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.
The bulk of Dell, Gold Key, and Whitman's output always consisted of licensed properties based on cartoons, TV series, and films (and they did adapt everything under the sun — see Comic-Book Adaptation, below; or just google "Gold Key Comics"), but they did have their own small stable of original characters as well. Notably, most of them were not super heroes in the conventional sense.
For decades, Dell/Gold Key/Whitman were also the publishers of Big Little Books, small prose novels based on the same licensed properties as their comics, with subjects like The Lone Ranger, Lassie, Batman, Donald Duck, and on and on. Every turn of the page revealed a page of text on the left and a full page comics-style illustration on the right. Some featured flip-book animations of the characters in the corner of the pages that you could see move by flipping through the pages of the book in your fingers.
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 Comics.
DreamWorks Animation, through its DreamWorks Classics subsidiary, owns the Gold Key Comics archives and characters.
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 and IDW publish 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 (1959), 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 and Whitman'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's 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. note Bugs's nephew Clyde, a relatively obscure character from the classic animated shorts, is another prominent Ascended Extra in the comics. 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. (despite the fact that it would seem like an obvious model for how to handle long-form storytelling with the characters, something WB seems to perpetually struggle with). One of the most notable writers was Mark Evanier. Carl Barks (of the aforementioned duck comics) even did a little work for them.
- 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.