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...
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 the comic as being “based on a Japanese fairy tale, as told by Lafcadio Hearn,” a Greek-born author who wrote extensively about Japanese folk myths.
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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Deadpool Killustrated Review – Cullen BunnWhatCulture!, June 18th
Deadpool Killustrated – the title (a pun on the Classics Illustrated line of comics that adapted classic literature into easily digested comics) alone should decide whether you're going to read this or not. It's not a comic that takes itself too...Read more
New exhibit illustrates New London's colorful pastTheDay.com, June 18th
"Classics Illustrated," she said, invoking the comic books of the Baby Boomer generation that brought life to novels and biographies in dramatic fashion. Today's graphic novels may owe some debt to the 15-cent comic books that introduced children to...Read more
Kihei Public Library offers free eventsMaui News, June 12th
Papa Lopaka (Robert DeVinck) will present a reading of his "Classics Illustrated" comic book, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain. There will be a brief discussion and an question-and-answer session, and Lopaka will encourage children to read ...Read more
BEA 2013: The Boy Readers Are All RightPublishers Weekly, June 6th
Readers Digest Condensed Books and the Classics Illustrated comics line were also popular with the authors in their youth. Gantos remembered hiding Classics Illustrated under his bed “like child pornos. My mom would call them 'moron books',” he said...Read more
In the end, it's really all about baseballSanta Rosa Press Democrat, June 5th
On the nightstands are things like a collection of 40 “Classics Illustrated,” a set of Lincoln Logs from Nancy's childhood, and a toy Frankenstein model he got when he was nine. Tucked in a drawer are numerous cassettes of old time radio shows. Next to...Read more
'Shocked,' by Patricia VolkNew York Times, May 31st
A voracious childhood reader who writes of plunging into the Classics Illustrated comic series “like Scrooge McDuck diving into his swimming pool of money,” Volk tells of being so mesmerized by “Shocking Life,” which her stern and stylish mother...Read more
What Stories Scared a Young Stephen King?FEARnet.com, May 24th
He also recalled collecting Classics Illustrated comics, “which were also fairly bloody. I still remember the Oliver Twist one... there was blood all over that thing. Comic books were the closest we had to a visual medium.” King went on to reveal that...Read more
Stephen King on What He Read as a KidPARADE, May 23rd
“And we used to get Classics Illustrated comic books, which were also fairly bloody. I still remember the Oliver Twist one—there was blood all over that thing. Comic books were the closest we had to a visual medium.” On the CBS series Under the Dome, ...Read more