Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.
The Start of a Journey
When I was about eight, one rainy day, I darted into an old book shop for shelter. It wasn’t happenstance that my choice of shelter involved books. I loved reading and had already discovered the pleasures of the written word. I was voracious in my appetites (and still am) and didn’t discriminate in what I read. But there were still some books in my school library that were inaccessible to me as I was a junior. The stern librarian told me that she wasn’t expecting somebody my age to be borrowing dark, dusty, heavy tomes of classics that were for the older child. Instead I was told to pick my choices from abridged slim versions. I used to longingly look at those tall shelves and wonder what tales waited to be discovered among those leather bound wonders.
Our family couldn’t afford ‘new’ books and new book shops were off limits. My parents felt that I would be enamoured and entrapped in there. They were upset that they couldn’t afford to buy me the books I wanted new, but did encourage me to look for cheaper alternatives in thrift shops and old book vendors.
A wonderful find
As rain dripped from the eaves and drenched my shirt at the back I peered longingly at the dusty array of tattered books piled on a large wooden table. Among this pile something caught my eye. A vividly coloured painted cover proclaiming the ‘The Three Musketeers’ by Alexandre Dumas . The bright yellow logo boasted black cursive lettering which said’ Classics illustrated’.
It was cheap and within the purchasing ability of my meagre pocket money. I bought it and read the entire 64 pages of beautifully illustrated, action packed tale of Athos, Porthos and Aramis on the way home, as the rain stopped and the clouds cleared. I was lucky I didn’t get run over. I was totally immersed in17th century France. I was D’artagnan, flourishing my sword chivalrously as I trundled along the street. ‘tous pour un, un pour tous’ – all for one and one for all.
Thus began my love affair with the wonderful world of Classics Illustrated.
Classics illustrated introduced millions of children to the world of celebrated works of literature in an accessible and memorable format : In a comic book form. At the time when comics usually meant superheroes and masked vigilantes, it was a daring move to publish the classics of world literature.
It wasn't long before I discovered piece by piece the entire canon of Classics Illustrated line and devoured them. I had quickly and voraciously familiarised myself with a wealth of world literature.
And rather than dumb me down as my father feared reading 'comics' would, it gave me an appetite to read the 'real' thing. It wasn't long before I was back at the Library, facing the very same Librarian.
Moments later I walked away clutching the leatherbound versions of the original novel and its sequels, having dazzled the librarian with my summary of the story and the details I learnt from the comic. She was even impressed that I knew there were two Alexandre Dumas - ( father and son) and it was Dumas père who wrote the D'artagnan memoirs. So much for the cheap and humble illustrated comic.
The Genius of Albert Kanter
Classics Illustrated was the brainchild Albert Lewis Kanter, a visionary publisher and self taught connoisseur of world literature. A voracious reader himself, he managed to read many of the world classics, after leaving school without any further formal education. He was born in Baranovitch in Russia ( now in Belarus) in April 11, 1887 and emigrated with his family to United States in 1904.
He worked initially as a travelling salesman and then moved into real estate. He got married to Rose Ehrenrich in 1917 and the couple went on to have three children. During the Great Depression, Kanter lost his interest in real estate and moved his family to New York where he was employed by the Colonial Press and then by the popular Elliott Press. He designed a best selling Appointments diary for Doctors and Dentists and was also involved in designing a toy telegraph set.
This was the 1930s and 40s were the Comic books were very popular read among the American children. The colourful tales of superheroes and mutants were enthralling and expanding. Elliott press at this time was re-packaging and selling some remaindered comics. Kanter, with his enduring love of classics and world literature had an idea.
The Birth of 'Classics Comics'
Kanter wanted to introduce the marvelous works of literature to the superhero obsessed youngsters using the same comic book medium . With the backing of two business partners, Kanter created 'Classics Comics' in 1941 with the publication of issue no:1, The Three Musketeers.
The line varied greatly from the usual run of comics- it featured an adaptation of an original work of literature, it was double the size of normal comics at 64 pages and also featured biographical details of the author and popular educational fillers such as 'heroes of science'. It carried no intrusive advertisements and was printed with high quality art.
As it was also a complete and stand alone story, rather than run out, the line was reprinted while retaining the issue number to aid collectors. These were revolutionary ideas at this stage.
The first issue print sold out quickly prompting Kanter to being adaptation of Ivanhoe, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Last of the Mohicans, Moby Dick, The Tale of Two cities, Robin Hood and Arabian Nights, all popular and revered classics in their own right.
What is exciting is the fact in that within a first 12 issue run, Kanter had taken the young reader from 17th century France, to the Scottish skulduggery, a prison adventure, the American Frontier, a whaling ship, the French Revolution, the outlaw thrills of Nottingham forest and the fantasy mystique of Arabia. No other line could lift you up to such highs in the first dozen run of a 10 cent comic book.
Classics Illustrated No: 2-12
The Evolution of Classics Comics
The Classic Illustrated line ran from 1941 to 1962. The entire run consisted of 169 titles. By the fourth title, Kanter scented success and moved operations from the auspices of Elliot comics and created his own publishing line called Gilberton Inc.
Throughout the run, there were frequent reprints. The name changed from Classics Comics to the now well known Classics Illustrated in March 1947 ( issue 35).
The series was so popular it sold over 200 million copies during its 21 year original run. Wartime paper shortages and postage issues forced Kanter to change the page numbers from 64 to 56 initially and then to 48. But the popularity and the educational value never diminished.Kanter constantly strived to improve the quality by employing good artists.
He changed from line drawn to painted covers that made the comics stand apart from others as you can see from the following examples.
The series ended its glorious run in 1962 due to various reasons. The escalating cost of postage and paper made it difficult to maintain the 35 cent price tag during its last years. The sales perhaps dwindles due to the allure of the idiot box, the Television. Kanter sold the rights to publisher Patrick Krawley of Twin circle in 1962 after the publication of one of the last classic titles , Faust. (by curious coincidence, the story of a pact with the Devil by Goethe!)
Change from line drawn to Painted covers
Authors and Genres
Kanter was happily indiscriminate in his choice of classics. No genre was out of bounds, thank God. He picked freely and frequently from a wide canon of authors and genres, much to the delight of the young mind.
If you were a regular reader of the series, you never reallied that at one issue you will be reading a Greek fable and the next will be a Gothic romance. You may be marvelling at the wonder of the Journey to the center of the Earth with Jules Verne and equally at home in the american Wilderness reading the White Fang. By the time I was 10, I was familiar with Dostoyeksy and Stevenson, Washington Irving and Samuel Clemens, Hugo and Dumas, Bronte and Verne.
What was amazing is how much educational value the series had, introducing what could easily be a dusty old and 'uncool' ancient stories to young readers who became isntantly familiar with diverse forgotten classics. It made me then seek out the original volumes and read them with equal vigour, enhancing my language skills.
Variety of Authors and Genres
Learning without learning
I learnt world history, author biographies, snippets of science and information about great heroes and leaders. I think my classrooms paled into insignificance when you look at the wealth of information I learnt from this amazing series, like a best teacher - making every subject exciting, entertaining and informative.
Complete Listing of Issues
Selection of Authors
Alexandre Dumas (9 titles)
Frank Buck (3)
Mark Twain (5)
Frederick Maryatt (2)
Arthur Conan Doyle (3)
G.A. Henty (4)
Bernal Diaz De Castillo
Charles Boardman Hawes (2)
Charles Dickens (5)
H. Rider Haggard
RH Dana jr.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Richard Harding Davis
Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall (4)
Henry M Stanley
Robert Louis Stevenson (7)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (2)
Rudyard Kipiling (3)
Herman Melville (2)
Victor Hugo (4)
Edgar Allan Poe (2)
Jack London (3)
James Fennimore Cooper (8)
Walter Scott (5)
Walter Van Tilburg Clark
John Addington Symonds
Wilkie Collins (2)
Edward Everet Hale
William Shakespeare (5)
Erich Maria Remarque
Ernest Thomas Seton (2)
Special issues and Biographies
The line also introduced special themed issues around various scientific topics, like prehistory, atomic age and scientific advances. These were always well illustrated and highly informative. They made the science palatable and history entertaining.
The Original line up also featured biographical novels and stories featuring historical figures. some of the special issues and biographical classics are shown below.
Science, Biography and History
The Junior Line
Encouraged by the success of his Classics line, Kanter branched out and harvested the world of children's myth and fable by starting the Classics Illustrated Junior line. This series brought to the reader the world of fairly tales and legends from across the cultures and continents
The series included popular fairy tales by the stalwarts such as The Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Perrault. But true to form, Kanter also presided over and included little known legends from the Middle and Far East as well as Russian and European folk tales.
A guide to Classics Illustrated
Collectabilty and Cult following
An entire generation of youngsters worldwide grew up on Classics Illustrated. Although the original run ceased publishing in 1961, the reprints and reissues remained in circulation long enough for many generations to enjoy the line. I think the late seventies and eighties saw a diminishing number in circulation and the readership dwindled to just a cult following as the original issues became collectors items.
There were attempts to resurrect the line ( Berklely Publishing in the 1990 and Acclaim books in 1997-98 ) but the issues didn't last after a few.However in 2003, Jack Lake productions Inc. (Toronto) began licensing reprints and reissues and started publishing the entire line ensuring a new generation of readers enjoyed the delights of Classics Illustrated.In the UK, Classic Comic Store Ltd has begun publishing the Gilberton line for issue in UK, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa.Many titles are available from Online Sellers in both old and new formats where the original text and artwork have been preserved.
There has been an exciting resurgence in the Classics Illustrated lines recently. Papercutz, a French publisher has began a prestigious Deluxe reprint of the Classics Illustrated line with new artists, hardcover format and expanded number of pages. The issues ( along with the reprints of the original line) are all available in Amazon.
Introduce your children to Classics
For youngsters who dread the thought of reading rusty old classics, who may be put off by the archaic plot structures and flowery language Classics illustrated offers a wonderful introduction to the treasures within.
It dispels the myths that classics are boring and 'old'. It shows them classic literature can be as much fun, as much exciting and riveting as any of the modern equivalents. The old masters knew how to tell a tale.
And the beauty is that without realising, you cross genres freely and easily, enjoying historical adventures as much as scientific romances.
For the young and the old, this is a delightful way to brush up on old classics and familiarise ourselves with the wonders of storytelling.
So if you haven't yet enjoyed these classics, give them a try!
Docmo's Comics and Graphic Novel hubs
- The Amazing Adventures of Tintin: The Genius of Herg
- The Hilarious Adventures of Asterix and Obelix
- Rip Kirby - The Debonair Detective
- You Gotta Read This: Locke & Key
- The Art of Robert McGinnis: Guns, Dolls & Gangsters Molls
- Modesty Blaise: Deadly and Delicious
Thank you for your time and hope you enjoyed this hub.
Please leave some comments below as it is nice to know what you think. If you like this and think others will too, do share on Facebook and Twitter or other sites using the buttons below and don't forget to vote !
Do visit often and read the other hubs if you like the writing. There's plenty to entertain you!
Copyright © Mohan Kumar 2011
R.Rajcumar on July 01, 2018:
Thank you very much for taking me back in memory lane.The illustrated classics were indeed very popular and enabled many children to read a large number of books by different authors. I have been fortunate to have come across some of these classics.My last encounter with the classics was in the 1970's. I would like to have access to e copies if available to re visit .Wonderful indeed.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on June 04, 2013:
@jon- thanks for your viswit jon, I'm glad you found this interesting.
@Mary- appreciate your visit- glad to share this nostalgic memory ... thank you!
Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on June 04, 2013:
Awww, man - what a blast from the past! I grew up with these - and they were terrific ways to introduce kids to classic stories. Such a cool topic here - thanks for the trip down memory lane!!!
Jonathan McCloskey from Cinnaminson, New Jersey on June 04, 2013:
This article you've written here, Docmo, is truly an interesting one. I've known about classics being turned into comics for awhile but never realized how expansive the genre truly was. Thanks for a great read and I'll be sure to look into these classic comics a little more in my spare time.
Clickbank Com on September 20, 2012:
Searched every where can't find an answer.
I have Classics Illistrated no. 1 and it says printed in Canada.
All my other classics Illistrated say printed in U.S.A.
Is this the only one ever printed in Canada?
KDuBarry03 on September 04, 2012:
Very...very awesome, Docmo! I am not familiar with American Comics (oh, the Irony...) but I would have never guessed Classics Illustrated made the first illustrations of the Little Mermaid! Huh...very interesting. I'm with Alecia on this one: awesome job, as always!
Alecia Murphy from Wilmington, North Carolina on September 04, 2012:
Cool hub! I am not that familiar with comics but this is an interesting premise and approach to get kids interested in classics. As a kid, I usually read whatever I wanted. The classics had their place but I think in general reading helped me establish a love of great literature. And that seems like what happened to you with Classics Illustrated- awesome job!
Mary Craig from New York on August 02, 2012:
Classics Illustrated was one of the best inventions for kids with short attention spans that couldn't get through a whole book! As always, you've provided interesting detail to keep us reading from beginning to end! Loved your illustrations.
Voted up, useful, and interesting
Jools Hogg from North-East UK on August 02, 2012:
Wonderful article Mohan. I think this must have been a great way to get into the classics. A lot less intimidating than the books which when you're young, look the size of a brick.
Ishwaryaa Dhandapani from Chennai, India on February 12, 2012:
Well-written hub on Classics illustrated. I have not heard about these comics till now through you. Thank u for sharing. Rated it interesting. Vote up.
Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on December 02, 2011:
Awesome hub. I remember these and have some of the Zane Grey classics that were my moms. I also have a Superman from 1962.
Duran on August 01, 2011:
Hello - Wonderful article, I just happened to acquire 34 of them from my late Nan.
visionandfocus from North York, Canada on June 17, 2011:
Awesome hub! Voted up and will link to my hub about music picture books for children. This is an excellent resource; will bookmark as well. Thanks for sharing!
lmmartin from Alberta and Florida on June 16, 2011:
Wonderful hub, Docmo. I have memories of hours spent lost in the reading of these old friends. Thanks for reminding me. Lynda
Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on June 11, 2011:
I was not a big fan but I recall reading some of these. I read in a biography of Bob Dylan that he read a lot of thee comics.
Kathi from Saugatuck Michigan on June 08, 2011:
It's fun to view these with imagination of what our father's and mother's grew up with. The illustrations are marvelous and as always, you share a wealth of information!
Ashantina on June 08, 2011:
I watched these classics as cartoons, series and films but never read any... however, now Im inspired!!
Excellent hub. UP
Mimi721wis on June 07, 2011:
Up and Awesome. Well put together. Loved the Three Musketeers. I remember watching the TV series as a child.
Fay Paxton on June 07, 2011:
Another excellent hub with great detail. These are timeless classics! I read so many of these growing up and have begun to share them with my grandsons. This is a super reference.
up/awesome and bookmarked.
WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on June 06, 2011:
These were our favorites as 50's kids. Between the two of us, my cousin and I had almost all of them. They were also great if you needed to do a book report!
Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on June 06, 2011:
What little girl hasn't read The little mermaid. I love the old classic books. I was an avid reader of the comic books. This presentation is superb in every way. Thank you.
Anna Sidorova from Russia on June 06, 2011:
I remember reading THREE MUSKETEERS also and how I got addicted to the book! This is a very good article, very well written. Keep on!
drbj and sherry from south Florida on June 06, 2011:
Absolutely spectacular, Mohan. Your love of these classic comics clearly shows through in your vivid and enthralling decriptions and graphics. Thank you for taking the time and effort to share it with us. Rated way up!
BTW, a movie has been filmed and will soon be in theaters in the U.S. based on the Tintin stories you wrote about so beautifully in another Hub.
saltymick on June 06, 2011:
Good on you mate, you made my day with this hub - I used to collect and read Classics Illustrated avidly when I was a kid back in the 60's. Like you they gave me an introduction to classic novels and reading in general which of course I still do avidly (never without a book on the go.) My favourite Classic comic was probably War of the Worlds, or was it Robinson Crusoe? No, it was Ben Hur, or Count of Monty Cristo etc etc.
Linda Rawlinson from Lancaster, UK on June 06, 2011:
Oooh, this is wonderful. What a hub! I'm going to see if I can find some of these, because my children would love them. They already know about Athos, Porthos and Aramis - from DOGtanian and the Muskehounds! They're proper little boys, who dream of adventure and treasure :)
Voting up - the detail in this hub is superb. It's obvious your heart was in this.
Denise Handlon from North Carolina on June 05, 2011:
Read it from top to bottom, Mohan. Your hubs are ALWAYS filled with delightful information that goes above and beyond.
I too, recall those comic book classics and your hub brought me back to summer days sitting in the basement with my siblings and neighborhood kids as we read and exchanged these books trying to keep out of the heat. Voted it up and awesome.
Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on June 05, 2011:
Doc, What a wonderful hub on the Classics For Kids!
Sunnie Day on June 05, 2011:
This was such a fantastic hub with wonderful detail, facts, and history. I love the classics and I find nothing more exciting than going into a little old book store trying to find that one special old classic book. One of my favorite children stories growing up was The Boxcar Children. I like Hans Christian Anderson too..You my friend did a great job on this and I am so happy you shared this with us. Up, useful and Awesome.