Monday, 8 April 2013

CANaR #20 & 24

Still hungry for more about Western publishing and Gold Key?
Here's Dana Gabbard with another piece to the golden puzzle. Enjoy!

During the classic era of American comics fandom (circa 1960-1972) Gold Key and Disney comics received very little attention. Comics fandom historian Bill Schelly in an e-mail to me about the era opined "Gold Key was generally treated as a minor, also-ran comic-book publisher by fandom back then, or so it seems to me". That is why it was a big deal to me to recently stumble across the Rocket's Blast Comic Collector (RBCC) piece by Bernie Bubnis of his visit with Gold Key editor Bill Harris (who Michael Barrier informs me is still alive and has had letters published in the fanzine Robin Snyder's History of Comics). I have since discovered that Steve Perrin had articles in RBCC #14 and 15 about Gold key and Magnus Robot Fighter that I hope to soon obtain scans of to pass along to Joakim for posting. Meanwhile here more Gold Key related fandom rarities: 1970s fanzine articles on contemporary Gold Key and Disney comics. These appeared in Comics Arts News and Review (CANAR) published in Canada by John Balge. This somewhat obscure publication featured interviews (mostly by a pre-Cerebus Dave Sim) of a jaw dropping collection of comic book creators. In line with the review part of the title issues 20 and 24 have the above mentioned reviews of Gold Key and Disney comics of the era by Stan Molson. I actually met Molson one year at the San Diego Comic Con while waiting in line (this is back in the Golden Hall days). I recognized his name on his badge from my researching the history of Western Publishing (something I have been informally engaged in for 20+ years) and having read his article on Disney comics. Via a Google search I was able recently to reconnect with Stan and he not only still remembered me but informed me he to this day still attends comics conventions (and that includes not only Comic Con but most recently the Portland Wizard convention and the Seattle Emerald City con -- while in the Pacific Northwest he visited with Michelle Nolan and Bill Schelly, who like Molson are veterans of the classic era of fandom). Molson informs me "I doubt if there’s any easy way of obtaining original CANARs. I think John Balge only printed in very small quantities, maybe 300 or so" Thankfully Molson still had his copies of the issues and scanned the entire issues as they are generally rather short (8 pages each). Regarding the articles Stan avers "Perusing those articles now, it doesn’t look as if the content would currently have much research value, especially in light of some of the more-recent ultra-high quality work by historians like Becattini or Gerstein". I disagree. They reflect the times and how people viewed the Gold Key and Disney comics that were appearing on comic racks and at newsstands. An invaluable time capsule which thankfully are now via Messrs. Molson and Gunnarsson being shared with the world.

CANaR #20 can be found by clicking HERE!
And CANaR #24 can be found by clicking HERE!


Diego Cordoba said...

It's kind of weird, but as a kid I only read Gold Key comics, Tarzan and the Lone Ranger, along with the Walt Disney comics (Uncle Scrooge & Donald Duck) being favorites of mine. Growing up in South America these were the only American comic books available, as no one down there was interested in superheros. It was only when I moved to the States that I discovered superhero comic books, and even so, I didn't like them.

Most kids at school would rather read the Walt Disney comic books, or the Harvey kid series, you know, Hot Stuff, Li'l Audrey, Casper and so. I guess Marvel and DC created a fandom of readers who followed those comics almost religiously, but the occasional reader would rather read a Tarzan comic book or any of the other funny stuff. Unfortunately, those great Gold Key, Dell comics are almost forgotten. I still can't believe that no one has come up with the idea of reprinting the Lone Ranger series in an archive collection of books. Am I the only person in the world who remembers that?

Brent Swanson said...

I don't think Western Pubs was prepared for the numerous game-changers that undermined their readership and business in the '70s. Many of their best writers and artists were either retiring or else shifting their activity to Disney's studio program. John Stanley stayed with Dell, then dropped out of comics altogether. There doesn't appear to have been much if any of a mentoring program at Western. And in the '70s, there was the undeniable weakening of Disney's brand appeal. In the U.S., newsstands became much less "kid friendly" as adult magazines crowded-out comics. Add to this that Western discontinued mail-order subscriptions in the early '70s. I was a longtime subscriber to the Disney Comics Digest, and when that was no longer available by mail, it was one heckuva difficult book to find. I had to go to a local news dealer and have him take me back into his warehouse in order to locate a copy of the digest, and that wasn't always a sure thing.

Harvey and Archie, in the meantime, flooded the spinner racks, along with DC and Marvel. We didn't see Western attempting any kind of powerhouse marketing to meet the competition. Specials like the Best of Walt Disney Comics series would have worked only if there had been newsstand equivalents to produce or carry on momentum. Instead, Western's newsstand product puttered along as though the '60s had never ended. The physical quality grew worse--plastic plates did no justice to classic reprints. By the time they tried to turn things around in the early '80s, they were a lot like Wile Coyote who had zipped off the edge of the cliff but wasn't aware of it till he looked down.

Dana Gabbard said...

I am humbled at Brent's incisive analysis. A reminder I am not alone l to have long pondered Gold Key's slide to oblivion.

Diego, with the impending new Johnny Depp movie a classic Lone Ranger archival series may be in the offing, likely from Dark Horse who have been doing lots of deluxe reprints of Dell and Gold Key material.