|Products||Comic strips, newspaper columns, editorial cartoons|
|Subsidiaries||North America Syndicate|
King Features Syndicate, Inc. is an American content distribution and animation studio, consumer product licensing and print syndication company owned by Hearst Communications that distributes about 150 comic strips, newspaper columns, editorial cartoons, puzzles, and games to nearly 5,000 newspapers worldwide. King Features Syndicate also produces intellectual properties, develops new content and franchises, like The Cuphead Show!, which it produced with Netflix, and licenses its classic characters and properties.
King Features Syndicate is a unit of Hearst Holdings, Inc., which combines the Hearst Corporation's cable-network partnerships, television programming and distribution activities, and syndication companies. King Features' affiliate syndicates are North America Syndicate and Cowles Syndicate.
William Randolph Hearst's newspapers began syndicating material in 1895 after receiving requests from other newspapers. The first official Hearst syndicate was called Newspaper Feature Service, Inc., established in 1913. In 1914, Hearst and his manager Moses Koenigsberg consolidated all of Hearst's syndication enterprises under one banner (although Newspaper Feature Service was still in operation into at least the 1930s). Koenigsberg gave it his own name (the German word König means king) when he launched King Features Syndicate on November 16, 1915.
Production escalated in 1916 with King Features buying and selling its own staff-created feature material. A trade publication — Circulation — was published by King Features between 1916 and 1933. In January 1929, the world-famous Popeye the sailor man character was introduced in King Features' Thimble Theater comic strip.
King Features had a series of hits during the 1930s with the launch of Blondie (1930–present), Flash Gordon (1934–2003), Mandrake the Magician (1934–2013), and The Phantom (1936–present). In March 1936, a fictional, magical animal called Eugene the Jeep was added to Popeye, and trademarked.
King Features remained a "powerhouse" syndicate throughout the 1950s and the 1960s. In 1965 it launched a children's comic and coloring page.
In 1986, King Features acquired the Register and Tribune Syndicate for $4.3 million. Later that year, Hearst bought News America Syndicate (formerly Publishers-Hall). By this point, with both King Features and News America (renamed North America Syndicate), Hearst led all syndication services with 316 features.
In 2007, King Features donated its collection of comic-strip proof sheets (two sets of over 60 years' accumulation) to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum and the Michigan State University Comic Art Collection while retaining the collection in electronic form for reference purposes.
In November 2015, King Features released a book, entitled "King of the Comics: One Hundred Years of King Features Syndicate" to commemorate its 100th anniversary. The book features a compilation of strips and the histories behind King Features strips.
As of 2016, with 62 strips being syndicated, Hearst was considered the second-largest comics service, second only to Uclick (now known as Andrews McMeel Syndication).
In December 2017, King Features appointed CJ Kettler as president of the company. Kettler previously was CEO of Sunbow Entertainment and the executive producer of the Netflix series Carmen Sandiego.
In 1941, King Features manager Moses Koenigsberg wrote an autobiographical history of the company entitled King News. William Randolph Hearst paid close attention to the comic strips, even in the last years of his life, as is evident in these 1945–46 correspondence excerpts, originally in Editor & Publisher (December 1946), about the creation of Dick's Adventures in Dreamland — a strip that made its debut on Sunday, January 12, 1947; written by former Daily News reporter Max Trell and illustrated by Neil O'Keefe (who also drew for King Features a strip based on Edgar Wallace's Inspector Wade of Scotland Yard):
The last strips Hearst personally selected for syndication were Elliot Caplin & John Cullen Murphy's Big Ben Bolt and Mort Walker's Beetle Bailey; Hearst died in 1951.
In the 1940s, Ward Greene (1893–1956) was King Features' editor, having worked his way up through the ranks. He was a reporter and war correspondent for the Atlanta Journal for four years (1913–17), moving to the New-York Tribune in 1917 and then returning to the Atlanta Journal as correspondent in France and Germany (1918–19). He joined King Features in 1920, became a writer and editor of the magazine section in 1925, advancing to executive editor and general manager.
Vice president Bradley Kelly (1894–1969) was a comics editor during the 1940s.
Sylvan Byck (1904–1982) was head editor of the syndicate's comics features for several decades, from the 1950s until his retirement in 1978. A King Features employee for more than 40 years and comics editor for 33 years, Byck was 78 when he died July 8, 1982. Comic-strip artist John Celardo (1918–2012) began as a King comics editor in 1973.
In 1973, Tom Pritchard (1928–1992) joined King Features, and became executive editor in 1990, overseeing daily editorial operations and the development of political cartoons, syndicated columns, and editorial services for King Features and North America Syndicate. Born in Bronxville, New York, Pritchard arrived at King Features after work as a reporter at The Record-Journal (Meriden, Connecticut), as feature writer with The Hartford Times, as editor-publisher of Connecticut's weekly Wethersfield Post, and as executive editor of The Manchester Journal Inquirer in Connecticut. He died of a heart attack in December 1992 at his home in Norwalk.
In 1978, cartoonist Bill Yates (1921–2001) took over as King Features' comics editor. He had previously edited Dell Publishing's cartoon magazines (1000 Jokes, Ballyhoo, For Laughing Out Loud) and Dell's paperback cartoon collections. Yates resigned from King Features at the end of 1988 to spend full-time on his cartooning, and he died March 26, 2001.
In 1988, Yates was replaced by Jay Kennedy — author of The Official Underground & Newave Comix Price Guide (Norton Boatner, 1982). Kennedy was King Features' lead editor until March 15, 2007, when he drowned in a riptide while vacationing in Costa Rica.
Brendan Burford, who attended the School of Visual Arts, was employed for a year as an editorial assistant at DC Comics before joining King Features as an editorial assistant in January 2000. Working closely with Jay Kennedy over a seven-year span, he was promoted to associate editor and then, after Kennedy's death, to the position of comics editor on April 23, 2007.
In November 2018, Tea Fougner was promoted to editorial director for comics after working as an editor at King Features for nine years. She is the first female-assigned and first genderqueer person to oversee comics editorial at King Features.
When asked to speak in public, Byck made a point of telling audiences that King Features received more than 1,000 strip proposals annually, but chose only one each year. However, in Syd Hoff's The Art of Cartooning (Stravon, 1973), Byck offered some tips regarding strip submissions, including the creation of central characters with warmth and charm and the avoidance of "themes that are too confining," as he explained:
King Features Syndicate's content distribution division distributes more than 150 different comics, games, puzzles, and columns, in digital and print formats, to nearly 5,000 daily, Sunday, weekly and online newspapers and other publishers. Comic properties include Beetle Bailey, Blondie, Dennis the Menace, The Family Circus, Curtis, Rhymes with Orange, Arctic Circle, Macanudo, and Zits. The division additionally offers turnkey digital solutions for smaller publishers and community papers, including pagination and colorization services through its sister company, RBMA.
In March 2018, to mark International Women's Day, many King Features cartoonists included messages about female empowerment and other topics that resonated with them.
In April 2020, Bianca Xunise became the first black woman to join the team of female creatore behind King Features strip Six Chix. Six Chix was first syndicated by King Features in May 2019, after King Features saw strip creator Maritsa Patrinos' work online.
In June 2020, King Features started syndicating webcomic Rae the Doe. In the same month, cartoonists from King Features, along with artists from Kirkman's, Andrews McMeel Syndication and National Cartoonists Society, hid symbols in their Sunday strips as a tribute to essential workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
In September 2020, King Features relaunched comic strip Mark Trail, originally launched in 1946, with cartoonist Jules Rivera, author of comic strip Love, Joolz, at the helm.
Many King characters were adapted to animation, both theatrical and television cartoons. Strips from King Features were often reprinted by comic book publishers. In 1967, King Features made an effort to publish comic books of its own by establishing King Comics. This short-lived comic-book line showcased King's best-known characters in seven titles:
The comics imprint existed for a year-and-a-half, with titles cover-dated from August 1966 to December 1967. When it ended, the books were picked up and continued by Gold Key Comics, Harvey Comics, and Charlton Comics.
In 1967, Al Brodax, then the president of King Features, pitched The Beatles manager Brian Epstein on turning their hit song "Yellow Submarine" into an animated movie. The film was widely considered to be the first animated film for adult audiences.
In addition to extensive merchandising and licensing of such iconic characters as Betty Boop, Felix the Cat, and Popeye, King Features has diversified to handle popular animation and TV characters (from "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" and "Howdy Doody" to "Mr. Bill" and "Mr. Magoo"), plus publicly displayed, life-sized art sculptures — "CowParade", "Guitarmania" and "The Trail of the Painted Ponies." King Features also represents David and Goliath, an apparel and accessories line popular with teenagers.
King Features additionally licenses outdoor apparel brand PURENorway, Moomins, Icelandic lifestyle brand Tulipop, ringtone character Crazy Frog and South Korean animated character PUCCA.
As a sales tool, the King Features design team created colorful strip sample folders resembling movie press kits. With rising paper costs and the downsizing of newspapers, the comic-strip arena became increasingly competitive, and by 2002, King salespeople were making in-person pitches to 1,550 daily newspapers across America. King was then receiving more than 6,000 strip submissions each year, yet it accepted only two or three annually. Interviewed in 2002 by Catherine Donaldson-Evans of Fox News, Kennedy commented:
One of the first original animation projects of King Features Animation is The Cuphead Show! for Netflix, an animated series based on the video game Cuphead by Studio MDHR, known for its use of fully hand-drawn characters and animations in the style of Fleischer Studios. The series had started development since July 2019, and was released on February 18, 2022.
In June 2019, 20th Century Studios and The Walt Disney Company announced the production of an animated film based on the comic strip Flash Gordon. Taiki Waititi was attached to direct and John Davis was announced as the producer.
On May 11, 2020, it was announced that a Popeye movie is in development at King Features Syndicate with Genndy Tartakovsky coming back to the project.
In November 2020, a Hagar the Horrible animated series was announced, written by Eric Zibroski, who wrote and produced the ABC comedy Fresh Off the Boat.
Confronted by newspaper cutbacks, King Features has explored new venues, such as placing comic strips on mobile phones. In 2006, it launched DailyINK. On a web page and via email, the DailyINK service made available more than 90 vintage and current comic strips, puzzles, and editorial cartoons. The vintage strips included Bringing Up Father, Buz Sawyer, Flash Gordon, Krazy Kat, The Little King, The Phantom, and Rip Kirby. King Features editor-in-chief Jay Kennedy introduced the service early in 2006, commenting:
Comics are consistently ranked among the most popular sections by newspaper readers. However, because of space, newspapers are not able to offer as vast a selection as many readers would like, and therefore millions of comic lovers are often not exposed to some of the most creative strips. In creating DailyINK, we wanted to ensure that fans had a destination where they could experience our complete lineup of award-winning comic artists and writers. DailyINK really sets the standard for comics online. By offering all of our current favorites updated daily, along with access to our archives of beloved characters as well as political humor and games, we have designed DailyINK.com as a destination fans will want to visit every day for something new.
With 11,000 subscribers by June 2010, more vintage strips were added to DailyINK, including Barney Google, Beetle Bailey, Big Ben Bolt, Brick Bradford, The Heart of Juliet Jones, Jackys Diary, The Katzenjammer Kids, Little Iodine, Mandrake the Magician, Office Hours, Quincy and Radio Patrol. On November 15, 2010, a subscription rate increase to $19.99 was announced, effective December 15, 2010, with applications available on iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, plus a "new and improved" DailyINK in 2011. The redesign was by Blenderbox. Added features included original publication dates, a forum, and a blog, mostly promotional, but also with "Ask the Archivist" posts exploring comic-strip history. The "Last 7" feature enables the reader to see a week's worth of comics on one page.
On January 13, 2012, the DailyINK app was voted as the People's Champ in the Funny category in the 2011 Pixel Awards. Established in 2006, the Pixel Awards honor sites and apps displaying excellence in web design and development. Other nominees in the Funny category: JibJab Media Inc, Threaded, Snowball of Duty: White Opps and SoBe Staring Contest.
In 2012, Jackys Diary was dropped from DailyINK, and the Archivist explained: "Unfortunately, we no longer have the rights to publish the strip."
In December 2013, Daily INK was relaunched as part of King Feature's Comics Kingdom.
In November 2008, King Features introduced Comics Kingdom, a digital platform that newspapers can embed on their sites. Comics Kingdom splits advertising revenue with newspapers carrying the feature; those papers make local sales, while King handles national sales. During the 30-day period in which strips are made available on the newspaper sites, readers can post comments on local community forums.
In January 2019, to commemorate Popeye's 90th birthday, multiple King Features cartoonists drew their own versions of the comic and published those strips on Comics Kingdom. One comic included the cast of Netflix's Queer Eye giving Popeye a makeover.
In November 2019, Comics Kingdom launched a YouTube channel featuring classic cartoons from King Features archives. Before launching the channel, in December 2018, King Features launched a series of animated Popeye shorts to its primary YouTube channel, in celebration of the character's 90th "birthday."
In July 2020, comic strip Rhymes with Orange launched a virtual interactive comic with digital drawing company Mental Canvas on Comics Kingdom.
As of January 2022, Comics Kingdom features comic strips and editorial cartoons which can be accessed and read online. This website also features some interactive puzzles. Comics are updated every day, plus a one-year archive is available. Older comics can be accessed by being a Comics Kingdom Royal (a paid member, subscribed to their premium subscription service). Comics Kingdom also features over 30 of comic strips in Spanish.
King's A la Carte Online Comics offers syndication of specific strips aimed at "precisely defined audiences" of specialized websites. These are available in such categories as Animals, Environmental, Military, and Technology.
King Features Weekly Planet was created as an online newspaper of King's columns, comics, and puzzles.