Classics Illustrated (Thanks, Newsweek)

I have successfully procrastinated another week away.

I think my major problem this week was that I just didn’t have a topic on which I wanted to expand. I’m looking across the table and I see a stack of books calling out to me. Some are read, lots need to be read. Some were good…some won’t be good. This just didn’t seem like the week to do a review.

On the other side of the table I see a stack of weekly magazines that have started to pile up. When there was a TV strike, weekly magazines were a good idea. I was always caught up on my comics, Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly, National Geographic, hell, I was even caught up on my grading. Now here we are in the midst of March Madness, Big Brother, Dancing with the Stars, Lost and a whole myriad of other shows – and I am getting NOTHING done.

So, with an article due and procrastination in full force I decided to pick up the latest issue of Newsweek rather than writing. This week Barack “Barry” Obama is the cover story and per usual the magazine is filled with articles about our impending recession, politics, and of course our involvement in Iraq. It pains me to be bombarded with these stories week after week — daily if you count the radio and television. It reminds me that I like to read to escape from these realities.

Flipping my way to the back of Newsweek I noticed in the “books” section something that looks like a splash page. At first I wasn’t sure if it was an ad, an illustration or an actual page from a comic book.

Malcolm Jones wrote an article talking about Classics Illustrated comics. Basically these are comics that have taken great novels and turned them into “funny books.” If you don’t get Newsweek, the article is also available online and I strongly suggest reading it. I don’t want to steal from Malcolm’s thunder – but basically he is reminiscing about how the Classics Illustrated helped to shape his childhood and shape a whole generation of kids and GIs apparently – and if the new versions of the books will have a similar impact.

The concept is simple enough – take a great piece of literature and illustrate it. The story is already good and if you get good artists on board, it is basically (or at least potentially) a win win situation. More people are exposed to great literature in a form that is accessible, and maybe those same people get turned on to that author/reading…and the snowball begins. Viola -– people read. Literacy reigns!

The question is, how well do these books actually sell in today’s market? I went to my LCS shop to ask the owner how sales were on books of this type. He noted that I had recently picked up all the issues of The Man in the Iron Mask (which I still need to read) and that a few people had been purchasing The Iliad –- both recently put out by Marvel. However, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde’s only published novel, has not sold any copies (poor Wilde, he still can’t catch a break).

I mentioned the article in the current issue of Newsweek and LCS owner (I didn’t ask his permission to put his name in the article) hoped that it might help to push a little business for those books. After all, there is always some kid that HAS to read the book and doesn’t want to settle for the sparknotes online, right? Then LCS owner started to reminisce about the old Classics Illustrated series. They ran from 1941 to 1971 and there are hundreds of titles. I am actually shocked by the number of books. I think at one point I had a copy of The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, but that was so long ago…I cannot even remember what it looked like.

The new versions that are being published (by various companies including Papercutz and Marvel) are striving to be better than the old. The story was always there, but there is potential to have better art now. The real problem, at least in the eyes of my LCS owner, is that some of them are coming out in a series, rather than as one complete graphic novel.

And he has a point. If I want to read a novel, I want to read the whole shebang. Waiting month after month to find out if Ahab ever gets that white whale can get tiresome…especially if you know that the entire story already exists. Sticking to the original format and putting the books out as a complete graphic novel seems to me to be a more attractive option. And, to be fair, some are coming out in that format. The question is, are they books that anybody wants to read? I guess that can be the gamble of any comic, really.

All this got me thinking of traditional novels that I have read that might do well in graphic form. Jack Hannah’s Monkeys on the Interstate might translate well. I just recently read All I Did Was Ask which is transcripts of interviews on Fresh Air with Terry Gross –- for some reason an illustrated version is oddly appealing. Really, the possibilities are endless. Sure there are the obvious choices like Frankenstein and The Wizard of Oz, but there are a lot of novels in the world. Why not throw some pictures in. It’s a lot cheaper than turning them all into movies. Besides, isn’t Daniel Radcliffe starting to get a little old?


  1. i’m with u on this one.  this can be nothing but good for comics and literacy in general.  more books in more hands is a good thing. 


    nicely said.

  2. I know these are coming out in issue form, but they were mainly done to be collected into hardcover for the Library market. On the flip side, Penguin Classics have been releasing special deluxe editions of books with Indie Comic Illustrators working on the covers and flaps of the book.

  3. Yeah, the obvious play for these is to collect them into books and get them in to Libraries and Bookstores – but again, why even do issues then?  Why not go direct to the bookstores?  I hear that its to pay the creators a monthly wage, but I don’t buy that – I’m guessing so they don’t upset the direct market.

    Regardless, the majority of these new Classics from Marvel have been penned by the great Roy Thomas, which makes them worth reading solely for that 

  4. I was gonna say the same thing. I buy the weekly books, but I’d be more apt to buy this collected.

  5. I’ve been waiting for a few of these to come out in collected form, it just seems weird to me to get them monthly.

  6. No, not yet, but if he tries to pull any shit after Harry Potter, I’m sending his ass packin’.

  7. Marvel has Skottie Young on the wizard of oz mini series. i dont know about you guys but i think that a perfect use of talent.  Talk about playing strengths.

  8. Looking forward to Wizard of OZ.

  9. Ive been reeding the Iliad. It is pretty disjointed in monthly. I think that I am probably going to finish off the series and wait to finish reading it till after the series is done. The issues I have read have been wonderful. The art is gorgeous and it is a good condensed version of the story. Overall great idea, better executed in trades.

  10. I really want to track down the old THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS issues, I freaking love that book and the comic looks like it would be really cool.