KING FEATURES SYNDICATEPrimary Product: Newspaper comics
Producing Since: 1896
Noted For: Blondie, Prince Valiant, Krazy Kat, Beetle Bailey, Popeye, and much, much more.
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stories have been found painted on the walls of prehistoric caves. But the American comics industry is generally held to have started with The Yellow Kid, by Richard Felton Outcault. Outcault's Sunday page didn't start out as a King Features comic — but a few months after it began it became a part of what would later evolve into King Features, when newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst lured Outcault from The New York World, a paper owned by Joseph Pulitzer, to his own flagship paper, The New York Journal.
For years after, Hearst, a true appreciator of the comics form, collected cartoonists the way some people collect comic books, hiring the best for his own newspaper chain by offering them outlandish piles of money — which not only brought a stunnning array of comics to his papers, but raised cartoonists' incomes across the board, as other papers had to offer comparable amounts to keep theirs at home.
It was in 1913 that the Hearst comics began to be syndicated widely outside the organization, under the leadership of Moses Koenigsberg, editor of The Chicago American (a Hearst paper, of course). Koenigsberg headed up a Hearst subsidiary originally called Newspaper Feature Service, Inc., to wring additional revenue from Hearst's features by selling them to non-Hearst papers. Later, the syndicate took on a shortened form of his own name, Koenig. In 1915, it was further shortened to "King", the name it bears today.
The Yellow Kid isn't the only influential early strip Hearst/King can lay claim to. The Katzenjammer Kids, by Rudolph Dirks, established much of the form taken by modern comics, by being the first regular American feature to use sequential panels to tell a story. Happy Hooligan, by Frederick Opper, popularized the use of word balloons. And Outcault's later strip, Buster Brown, was the first break-out success in the area of commercial licensing — who, even today, hasn't heard of Buster Brown Shoes?
From the beginning right up to the present, King Features has distributed some of the biggest names in comics. Blondie, Beetle Bailey, Popeye, Ernie, The Phantom, Barney Google, Prince Valiant, Krazy Kat, Zippy the Pinhead these are only a few of King Features' many, many stars.
King Features was also the syndicate of choice during the first half of the 20th century, for most outside properties licensed as comic strips. The Disney strips — Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Silly Symphonies — were distributed by King, as were strips based on such popular radio characters as The Lone Ranger and prose fiction series as Perry Mason.
In 1916, Hearst entered the burgeoning field of animation, by taking several of his comics properties to the big screen. The venture was short-lived, but it paved the way for many animated comic strip adaptations to come.
In 1936, the syndicate participated in taking the comics themselves into a bold new direction, by financing publisher David McKay's foray into the infant medium of comic books. McKay's King Comics, Ace Comics and Magic Comics reprinted Mandrake the Magician, Secret Agent X-9, Jungle Jim, Brick Bradford, and many other King Features comics. McKay left the comic book business in 1951, but by then, comic books were well established. Most King comics were by then being licensed by Dell. In the years since, King properties have been licensed by Gold Key, Harvey, First Comics, Marvel, Fantagraphics Books, DC, Charlton, and other publishers. In 1966, the syndicate briefly went into the comic book publishing business on its own, but that lasted only until 1968.
In 1999, Readers of Comics Buyer's Guide, a comics industry trade paper, voted DC Comics the century's top comics publisher. But some commentators thought that title should have gone to King Features Syndicate.
King Features Syndicate articles in Don Markstein's Toonopedia: