Flash Gordon: King of Two Publishers?

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Flash Gordon writer Brendan Deneen reflects on King Features' decision to double-license Flash Gordon: to Deneen's Ardden Entertainment, and Dynamite Entertainment.

It was the start of the summer of 2010. Brendan Deneen was about to walk out of his office, his mind (and stomach) ready for a lunch meeting. His contact was already waiting in the lobby, but the meal and conversation would have to wait for a few hours.  Deneen had to collect his jaw from the floor first.

His day took an unexpected turn when Dynamite Entertainment announced it had acquired the Flash Gordon license, which everyone assumed was owned by Ardden Entertainment, the company Deneen is Co-Publisher of. Naturally, the Dynamite announcement came out of left field. “I saw the press release thanks to one of my Google Alerts,” Deneen said. “I was actually about to leave for a business lunch and when I saw the press release, my jaw almost literally hit my desk.  I had to make [that] lunch appointment wait down in the lobby while I quickly crafted my “response” press release.  It was NOT a pleasant afternoon for me.”

It didn’t help that while preparing said press release, Deneen’s contacts at King Features – the company that owns Flash Gordon proper, along with The Phantom, which recently became part of the Dynamite portfolio as well) – didn’t know what was going on either. “The whole thing was a maelstrom of confusion,” he goes on. “I must have called half a dozen people over there and no one really knew exactly what was going on.  We are business partners with King Features, so I have to try and respect their decisions, but it was a very odd experience, to say the least.

What makes it even more odd for Deneen is that the original negotiations between King Features and Ardden went quite well. “The negotiations went fine.  I originally pitched them the concept that became the first arc, THE MERCY WARS.  Then, things changed and we were going to do a comic book that tied into the Sci-Fi Network's series (this is, of course, before it became SyFy). 

“In fact, I then wrote up a pretty cool 6 issue premise that took place, I believe, between episodes 2 and 3 of the TV series, and it had a WRATH OF KHAN vibe.  I still have that treatment somewhere.  Maybe I'll print it in the back of one of the trades.  But I digress.  Anyway, eventually King Features nixed that pitch and went back to my original idea.  Like I said, the negotiations were smooth.”

In the end, Deneen doesn’t think that two publishers releasing similar Flash Gordon projects will affect fandom’s opinion of the character in a negative way. “Ultimately, I think it’s going to help our version of the character,” Deneen estimates. “We have had an incredibly positive reaction to THE MERCY WARS, and the first annual/anthology (THE SECRET HISTORY OF MONGO).  I think Dynamite will have to do a lot of work to match the critical acclaim we’ve received.  Our Flash Gordon trade consistently outsells their Buck Rogers trade on Amazon.  I’m just saying.”

Ardden will continue to aim for strong book market sales on their Flash Gordon publications, with three more story arcs – and thus three more trades – planned for this fall and beyond.

“We’re launching the next story arc, INVASION OF THE RED SWORD, this November,” Deneen clarifies the company’s upcoming plans for the character.  “We’ve just signed an artist for the next 18 issues, so we shouldn’t have the delays that plagued us when Paul Green was our artist.  The new artist is Eduardo Garcia, who I'm very excited about.  We found him via Space Goat, a great artist agency.

“After that, we’re contracted for two more arcs: THE VENGEANCE OF MING, which wraps up the ‘Red Sword’ trilogy, and then KING OF THE IMPOSSIBLE, which is more of a stand-alone story arc.  It features a Flash Gordon unlike you’ve ever seen him before.  I’m very, very excited about these next couple of arcs, and I think comic fans and fans of Flash Gordon are going to love them.  We're also contracted for three more annuals, so we're in the planning stages on those as well. 

“I would love to do more anthologies, and I’m ready to discuss an extension [of the license] when the time comes.”

Whether that’s in the cards now that Dynamite’s deal is in place too, Deneen doesn’t know. “That time is still a couple of years away.  A lot can change in a couple of years.”

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  • Eric Lindberg

    Eric Lindberg Aug 17, 2010 at 1:44pm

    Is anyone starting to feel like Dynamite's business practices are a little...shady? There was the Phantom controversy, where Dynamite actively pursued a license that was already at Moonstone and successfully claimed it from them. Now the same thing is happening with Flash Gordon, but it seems like King Features realized their mistake and let Ardden keep it (for now), while also licensing to the more high profile company. Then there's Project Superpowers, which is a gray area. The characters are public domain but Dynamite seems to want to trademark them, even though some are also in use at other publishers (full disclosure: including my own publisher, AC Comics).

    I don't know. Maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe this is just how it works in licensed comics -- publishers compete and vie for the big name licenses, sometimes get a bit cutthroat, and trademark their specific versions of the characters. What does everyone else think?

  • Eric Lindberg

    Eric Lindberg Aug 17, 2010 at 1:54pm

    By the way, I don't mean to sound like I'm accusing Dynamite of something. I'm not. I'm merely making an observation from an outsider's perspective. As I said, this may be simply how things are done in licensed comics.

  • Brendan Deneen

    Brendan Deneen Aug 17, 2010 at 3:05pm

    As I mentioned in another interview:

    "Without getting into all of the ugly details, here's the bottom line for me: If someone offered me a license that I knew someone else had... even if I only THOUGHT someone else MAYBE had it... I would find out for sure before acquiring that license. Even if there was some legal loophole that allowed two companies to have the same license, I would never take on a license that was being used by someone else. Never. It's dirty pool. It's bad business. And it's just not cool. Look.... it's no secret that it's tough to make a living in this industry. There aren't THAT many people buying comic books. So, there's Marvel and DC (who, of course, bicker because they can afford to), then Dark Horse and Image, and then there's the rest of us. Some a little bigger, some a little smaller. We have to take care of each other. We should be a brotherhood. We should support each other, not hurt each other. And Dynamite's got....what...a dozen titles? More? I've got 2 or 3. Couldn't they just let me have my 2 or 3 comic book titles?"


  • CA3

    CA3 Aug 18, 2010 at 9:47am

    Two questions for a little clarification as I'm a bit confused. Is it King Features that's being shady, Dynamite Entertainment, or both of them? And second, while this does highlight what might be seen as questionable practices on the parts of those involved, what part of this should potential readers of Flash Gordon comics actually care about?

  • Brendan Deneen

    Brendan Deneen Aug 18, 2010 at 9:50am

    The part that you should care about, as far as I see it, is that we're launching a new FLASH GORDON arc this Fall. If you liked the first arc (and a lot of people did, though I know some did not), then I think you will love the second one. Ditto for the third and fourth arcs. As for your first question, I can't answer that. The people who acted shady know who they are. I disagree with the way this went down, on many levels, but all I REALLY care about is putting out great comics that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

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