Gold Key Comics began in 1962, although the history extends back further. Western Publishing and Lithography had published some comics under the Whitman imprint in the 1930s, then in 1935 Dell Publishing contracted and distributed comics from Western as Dell Comics
. This ended in 1962, an event known as "the divorce", when Dell and Western went their separate ways.
Ownership of most of the original titles, as well as most of the licensing agreements, were with Western and not Dell, so Western created the Gold Key imprint and continued publishing its own comics.
Gold Key's comics always stood out from their competitors on the stand due to the frequent use of painted covers. The cover art was usually reproduced in "pin-up" style (i.e., without logos and cover text) on the back cover.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Whitman imprint began appearing on Gold Key titles, and the company stopped publishing in the 1980s.Several of Gold Key's original properties (Dr. Solar, Magnus and Turok) were sold to Valiant Comics
in the 1990s, and have more recently reappeared in Dark Horse Comics
. In 2013, it was announced that these properties would be published by Dynamite Publishing
Gold Key comics with their own trope pages include:
Other Gold Key comics provide examples of:
- Canon Welding: Despite Executive Meddling, Don Glut managed to tie together Doctor Spektor, Dagar, Doctor Solar, Tragg, The Owl and probably others
- Comic Book Adaptation: Gold Key published a lot of these. If you think Dark Horse Comics publishes a lot of licensed titles today, you haven't looked at Gold Key's line:
- Star Trek: The Original Series, Mickey Mouse, The Twilight Zone, Battle of the Planets, Buck Rogers, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Adam-12, and on and on. The Star Trek comics have been collected in a trade paperback.
- Gold Key had most of the Hanna-Barbera properties, but in 1970, lost the rights to the pre-1967 Hanna-Barbera line-up. Charlton picked them up. After Gold Key lost the H-B line-up entirely in 1975, Charlton picked up most of those properties as well.
- Gold Key's Looney Tunes comics deserve special mention. They ran for decades and built up an Expanded Universe, complete with original characters like Bugs Bunny's girlfriend Honey Bunny, Porky's nephew Cicero, the Road Runner's wife and three sons, and Sniffles' human friend Mary Jane. The comics are also the only reason anyone is familiar with Petunia Pig, who was a regular cast member in print, but who only appeared in a small handful of early cartoons. The Bugs Bunny newspaper strip and all Looney Tunes books and merchandise of those years featured these characters prominently, and any fan of that period would be likely to recognize them. The stories' style arguably bore more resemblance to the Disney Ducks Comic Universe than to the faster-paced Warner animated shorts (and Whitman did publish Duck comics for Disney). Since Gold Key/Whitman went under, though, this version of the characters and their world seems to have been completely forgotten by Warner Bros.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: The early Star Trek comics were drawn by Italian artists who had not seen the show and were working from publicity stills. The artwork is intriguing, but varies wildly from the style of the show, with unrecognisable machines flanking the transporter pad, and tricorders used as communicators. The writing is also bizarre, with the Enterprise exploring other galaxies, entering planets' atmospheres, and in one entertaining but notorious example committing planet-wide genocide against a plant civilisation to prevent it spreading to other parts of an otherwise uninhabited galaxy.
- Recycled IN SPACE!: Space Family Robinson (aka Lost In Space: Space Family Robinson) was The Swiss Family Robinson in space!
- Status Quo Is God: Most of their comics, although a few comics in the 1970s managed to avert it.