Vintage Classics Illustrated Comic Books

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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Recent News: Classics Illustrated Comic Books

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The Secret Origin of Cyborg Writer David Walker
Comicbook.com, August 26th

Walker encountered the works of famous authors like Charles Dickens, Alexander Dumas, and Herman Melville via Classics Illustrated, which were among his favorite comics as a child. A common theme in much of Walker's work, like today's Cyborg #2 from ...Read more

T.M. Strait: The curious artistic life of T. M. Strait
Savannah Morning News, August 25th

She would leave me by the magazines (yes, this was in an age where you didn't worry so much about such things) and there I discovered the amazing world of comic books, the combination of words and pictures to tell amazing stories. I convinced my mother...Read more

19th century Scottish novelists cast a long shadow
Troy Media, August 19th

Instead, they were seen as mere purveyors of stories for children, and perhaps even best experienced via comic book adaptations like those published in the prolific Classics Illustrated series. Writing specifically about Stevenson's reputation...Read more

It's Bird! It's a Plane! It's -- Curtiss!
Corning Leader (blog), August 10th

I collect comics, and a year or so back, hoping to find Mr. Curtiss, I took a chance on “The Illustrated Story of Flight,” published by Classics Illustrated in 1959. I was right, too. Glenn had been gone for 29 years by then, and he was far from...Read more

French, English, Comics: Proust On Memory, In Any Language
NPR, July 12th

I appreciated that moment, because that's when I first knew that Heuet wanted to do more than churn out the Classics Illustrated version of Swann's Way. This book isn't that, nor is it — parents and Comp Lit profs, put down your torches — a sort of...Read more

Book report due? Relax: 'Classics Illustrated' comics are back
Today.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

Trajectory Releases a Classics Illustrated Comics App
Publishers Weekly, December 6th

Trajectory, a Cambridge, Mass. e-publishing technology and distribution vendor, is releasing the Trajectory Classics App and relaunching its iconic line of Classics Illustrated digital comics as an app through the Apple app store. The Trajectory...Read more

Trajectory Launches "Classics Illustrated" Digitally for Apple iBookstore
Comic Book Resources, May 15th

Trajectory, Inc. announced today that the iconic Classics Illustrated comic and graphic novel series are now available in the Apple iBookstore. The series consists of over 120 digital graphic novels presented in a comic book format with robust color...Read more