After 44 years, Continental Features to shut down

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Richard Rae, CEO of Rae Media Services Inc., dba Continental Features, announced that the company, operated with his wife, Penny, is dissolving at the end of December.

The company began in the early 1960s when several Southeastern newspapers in the U.S. banded together to obtain and print Sunday feature comics for their newspapers. Rae said, "Large metropolitan newspapers boasting statewide coverage had agreements with the leading syndicates that effectively blocked some smaller newspapers in Southeastern states from obtaining those comic strip features. Just a few of the original founders had the needed press equipment to print process color and by banding together to form their own features company, the founders felt that they would have access to process color capability as well as collectively have sufficient clout to circumvent the actions of the syndicates."

Originally the company was called Atlantic Features and the comics were
printed in Newport News, Va., at the Daily Press. At that time the
Battles family, owners of the Newport News paper, were also part owners
of the company with Atlantic operations headed by J. Callaghan.
Rae said the investors owned additional newspapers and had contacts with other newspaper owners that, when added together accounted for a significant circulation base in the Southeastern United States that the syndicates could not ignore. Thus, began the distribution of a common comic section running in Sunday papers in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee.

In the early '70s, James Laughridge joined the company.  He had been a senior vice president of Ward-Griffith (later, Landon and Associates), advertising sales representatives in the Atlanta area.  Under Laughridge's direction, the company reincorporated on April 29, 1974, as Continental Features, a Georgia corporation. The purpose of the company, Rae said, was to continue to obtain and print the most popular Sunday colored comics for the eight owner newspapers as well as direct advertising into comics running in those markets.

At that time, Greater Buffalo Press, a company that specialized in printing colored comic sections for Sunday newspapers took over the printing of Continental's comic sections. Then, in the mid-'80s, printing was relocated to Western Colorprint, a Nevada-based company providing colored comics to newspapers in the Western states. They contracted with customers in the Eastern U.S.  Among them were the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch and The Atlanta (Ga.) Journal and Constitution.  By 1985, Western Colorprint had become the largest supplier of colored comics in the industry, printing in several locations but primarily out of the Treasure Chest plant in Atlanta.

By this time, Continental had grown to the point where the company served over 60 newspapers in the original six states, plus other papers in Mississippi, Florida, Kentucky, Texas, Indiana and Illinois.  In 1989, the owners relocated the base of the company from Atlanta to North Carolina. The eight remaining owners – Albany (Ga.) Herald, Burlington (N.C.) Times-News, Gastonia (N.C.) Gazette, Johnson City (Tenn.) Press, Anniston (Ala.) Star, High Point (N.C.) Enterprise, Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer and Evening Post Publishing in Charleston, S.C. – appointed Van Wilkerson as president.

Many changes had taken place in the Sunday comic business as well.  Rae said Sullivan Graphics, located in Brentwood, Tenn., acquired a weakened Greater Buffalo Press in 1989. In 1997, Sullivan evolved into American Color Graphics that subsequently declared bankruptcy in 2008.  In 2000, Treasure Chest was acquired by Vertis Corporation, another comic/preprint producer that subsequently declared bankruptcy in 2007.  ACG and Vertis Corporation then merged in 2008 under a pre-packaged reorganization plan.

In late 2006, as the economy worsened, the eight newspaper owners of Continental Features employed Rae, former publisher of the Gwinnett Daily Post and several other newspapers owned by Gray Television located in the metro Atlanta area, to operate the company upon his retirement from Gray.

Mr. and Mrs. Rae formed Rae Media Services as a Georgia corporation, bought Continental Features and relocated the company from North Carolina back to Loganville, Ga., the following year.

Rae said that, by late 2012, drastic cuts in print advertising programs forced Vertis into a pre-packaged bankruptcy and a court approved acquisition by Quad Graphics out of Waterloo, Wis. Quad Graphics assumed the printing agreement for Continental's comics and is the current provider.

For the  past 12 years, Mr. and Mrs. Rae have run the company, but Mr. Rae has decided – at the age of 80 – to retire a second time.  "We've had a good run," he said.

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