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 Ten Questions You Need To Ask Yourself To Become A Superhero
Pulse, July 29th

I spent my childhood reading comics and science fiction, Judy Blume, and pornography. Every comic I could find: DC/Marvel, Classics Illustrated (up until 12th grade so I could avoid reading the real thing), and even the Amar Chitra Katha comics from...Read more

A Jules Verne film journey in Packard Theater in Culpeper
The Daily Progress, July 22nd

"My cousin gave me his Classics Illustrated comic book of 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' and I was entranced," said Taves, an author, movie historian and film archivist with the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in ...Read more

Postcard from New York to Chicago : The Sound and the Fury, Macbeth, Wise ...
Daily Review, July 20th

Much of the time, it felt like watching a Classics Illustrated comic-book version of the novel. The whales themselves were rather intriguingly represented by the women in the cast, variously singing, being hung upside down and having their long fabric...Read more

Like Max's supper, Maurice Sendak's artwork is 'still hot'
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 17th

They remind me a bit of Classics Illustrated comics but with a darker color palette. Fans of Sendak's other works will also find "In the Night Kitchen," "We Are All in the Dumps With Jack and Guy," "Really Rosie" and "Little Bear" represented in the...Read more

Did I Belong to a Cult? The Story (in Brief) of My Spiritual Journey…
Patheos (blog), July 16th

Even though we (my brother and I) were not allowed to own or read “comic books” (except “Classics Illustrated”!) my father, especially, encouraged me to read whatever novels, biographies and history books I wanted to. Reading made me a critical thinker...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

Rick Geary's New Comic, Louise Brooks: Detective
Huffington Post, July 7th

He is the author and illustrator of several books, and has worked for Marvel Entertainment Group, DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and the revived Classics Illustrated series. For thirteen years, Geary was a contributor to National Lampoon. His work has...Read more

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