King Features Syndicate, a print syndication company owned by The Hearst Corporation, distributes about 150 comic strips, newspaper columns, editorial cartoons, puzzles and games to nearly 5000 newspapers around the world. 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 was founded by William Randolph Hearst in 1915, under the direction of Moses Koenigsberg, who wrote an autobiographical history of the company, King News (1941). Sylvan Byck was the head editor of the syndicate's comics features for several decades, from the 1950s through the 1970s. Byck retired in 1978 and died in 1982.
In 1978, cartoonist Bill Yates 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 in order 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).
When asked to speak in public, Byck made a point of telling audiences that King Features received more than 1000 strip proposals annually but chose only one each year. However, in Syd Hoff's The Art of Cartooning (Stravon, 1973), Byck offered some tips re strip submissions:
- There are some things I always look for in a new strip, and it is possible to point out a few guidelines that may be helpful to the cartoonist whose aim is syndication. The most important ingredients in a comic strip, in my opinion, are the warmth and charm of its central characters. If it is a humor strip, readers must like the characters enough to laugh with them as well as at them. If it is a narrative strip, readers must care enough about the hero to really want him to win out over the villain.
- An artist who attempts to create a comic strip character is in effect trying to create the equivalent of a movie or TV star. If you will stop and think about it a minute, you will see why this is so. When Bob Hope steps into view on the TV tube, all of us are on his side immediately... We want to laugh at his jokes because his charm and the warmth of his personality make us like him. With only his pen to aid him, the cartoonist is faced with the task of bringing to "life" a personality that, hopefully, will match that of a Bob Hope or a Cary Grant or a Red Skelton. It isn't easy, but the rewards are substantial for those who can do it.
- Although characterization is the most important element of a comic, the cartoonist also must cope with the problem of choosing a theme for his new strip. What will it be about? Actually, it is possible to do a successful comic strip about almost anything or anybody if the writing and drawing are exactly right for the chosen subject. In general, though, it is best to stay away from themes that are too confining. If you achieve your goal of syndication, you want your strip to last a long time. You don't want to run out of ideas after a few weeks or months.
- In humor strips, it is better to build around a character than around a job. For example, it is possible to do some very funny comic strip gags about a taxi driver. But a strip that is limited to taxi driver gags is bound to wear thin pretty fast. I'd rather see a strip about a warmly funny man who just happens to earn his living as a cabbie and whose job is only a minor facet of his potential for inspiring gags. Narrative strips can be and often are based on the central character's job. For example, the basis of a private eye strip is the work he does. But even here the strip will only be as successful as the characterization in it. The big question is: what kind of a man is this particular private eye?
- A few final words. Syndication is the big leagues. A young sandlot outfielder would hardly think of applying for Mickey Mantle's job without first getting some minor league experience. Learn how to draw. Learn how to write. Keep at it until your work has the polish of a professional. Then and only then, produce a set of samples and submit them to the syndicattes. Good luck!
In addition to extensive merchandising and licensing of such iconic characters as Betty Boop and Popeye, King Features has diversified to handle popular animation and TV characters (from Kukla, Fran and Ollie to Howdy Doody, Mr. Bill and Mr. Magoo), plus publicly displayed, life-size art sculptures -- CowParade, Guitarmania and The Trail of the Painted Ponies. King Features also represents David & Goliath, an apparel and accessories line popular with teenagers.
With rising paper costs and the downsizing of newspapers, the comic strip arena has become increasingly competitive, so King Features salespeople make in-person pitches to the 1,550 daily newspapers across the United States. According to editor-in-chief Jay Kennedy, King Features receives more than 6000 strip submissions each year, yet it accepts only two or three annually. Interviewed in 2002 by Catherine Donaldson-Evans of Fox News, Kennedy commented:
- It is difficult for cartoonists to break into syndication, but contrary to popular understanding, there's more new product being pitched now than 30 years ago. In that regard, there are more opportunities for new cartoonists. There's a finite amount of space to run comic strips — less now than 50 years ago. There are fewer two-paper cities and a lot of papers have shrunk their page size. New strips can succeed. The new cartoonists just have to be that much better. 
Confronted by newspaper cutbacks, King Features has explored new venues, such as placing comic strips on mobile phones. Recently, it launched DailyINK, an online subscription service which makes available (both on a web page and via email) more than 100 current and vintage strips, including Buz Sawyer, Flash Gordon, Krazy Kat, The Little King, The Phantom and Rip Kirby.
- Koenigsberg, Moses. King News: An Autobiography. New York: F.A. Stokes Company, 1941.
- Hoff, Syd. The Art of Cartooning. Stravon Educational Press, 1973.