking you, and getting you to open the book – and buy it.  But, I can’t say I’d ever seen this attempted before or since.  …And why ONLY DONALD DUCK and THE FLINTSTONES? 

This situation persisted for DONALD DUCK # 87-91 and THE FLINTSTONES # 10-15. 

In addition to animated properties Gold Key also licensed prime time TV series such as BONANZA, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, BORIS KARLOFF PRESENTS THRILLER (…which would become BORIS KARLOFF TALES OF MYSTERY once the show expired), and even THE LUCY SHOW. 

Over the decade the roll of network TV series to appear under the Gold Key banner would include such sixties favorites as GUNSMOKE, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., THE WILD WILD WEST, STAR TREK, I SPY, THE TIME TUNNEL, LAND OF THE GIANTS, and more – mirroring (to not so coincidental a degree) my present-day DVD collection.  

The results varied, in terms of accuracy and fidelity to the series in question, but at least the Gold Key Comics version of your favorite TV show was always there to extend the experience, once that show was over and done for another seven days.  Photo covers for most of these series eased the pain of weekly separation - and marked the first time that many kids saw their '60s video heroes in color!

Original properties also proliferated like SPACE FAMILY ROBINSON (which would form the basis for the beloved ‘60s TV series LOST IN SPACE), DOCTOR SOLAR MAN OF THE ATOM, and MAGNUS ROBOT FIGHTER – all of which became popular in their own right.  These were marked by outstanding painted covers. The Gold Key Adventure Comics style was parodied to a “T” in Bongo Comics’ RADIOACTIVE MAN # 6 (October, 2002).

Note the words "LOST IN SPACE" in the cover caption!
Note the words "GOLDEN KEY" in the cover caption!
But I thought WE were "lost in space"!


In an example of inspired creativity (…or blatant plot recycling – you decide) Yellow Beak the parrot from the early classic “Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold” ships-out with Woody Woodpecker in 1963!  Decades later, I make an oblique reference ( read about it HERE) to this event in my 2011 Donald comic book script: “Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold ...Again”! 



Puff-Pant!  And that was just HALF of 1962 and into 1963!  …WOW! 

Taking a more accelerated pace for the remainder of the timeline, we move to:
1964-1966:  Gold Key Comics were almost untouchable in terms of quality, abandoning the “early look” and, simultaneously, doing some of the best stories – in a variety of genres, from funny stuff with DAFFY DUCK and THE FLINTSTONES to adventures with UNCLE SCROOGE and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA.


All this was supplemented by judiciously selected reprints from the Dell era.  The reprints were the best-of-the best.  This is where I was introduced to Bill Wright’s Mickey Mouse (including Wright’s adaptation of Floyd Gottfredson’s “Sky Island” epic), some great Bugs Bunny, and earlier Sagendorf Popeye, etc. 



Was the original Dell issue an “ANT-ecedent”?  




 The period also saw the coming of titles for The Phantom Blot, Beagle Boys, Junior Woodchucks, and Super Goof, the “Super Secret Agent” experiment for Mickey Mouse, and lots of great Hanna-Barbera stuff, including some amazing work from Harvey Eisenberg.


A burst of quality in both creativity and editorial direction that Western Publishing would NEVER SEE AGAIN!  My high opinion of Gold Key as a publisher is admittedly forever colored by this period. 


And, of course, there was THIS COMIC! 

And also THIS AMAZING REPRINT!

When The Great Gazoo dropped in on Gold Key Comics, they were wise enough to SEND HIM BACK at story's end!


Lastly, let us not forget the unlikely Hanna-Barbera / Universal Studios crossover...

Some sounds are TOO MUCH, even for a monster!

1967-1968: A downward trend begins with the introduction of the Gold Key Comics Club taking 6 pages out of every book for the nonsense of reader-submitted jokes, riddles, and (Shudder!) DRAWINGS (…Were these COMIC BOOKS – or the family refrigerator!) and forcing the books into a rigid format. 

The joke's on US, all right!

 But, Carl Barks was still there – though 1967 would mark the last combination of his writing and drawing. 
Bye-Bye, Barks?

Decidedly on the upside was Gold Key’s introduction of STAR TREK to comics!  The title would continue through 1979!
WALT DISNEY COMICS DIGEST was introduced in spring ’68, and featured some prime Barks UNCLE SCROOGE reprints for the first time.  Paul Murry and Tony Strobl remained mainstays of the Disney titles.   

We were introduced to MOBY DUCK!  Yay!  (No sarcasm – I LIKED Moby!) 

January, 1967: Meet Moby!  ...AND the first issue in which I discovered (Shudder!) the Gold Key Comics Club!

And, we did get the unexpected last original appearance of Sniffles and Mary Jane in this issue! 
Ain't I a...Sprinkler!

1969-1972: inferior artists begin to take over as, apparently (though undocumented), was also the case with writers.  Disney, itself, is somewhat responsible – luring some of the better talents with their higher-paying “Studio Program” to produce original comics for overseas markets.  (One former Western artist actually TOLD ME that was the case!)  Others simply retired, after long careers.  Some, like Harvey Eisenberg in 1965, even passed-on. 
Um, What happened to the ART?
No, REALLY... What happened?!

Oddly, Jack Manning's stint on MICKEY MOUSE was unexpectedly interesting, with his figures looking somewhat like later period Floyd Gottfredson!



Adding insult to injury, the Hanna-Barbera “classic character” titles (FLINTSTONES, YOGI BEAR, etc.) were lost to the HORRORS of (*ahem*) “lesser” publisher Charlton Comics in the summer of 1970!  The times were undeniably changing. 
  

…Doesn’t this comparison make you want to CRY?

Thankfully, Carl Barks comes to the rescue, returning to WRITE, but not draw, for the JUNIOR WOODCHUCKS title – and two scripts for DONALD DUCK.  Barks lifted the overall Gold Key line in another unintended way, as his reprints would dominate the UNCLE SCROOGE title from mid-1969 until well into 1980!

Similarly, Barks Donald Duck reprints (supplemented by new Mickey Mouse material by Paul Murry) would dominate WDC&S pretty much for the remainder of its Gold Key and Whitman run.  
Still demonstrating an ability to pick up new licensed animated characters for series, Gold Key begins its PINK PANTHER title in 1971.  There would be 87 issues in all!  Pretty impressive for a “newcomer”!

Hey, that's not The Inspector!


1973-1976:  A noticeable uptick in the quality of the writing occurs, as Mark Evanier becomes a rare “newbie” to enter the fold – and animation legend Michael Maltese, with TV animation no longer worthy of his talents, returns to write comic scripts.  Barks continues on JUNIOR WOODCHUCKS.  However, more often than not, a similar claim of a rise cannot be made of the ART -- which (as our last illustration shows below) generally becomes worse.
A "Godfather" reference in a '70s Gold Key Comic? Looks like an "uptick" to me!
Mark Evanier & Dan Spiegle: A memorable team-up on Scooby-Doo!

Never fear... Mark Evanier is here... Keen Gear!


BAD DOG... I mean ART!

Negative turning point: The parallel “Whitman Bag Issues” begin. 


These were duplicates of the regular Gold Key comic books (plastic-bagged in groups of three, branded with a Whitman logo) and sold in toy and variety stores, rather than the traditional newsstands and candy stores.  In consideration of the irregular distribution schedules of the “Bag System”, the Mickey Mouse serials in WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES – run since 1940 – were discontinued.  How sad!
      

Goofy and I had such great 3-4 Part Adventures!  Sniff! Sniff!
Gold Key! ...Yippee!

Whitman! ...Whoa!


1977-1980:  The decline becomes irreversible, and Gold Key Comics eventually end – giving way to Whitman Bags, and limited direct market distribution. 

"Racing with the Sun...Set?" 

1980-1984:  The best thing that can be said about the titles of this period is that they “were there”, but with all of the creativity and fun drained away.  If anything, the Whitman line might be best remembered for its many bizarre quirks…
Issue # 209

...And AGAIN in # 215?  ...For twenty cents MORE?
Certain issues were reprinted shortly after their release.  (See MICKEY MOUSE # 209 and 215 above!)  A plethora of Whitman titles would be released on a single day – and then there would be nothing for months, until the cycle repeats.  This was likely timed to the release schedule of those damned BAGS.  (The TAIL was now officially wagging the DOG!)

Issues 193 and 194 - Same day Service!
Consecutive issues of UNCLE SCROOGE (193 and 194 – and later 198 and 199) were actually released ON THE SAME DAY!  Certain issue numbers of DAFFY DUCK, POPEYE, and others were SKIPPED, or unpublished. 
Missing Issues: # 132, 133!  Guess that means Daffy's "not all there"!
And, for those readers who became adept at reading the Gold Key “Cover Date Codes” (Anyone who is curious can ask me about that in the Comments Section!), certain issues were released with a 13/1981 Date Code.  (…Yes, there was a THIRTEENTH month in 1981!  Don’t you remember it? It was hot that month… or rainy, or sumpthin’!) 
Yeah... It WAS rainy!
Not all was completely wrong.  Paul Murry continued to produce new Mickey Mouse stories ALL the way to the very end – and there were even a few more left unpublished, including one (still unseen, alas) with The Phantom Blot!  Also some then-rare Carl Barks reprints appeared to excite new collectors and fans.  The books became 32 pages of STORY CONTENT – no ads, in-house or otherwise.  But, they were damned hard to find, unless you looked diligently, and/or hounded your comic shop proprietor, as I did.
Barks reprints heeeer!  Get 'em while they're RARE!

1985-1986:  In Whitman’s wake would come Bruce Hamilton and the wonders that were Gladstone Series One!  Unfortunately the non-Disney properties would be left to the eventual vagaries of other publishers.  The less said about some of those (*COUGH!* ‘90s Harvey! *COUGH!*) the better. 
Good Times and Glad(stone) Tidings ahead for Donald!

But, alas... Poor Woody! Abandoned by Yellow Beak!
Still, despite what might be more overall “bad” than “good” (…and that is quite an admission coming from ME), Gold Key Comics will hold a very special place in history – and in my heart!  As they should for us all! 

Happy 50 Years to you, Gold Key!  You’re still “shining bright and opening doors of wonder” around here! 


88 comments:

Pete Fernbaugh said...

Hey Joe!

Congratulations on an incredible piece of work. I love the mid-sixties Gold Key period of comic books simply because of their variety and creative vitality. In retrospect, can you think of any company since GK to have as much success in as many different genres and with as many different characters as GK did?

I can't.

The most interesting part of this for me was reading about GK's efforts to grow "sea legs" that would distinguish them from Dell. Certainly there were a few misfires, but that happens with any creative enterprise. What impressed me was how daring and wildly experimental they were.

These books were almost in sync with the "free-love" movement at the time...removing all (ahem) borders and going full-throttle ahead, mistakes/results/successes be damned.

Ironic that they chose "square" balloons to represent these changes.

Coming off the staid and reliable Dell titles (and that is not a knock at Dell; I love their books, too), it must have been a rather jarring, interesting, and abrupt experience for the reader...almost a "What'll they do next?" kinda feeling.

Do you think that the Gold Key Comics Club was GK's way of emulating Stan Lee's very personal relationship with Marvel fans in his letter columns and Soapbox commentaries? If so, they obviously went overboard.

Six pages of that crap!! I always hated that stuff when I was a kid. Did you ever take the time to read it?

Thank you for also being so balanced in your assessment of the period that followed. It's easy to dismiss the late sixties/seventies/eighties as "all bad-no good-everyone died." However, I've been reading Evanier's blog for the better part of 10 or 11 years, and his references to that period don't seem to indicate that he feels it was all bad. His collaboration with Dan Spiegle on SCOOBY-DOO would certainly be a stand-out for the era. I'm going to track down some of the Disney issues you've mentioned that he wrote.

It would be nice if someone would take the good writing from the era that was saddled with inferior art and redraw it a la Barks/Jippes.

You've told me this before, but how do you read the Comic Code again? The 13/81 misprint is too funny. That would be the month *I* was born--January 1982!!! Here all along I thought my birth date was 1/82 when it was really 13/81. Depending on whose standard you use, this could put me in a whole 'nother generation!

I find it interesting that the Disney Studio sabotaged its own comic books. Has there ever been a detailed history of the Disney Studios comic-book program written?

So, I have a concluding challenge for you, Joe. What are your Top Ten favorite Gold Key-published stories? Any title, any genre.

Take your time.

Thank you for this service, my friend. It was great reading on a dreary, rainy Friday morning, even if it was done through bleary eyes as I recover from the midnight showing of THE (incredible, beautiful) DARK KNIGHT RISES.

Pete (...has always liked the novelty of MICKEY MOUSE, SUPER SECRET AGENT.)

Joe Torcivia said...

Thank you, Pete!

Your comments almost make we want to write ANOTHER of these! Very much appreciated.

I’ll have more detailed responses to all in the evening!

Joe T.

ramapith said...

Joe, that lavish history was the kind that belongs between hard covers!

In the gallery of the earliest few issues, did you notice that the TOP CAT issue puts the Gold Key logo in a Dell-proportioned (and -positioned) rectangle?

Moving on, shall I presume that Mickey's "There's only one flaw!" referred to the SMALL SIZE of the Digest reprints?

Overall, incredibly impressive, funny, and enjoyable... and writtenin a voice that could only come from one who "was there!"

Pete Fernbaugh said...

One other comment...

It's easy to forget not just how bad, but how horrid Charlton's treatment of the H-B characters was...

...until you see a Gold Key cover side-by-side with a Charlton cover.

Apparently, Charlton did not foster pride in craftsmanship among its talent.

BTW-I love MCHALE'S NAVY, too. Hysterical show.

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

A marvelous tribute!

It's rather sobering to learn that Disney's desire to "feed the growing monster" that was the burgeoning overseas comics market led it to fatally undercut its American brand at precisely the time when some rethinking was needed. With the Silver Age running out of steam circa 1970 and a number of the prime talents growing old and/or preparing to retire, the early 70's would have been a perfect time to start grooming some new talents to assist on the Duck and Mouse books. Alas, Disney wasn't exactly being run by daring innovators at that time.

Chris

Chris Barat said...

Pete,

<>

Actually, GK debuted a full HALF-DECADE in advance of the "free-love movement," so these books were well ahead of the curve. Now we know who to blame. ;-)

<>

You can say the same thing about Harvey during the mid-70s. While many long-running Harvey titles were dropped at or around that time, the RICHIE RICH titles were in something of a "Silver Age" of their own, with considerable innovation on display. Too bad Harvey ultimately overplayed its RICHIE hand to such an extreme extent...

<>

Was that Pebbles posing, or one of the Campbell Kids? :-)

Chris

Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Echoing what everyone else has been saying; great article. One thing I'm curious about is how much editorial turnover there was in the transition from Dell to Gold Key. You'd think it would be easier and more sensible to keep on most of the same people, but there were certainly some dramatic changes, even if some of that was probably just industry stuff that would've happened in any case. I wonder how (if any) different the shape of late Disney comics would've been if Dell hadn't screwed up.

Also, what Chris said about the Disney Studio Program syphoning off the best talent. It really seems like this is a case of the left hand not know what the right hand was doing. It would've been great if it had occurred to someone to work out a deal to publish some of that stuff here. What possible business advantage could there have been to keeping it proprietary?

Pete Fernbaugh said...

Geo,

I completely concur. It doesn't make any sense whatsoever. Especially when Disney would take over its whole line a mere two decades later with the initial goal being to produce original in-house material.

Like Chris hinted at, the House of Mouse was just trying to survive in the wake of Walt's death. The Disney comics of the seventies were (in some ways) a reflection of the state of creativity at the Disney parent company.

Love them or hate them or both, Eisner and Katzenberg helped turn the company's fortunes around, even if they did overreach in the mid-to-late nineties.

Pete

Pete Fernbaugh said...

Chris,

Wasn't the RICHIE RICH material that Harvey printed in the nineties comprised of this mid-seventies "Silver Age"?

Whatever era they were from, I enjoyed those stories quite a bit back in the day. I should pull them out again sometime.

Interesting how two of comic's richest heirs--Richie and BATMAN--experienced a creative renaissance in the mid-seventies even as other long-running titles were suffering...

Pete

Joe Torcivia said...

WOW! Great buncha comments while I was at “The Day Job”, folks!

I’m grateful for all of them. Thank you…

OKAY! It’s time to address everyone’s comments in turn!

READY! SET! GO!

Joe Torcivia said...

Pete:

Though the “Summer of Love” would be five years in the future (Chris beat me to that punch!), that’s a very astute comparison between its values and those of Gold Key! Indeed, it’s beyond what even MY “unconventional” mind might have considered! Much of the change WAS jarring to me, having come from Dell… but it was fun to watch unfold before my single-digit-aged eyes.

…And, just as Uncle Scrooge would, they made their dialogue balloons “square”!

I also never considered the “Gold Key Comics Club” as a response to Stan Lee… but that, too, is bizarre enough to be true. Yes, now that you mention it, I could see them trying to connect with their readers – but stopping just short of ACTUAL editorial discourse, as might be found in a letter column. After all, editorial discourse and letter columns might have led to revealing creator names… and we couldn’t have THAT!

I read the GK Comics Club stuff ONCE… in the first comic of the month I saw it in… or else I just blipped-over it and moved on to the next story – like I did with the text story pages.

I’d figure Evanier to be less critical of the era in which he worked. Wouldn’t you? But, even those dark days weren’t ALL bad. Far from it, as I was careful to point out. Evanier was a large part of that – and it showed once he departed. SCOOBY-DOO, in particular, was a high-point!

I can’t actually say Disney “sabotaged its own comic books” by siphoning-off Western’s talent for the Studio Program. They simply tapped those persons who’d made a career of working with those characters – as was the case with the particular artist who told me about it. I’m not aware of anything of note written about the Studio Program.

Being born in 13/1981 must be even cooler than being born on February 29! How did the Date Codes work? Here’s what I wrote back in 1987 about SUPER GOOF # 68:

“The Code Number found beneath the Whitman logo reads: 90160-113. Translated: First Five Digits – Title Code for SUPER GOOF. Sixth Digit – Year of the Current Decade (in this case 1981). The Final Two Digits represent the MONTH, in this case ‘13’!

“Stranger still, the preceding issue SUPER GOOF # 67 had the code of 90160-202 (or, February, 1982). Among other issues with a Cover Date of 13/81 were WDC&S # 496, UNCLE SCROOGE # 194, BUGS BUNNY # 234, and DAFFY DUCK # 140.”

End of 1987 quoted material.

Top Ten? Don’t know if I could do it… but they’d probably all be from 1964-1966!

Actually, once seen, those Charlton H-B comics ARE pretty damned difficult to forget. They still haunt me! (Brrrr!)

I once had a spell-checker suggest “Charlatan” for “Charlton”! New heights for “artificial intelligence”, I’d say!

Joe Torcivia said...

David:

Thank you! Praise like this, from one of the historically great editors some of these characters have ever had, is praise INDEED! Consider me duly complemented!

Also, notice on TOP CAT, that the “small title name” is not present in the upper left (to the right of the Gold Key logo). Same for the NANCY AND SLUGGO. I suspect these were SO EARLY in the run, that they were still working things out.

That “small title name” was another thing I should have mentioned. Given the way comics were stacked on newsstand racks; this allowed consumers to SEE the TITLE of the comic – above all of the distracting magazine-mess that may have been piled in front of it.

I can attest that there were newsstands (back in the day) where this worked to GK’s advantage. I glommed onto the WDC&S issue containing the final chapter of “The Return of the Phantom Blot” by spying that “small title name” at a crowded bus station newsstand in 1964. And, BOY was I looking for THAT ONE!

I suspect DC’s introduction of their infamous “Go-Go-Checks” a few years later, was born of similar necessity. The top of every DC book was “checkered”, and thus easily spotted among the crowd. That also worked for me, back then.

And, believe it or not, you GOT ME, on that small Mickey and Pete illustration. Though that one HAS appeared previously on my Blog, as one of my “stock images”, its use HERE *was* sort of a personal joke on the uncomfortably small size of those digest comics – especially so for the Barks reprints. Yay for you, as Vic Lockman would say!

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

Rather than blame Disney for doing what was necessary to “feed the growing monster” (…and yes, there IS plenty of blame to go around), I throw more of it Western’s way for their failure to recruit and develop NEW talents.

I’ve yet to discover any valid reason why we could not have had the likes of Don Rosa and William Van Horn a DECADE EARLIER than we did. In the mid-late seventies, who would have hesitated to swap (an even younger and perhaps more imaginative) Rosa and Van Horn for Bob Gregory and Kay Wright?!

They WERE around then, and could have (nay, SHOULD have) been discovered! John Lustig DID write a Daffy Duck story for Western… but, alas, we would have to wait for Gladstone Series One for all three of those great talents to manifest themselves.

And, even if circumstances did not fall specifically to Rosa and Van Horn to take up the mantles, were there not OTHER “David Gerstein” or “Casty” types that existed in the ‘70s? It seemed to me that LOTS of folks could have done a better job than the ones they used. Scott Shaw! is another one that comes to mind.

There’s no excuse for the creative malaise that overtook Western during most of its last decade and a half – Mark Evanier and certain others notwithstanding.

Joe Torcivia said...

Geo:

As I understand it, the very same editorial (and creative) personnel that Western employed to package the Dell comics, remained in place to helm the Gold Key line. Chase Craig, Del Connell, etc.

It was DELL that “started over” with a completely new slate of editors and creators.

I can only guess that all the “dramatic changes” happened in order to break cleanly from the “Dell identity”. As one who was there, I can say they succeeded in THAT, all right!

And, Disney was doing THEN what it would always do. Is Disney’s luring creators away from its licensee (Western Publishing) REALLY that much different than what it did to Gladstone Series I in 1990? Only difference was the 1960’s action was more successful than the 1990 one. …Though both were damaging in the long run.

Paul Murry was an exception who managed to work for both entities. The Mouse story with Ludwig Von Drake I called “To the Moon by Noon” was an example of his work for the Studio Program. Glad we finally got to see it in the States!

…Who knows how much more stuff like that there is!

Chris Barat said...

Pete,

"Wasn't the RICHIE RICH material that Harvey printed in the nineties comprised of this mid-seventies "Silver Age"? Whatever era they were from, I enjoyed those stories quite a bit back in the day. I should pull them out again sometime.
Interesting how two of comic's richest heirs--Richie and BATMAN--experienced a creative renaissance in the mid-seventies even as other long-running titles were suffering..."

RICHIE RICH GEMS, Ape Entertainment's reprint title, has done a decent job of reprinting some of this "Silver Age" material... though I wish their choice of material made a little more sense.

Chris

Donnie Pitchford said...

As one who "sought and bought" many Gold Key comics during the 1960s-80s, I thank you for this article. I especially like the illustrations, which remind me how many issues I missed along the way when 12 cents was hard for a kid to come by. I'll never forget the shock of seeing a Charlton issue of "The Flintstones" - or maybe it was "Top Cat" - staring at me on the comic book rack one day in 1970, and wondering "What happened?" Thanks for this wonderful tribute!

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

"I’ve yet to discover any valid reason why we could not have had the likes of Don Rosa and William Van Horn a DECADE EARLIER than we did. In the mid-late seventies, who would have hesitated to swap (an even younger and perhaps more imaginative) Rosa and Van Horn for Bob Gregory and Kay Wright?!"

Western might have been more motivated to do so had it fully comprehended that a goodly number of adult readers just MIGHT be purchasing these titles. Using the likes of Gregory and Wright strongly suggests that the audience was thought to consist of undemanding children. Any more sophisticated material (e.g. the material created by Evanier) was strictly the result of individual initiative.

Chris

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

I’d say you were correct, with regard to Western not knowing what or who its readership consisted of.

But that STILL doesn’t absolve them of NOT developing some new talent.

Anonymous said...

Dell's price hike in the early 1960's evidently did not last long. By 1963, their regular sized comics were back to a twelve cent cover price. They did increase the price back up to fifteen cents in 1968 or '69, as did everyone else. In fact, the first comic I ever saw with a fifteen cent price tag was a Gold Key (Tarzan #178). Speaking of prices, I remember "Huckleberry Hound Chuckleberry Tales" being double sized and twenty-five cents. I didn't know at the time if that format was intended to be permanent, or if it was an occasional special edition (like DC Eighty-Page Giants or Marvel Annuals). Now I finally understand why those later issues (after it reverted to standard size) were priced at "now only 12 cents."

Joe Torcivia said...

Donnie:

Welcome aboard, and thank you for the kind words! Really glad you enjoyed the post.

42 years later, in another week or three, the “Charlton Shock” still reverberates!

They were BAD in more than just art. The STORIES, if you could call them that, were horrid as well.

No matter what depths the later Gold Key and Whitman material sunk to, it never approached the sorry level of the Charlton H-B comics. Even the COLORING was cheezy!

I’d LOVE to know the story behind Western’s Hanna-Barbera license! Look back to the early to mid-sixties and it may have been second only to Disney – surpassing even Warner Bros.

Then, in 1970, the good classic H-B characters went to Charlton, and the late ‘60s and ‘70s H-B characters somehow STAYED with Gold Key. (?) I’m not complaining because it gave us Evanier and Spiegle’s run on SCOOBY-DOO, but I’ve never learned the details of that curious quirk in licensing. There’s still SOOO much more that should be covered.

Please drop by again, anytime!

Joe.

Joe Torcivia said...

Anon:

On price increases, what follows is an absolutely clear memory of mine:

The FIRST Gold Key comics I ever saw priced at 15 cents were DONALD DUCK # 119, MOBY DUCK # 2, and DAFFY DUCK # 53.

All three issues were purchased on a Saturday in March, 1968 in Flushing, New York.

But this was not the “absolute occurrence “of the price increase to 15 cents.

Other Gold Keys, purchased on Long Island and upstate New York (on various travels with family members) over the months of March thru May, 1968 still had TWELVE cent cover prices.

That meant they staggered the increases by location, until they took effect across the board in JUNE, 1968.

Other GK issues from Flushing (only) continued to have 15-cent covers, while elsewhere they did not. Presently, in my collection, I actually have both 12 and 15-cent copies of DONALD DUCK # 119, and MOBY DUCK # 2, as proof of this.

Also, my copy of DONALD DUCK # 120, released in MAY, 1968 (and not from Flushing) is a 12-center. As TARZAN # 177 appears to be.

TARZAN # 178 (the issue you cite) looks to have been released in June, 1968 -- when ALL the GK titles went to 15 cents. (And, apologies, again, for not including TARZAN in my post. Not enough knowledge of the title to write about it with the accuracy I would prefer.)

Other publishers managed to hold similar increases off until 1969 – ironically putting Gold Key in the same position as Dell in 1962! Imagine that!

joecab said...

Dayum Joe, what a thorough job you did here. I didn't know a lot of it because I never bought any Gold Key comics: i was a relative late comer to comics (didn't collect in earnest until HS) and in particular Carl Barks' work (until I discovered the miracle of Another Rainbow's Carl Barks Library and fell in love) so it's greatly appreciated. I did notice some via Whitman's bagged comics at Woolworth's but that presentation was meh enough for me to ignore them. And good lord but those Charltons look even more painful than I recall.

This all reminds me now that Disney is officially in the comics biz via their Marvel acquisition I sure wish they'd do SOMEthing major with this rich library of material, and not just some higher end reprints to appeal to the older crowd. Who exactly owns this back catalog of stories anyway?

Joe Torcivia said...

Joe C:

I think we ALL “fell in love” with both the Celestial Arts Uncle Scrooge volume, and later the Another Rainbow Carl Barks Library hardcovers if we were around at the time of their release!

The Whitmans, though overall lesser in quality than their Gold Key (and certainly Dell) predecessors, are still worth a glance (even if as a curiosity) – if you can find them inexpensively. …A situation that occurs less and less, these days.

The Charltons? Well, as they say… Some treasure should REMAIN buried!

I’m can’t say I know who “owns the stuff”. Is it Disney? Is it the publisher who produced it, if they are still active, such as Egmont? I’d guess the former but, again, I can’t say as if I really know!

Beyond Disney, who owns (or presently controls) the OTHER Western stuff? Does Warner Bros. “own” or control access to Western’s WB, H-B, and MGM material? How about Woody Woodpecker and Popeye? Someone must control the “Irwin Allen series comics”, because they are being reprinted in hard and soft cover volumes. But what about WILD WILD WEST or MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.? It may be simple – or more of a tangled situation then we could imagine.

ramapith said...

Disney owns the Disney stuff, or so every contract I've ever seen would lead me to believe—all the way back to a 1938 agreement with a then-current Swedish licensee, suggesting that times haven't changed.

Licensees have generally had the right to sell the content they produce to other Disney publishers; but AFAIK, they don't have the exclusive right to do so, nor any rights beyond that (i. e. IP rights).

Disney was very careful, from very early on, to make sure that it owned all content featuring its characters. This was the only way, from its perspective, that the international publishing system could work efficiently.

Joe Torcivia said...

That’s interesting, David! Thanks for the clarification!

So who sold Western’s Disney content (like Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge) to foreign publishers? Western? Or Disney?

Any idea how it might work with the other studios properties?

Elaine said...

Joe, great post--very informative, and fun to read, besides, esp. with the well-chosen illustrations! Makes me wonder why Dell didn't just go back to the then-standard pricing, when it became clear that their price-hike was a failure. But doubtless there were many complex factors which affected those business decisions of which I know nothing.

Do you happen to know about how much of Dell's and Gold Key's sales were subscriptions? I grew up reading those comics, and it's weird to realize, looking back, that I never really had any idea that a subscription would be something *I* could have. Comics were something you bought at the cigar store (yes, that's where the newspapers and magazines and comics were sold in my neighborhood). Perhaps I saw ads for subscriptions in the comics, but didn't pay any attention, because the amounts of money were beyond my means? But I still wonder, why didn't I know subscriptions were possible, and why didn't I put an Uncle Scrooge subscription on my Christmas list?

Joe Torcivia said...

Elaine:

Glad to see you here – and equally glad you enjoyed the post!

That’s an interesting question about subscriptions.

While I’ve never actually looked it up, the answer can be found in those half-page circulation statements that they used to publish once a year. The number of Mail Subscriptions, along with the number of copies sold, returns from news dealers, etc. are all there on those “busy-looking sections” that we used to blip-over as if they were text story pages.

I know that I’ve looked at some of them more intently in recent years -- and have noted total circulations declining over time – but the overall picture is there among all that data. You’d think I would have analyzed THAT a bit more closely, over the years.

As for how the subscriptions worked:

I became a subscriber to many of the titles, in the wake of the 1964 “Return of The Phantom Blot” serial that I mention so frequently. That story moved me from casual young reader to “never-miss-an-issue” mode – and the best way to “never-miss-an-issue” was to subscribe.

1964-1967 the subscription comics arrived MACHINE-FOLDED LONGWAYS IN HALF (the Overstreet designation “Subscription Crease”) with a brown paper band around the MIDDLE THIRD on which was printed my name and address. The “top third” and the “bottom third” of the book stuck out of both sides of the brown paper band.

1968 and beyond saw the elimination of the paper band and added a glued-on subscription label at the upper left of the cover. Like TV GUIDE or LIFE would have been. Although the books were no longer machine-folded in half, the label was permanently affixed to the cover and more handling damage routinely occurred as the books were mailed flat and unprotected.

Another quirk was that Western never told you when a subscription ENDED! They just expired with no notification. Due to this, I occasionally missed issues that I never saw until my adult collecting years.

A subscription to WDC&S (the ONLY monthly) gave you 12 issues. A subscription to a bi-monthly (Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, Bugs Bunny) gave you SIX, and a quarterly (Daffy Duck, Yogi Bear) gave you FOUR. …And you pretty much had to count them yourself to know when it was time to renew.

Yeah, they put an issue number on the label (and that number was expected to be your last), but they never actually SAID it was “your last” in any discernible way. You had to be a curious and precocious kid like me to dope that out!

My subscriptions all lapsed for good around 1972-1973. That’s about when Western stopped accepting subscriptions and, coincidently, when I began moving away from comics, until returning in the early ‘80s. Say, this is been a topic in and of itself!

Anyway, thanks, Elaine… And come back again!

top cat james said...

@joecab

Classic Media owns the rights to the Dell/Gold Key library.

According to a July 16th post on cartoonbrew.com, DreamWorks Animation has put in a bid to acquire CM.

Joe Torcivia said...

TCJ:

Classic Media? The same Classic Media whose name is all over such animated characters in my DVD collection as Mister Magoo (TV version, at least), the Famous Paramount / Harveytoons, Jay Ward, and Total Television characters?

Authors of packages like this one? (Which I liked, BTW.)

http://tiahblog.blogspot.com/2012/05/dvd-review-herman-and-katnip-complete.html

For an entity that never seems to have created anything, they sure do own a lot.

Should I assume that you mean the original character creations that came out of Dell / Gold Key – from MAGNUS and TUROK to CRACKY and maybe the characters created for “Golden Books” – as opposed to the “physical inventory” of stories for licensed characters like Donald Duck (which David G. says that Disney owns, 5 posts above), Bugs Bunny, and The Flintstones (which, by extension, we must also assume are owned – in whatever form they might still exist today— by Time Warner). The latter is more what “Joecab” and I were wondering about.

How about recent book reprints of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA and Bud Sagendorf’s POPEYE from of Dell and Gold Key material? Again, without looking it up, I’d assume the copyright is in the hands of the hands of the respective studios, syndicates, or original creative entities like “The Estate of Irwin Allen”, 20th Century Fox, or King Features – and not CM.

Now, I’m curious, so do come back and let us know. And, thanks for popping over, TCJ!

ramapith said...

"So who sold Western’s Disney content (like Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge) to foreign publishers? Western? Or Disney?"

Both, at different times. Western was obliged to provide Disney with a set of proofs on each comic it published, so Disney could service the material as well.
This meant that eventually both Western and Disney had in-house archives; Western kept its own even after they stopped publishing Disney comics.
Both sides benefited, especially if material got mislaid: in the early 1990s, when "The 'Lectro Box" Gottfredson reprint was done using the version from WDC&S 51-55, editor Bob Foster was able to order new materials from Western for an issue that had gone missing at Disney.
Later, Gladstone II generally ordered stories from Disney first; then Western if Disney couldn't find them; then Egmont if Western couldn't find them. Foreign publishers have saved their own unique collections of Western material themselves.

These days I don't know what's become of Western's own archive, but for both Gemstone and Boom, I took trips out to Disney where I made copies from their Western archive for modern reprints.
If I couldn't find something there, in the time-honored tradition, I might order it from a foreign licensee.

top cat james said...

Joe, this is directly from Classic Media's website:

"...we are the country's third largest holder of comic book rights (Harvey Comics, Dell, and Gold Key)"

What exactly that encompasses, I don't know.

The DreamWorks deal did go through today. Let's hope it results in more of this material being reprinted.

And in defense of Charlton, I submit none of their humor titles had covers as ugly as that Harvey Woody cover. Yeesh!

Joe Torcivia said...

TCJ:

Thanks for the additional info. Following your lead, I went to the Classic Media website and, after a little poking around, discovered that they do hold the rights to DOCTOR SOLAR MAN OF THE ATOM, MAGNUS ROBOT FIGHTER, TUROK SON OF STONE and the characters of LITTLE GOLDEN BOOKS (I’d guess that’s what qualifies as “Dell and Gold Key”) …and Casper, Mister Magoo, Bullwinkle, Underdog, Little Lulu, Roger Ramjet, and lots more stuff!

…Oh, and they DO have a very attractive website for (again) “…an entity that never seems to have created anything!”

So, I guess we’ll be seeing modernized DreamWorks movie versions of lots of these properties in the future… but, alas, I doubt this will mean any new or reprinted comics of the type we’d like to see.

So, who do ya think’ll play the live action Roger Ramjet? Will Ferrell or Seth Rogen? (Sigh!)

…And I dunno… some of those Charlton cover were pretty horrid!

Joe Torcivia said...

David (two posts above):

So, you’re saying that the Western material has been scattered to the four winds! It can be anywhere and in the possession of any licensee at the present time. And, with Western no longer a functioning entity, no one save Disney’s Archives administers this material from any one source. Am I close?

…And, in the case of Non-Disney material does it become even dicer BECAUSE there was no “Disney” to act as the middleman between Western and licensees? How does that work?

So, theoretically, in the sixties, if a foreign publisher wanted a Barks Duck or a Murry Mouse, who supplied it? Western? Disney? Or both? And, wasn’t this some sort of conflict as to who would sell it to said publisher?

It’s a wonder if ANY of this stuff (save the frequently reprinted Barks material) is ever seen again!

ramapith said...

"And, with Western no longer a functioning entity, no one save Disney’s Archives administers this material from any one source. Am I close?"

Close, but no pegleg (oops, wrong criminal attribute). When I referred to Disney's "Western archive," I meant their Western photostat library, which was physically held by Walt Disney Publishing and entirely distinct from the Walt Disney Archives (an entirely different part of the company).

That said, even Walt Disney Publishing's photostat library isn't all in one place. At the time I did the most research in the material (from 2005 onward), the Barks stats had already been separated from the rest and sent to Italy. I believe this happened in 1998, when they were used for some collected-Barks volumes and kept at the Italian office afterward for convenience's sake.

Nothing's ever simple! (-:

Anonymous said...

Re: the percentage of sales by subscription, Pat Curley's Silver Age Comics blog recently (July 16) said that subscriptions usually accounted for about 1% of sales. That blog post was about DC, but I would assume figures were similar for other publishers. John Jackson Miller's www.comichron.com lists Uncle Scrooge as selling an average of over 299,000 copies in 1963 (down from over one million in 1960). Of those, 2900 were by subscription. It appears to have sold about 70% of its print run, 69% retail (stores, newsstands), 30% unsold and returned, which would leave 1% for subscription sales. I suspect many kids didn't really notice subscription ads; they probably skipped over them, along with other ads, one-page text stories, ownership/circulation statements, and (judging by comments here) the Gold Key Comics Club.

Joe Torcivia said...

David:

So, all of Barks’ work now resides in Italy? Initially, I thought that was sad, but perhaps it’s fitting seeing as how the land of my ancestry appreciates the stuff far more than we do in the USA.

Any idea of the whereabouts (or even the continued existence) of any of the non-Disney stuff? Is there a place Time-Warner has stored the WB, H-B, and MGM material? Or, is most of it just lost with the demise of Western – excepting that which may be in the hands of scattered foreign licensees?

“Nothing’s ever simple”? …You said it, Brother!

Anon:

Your comments, and Elaine’s, may motivate me to do some analysis on the circulation and subscription data. Again, don’t know why I never analyzed it before – given that I’ve poked and prodded into virtually all aspects of these comics over the last three decades. Glad to know that some others did.

Another thing I’ve never understood is why Western never REALLY pushed their subscriptions. Yes, they had Carl Barks draw up some original art for one such subscription ad about 1963-64 (…and if I weren’t hurrying off to “The Day Job”, I’d take the time to look up some of the issues it appeared in for reference), and I distinctly recall another one about 1968 – but they sure didn’t trumpet it.

Due to this, I’d say you’re correct about kids not noticing that they could subscribe. It certainly wasn’t in their faces. I knew because, as I said, I was a “curious and precocious kid”. …Whatever happened to that kid, anyway? Now, all he does is blog. :-)

Elaine said...

Thanks, Anon, for the subscription data. So it sounds as though I was typical in not even realizing I could get a subscription. I agree, most of us kids probably just blipped over the subscription ads, as we did all the text. (I remember that I couldn't resist reading the ads in later comics that were produced in comic form, but though that format "worked" in getting me to read the ad, it also backfired, because it made me furious once I realized it was an ad!) Yes, Joe, I too wonder why Western/Dell/Gold Key didn't try harder to get kids to subscribe. It was easy to miss issues at the newstand, and I certainly would have bought more issues overall had I had a subscription.

Joe Torcivia said...

Elaine:

Why they didn’t try harder to get subscribers, is just another mystery we can add to the ever-growing pile. I’d certainly have done so, if I were in charge, as subscription copies were PRE-SOLD, and cut out the middle-men (distributors and newsdealers) to boot.

DC Comics from those same days regularly ran subscription ads. My recollections are that Marvel and Archie did as well.

As you say, it was too easy to miss an issue and, in those pre-comic convention and pre-comic-shop days, once an issue was gone – it was GONE.

In UNCLE SCROOGE alone (since I figure most everyone reading this is familiar with that title) I didn’t read Barks’ “Heedless Horseman” and “Hall of the Mermaid Queen” until I was an adult collector – because my subscriptions had lapsed, and I didn’t find those particular issues on newsstands.

Joe.

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

In considering why Western "didn't try harder" to get subscribers, we shouldn't forget the relative paucity of OTHER MEDIA OUTLETS (besides the comics themselves) in which subscription ads could have been run at the time. I can't imagine a TV-ad campaign in that era, for example. The comics themselves appear to have been the ONLY realistic venue for sub ads. Maybe they should have put discreet "blurbs" on the covers once in a while to indicate that a sub ad was inside. (Hey, if it worked (?) for the "Dell Trading Post"...) Something on the order of "Have your favorite comics delivered to your doorstep! Don't miss an issue!" right on the cover might have made at least a small difference.

The thing about Dreamworks creating "modern movie versions" of the Classic Media properties is that, well, a lot of those properties have ALREADY received such treatment. CASPER, RICHIE RICH, ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE, and UNDERDOG have all gotten big-budget movie treatments within the last 20 years.
Can you imagine DW "rebooting" these franchises to make them "darker and grittier," as Chris Nolan has done with the BATMAN movies? Seems unlikely. I suppose that a big-budget POPEYE would make sense, given that the Altman movie (which made a hash of the character anyway) was produced so long ago. But my guess is that DW wanted the rights to market these characters on various consumer products, and that movie-making is probably somewhat lower on their list of priorities.

Chris

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

Comics have almost never “gone outside themselves” to advertise, so I’m not even considering the possibility of “other media outlets”. If DISNEY COMICS didn’t utilize the many such outlets available to The Walt Disney Company in 1990-1991, who’d expect sixties Western Publishing to do so.

I’m asking why they didn’t push subs in their own pages! Good gosh, look at any Silver Age DC comic and you couldn’t miss such an ad.

Even with six pages devoted to the Gold Key Comics Club, there was no space that explicitly told you of the advantages to subscribing. If you didn’t read the indicia in detail, as we (All together now!) “curious and precocious kids” were wont to do, you didn’t even realize that you COULD subscribe!

And, I dunno… I’m still seeing that Roger Ramjet live action film. (Not that I’d WANT TO SEE IT, mind you!) Robert Di Niro as “Noodles Romanoff”, anyone?

joecab said...

And Snooki as Lotta Love? ;) Lotta was already a bit of a ditz so this'd be a step up for the Jersey Shore cast member

Joe Torcivia said...

To that, I can only say EEEEK!, URRRK!, or ARRRRGH!

I just can’t decide which!

Joe Torcivia said...

As promised, here’s some Gold Key subscription ad information:

There were a bunch of different ads around 1963-1964 – then nothing for a long time -- and one straggler in 1968. This is by no means complete, just what I was able to look up this evening.

In YOGI BEAR # 14 (October, 1963): “A special combination offer for all lovers of Action and Adventure: TUROK and TARZAN. Get both for one year for only $1.25.

“Turok and Tarzan – each excitingly different – each excitingly alive in GOLD KEY COMICS! Now you can subscribe to BOTH for a full year – six issues of each – for a low $1.25!

“From the dreaded depths of the African Jungle to the unknown reaches of the Lost Valley, you’ll find new and unusual adventures delivered to your door every month – for LESS than you’d pay on any newsstand!”

(…See, Anon, I got TARZAN in there somehow!)

In YOGI BEAR # 15 (January, 1964): (Hanna-Barbera oriented) “MAMMOTH subscription offer! A YEAR’S SUPPLY of Gold Key Comics $2.50. It’s like getting three issues free!” “Comics make terrific Christmas gifts! Order several subscriptions!”

Offered in the ad are 6 Issues of The Flintstones, 6 issues of The Jetsons, 4 Huckleberry Hound, 4 Yogi Bear, and 4 Top Cat.

In YOGI BEAR # 16 (April, 1964): “Walt Disney Special: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge: 6 issues of each – 18 Fun-filled Gold Key Comics $1.80. Don’t miss a single issue of these Walt Disney favorites! Subscribe today and get a full year of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Uncle Scrooge delivered to your door for a low, low TEN CENTS A COPY!”

In UNCLE SCROOGE # 45 (October, 1963): This is the ad with ORIGINAL Barks art!

“If you had a key to Scrooge McDuck’s Money Bin, you couldn’t get a better buy than this BARGAIN OFFER! Walt Disney’s Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge both for one year for $1.25!

“The fact is you don’t NEED Uncle Scrooge’s millions to take advantage of this fun-filled offer! For just $1.25, you’ll get six issues of Walt Disney’s Donald Duck and six issues of Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge – a monthly visit from the Disney Ducks right in your mailbox!

“Your Key to exciting fun and adventure is a Gold Key --- Gold Key Comics! Subscribe now!”

In UNCLE SCROOGE # 46 (December, 1963): Also runs the “MAMMOTH” Hanna-Barbera ad.

There were probably more around this time, but those are the ones I remember most distinctly.

Then, none for a long while…

In UNCLE SCROOGE # 79 (February, 1969 – released in December, 1968): Pictured: Stock Tony Strobl heads of Mickey, Donald, and Goofy.

“The gift that says Merry Christmas ALL YEAR! Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories.

“Your favorite funny friends… Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Pluto, Scamp, Daisy’s Nieces… the whole gang in a brand new 36 page comic book delivered by the postman every month.

“Tell mom and dad about this exciting GIFT-A-MONTH idea. Regularly 15 cents at newsstands.

“Order 12 issues @ $1.50 and save 30 cents – Like getting 2 issues FREE!

“Order 2 years @ $2.50 and save $1.10 – More than 7 issues FREE!”

That was the last subscription ad I can recall. Ultimately, I’m left with the same conclusion, despite an early push, they should have done more! …And OH, do I wish I could have written some of these ads!

scarecrow33 said...

Joe:

Great article, and long overdue! I have never seen such a lengthy tribute to Gold Key comics, which are generally not even mentioned in any serious discussions of comics, yet which definitely have their place. (A prominent place, as far as I'm concerned.)

I agree that the 64-66 period was incredibly rich at GK. It came just as I was beginning to learn to read. One of my first comics was the issue of WDC & S featuring the LAST installment of "The Return of the Phantom Blot." I remember being endlessly intrigued by the story's conclusion, yet frustrated not to have access to the other parts. Over the years, I sort of mentally "wrote" the earlier chapters, using the text box that introduced Chapter IV as my takeoff point. I was an adult before I finally managed to track down the other three issues. Interestingly, the earlier chapters ran almost exactly as I had imagined them as a kid!

As for subscriptions, my mother paid for me to receive the Walt Disney Comics Digest for several issues. Ultimately, my experience was mostly one of frustration. I skipped buying issue #14 because I thought I would get it in the mail. However, they started me with #15 (even though I had requested starting with #14). The second issue they sent was #17--which prompted me to write a letter requesting issues #14 and #16, which were sent to me in a single envelope. After that, I continued to receive my subscription issues in order--until #26, which I saw in the store but didn't buy, thinking I would receive it as I had the others. Not only did they totally miss sending me that issue, they also were unable to replace it when I wrote and asked for it. (I finally found a copy a year later at a school rummage sale.) Thereafter, the Disney books arrived sporadically. I had to buy a backup copy of each issue in the store, just in case I didn't receive it in the mail. Some issues they sent, and some they didn't--and this lasted until the subscription ran out around issue #36. After that, I went back to buying them in the store, since it was more reliable.

No wonder they didn't push the subscriptions too heavily--they really didn't care which issues they sent, or in what order, or which ones were missed. With that lack of organization, they could not have handled a flood of subscriptions!

Joe Torcivia said...

And, thank YOU, Scarecrow, for some great comments!

I’m particularly gratified to see you echo my view of the 1964-1966 period at Gold Key. I’ve often mentioned the quality of the period in my fanzine and APA writings throughout the eighties and nineties, and in ‘zines, APAs, comic-book Letters of Comment, and Blog posts ever since. And, while no one has ever disputed that claim, I can’t recall too many persons supporting it all that explicitly either – certainly not to the degree I do. Thanks for adding your voice to mine on this.

Maybe you just “had to be there” to form that separation in your mind! To have experienced the oddities that came before, and the slow but steady decline that followed, in both story and especially art, as part of an ongoing timeline – instead of looking back on “the whole thing” as one historical event.

A number of personal friends, who happen to like these comics – but who experienced most, if not all, of it in “retroactive” fashion will acknowledge a difference in ’64-’66, but not to the degree that I do. Perhaps it’s ME who’s exaggerating – as I *do* openly state that this period largely influences my high opinion of Gold Key as a publisher, but it’s how I felt then, and still feel today.

And, even though I offer some plausible reasons for why that (pardon!) “Golden” period was so brief, it’s still regrettable that that it amounted to only THREE years of a 22 year span (22, if one chooses to count Whitman, as I do!).

Your subscription experiences also sound much like my own. They WERE kinda hit-and-miss in processing subs. I, too, tried to “time them” so as not to receive an issue I already had – or miss one I didn’t. I wasn’t always successful. Your diligence in noting and pursuing missing issues grants you entry into the “Curious and Precocious Kids Club”! …Which, I might add, is much more fun than the “Gold Key Comics Club”! :-)

Lastly, I’m always glad to find someone with a “Return of the Phantom Blot” story of their own! I’ve encountered a small few over the years, including at this Blog. Nice to know I wasn’t alone in that, and the story had *some* influential qualities! …Now, if only we could learn who WROTE it!

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

Gold Key's three-year "peak period" may not sound impressive... until you compare it to the "peak periods" of post-Whitman Disney comics publishers. Gladstone Series I (1986-1990) and Gemstone (2003-2008) beat GK, but the other "entities" do not. Then, too, GK's two big advantages over even G-I and Gemstone are that (1) their releases extended far BEYOND Disney and (2) they were doing original material all the way through.

Chris

Joe Torcivia said...

Right you are, Chris!

GK certainly produced MORE original material than any publisher that followed it… not to mention that such a high percentage of that original material (especially during the “Peak Period”) was “Good to Great”!

They did supplement with reprints, though. But, as noted, during 1964-1966, even the reprints were cream-of-the-crop. Consider that they weren’t even reprinting very many Barks stories then – and the reprints were STILL very high quality!

It was BOTH the quality of the new stories AND of the selected reprints that distinguished the period for GK.

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

Let's see if we can't push this sucker to 50 comments!

I forgot about the reprint of "Secret of Hondorica" and the other reprint issues that Gold Key put out in the 60s. Still, they were fully committed to regular releases of original material... and, as you say, the quality was consistently high. They were using reprints as a supplement, rather than leaning on them as a crutch.

Chris

Joe Torcivia said...

50 Comments?! That would be a first in this Blog’s nearly four-year history! Let’s go for it!


But, yes… I still recall the day, a Saturday in September, 1964, that my subscription copies of DONALD DUCK # 98 and BUGS BUNNY # 97 arrived – and contained REPRINTS of Carl Barks’ “Secret of Hondorica” (DD # 46) and “Sleepwalking Sleuth” (BUGS BUNNY FOUR COLOR # 223).

It marked both my first subscription copies of those titles AND the first reprints seen in the regular GK line.

These were quality reprints from the bygone days of Dell – and were heralded as such by the curious accompanying statement: “Reprinted by Popular Demand”.

To this day, I don’t know WHO “demand(ed)” it – because the readership probably turned over completely by ’64. It was really us “Silver Agers and Beyond” who never left this stuff behind, after all.

I suspect it was the editors themselves who “demand(ed)” it – because it made their job easier – but they were also unerringly proficient in selecting the best of the best -- at least at that time.

And, as you so rightly note, reprints were, for them, a SUPPLEMENT – and not a way of life!

Dana Gabbard said...

Truly a monumental post! Pete asks "Has there ever been a detailed history of the Disney Studios comic-book program written?" Not really. Buried in my archives are notes of an interview I did in the 90s with Tom Golberg, who ran it for years. The new book by George Sherman daughter has a few glimpses.

After looking over the anniversary issue of The Westerner posted by Joakim Gunnarsson, I am left stumped why did Western Pub spiral downward? That the comics went kaput makes some sense given market forces but these folks made the big money from publishing bibles and puzzles etc. So what went wrong?

Chuck Munson said...

Wonderful stuff, Joe! Yes, I'm finally leaving commentary!

Many have already said the comments that I would have made. And you and I have discussed this almost ad infinitum.

The Comics Club pages were a really pathetic attempt at something that I think the German Micky Maus weekly did from 1958-76 with their MMKZ (Micky Maus Klub Zeitung - Mickey Mouse Club Newspaper) did a much better job at. Nonetheless, the comics club had value to me when they began, ever so briefly, to print the titles coming out that month. Otherwise, they should indeed have dropped it.

The slow inevitable demise is still a painful memory observed first-hand. Like Caesar, this death involved a lot of participants with knives, including, as others have observed, Disney itself (et tu, Brutus?)

On the other hand, I have a raft of good memories involving individual Disney GK comics. Isn't that really the important point?

Joe Torcivia said...

Dana:

Looks like YOU got the “50th Comment”. As Chris noted earlier, the first “50th Comment” this Blog has ever had!

In the spirit of Stan Lee’s “No Prize”, I should offer a “Joe Prize”! I’d offer something like DC’s “Baldy Award”, but I still have a full head of hair! Well, Dana… whatever it is, do enjoy it!

Ever think of hosting your own Blog? It sounds as if you have some interesting stuff to share, locked away in the Gabbard Archives!

Yes, despite the importance that WE attach to them, the comics were but a small part of the Western Empire. Golden Books, coloring and sticker books, toys, puzzles, etc., should have sustained them long after the comics petered out.

I’d say this is just another case of being bought and sold, and run by a number of different parent firms that may or may not have understood what made them successful in the first place. This is how MAGNUS and TUROK end up being owned by a non-creative, catch-all entity like Classic Media – and ultimately, as of this week, by DreamWorks.

Thanks, also, for linking this post to the Wiki entry for Gold Key Comics. It’s not the comprehensive history Gold Key deserves, but I’m hard-pressed to think of anything that is – so this may (unfortunately for comic book history as a whole) have to suffice.

Joe Torcivia said...

Chuck:

Gotta agree, the only useful aspect to the Gold Key Comics Club was when they began listing the titles that would appear over the month. This was as close to outright advertising they would come (during that period), even in their own pages! …And even that did not begin for a year or more into it.

Thank you for your kind words! It isn’t often anything I write is compared to Shakespeare! (…Not even in my own mind, much less reality!)

For that, consider yourself the second recipient of a “Joe Prize”!

…And for noting that the “important point” of this whole Magilla (GK *did* publish Magilla Gorilla, after all!) is our collective good memories of Gold Key Comics!

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

"Looks like we made it"... to the magical 50 mark, that is.

Would GK's fate have been any different had they eschewed the GK Kid Club in favor of including COLLECTIBLES in their comics? The Italian TOPOLINO was already doing this in the 60s. The collectibles wouldn't have had to have been extensive or expensive -- just stickers and stuff. Surely, having collectibles would have made for a better "lure" to buy future issues than reading the GK Kid's latest jokes.

Chris

Joe Torcivia said...

…And now, 55 Comments – and a full-weeks’ time of active Blog-life, Chris! Maybe everyone who participated should get a “Joe Prize”! Yes, I declare it so! Do let me know when it arrives.

Oh, no, NO… The inclusion of any sort of nonsensical trinkets or doo-dads would have been far more annoying than “Gold Key Kid’s” jokes, riddles, and monster drawings. Even if they didn’t deform or otherwise disfigure what should be a smooth, flat book, it would still be something for us to separate and/or remove – and very likely discard.

And didn’t the ‘90s teach you anything about the folly of mixing comics with collectables? :-)

…No-Prizes, Baldy Awards, and “Joe Prizes” notwithstanding, of course!

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

"Oh, no, NO… The inclusion of any sort of nonsensical trinkets or doo-dads would have been far more annoying than “Gold Key Kid’s” jokes, riddles, and monster drawings. Even if they didn’t deform or otherwise disfigure what should be a smooth, flat book, it would still be something for us to separate and/or remove – and very likely discard. And didn’t the ‘90s teach you anything about the folly of mixing comics with collectables? :-)"

From what I've been able to discern, many of those TOPOLINO collectibles weren't of the cut-this-out, "Map of Duckburg" variety. (Remember the issue that came shrink-wrapped with a mini camera?) Their successful use over several decades would seem to indicate that readers didn't mind the "intrusions." Or perhaps the Italians weren't quite as conscious of comics condition as we are. ;-) The Germans did similar things (and probably still do) with MICKY MAUS, as I recall.

Chris

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

I don’t care for the idea but, to be completely objective, few if any “readers” in 1967, the time of the Gold Key Comics Club, (we weren’t COLLECTORS then – just readers) were concerned with CONDITION – at least “condition” as would be later defined by Overstreet and other guide-meisters. So, I’m not claiming any widespread concern over condition.

But, I still wanted my comics to not be bent, torn, unduly folded, etc. I usually took the best looking copy of an issue off the racks – because I wanted to KEEP it. I doubt I was alone in that.

And, I’m glad that you brought up MICKY MAUS, because that’s exactly what I was thinking of! The plastic attached or bagged items that would alter the flat, unbent form that a brand new comic should exhibit were what I had in mind – and I would dread to see such things joined to Carl Barks’ final issues of UNCLE SCROOGE.

Think little plastic “Doom Diamonds” attached to UNCLE SCROOGE # 70! It might have even been cool to have your own “Doom Diamond” (like the plastic purple gem glued to the ‘90s ECLIPSO comic – Remember that?), but there wouldn’t be very many mint copies of that issue around today. Maybe good for then – Bad for now!

I don’t think that a young reader like me (who would only be interested in the stories and not ancillary doo-dads), or as I suspect you would have been in those days, would have derived much benefit from such needless additions.

This is such A FUN DISCUSSION!

top cat james said...

I'm with you on this one, Joe. I remember those Kenner Toys catalog inserts in my early '70s Gold Keys made one think they were getting a thick, fat comic book. Taught me to always do a quick flip-through before buying. ;)

Joe Torcivia said...

Yep, especially in the ‘70s, it was buyer beware, TCJ!

Some of those "toy insert issues" were so thick, they even needed larger bags/ Mylar’s to hold them.

Ah, but those funky-drawn illustrations of Six Million Dollar Man toys and the like had a… er, certain “charm” all their own!

And don’t get me started on those “Hostess Twinkies, Fruit Pies, and Cup Cakes” ads! …HA!

Dana Gabbard said...

The strange thing is Dell had been very active in marketing subscriptions.

Some years ago I posted on the CBG Blog Joe's memories of being a Gold Key subscriber. Meanwhile Michael Barrier in a entry on his blog expressed curiousity about the economics of Dell's emphasis on subscriptions.

Soon Maggie Thompson and I were dicussing this, with some interesting examples of the premiums being offered by Dell.

In the June 2008 Beautiful Balloons column (sadly no longer posted online) Maggies revealed her research that cheap postage rates made subscriptions (even supplying premiums as entucements) made good economic sense.

Maybe post-war inflation meant by the 60s that was no longer the case?

scarecrow33 said...

I actually liked those "16-page Fun Catalogs!" They were sort of a harbinger of Christmas. As I recall, they came out around October or November. It got me excited about Christmas being just around the corner.

I also liked the feeling of a larger book, even though I knew that the extra pages would all be taken up with ads. The regular 15 cent price told me that it was not more story content.

But how about those poster issues that came out late 60's/early 70's?

WDC & S in particular had a long stretch of running posters in each issue. Of course, the price was hiked to 25 cents for those "bonus" issues, but I loved the posters and still have them to this day. I was disappointed when the posters stopped.

I agree with others that the Gold Key Comics club was generally a waste of space...except for the preview pages devoted to the coming month's comics. Those actually did motivate me to broaden my choices and sample comics that I otherwise might have left alone.

And since you mentioned it, how about those Hostess ads? I'd love to read comments on those.

Joe Torcivia said...

Dana writes:

“The strange thing is Dell had been very active in marketing subscriptions… Maybe post-war inflation meant by the 60s that was no longer the case?”

I’m not so sure about that “inflation” thing, Dana. I’d say it’s just another sense in which Western, operating on its own as Gold Key, was a very “different animal” from Dell.

We’ll never know, but perhaps Dell ran its own Subscription Fulfillment Department as part of its greater publishing machine – and Western was forced to institute one of its own, upon assuming control of the comics. It may have even been a distraction for them (a conclusion that might be reasonably drawn by some of our reported mutual experiences in that area) from their main mission of producing books, games, and comics – and, thus, less of a priority.


And, while it is a bit humbling to have my own “prior thoughts” linked-to in your comment attached to my own Blog post (as you do above), it does add some additional information on Gold Key subscriptions that are not part of this post. So, check out that and the other links Dana provides. Thank you for posting that, Dana.

Joe.

Joe Torcivia said...

Scarecrow33 writes:

“I actually liked those "16-page Fun Catalogs!" They were sort of a harbinger of Christmas. As I recall, they came out around October or November. It got me excited about Christmas being just around the corner. I also liked the feeling of a larger book, even though I knew that the extra pages would all be taken up with ads. The regular 15 cent price told me that it was not more story content.”

You know, that’s a better, nicer, way of looking at it, Scarecrow!

And, as even I have admitted above, those ads had a “charm” all their own – kinda like watching a long series of ‘70s toy commercials which, by now, DOES hold a certain degree of nostalgic value!

If only the Gold Key Comics Club served more as a promotional vehicle for Western’s comic-book product, than as a showcase for drawings and jokes, both publisher and readers would have been better served. It clearly influenced you, as it also did with me – and, for a publisher with occasionally erratic scheduling, it was very useful overall.

Lastly, back to “nostalgic value”, the “Hostess ads” are more than deserving of a post of their own.

Has ANYTHING united the efforts and characters of as many different publishers as those things did?! DC, Marvel, Gold Key (with the use of Warner Bros. characters), and Harvey – and using actual ARTISTS FROM those publishers – each selling the Hostess product in their own unique way!

This was one of the best (certainly the most unique) aspects of the (otherwise generally lesser) comics of the seventies!

top_cat_james said...

Here's one of the Kenner Toy inserts I remember reading (disclosure: I was a proud owner of the Snoopy Power Toothbrush)-

www.ep.tc/kenner-catalog/

Years ago,"Dexter's Laboratory" featured a funny parody of those Hostess Pie comic book ads. I always wondered if the younger viewers understood the reference-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfslNN7dI3o

Finally, all the discussion regarding Dell/Gold Key subscriptions caused me to recall this passage from one of my favorite autobios-

"… I loved comic books, especially the funny ones, like Little Lulu, and man oh man, if Uncle Scrooge was in the latest episode of Donald Duck, I was in heaven. My father financed my subscriptions, and I ended up, after one year, owing him five dollars. Though he never dogged me for it, I’m sure he kept this debt on the books to teach me the value of money. As the balance grew, I was nauseated whenever I thought of it. One birthday, he forgave my debt, and I soared relief. In my adult life, I have never bought anything on credit."

-Steve Martin, "Born Standing Up" 2007

Congrats on the continued comment count, Joe. I've spent the past week exploring your blog. Terrific stuff.

Joe Torcivia said...

TCJ:

That is one GREAT Dexter bit! Everyone, go take that link! You won’t be sorry!

A number of comic books have done Hostess parody ads, including Savage Dragon and The Simpsons with “Radioactive Man” – but imagine seeing one animated!

And, if anyone is curious about the “Kenner Fun Catalogues”, take that link too! That’s a type of cheesy art (…but, I mean “cheesy” in a positive sense, if you can imagine that), that you just don’t see anymore. Good gosh, is this my first wave of ‘70s nostalgia suddenly kicking in? NOOOOOOO!

…And how about Steve Martin being a Dell/Gold Key subscriber – and a huge fan of Uncles Scrooge, no less?!

My word, TCJ, this has been one fun-filled comment!

I’m very glad you’re enjoying the Blog in general, and hope you stick around for whatever follows. Even *I* don’t know what it will be yet! Probably some DVD thing, or what not.

…Though, after this post, it can only be a comparative letdown.

Do enjoy your “Joe Prize”!

Joakim Gunnarsson said...

"Is there a place Time-Warner has stored the WB, H-B, and MGM material?"

I don't think so. I'm working on the Scandinavian Tom & Jerry comic books and the old Eisenberg material we are reprinting is coming from our own archives.
(Every issue of T&J nowdays features both new artwork and a classic Eisenberg story in the back of the book.)

I'm told that Warner don't have the old stuff. Or at least it's not possible to order it from them. It might be buried in some archive there. Who knows?

Joe Torcivia said...

Joakim:

“Who knows” seems to be the answer for so many questions, when it comes to Western Publishing.

Thank you for the information -- and good fortune and much success with the Scandinavian Tom and Jerry series.

New stories AND Eisenberg reprints? Sure wish we had that stuff here!

Dana Gabbard said...

I think those Kenner catalogs had the same artists that did those ads Heroes World in the 80s...

The scuttlebutt I heard in re the Warner Brother comic book films (used to reproduce artwork) is Western called the studio and said they were going to throw them out since Western no longer did comics and did anyone in Burbank want them. And whoever they spoke to said "Nah, toss em". A week later some higher up heard about this and frantically called Racine only to hear in the interim the films were destroyed.

Disney of course wrote tighter contracts (all the way back to the 40s) so the films of their licensed characters had to be stored. I know David Gerstein helped DC when it did the Bugs Bunny trade paperback some years ago find source material.

Joe Torcivia said...

Dana:

Looking at that “Heroes World” link, I’m inclined to agree.

Again, that sort of advertising is an odd form of art that doesn’t seem to be practiced anymore. (I’ll leave it to all of you to decide if that’s a good thing, or not!)

We can also say the same for things like this:

http://tiahblog.blogspot.com/2009/03/comic-book-ads-timeless-bass-secret-yes.html


…And (cue scary music) this:

http://tiahblog.blogspot.com/2009/05/comic-book-ads-recording-from-future.html

The Warner story is TRULY a shame!

Yes, there were probably no WB comics being published at the time (though why DC didn’t do them sooner than they did, especially in the wake of Gladstone Series One’s success, is beyond me), and maybe *IF* DC were to do WB comics, they preferred originals that hewed closer to the screen versions than the Western comics did. …And that’s what eventually happened.

But were there NO potential licensees around the world that Warner could have sold this material to?

So, anything that wasn’t already in the hands of some licensee was discarded or otherwise destroyed?

Ya gotta wonder why Western itself, didn’t have a public “fire sale”, and at least put the stuff into the hands of collectors. I know *I* would have bought something, under those circumstances!

Chuck Munson said...

Fascinating thread going here! Haven't checked, but I would guess that the Gold Key / Western Publishing wiki pages could take some updating from this conversation!

Regarding the latest comments on the artwork and Joe's suggestion of a "Western 'fire sale'" when they left the comics for good, unfortunately the collector / preservation market is seemingly one of the last markets thought of, if it's thought of at all. Disney is at least more cognizant of the value of corporate history thanks to all the work of Disney Archives founder Dave Smith and the current director Becky Cline. However, as I see it, it always has and may always be, an uphill battle to save, preserve and publicize all that we hold dear when it comes to Disney comics and comics in general. That said, it is an effort worth pursuing - never say die, eh?

Joe Torcivia said...

Chuck:

Glad you’re enjoying this along with the rest of us. I think it’s been quite a revelation for us all – how much we know and CARE about these comics! That the reaction continues 12-13 (and counting) days later astounds me!

Again, thanks to EVERYONE!

Dana Gabbard has updated the Gold Key Wiki page with a link to this – so the information from both the post and its commenters will be found there.

Original comic book material was not valued for many years – but, by the time of Western’s demise, its value HAD become known. At the very least, such material could have been offered in the “collectable” sections of the late Warner Bros. Studio Stores.

Joe.

Chris Barat said...

Joe,

"Dana Gabbard has updated the Gold Key Wiki page with a link to this – so the information from both the post and its commenters will be found there."

Good on you, Dana!

Chris

Dana Gabbard said...

Thanks, Chris!

"Western itself, didn’t have a public “fire sale”, and at least put the stuff into the hands of collectors".

I don't think they appreciated their heritage. One story I heard is when it was downsizing and storage space was at a premium they started putting file copies of Big Little Books on the counter at the reception desk for anyone to take. :-(

Big Little Book scholar Lawrence Lowery in an interview stated "Much of the Whitman Archives disappeared in the mid-70s".

But interestingly some stuff is available. I ran across a reference that a back issue of the newsletter of Lowery's Big Little Book club has copies of the correspondence of Disney & Whitman regarding the first Mickey Big Little Book. Hope eventually to track that down!

Joe Torcivia said...

To all:

Wow! This has been a great two weeks of Blogging! Thanks again to everyone who gave this post more of a “life” than I ever imagined!

We never close, so any additional thoughts are always welcome.

Though, we’ll have a new post up soon. A Blog, as I once said, is a harsh mistress.

Joe.

Cathy Freeman said...

Dear Joe,

Thank you for the history. Disney Comic books were part of my childhood. My father, George Ransom Sherman, was Head of Publications at Walt Disney in the 1960s and edited, wrote and published Disney books and comic books. He would come home once a month with 4 fresh comic books for us four children to fight over (we all wanted "Uncle Scrooge" or "Super Goof" first. We also entertained foreign representatives who published Disney Comics in many other countries. When they came to Burbank they'd come to our house a block from Disney Studio in Burbank and we'd entertain them as kids and often be their escorts to Disneyland. I wrote a book released this year called "A Disney Childhood: Comic Books to Sailing Ships" by Cathy Sherman Freeman. It has some of the behind the scenes of Disney Publishing in the 1960s including a six week business trip to Europe in 1965 when I was 8 years old to promote the to be released movie "The Jungle Book." I recently learned my dad had a part in the creation of Super Goof which I'm pleased to know. He died of a very rare cancer in 1974 which I learned I inherited a few years back. Thus the book and story of my childhood when the Disney Studios felt like family.

Cathy Sherman Freeman

Joe Torcivia said...

Cathy:

Thank you very much for the kind words!

Those comics were my favorites growing up – and still are! And, I thank your father for the part he played in making them so great!

That sounds like a truly wonderful life! I was 10 when you were 8, and I know *I* would love to have experienced all of that!

I recall reading a fanzine interview with your father many years ago – but I was unaware of his role in the creation of Super Goof! The story I’d gotten was that the key elements came from Del Connell and Don R. Christensen of Western Publishing. Did your father make the original suggestion? If so, I’m very grateful, as Super Goof was not only one of my favorite characters growing up – but was the character I first broke into working in comics on in 2006. As a student of Western Publishing lore, I’d love to know the story of his contributions.

I’ll have to look for your book – and I wish you very well in all things!

Joe.

top_cat_james said...

*KNOCK KNOCK*
"HELLOOOOOO! ANYBODY T'HOME?"

Just stopped by to make sure you didn't die on us, Joe. The neighbors were getting concerned and frankly the lawn has never looked worse. Please pull yourself away from your beloved UPA cartoons and break out the rakes and riding mower,thank you kindly.

I've returned from my monthly comic book store visit and wanted to bring your attention to something I purchased you might be interested in and that is relevant to your popular post - the latest edition of "Back Issue" magazine (#59). It contains stories regarding the comic book runs of "Space Ghost" and Jonny Quest" and Marvel Comics' acquisition of the Hanna-Barbera and "Dennis the Menace" lines, and lots of other cool stuff. Can't wait to dive into it.

You can preview some of it here-

twomorrows.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1037

Hope to get another blog entry from you soon-give the Jolly Frolics a rest, and rejoin the rest of us in civilization.

Joe Torcivia said...

Always good to hear from you TCJ!

I’d like to give that issue a plug too! It’s really a great one, and I appreciate your bringing it to my attention here! Things DO (honestly) escape my notice these days – so I mean that! I no longer visit a comic shop with any regularity (first time since 1981), so good things WILL get past me, unless you all help!

But, in this case, I was well aware of it because Mark Arnold (author of the superbly informative “Hanna-Barbera at Marvel” article) is a long-time friend of mine, and I contributed some (minor) assistance to him on that! And, in fact, I used to write for him back when “The Issue At Hand” was an APA and fanzine column, and not a Blog!

The issue, to the extent I’ve been able to read it so far, is extremely well-done, and I share in your recommendation of it! We can never have too much coverage of comics like this – and the talents behind them – especially as many of them did the same comics for Western Publishing!

And, to everyone who hasn’t seen our comments on Tralfaz…

http://tralfaz.blogspot.com/2012/09/stale-popcorn.html

…Those UPA cartoons are all overrated, except for “The Tell-Tale Heart”! :-) I remain amazed no one has challenged me on that!

top_cat_james said...

Oops, Joe, I just realized that when I bookmarked your blog,it locked into the Gold Key post, which was why I jokingly remarked about not hearing from you for some time. Now I've got a lot of catching up to do-sorry for any confusion.

Joe Torcivia said...

Not to worry, TCJ!

One thing I try to do is update the old Blog about twice a week! Never let it go stale. Whenever possible, I’ll even write stuff in advance and space it out. “Too Much / Too Soon” isn’t the best way to go either. I’ll wait a few days for comments, and then move to the next post.

YOWP does a fine job at that, I’d say!

I sometimes find it frustrating to regularly visit a Blog I like and find it’s not been updated in quite some time. …Yeah, that’s RIGHT (fill-in-the blank-Blog)! I’m talkin’ to YOU! …You KNOW who you are! :-)

Come back late this week, and again early next, for two big things! I think YOWP and I will have one 50th Anniversary topic in common. …But, mine will be more comics focused!

Andrew Campbell said...

It’s hard to believe there are still some of us out there that enjoy the same cartoon characters that our parents (and for some, grandparents) did. I was only too happy in my childhood that I could continue to get these comics – despite the publisher change. You’ve got a nice collection!

Joe Torcivia said...

The publisher change was, at first, bewildering and later exciting. And, those 15 cents really did mean something to a kid back then.

luifel said...

Dear Joe: thank you for one of the most enjoyable and informative posts I ever read in a blog! (50 years of Gold Key) Extensive to all your collaborators, through their comments. A lot of Dell and Gold Key material was published here in Brasil, and I concur with you and all the others who say the 1964-1966 period was rich in quality along with novelty. I just discovered your blog, and plan to follow it faithfully - even if I don't leava a comment. Oh, and I'm also a BIG Hitchcock fan.
Greetings from Rio de Janeiro!
Luiz Felipe

Joe Torcivia said...

Luiz:

Greetings back, from New York! And, thank YOU for those very kind words! This Gold Key Post is the single thing I’m most proud of; over the five-plus years I’ve been Blogging.

What makes it most special for me is the incredible reaction it received from everyone out there! You all are responsible for that! It really means a great deal to me – and that it continues to draw positive reaction to this day!

It was something I simply HAD to write because, to this point, no one has comprehensively covered the subject of the overall history of Gold Key comics in any book. And, I still left out many aspects of that history. But, I saw it happen first hand, as a child, and it’s stuck with me ever since. I’m very glad you enjoyed it!

Please drop by anytime, and your comments are always welcome!

Adel Khan said...

Four years after this post, it feels like an ongoing a party.

The amount of detail you delve into about "Gold Key" is phenomenal. I am going to split my comments into two instalments, you can enjoy them.

Thanks to your blog, I pick up on certain terms, and integrate them in my vocabulary.
For instance, uptick is one word I have become aware of.
Gold Key’s earliest comics were interesting due to their interesting innovations of:
* Panel backgrounds in one flat color, square dialogue balloons, and “borderless” panels.

* The promotional texts on “Uncle Scrooge”, “The Flintstones” and others. For example, “UNCLE SCROOGE” #62 read – “YEEKS! ADVANCE TO THE REAR! IT’S THE QUEEN OF THE WILD DOG PACK!” When reading that caption for the first time, I was curious about what the story was about.
In grade six, when playing a round of “Capture The Flag”, I recited the particular line when being chased by the opposing side. As nonsensical as the promotional texts were it appealed to me.

* In an attempt to differentiate from their Dell predecessors, the logo fonts were new. Having the title written in multicolor was a nice touch, as the title of Daffy Duck #36 demonstrates. I liked how the Uncle Scrooge logo was sleek and the words Uncle Scrooge was bunched up.

* The cover is crucial in creating the readers interest. Carl Barks covers from Uncle Scrooge #45- #71, were filled to the bill, with action. You always wanted to read the story inside. The humorous gag covers were entertaining, but it was nice to have the cover illustrate the adventure. During this “Gold Key” era, the artists aesthetically pleasing covers. The characters are on model in the “Disney”, “Warner Bros”, and “Hanna-Barbera” comics.

I liked your comment about the “pinup”. I could summon the courage in ripping the back of my comic.

The abandonment of the daily “Donald Duck Cover Gag” in favor of segmented covers was fun. I am not sure why it was short lived. A neat way to attract readers about how diversified the contents were. We were treated to some neat Tony Strobl covers for Barks stories. “Quick Draw McGraw” issues #11-#13 show segmented parts.
Was there an amazing cover to a story that did not live up to its expectation?

The expansion of the Disney titles was cool. I am curious why many "Hanna-Barbera" titles (Augie, Snooper & Blabber, Snaggleuss) were canceled, only to be back-up features in "Top Cat", "The Jetsons", "The Flintstones", and "Yogi Bear".
I though it would be good for a studio (i.e. Disney, Warners) to have more comics. The "Hanna-Barbera Bandwagon" was a good idea of combining the secondary H-B characters. Is it not weird that out of all the Hanna-Barbera titles, "QUICK DRAW MCGRAW", featured less issues, under the Gold Key line?

Joe Torcivia said...

Adel:

And thank you for the 85th comment on this post!

No other post has ever approached the level of overall enthusiasm this one has, and I thank you and everyone for that!

I always found that the Gold Key Cover Captions, when combined with a good illustration, made me REALLY want to read that comic, more so than any cover filled with dialogue! During the mid-sixties, especially, they had an unerring sense of how to do things right! You could have just given me the job of writing those captions, and I’d have been thrilled!

I’d also love to know how a gang of 6th graders reacted to “Yeeks! Advance to the rear!” I carried such phrases with me, back in those school days (when the comics were current), as well – but never had the nerve to speak them aloud!

I really liked the segmented covers for WDC&S. And, as you know, it was during that period that I became a regular reader. But, I suppose the “Donald Duck gag covers” were too much of a classic to ever abandon, except temporarily. Same for when “The Walt Disney Theatre” series of stories took cover precedence for a while.

I don’t quite regard the QUICK DRAW McGRAW covers as exactly the same thing, because their purpose was more to highlight the characters found therein, as opposed to herald specific stories about those characters. But, it’s close enough.

I can’t really think of any cover that that “let me down”, but look up the cover to MICKEY MOUSE # 91 HERE. I expected something “wilder and more exotic” in that crate than what actually was. At least that’s what I felt, as a kid back in 1963. No, they did an AMAZING job of marrying a cover to a story!

My guess is that there were simply too many “Giant” comics for the market to support. As much as I liked them, I preferred more “regular” titles over the giants.

Adel Khan said...

You are very welcome! I am glad that you feel the same about the captions that Gold Key featured. When mentioning “Yeeks! Advance to the rear!” it caught the opposing team off guard; I would dash to the other side.

It depends on your preference on how the characters appear, but the Fred Flintstone in the later issues of “THE FLINTSTONES” looks off model. Notice how overseas, Daan Jippes covers
for “The Flintstones” are dynamic.

I concur with your caption “Whoa Whitman”!

I was not apart of the era when “Gold Key” comics were distributed. My dad would tell me about how he would pick up these titles. I wanted to relive the fun of reading a “Dell” or “Gold Key”. As enjoyable as reading a reprint of a story on high quality stock is. There is a charm to reading an old comic. True the paper quality and coloring are not as sophisticated as today’s, but it is fun. I had a longing to pick-up Donald Duck #117. Tony Strobls’ cover depicting the distressed Ducks latching onto the tree branches, as a wild wolf pulls the tree, evoked excitement about the story. The expensive shipping cost did not equate to the cost of the comic. I was content with the stories Gemstone were publishing.

I was not apart of the era when “Gold Key” comics were distributed. My dad would tell me about how he would pick up these titles. I wanted to relive the fun of reading a “Dell” or “Gold Key”. As enjoyable as reading a reprint of a story on high quality stock is. There is a charm to reading an old comic. True the paper quality and coloring are not as sophisticated as today’s, but it is fun. I had a longing to pick-up Donald Duck #117. Tony Strobls’ cover depicting the distressed Ducks latching onto the tree branches, as a wild wolf pulls the tree, evoked excitement about the story. The expensive shipping cost did not equate to the cost of the comic. I was content with the stories they were publishing.

Gold Key comics unlock a special period, a golden period, even. The best artistic talents created the amazing covers ( Barks, Strobl, DeLara, McKimson, Eisenberg, and others) in this line. I get a kick out of it when you display a comic book cover with an event. I like to change my profile picture on social messaging websites with a cover from this era.
The enthusiasm for “Gold Key” comics exists to this day. On “Facebook” there is a fanpage for the line. I enjoy browsing the ads that promoted the “Gold Key” line. The ads, which showed that, a buyer could receive a large quantity of comics, for an affordable price are neat. I am amazed by the assortment of funny animal comics were printed. It was never the same, when the license to publish comics was relinquished.

The other day, I was watching “Top Cat”. My dad asked why I did not invite him. He retold the story of long ago, the comics were his exposure to: “Huckleberry Hound, “Top Cat”, “The Flintstones”, “The Jetsons”, etc. It was the combination of hearing that story, and reading your posts about “Hanna Barbera” comics that inspired me to pick some of these titles. I treated myself to “Top Cat”: #9,13,22, and “The Jetsons” #23,27 and “Quick Draw McGraw” #13. I picked the latter title, to have a better feel of the “early Gold Key” era.If one hears the sound effects, music, and voices in your head, it’s as if watching a “Hanna-Barbera” cartoon. Can’t wait until they arrive in the mail. Thanks for rejuvenating my love for the Gold Key comics!

Hey, who knows I might see this infamous “Gold Key Comics Club” in one of these issues.

Joe Torcivia said...

Adel:

Once again, that is a GREAT story on the “Yeeks! Advance to the rear!” quote! Especially now knowing that its utterance may have thrown the other team off their game!

Those are nice FLINTSTONES covers! But, I must point out that some of them (particularly the later ones) are Gold Key or Dell covers – and, more bizarre, a number of them have been “doctored” to include Flintstones characters where OTHER H-B characters previously existed in Gold Key versions of those same illustrations!

Among them: The “sailboat cover” was from Huckleberry Hound, the “telescope cover” was done with Yogi and Boo-Boo, the “cymbals cover”, “tuba cover”, AND the “stilts cover” were ALL also Huck Hound, and the one with the Cave Kids had Fred and Barney ADDED to their TV screen, where dinosaurs existed before. VERY STRANGE!

I might be prejudiced, but there is nothing to compare with having lived through that early-to-mid sixties Gold Key period as a young reader! Though, I’m glad you are able to piece some of it together any way you can!

And, for the Gold Key Comics Club, check out any issue released during or after January, 1967, until some point in the early seventies. You can be as "shocked and horrified" as I was! :-)