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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Martin Tahse dies; produced 'ABC Afterschool Specials'
Washington Post, July 25th

in the role, Los Angeles Times critic Don Shirley said the stories from the original novel were so strong, “and Burstyn proves such an adept storyteller, that Mr. Tahse's Classics Illustrated-style edition becomes an engaging experience, both funny...Read more

In London, stages are set for pleasure
Washington Post, July 25th

which take us from Henry's divorce from the first of his six wives, Catherine of Aragon, to the execution of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, to his marriage to his third, Jane Seymour, unfold with the compressed briskness of the old Classics...Read more

Reading and imagination -- the endless frontier
Nevada Herald, July 18th

And I can't forget Classics Illustrated, which took many famous books and converted them to the comics format, giving me more ways to discover entire worlds and timelines, from Last of the Mohicans, Robin Hood, War of the Worlds, and the Count of Monte ...Read more

My top ten fears
Prospect, July 12th

But I saw a picture, I think it was in Classics Illustrated, of either A Tale of Two Cities or The Man in the Iron Mask. It was of somebody being torn apart by a mob, and it terrified me. A mob could assemble itself out of anything, anywhere; a mob is...Read more

Random Questions: Paula Barnes
Sequim Gazette, July 9th

We had all kinds of comics, from superheroes to Disney to “Classics Illustrated.” During my last year of high school I worked as a shelver in a library and during college I continued to work part time in the local public library. I worked my way...Read more

Comics AM | Taiwan 'One Piece' exhibit draws 100000 in first week
Comic Book Resources, July 7th

Papercutz publishes a wide range of all-ages graphic novels, including the Classics Illustrated comics, licensed titles like The Smurfs, LEGO Ninjago and Legends of Chima, and girl-friendly titles such as Sybil the Backpack Fairy and Ernest and Rebecca...Read more

UDON to Produce Manga Classics - Pride and Prejudice and Les Miserables
The Outhouse, July 3rd

If you were a fan of the old Classics Illustrated, but wish the books would have featured more underage characters in explicit sexual situations, then a manga take on the concept is exactly what you've been waiting for! The books will come in both...Read more

Finally, An iPhone 6 Rumor That Confirms That Jony Ive Is Not Losing It
Forbes, July 1st

This detail has seemed to me like the incorrect plot detail dropped into the Classics Illustrated comic books from the 40s through the 60s. Also known as Classic Comics, these pulp representations of great works of literature, from Ivanhoe to...Read more