The Return of Gold Key Comics

The Return of Gold Key Comics

BY MATT TUCK, BLOGGER SUPREME

IG@matt.tuck.writer

FB@The Comic Blog

The historic Gold Key Comics is back in business, and the black and gold brand is returning with some classic horror and maybe even a horror icon.

Why resurrect the Gold Key brand? Co-owner Lance Linderman said it is all about marketing with a beloved label. “I wanted it because everyone has a Gold Key comic in their collections. This is a pretty iconic brand. If we have this, we start with a comic book brand that [comic fans] are aware of. We saw the value of the name of the brand.”

Linderman said they plan to publish between two and four titles per year expected to reach comic shops in early 2023. Among the first wave is a horror anthology series that should pique the interest of fans of the Gold Key classic, Boris Karloff: Tales of Mystery, that ran for 97 issues from 1963-1980. Keeping with the GK tradition, Linderman said they’re hoping to feature Karloff’s likeness in the updated series. “We’re negotiating with the Karloff estate, and if everything goes to plan, he will be our Crypt Keeper for the anthology series.”

Doubling down on nostalgia, Linderman said they’re looking to give the new Gold Key titles that classic comic feel. “We want fibrous pages - actual paper like you would see in the old books. We’re planning to print them to the Silver Age-size books with as close to similar paper as we can get.”

A BRIEF HISTORY OF GOLD KEY

While DC and Marvel dominated the superhero landscape, Gold Key staked a claim with mostly cartoon and television licenses. Such ‘60s icons like the Beatles and their Yellow Submarine, Star Trek, The Munsters, The Jetsons, Scooby-Doo, The Twilight Zone, Planet of the Apes, The Flintstones, as well as Disney and Looney Tunes all had comics under the Gold Key banner. Even King Kong had one of his early comics published by Gold Key in 1968.

While their bread and butter may have been the licensed characters, Gold Key was a pioneer in the sci-fi realm as well. They published the first appearances of Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom and Magnus, Robot Fighter. The brand also helped usher popular Japanese characters into the American consciousness with Astro Boy and Battle of the Planets. 

The company itself was founded in 1962 after Western Publishing changed its business model from distributing Dell Comics to publishing their own stories. The result was one of the most recognizable brands of the Silver and Bronze Ages outside Marvel and DC. 

By the 1970s, the comics publishing landscape was changing, and the entire industry experienced a downturn. Gold Key’s sales dropped, and the company began losing the rights to many of its franchises, including one of its most popular titles, Star Trek. In 1979, Gold Key’s parent company, Western Publishing, was sold to Mattel. By 1984, Western was sold to a real-estate investor, who closed the doors on the comics publishing division.

A NEW BEGINNING

For decades, Gold Key lay in the shadows, collecting dust. Corporate mergers and buyouts came and went, and the GK trademark lapsed. In 2021, with no fanfare and far from the public spotlight, Robert Willis purchased the trademark. As much by chance as anything else, Willis reached out to Linderman in a deal straight out of a comic nerd’s dream. 

“Gold Key kind of found me,” he explained. “Robert Willis, he was the one who found the loophole. The rights to the brand went to Penguin Random House. They shelved it. Apparently they lapsed on the copyright and trademark. Robert saw that and was awarded it, [but] he didn’t have the time to invest in it.” 

Earlier this year, Linderman was looking to sell his holiest of grails, a first print Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1. “I was going to sell it to put a down payment on a house. I put it up online, and in the weirdest of ways, I got a Facebook message. It just said, ‘I’m Robert, and I have something you might be interested in.’” 

The offer was unique: Willis would trade the rights to the Gold Key Comics trademark in exchange for Linderman’s TMNT #1. “I handed him the book, and he handed me the patent from the trademark office.” The story has become famous in the comic community, and the tale has reached as high as TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman. “Eastman heard the story and laughed his head off.”

BIG PLANS FOR THE FUTURE

Thanks to the MCU and the DCEU, comics have become entrenched in mainstream culture. While Disney and Warner Brothers have a stranglehold on the most famous superheroes, it has inadvertently opened the door for smaller publishers to stake their claims. With superheroes’ box office dominance and the rise of streaming platforms, the demand for comic-based content has never been higher. That leads industry giants like Amazon and Netflix to independent publishers and their intellectual properties, many of which wouldn’t have been noticed before.

Linderman confessed that turning a Gold Key comic into a movie is on his mind. “I’m open to it. I was at WonderCon and did meet with a Sony rep. We’re still making those relationships happen. We’re not far enough along with some of these. The series we’re working on, I’m in love with. We plan to make different studios aware of them. Part of the business plan is to hopefully option some of these.”

As Gold Key professes on its site, indeed, stories never die, and it would seem GK is a brand to watch.

Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and the Blogger Supreme. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog, or on Instagram at matt.tuck.writer.


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