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King Features Expands Global Publishing Program

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New books from "Flash Gordon," "Popeye," "Cuphead" and more are to hit bookstores in 2021.

King Features Syndicate, a unit of Hearst, is growing its global publishing program to develop new partnerships for original content. 

The expansion includes new territories, titles, formats and narratives that introduce spinoff characters and their storylines in reimagining classic intellectual properties.

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

As the owner of classic franchises including "The Phantom," "Flash Gordon," "Prince Valiant," "Mandrake the Magician" and "Popeye," the traditional publishing program has focused on comic reprints. While maintaining the reprint market, King Features recently shifted the program's focus toward developing new content for both its classic and new IP. The new publishing approach allows King Features to introduce new audiences to their properties via graphic novels, coffee table books and YA and middle reader books.

King Features partnered with StoneBot Studios to relaunch "Mandrake the Magician" as a young adult comic miniseries that introduced his niece, Mandy, as the lead character. In celebration of the 40th anniversary of "Flash Gordon" last year, 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 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. Available now, 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. 

Publishing also allows King Features to grow its characters' fanbases in global markets. In 2020, King Features' international agents signed more than 50 publishing deals. In India, Regal Publishers is releasing 77 new titles in Malayalam and English to tap into an affinity for The Phantom brand. They are 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 continues in Australia with comics from Frew and has been thriving in the Nordics thanks to the works distributed by Egmont.

"Publishing is a key driver in King Features' strategic plan to re-imagine classic brands and introduce them to new audiences," says Carla Silva, general manager and vice president, global licensing head, King Features. "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 and emerging talent, she continues to successfully grow our program with partners who are passionate about comics and our brands. Thanks to her efforts, our publishing program is flourishing and positioned for continued growth."

This fall, King Features and Hermes Press will release a comprehensive new coffee table-sized retrospective dedicated to the history of "Popeye the Sailorman."

King Features is developing for the video game property "Cuphead." Ahead of the 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 expand its existing lineup of "Cuphead" books. This year, Dark Horse expanded their publishing program internationally for the "Art of Cuphead" art book and the graphic novels, with Pix' N Love in France, Editoriale Cosmo in Italy, Norma in Spain, Comme il faut in Russia and Sebundo/G Novels in Japan. 

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 expand "Cuphead" to younger audiences.

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