King Features expands global publishing to tap into new audiences for its classic IP

King Features Syndicate is revitalising its global publishing programme in a move to deliver its classic franchises, such as The Phantom, Flash Gordon, and Popeye to younger generations through graphic novels, coffee table books, YA books and more. The initiative to develop new partnerships for original content is being overseen by publishing director, Christina Nix Lynch

To date, the traditonal publishing programme, spanning IP including Prince Valiant and Mandrake the Magician has focused on comic reprints. While maintaining its reprint market, King Features recently shifted the focus on developing new content for both its classic and new IP.

The new publishing approach gives King Features the opportunity to introduce new audiences to its iconic properties via graphic novels, coffee table books, and YA and middle reader books.

This past year, King Features partnered with StoneBot Studios to relaunch Mandrake the Magician with a young adult comic miniseries that introduced his niece, Mandy, as the lead character. Legacy of Mandrake the Magician unveils a new generation of heroes anchored by a strong female lead who faces off against familiar Mandrake universe foes. By weaving in elements of the original storyline that first debuted more than 85 years ago, the series appeals to both old fans and new.

Last year also marked the 40th anniversary of the Flash Gordon cult-classic film and in celebration, Titan Publishing released Flash Gordon: The Official Story of the Film, a coffee table book filled with cast and crew interviews, never-before-seen concept art and more, allowing fans to find new things to love about the film four decades later.

In addition, King Features is planning to launch a YA graphic novel series for Flash Gordon with Macmillan that offers a new twist on the classic story as the original characters are re-imagined as young adult heroes. More information, including the imprint and launch dates for the series, will be released soon.

King Features is also reaching new audiences through publishing for its roster of syndicated comics and puzzles. Hermes Press is bringing Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack to young readers with a graphic novel centered around Dethany, one of the lead characters from the 36-year-old comic strip. Meanwhile, tapping into the surge in popularity that puzzles have seen over the last year, Leap Year Publishing is working to bring puzzle books based on King Features’ most popular syndicated puzzles to market.

King Features has also spotted the potential to grow its global fan bases through publishing, and in 2020 the firm’s international agents signed more than 50 publishing deals.

Since the first costumed superhero’s debut 85 years ago, King Features has continued to build awareness and grow The Phantom’s fanbase internationally. In India, where The Phantom has been a beloved character for decades, Regal Publishers is releasing 77 new titles in Malayalam and English to tap into affinity for the brand and keep the character fresh for his millions of fans. It is also introducing Mandrake the Magician to the region this year with 20 new titles.

Also in the territory, Shakti Comics will be releasing comics in English, Hindi and Bengali for Flash Gordon, The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician, while Lion Comics will launch Secret Agent X9, Rip Kirby, The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician comics in Tamil. The Phantom’s popularity also continues in Australia with comics from Frew, and has been thriving in the Nordics for decades thanks to the works distributed by Egmont.

“We are always seeking fresh approaches for our classic IP by partnering with a variety of publishing partners in cutting edge,” said King Features’ director of licensing Christina Nix Lynch.

“For both the longevity of our classic properties and the growth of newly launched or represented IP, it is critical that we find the right partners to develop unique and engaging takes on these characters that will appeal to both original fans and untapped audiences. We are thrilled to have such an incredible roster of publishers helping us achieve this and look forward to working closely together to continue bringing new content to fans worldwide.”

Carla Silva, King Features’ general manager and vice president, global head of licensing, added: “Publishing is a key driver in King Features’ strategic plan to re-imagine classic brands and introduce them to new audiences. And Christina’s work has been instrumental in achieving our goals. From her in-depth analysis of the category to creative thinking around formats, distribution channels and markets, while securing fresh, best-in-class publishing houses as well as emerging talent, she continues to successfully grow our program with partners that are passionate about comics and our brands. Thanks to her efforts, our publishing program is flourishing and positioned for continued growth.”

This autumn, King Features and Hermes Press will release a new coffee table-sized retrospective dedicated to the 90-plus year history of Popeye the Sailorman, while for the company’s slate of newer IP, publishing affords the opportunity to raise awareness for the brands and build a richer, more complex world for fans to explore.

One such example is the robust publishing program that King Features is developing for the acclaimed video game property, Cuphead. Ahead of the highly anticipated release of The Cuphead Show!on Netflix, King Features has signed on a full slate of global publishing partners for graphic novels, art books and middle grade readers.

Dark Horse Comics has renewed its worldwide deal to further expand its lineup of Cuphead books, detailing the launch of the “Art of Cuphead” art book and the graphic novels.

Additionally, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, who released two Middle Grade novels inspired by the video game in 2020, is expanding their program into Russia with the Exmo Publishing Group in 2021. In Spring 2022, Running Press (a subsidiary of Hachette) is joining the video game’s publishing roster with plans to release a Cuphead “Mini Kit”, consisting of a mini book and a Cuphead character figure.

In the future, King Features is also planning to introduce new graphic novels and early reader books to further expand the world of Cuphead for younger audiences.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both ToyNews and Licensing.biz, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@biz-media.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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