I think there is a problem with the way Gold Key
are listed. For one thing, they are both listed under "Publishers" but they are actually both imprints of Western Publishing Company, Inc.
You can read more about the company (and their relationship to Dell) here: http://www.povonline.com/iaq/IAQ07.htm
But to summarize,
For a year or so, most of their comics were printed in two editions...some with the Gold Key logo for the declining conventional newsstand distribution, some with a Whitman logo for the retail shops. The editions were otherwise identical.
There are already several titles listed under each imprint. What would be the best way to fix this? I have some books I want to add, but I want to get this problem fixed first.
This is indeed a thorny issue, but I suppose I've delayed involvement (on the basis that most of the product was deeply uninteresting to me) for too long.
Where to begin? Ahh yes: "copyright holder" and "publisher" are not synonymous. Random House could publish a book I wrote tomorrow and I would hold the copyright, even if they were my publisher. So the fact that Western held copyright is, practically, useless in determining who the publisher of a comic book is.
Any book, therefore, under the Dell-Western "arrangement" is still published by Dell. By today's standard it was a less unusual way to publish comic books than it may first appear. Nowadays, typically, DC will pay various people on their staff to create a work. Then they'll pay a printer to print the damn thing. Then they'll distribute it, again probably paying someone else. Oh yes, Diamond.
From 1938-1962, Dell's method of obtaining content and getting it to the street was only a little bit different. Instead of having a creative staff in the building, they paid Western to produce the whole deal and deliver the printed copies to Dell's offices. Dell had no real say over editorial issues, but that's no biggie to the business model. It's still basically the same thing. The only real difference is that, since they were printing comics that largely used properties not owned by Western or Dell, Dell wouldn't have gotten copyright out of all this. Rather, since Western had paid a "usage fee", they retained copyright. (A feat, by the way, that would never obtain today. In the current environment, frankly, Western shouldn't have been getting the copyright either. Disney and Warner Bros. and all the rest of the companies that owned the characters should've. The whole way copyright was done then would never obtain today—Dark Horse, for instance, doesn't have the copyright on any of its <i>Star Wars</i> work—so, again, copyright is not an indicator of publisher.)
In sum, the difference between the Dell-Western arrangement and the way DC publishes stuff was simply that there were fewer legal entities involved. There was Western with a completed product and Dell with a need to publish something. From Dell's perspective, for quite some time, it was an easy fit.
Now in 1962, things change. Western tired of creating for someone else, and so came Gold Key. Though described in several difference sources as an imprint, I'm really not a fan of calling it that. It was the name Western wished to publish its comics under. Why? Because Western was way more than just a comics publisher. It was a major publisher, in general, giving the world everything from nature guides to auto service manuals to childrens books. It was, in every modern sense, the comics subsidiary of Western for most of the remainder of Western's life. In the sense that you would probably balk at calling DC an imprint of Warner Bros. (or, earlier, NPP), I think it's inappropriate to call Gold Key an imprint of Western. If we were on a site dedicated to cataloguing the history of all printed matter in the known universe, I'd probably change my mind on that, but within the narrow focus of comic book printing, I honestly believe Gold Key was a publisher.
Whitman was likewise a subsidiary of Western. Its focus was publishing coloring books and a whole host of other chldren's books. Unlike Gold Key, it was not a brand devised solely for the printing of comic books. It started, in fact, <b>very much before</b> Western Publishing even existed. It was the old Hamming-Whitman Publishing Company, and became, simply, Whitman Publishing after Western bought H-WPC in 1915. Now, this is how imprints come along. Wildstorm was independent, then bought by DC, and we now think of it as an imprint of DC.
But this is different.
If <i>Sports Illustrated</i> were to publish a sports comic tomorrow, perhaps dedicating itself to, I dunno, the World Cup, would we be forced to suddenly scramble all our conceptions on the site? Would we have to retrace our steps and think, "Okay, because this other division of Warner has now produced a comic book, we must now view the publisher as Time+Warner, and the imprint as Sports Illustrated, then go back and change every single DC title such that DC were an imprint of Time+Warner?"
I think the answer to that is, "No". Whitman was a another division of Western, period. It started publishing comic books only as a last-ditch effort to save comic production at Western, generally. And it did so to take advantage of the non-traditional (for a comic book) distribution lines it had. The experiment failed. Sure there's stuff that's published by Whitman that was also published by Gold Key. But, yanno, I think it actually fits Chris' mandate that this site to be a "reference" site <i>better</>, if we separately list these similar issues and then link them with a "reprinted in" tag. While these "double releases" may in fact have the same content, <b>they absolutely don't have the same value</b>. From the point of the view of the comic speculator, who will also use our site, they might as well be two completely different issues.
(Looking at this from another perspective, calling Gold Key an "imprint" of Western is a bit like calling "DC Comics" an imprint of "DC Comics, Inc." By convention, the "flagship" imprint, if you will, is simply the primary publisher. Gold Key was the flagship of comics publication at Western so it's the the "publisher" for all intents and purposes on this site. Imprints, in comics, come into existence after the flagship publisher. Since Whitman well predates not just Gold Key, but the parent company itself, it, too, cannot be an imprint, in the traditional comics sense of the word.)
So, in sum, I argue for the following:
• Western, with a comprehensive history that links to Whitman, Gold Key, and Dell should be entered and locked. It didn't publish anything. It provided the money and the character licensing to allow for all of Gold Key's work, along with some of Whitman's and some of Dell's work, to be published.
• Gold Key is its own publisher (again, with a nice, detailed history, and links to Western and Whitman imbedded in the text).
• Whitman is its own publisher (again, with a nice, detailed history and links to Western and Gold Key imbedded in the text).
• Dell is its own publisher. Quite against Evanier's advice in the article you've sited at the top of this lengthy response, I'd argue that its work should indeed be kept together, with mention of the fact that its work prior to 1938 and after 1962 had totally different creative teams than its work between 1938 and 1962. After all, if we were to say that, just to pick an example, ADVENTURE COMICS should be split up according to what talent was working on it, we'd have it split up 20 different ways from Sunday.