Thursday, May 28, 2015

Gold Key Digest Comics - from Mark Evanier.



As an interlude (...if you define "Interlude" as "Cheater Post"), we have an interesting piece by Mark Evanier on the Gold Key Digest Comics - HERE!  

Don't know if Mark is taking comments on this post, but I sure will.  So, bring 'em on! 

9 comments:

top_cat_james said...

I can tell you I unequivocally loved the digest format. It was a great way to inexpensively obtain vintage material in a era where older work wasn't reprinted as frequently as it once was. The increased page count was also a plus, as it was not only a good value, but would take longer to finish than a regular comic.

When Evanier mentions the ...lesson that Western learned when they were the only publisher doing them.[digests], he either omitted or forgot about the success of the Dennis the Menace "Pocketful of Fun" series, which ran during the same time, and lasted eleven years for fifty issues. And in mentioning DC, their Blue Ribbon "Best of" digests, which continued til the mid-Eighties, were also overlooked. Also, I disagree with his theory that readers wouldn't purchase digests and comic books at the same store.When one was limited with where they could purchase comics, as I was with the two small markets that my mother shopped at back then, they did -because they had no choice.

I still have my copies of Golden Comics, Archie, Dennis the Menace, and Blue Ribbon digests from the '70s and '80s - not the complete runs, but a sizable amount from each. They are all worn, because they were read over and over, and were much loved. I think it would be great if this format made a comeback with other publishers, using older stories or new material - are you listening, IDW?

Joe Torcivia said...

TCJ:

My opinion on digest comics depends largely on the era.

You put it perfectly when you say: “It was a great way to inexpensively obtain vintage material in an era where older work wasn't reprinted as frequently as it [is now].”

The digest I pictured to lead off this post just as perfectly illustrates my view. The “fannish-life-altering” WALT DISNEY COMICS DIGEST # 6 (1968), containing the first ever USA reprint of Carl Barks’ “The Twenty-Four Carat Moon”, which later manifested itself as my Blogging Icon and found its way into my scripts for both “To the Moon by Noon” the Mickey Mouse story in Boom!’s WDC&S # 718 and “Meteor Rights” in IDW’s UNCLE SCROOGE # 2.

Similarly, I saw many classic Barks stories first reprinted in WALT DISNEY COMICS DIGEST, from the very first issue which reprinted the story retroactively titled “The Secret of Atlantis” from Dell’s UNCLE SCROOGE # 5. And, in contrast with Evanier’s observation, if regular comics I wanted were on sale alongside these digests, I bought them BOTH! (…Of course, I often ran my allowance at a deficit to do so – but, what the hey, so does the government!)

By the time Gladstone Series I was doing digests in the latter part of the eighties, I bought them, but was far less enthused, at both the small size and contents that I already owned.

Same with DC. I was pleased when they were reprinting ‘60s and ‘70s material in their digests that I might not have had… until I rounded up the original printings during my peak back issue buying period of the eighties and nineties.

I *did* like Gemstone’s digests because they were full of “New to the USA” stories, that were done in larger format panels that read better despite the smaller size.

So, there might just be a “right time” in your collecting life for comic digests. Mine was in the late sixties and for others it could be any time – perhaps even today.

Shifting gears, though I did not collect them, I also thought of the Dennis the Menace digests, which I distinctly remember seeing on sale.

TC said...

I loved the Gold Key digests in the late sixties. I received a gift subscription to the Disney digest, and had #12-23. And I also remember the "Golden" series, with the other cartoon characters (e.g., Warner Brothers/Looney Tunes, MGM/Tom & Jerry). And I also remember DC's digests from ca. 1980.

Much as I hate to disagree with the King (Kirby), I never thought that it was a terrible thing to do to comics. The digests could be sold in outlets that might not otherwise carry comics. And that was a good thing when there were no comic book specialty stores. (And, of course, no online sources, either.)

That said, I don't remember seeing the digests on sale in stores that didn't carry regular comics. It seemed like most retailers carried both or neither. But my memory could be playing tricks.

Today, I still see Archie digests at the checkout counter in grocery stores that don't usually sell regular comic books.

Joe Torcivia said...

TC:

I would think Jack Kirby was most likely referring to HIS OWN particular brand of comics!

Amazing, large splash panels – specifically those with awesome and then-unheard of photo collages – would not translate well into the digest format.

Otherwise, I think we ALL have our own “good memories and good feelings” associated with comics digests. I even think the DC comics that appeared in that format were served reasonably well. I sure enjoyed ‘em when I was buying them new.

Some newsstands in the sixties carried both regular comics and the Gold Key Digests, per my own recollections. And, in later years, comics shops also carried both formats.

Deb said...

I had at one point all of Gladstone's comic digests. Tony Strobl's work really doesn't shrink down well, as it often looks tiny in regular-sized comics. I think much of the success Archie Comics has with digests is that the artwork in them shrinks down well. Well, that and being pretty much the only game in town for digests nowadays. They even have several 1000 page digests in bookshops.

Joe Torcivia said...

I still have all the Gladstones, Deb. And all the Gemstones. About ¾ of the Gold Key Disney Digests – all of the earlier ones and spotty in the later years. A handful of the Golden Comics Digests, and a fair number of the DC Digests. They’re not very easy to find at shows and cons. Neither are Western’s “March of Comics” giveaway series.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Archie draws their stories with “digest reduction” in mind, as so much of their business is oriented in that direction.

“Topolino” style Disney material, such as “Gigabeagle” and the upcoming “Duckburg 100” in UNCLE SCROOGE # 3 and “Sound-Blot Plot” in MICKEY MOUSE # 2 would likely adapt well to the digest format. ...Though I'd still prefer to read them in "full size".

scarecrow33 said...

I, too, was enamored of the Gold Key Digests--especially the Disney digest, which led the pack by about a year, at a 192-page count.

Mark discusses the SIZE of the digests, but doesn't say much about their CONTENT. The Disney digests in particular presented material that probably wouldn't have been reprinted in regular-sized comics, and certainly featured much more than would have been printed elsewhere.

Besides reprints, the digests also featured original made-for-digest material often featuring unusual team-ups, like Super Goof and Mowgli. These stories used a different format which was much easier to read. Most of the digest-created Super Goof stories had two angular-shaped vertical panels per page. Other stories had four elogated horizontal strips going across each page. As the series progressed, special themed issues were developed--one with all-western stories, one with all-duck stories. My favorite issue was #32 which came out as Walt Disney World opened in Florida, and included not only some great reprinted material from the Dell giant "Donald Duck Goes to Disneyland" but also several new stories that reflected attractions in the new theme park. It was all lovingly re-designed to make the old Disneyland stories appear to take place in Disney World. Later issues reprinted some of the Dell giants in their entirety.

The Golden Comics Digest was another treasure-trove. Many of their stories were reprinted from the "March of Comics" giveaway series, and were otherwise not available to a wider market. I have many "March of Comics" issues whose stories appear in the GC Digest. There are three early issues devoted to the Hanna-Barbera characters (and coming just ahead of the disastrous H-B switchover to Charlton) and these are among my very favorites. The "triple-decker" format used in issue #1 recurred in several other issues as well. These issues were divided into three sections--one devoted to the antics of Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes characters, one featuring Tom and Jerry and their MGM cohorts, and one showcasing Woody Woodpecker and other Walter Lantz creations. The drawback to the GCD was that if an issue featured a character or set of characters that were not of great interest, you had to wait until the next issue to see if you got a better choice. (Much as I enjoy the Little Lulu stories within reason, there were too many issues given over to her--as a young boy I felt slightly awkward buying titles featuring Little Lulu, but I was a completist first and foremost.)

By the time the GCD came along, the digest format had shrunk to 160 pages, and the WDCD followed suit. Later the page count went down to 128 pages, while the 50 cent price went up to 59, and eventually reached 69. But I kept buying the WDCD and the GDC until they ceased production.

I, too, found the digests being sold alongside the regular comics--that was where I always purchased them. They had much more to offer than regular comics, and they were sturdier. Personally, I don't think the size would have been much of a factor affecting sales. A school friend of mine once said that he avoided them because he didn't want to commit the time to reading through them--I'm guessing that may have been a reason for a lot of kids.

Joe Torcivia said...

A perfect analysis of the matter, Scarecrow! ...And, as I am wont to do, here's another 'long one" in return! Buckle-up!

Yes, the one thing that set the Gold Key digests apart from all the rest was indeed the CONTENT!

Gemstone’s “New to the USA” content (partially, because they WERE STILL reprints) excepted, the digests from other publishers, certainly to MY recollection, contained exclusively reprints.

And, setting the Gold Key WALT DISNEY COMICS DIGEST further apart, was the additional consideration that it (as you say) “…presented material that probably wouldn't have been reprinted in regular-sized comics”. You got Disney park and other themed specials, as the series progressed, but you also got adaptations of Disney animated film classics like “Pinocchio”, “Bambi”, and “Cinderella”, all presented with that “old style Dell elegance” that cannot be duplicated to the present day.

Oddly, at the time, that was actually a source of contention for me – because there was just not enough Scrooge, Donald, and Mickey to suit me in the “regular” titles, and I would have much preferred digests filled cover-to-cover with Duck and Mouse related characters. Ironically, that was exactly what Gladstone Series I *did* but, because none of it was new to me by that time, I felt it was a waste. So, it’s all in the timing.

The new material in the Gold Key WDCD not only pioneered unusual page and panel formatting but was rather creative in teaming up Disney characters that might be otherwise seldom seen. And sometimes, as in the case of WDCD # 33 (Cover Date: February, 1972 – and the last of my original purchase run), unusually innovative.

Check out “Lil Red and Her Mini Bike” from that issue. Donald and Daisy’s picnic is rained-out so Don grabs a VERY early volume of “Daisy Duck’s Diary” (as I said before, would it be “Daisy Duck’s Face Beak Page” today?), and reads us a story (that we, the readers, lapse into) of Little Girl Daisy as “Red Riding Hood” bringing goodies to Grandma Duck – with Zeke Wolf as the “Big Bad You-Know-What”!

“Lil Red” rides the titular “Mini Bike”, Zeke rides a motorcycle, and Grandma Duck ends up inventing the Dune Buggy! The whole thing reads like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon of the early to mid-sixties, where writers Michael Maltese or Warren Foster would do their usual fairy tale riffs, begun in their Warner Bros. days! Indeed, Maltese had gone back to writing for Western Publishing around that time, so maybe it WAS by him! Art was by Pete Alvarado. Sad thing is, it’ll probably never be reprinted, due to its oddball “four elongated horizontal strips going across each page” format.

We'll BREAK HERE, because of a size-limit on replies. See you with more below!

Joe Torcivia said...

Resuming the previous comment:

GOLDEN COMICS DIGEST was more of a mixed bag, because of the greater variety of character and property subjects. If it wasn’t Warner Bros., Walter Lantz, MGM, or Hanna-Barbera funny animal characters, I usually skipped it.

And, yes… GCD was a nice “last hurrah” for the Hanna-Barbera characters before they would become subject to the horrors of Charlton!

GCD # 11 (Cover Date: July, 1970) led off with a Yogi Bear story titled “A Super-Type Bear”, with the odd ending of Yogi and Boo-Boo being punished by Ranger Smith as follows: “He’s taken our clothes and is making us act like the average bear for a week!” - and completely sans hats, ties, etc., Yogi and Boo-Boo are standing on ALL FOURS!

This was clearly a Gold Key Era reprint but, for the life of me, I could never figure out from WHERE – because I had most, if not all, of the Gold Key Yogi comics published to that date. It wasn’t until sometime early in the 21st Century that I realized this was from a MARCH OF COMICS Mini-Comic, when I purchased that MOC issue at a comic-con!

In that issue, there were also rare reprints of the YOGI BEAR weekday comic strip! Unlike the conventional Sundays seen in various places online, these were SINGLE PANEL with captions, like Dennis the Menace, and The Family Circus!

And some kids thought this was too much to read? Sheesh! You could have brought me MANY TIMES that in MY eager young reading days!

All-in-all, Gold Key gave us quite a ride with its Digest comics – and I’m glad to have been along for a large part of it.