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 5th Wave': A Forgettable Flick Based on Rick Yancey's YA Trilogy
Observer, February 1st

Wave is a typical example of the kind of dopey junk that passes for literature among today's unsophisticated teens, who know everything about J. K. Rowling and nothing at all about Jane Austen. They must write book reports from Classics Illustrated...Read more

COLUMN: Classics Illustrated: Not your average comic books
Statesville Record & Landmark, January 24th

My brother Jeff and I could already read simple sentences when we started our formal educations at Park View Elementary School in Mooresville. This was due in a large part because our mother read to us almost every night when we got into our beds...Read more

All Purple's daughters
The Villager, January 20th

Purple also did give them the Classics Illustrated comics series — comic book adaptations of literary classics — which she enjoyed, which was about the only good thing she could say about him. As for how Wilkie later came by his Adam Purple moniker...Read more

Michael Dirda takes a new look at a little-known Jules Verne novel
Washington Post, January 13th

(The last two, along with “Master of the World” and “Michael Strogoff,” I enjoyed as Classics Illustrated comics, read surreptitiously in various drugstores.) As introductions to the adventure story, these “Voyages Extraordinaires,” as Verne called his...Read more

Ed Catto: Censorship and the Ties That Bind, January 11th

Back when she was an English teacher at the local school, she purchased several issues of Classics Illustrated, with her own money, and passed them along to her students. Her principal was furious, collected those comics and destroyed them. Was this ...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

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 To Publish Original Classics Illustrated Comics in Digital Formats
Publishers Weekly, May 17th

Trajectory Inc., a Boston-based e-book and app developer and publisher, has acquired the digital rights to the original Classics Illustrated comics and will release the works as downloadable digital comics for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. The...Read more