Classics Illustrated was founded in 1941 by Russian-born publisher Albert Lewis Kanter. Under the name Elliot Publishing Co., and later Gilberton Company, Inc., Kanter adapted classic books and novels for the comic-book format. In 1967, Kanter sold his company to Twin Circle’s Frawley Corporation, and by 1971, with 169 publications to its name, the classic era of Classics Illustrated had come to an end.
The series actually began as Classic Comics, with an abridged version of “The Three Musketeers,” the Alexandre Dumas tale of the swashbuckling Aramis, Athos, Porthos, and their young protégé, D’Artagnan. With its line-drawn cover and interior art by Malcolm Kildale, the story ran for 64 of the comic book’s 68 total pages. Like most original printings of Classic Comics, issue number 1 of “The Three Musketeers” features the price (“10¢”) in the upper-right corner of the front cover, plus a preview of the following issue (“Ivanhoe”) on the back cover. Kildale did the line-drawn cover art for “Ivanhoe,” too, but that was the extent of his contributions to the series.
One of the things that keeps collectors of Classics Illustrated busy are the numerous cover variations, which can affect the value of a given title by as much as 90%. For example, there are 23 editions of “The Three Musketeers,” the first dozen of which feature the Kildale art. Subsequent issues had what are known as painted covers, a reduced page count of 64, new interior art, and a price increase of a nickel (the last two editions of “The Three Musketeers” in 1969 and 1971 cost a quarter).
In addition to cover, interior art, and page-count changes, early issues of Classic Comics were rebranded as Classics Illustrated in 1947. By then, the series numbered 34 issues. The last Classic Comics was Jules Verne’s “Mysterious Island,” whose cover depicts a smoking volcano in the background. The first Classics Illustrated was issue number 35, Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s “The Last Days of Pompeii,” whose garish cover by Henry Kiefer (the first of dozens by the artist) also features a volcano, but this one is erupting, causing oxen, horses, and people to flee for their lives.
Other titles in the series include “The Count of Monte Cristo” (one of nine by Dumas), “The Last of the Mohicans” (one of eight by James Fennimore Cooper), “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” (one of 10 by Jules Verne), “Romeo and Juliet” (one of five by William Shakespeare), and “Huckleberry Finn” (one of four by Mark Twain).
In 1953, Kanter created an even more youthful spinoff of Classics Illustrated called Classics Illustrated Junior, whose sources were well-known children's books. The first issue, number 501, introduced kids to “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” whose interior art was created by Classics Illustrated stalwart Alex Blum. Collectors of Junior titles focus almost exclusively on original printings since the reprints feature no cover or interior art differences to drive demand.
As with Classics Illustrated, Classics Illustrated Junior ceased publication in 1971. Its last issue was number 577, “The Runaway Dumpling,” which is described on the inside of t...
Three other Classic Illustrated titles of interest are the Giants printed in October 1949. Each had a new cover by Kiefer, cost 50 cents on newsstands, and contained reprints of four full issues. The Giant called “An Illustrated Library of Great Adventure Stories” includes “Tale of Two Cities,” “Robin Hood,” “Arabian Nights,” and “Robinson Crusoe.” The title devoted to “Exciting Mystery Stories” features yarns by Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe, and Robert Louis Stevenson. As for “Great Indian Stories,” it collected four of CI’s most popular James Fennimore Cooper issues (4, 17, 22, and 37).
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Things To Do This Week In New York and Philadelphia If You Like Comics - And ...Bleeding Cool News, December 9th
Perhaps the most famous attempts were made in the 1940?s Classics Illustrated series, but there have been many inventive and exhilarating comics adaptations published, from the “Minute Movies” comic strip of the 1910?s to the many ambitious books of ...Read more
Graphic Novel Is a Potpourri of Traditional Stories, Myths, Histories, Jokes ...Indian Country Today Media Network, December 1st
Eureka Production's Graphic Classics series is a modern take on the old Classics Illustrated comics that were popular in the mid 20th century. But rather than creating a graphic version of a single novel that fits into a comic book, Eureka puts out...Read more
Classic novels for toddlers. Really?Staunton News Leader, November 30th
I remember eagerly devouring Classics Illustrated when I was in junior high school in the '40s as a novel alternative to Superman, Dick Tracy and the Phantom. But even in comic book form, “Ivanhoe,” “Don Quixote” and “Uncle Tom's Cabin” stuck close to...Read more
Comic book artist scores Malta's first crowdfunding successMaltaToday, November 20th
Presenting it in comic book format is one. I could only find one instance of this being done before - in the Classics Illustrated series way back in 1953. I'm also painting each panel in Photoshop, which is a lengthy process that most comic book...Read more
Indie comics news: Brian Wood vs. women, Bryan Hitch's new series and ...Examiner.com, November 18th
In addition, "Classics Illustrated" which offered comic book adaptations of classic novels from 1941-1971, will now be offered via ComiXology for $4 a pop. Bryan Hitch does a one-man comic with Image! Starting in March 2014, longtime artist Bryan Hitch ...Read more
Comics AM | Online effort raises $5000 for struggling storeComic Book Resources, November 15th
Digital comics | The original Classics Illustrated comics, which have been out on Nook for a while, are now available on comiXology. [Good E-Reader]. Tagged: 2000AD, Alex Schubert, Augusto Paim, Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, Blobby Boys, ...Read more
Book report due? Relax: 'Classics Illustrated' comics are backToday.com (blog), November 14th
In the mid 20th century, "Classics Illustrated" comics were the salvation of many a student faced with the grim prospect of a book report on the likes of "Silas Marner" or "Moby Dick." Now hundreds of literary classics adapted and illustrated as comics...Read more
Classics Illustrated Are Going DigitalWPMI Local 15 News, November 13th
Comics purveyor Comixology said Wednesday it made a deal with Trajectory Inc. to bring the entire 120-issue run of "Classics Illustrated" to its digital storefront within several months, with the first titles to include adaptations of H.G. Well's "The...Read more