The Wind in the Willows
Reviewed: May 14, 2008
By: Kenneth Grahame / Adapted by Michael Plessix
Publisher: Classics Illustrated Deluxe Edition - Papercutz
144 pages, $15.50
It will be no secret to any reader of this column that I am a fan of that graphic
art form known as the comic book They are a habit I have not been able to break
myself of in the 50 years since my uncle first brought me home coverless discard
copies from the Minas Basin Pulp Mill where he worked before he went to barber
school and where I later put in my summers between the ages of 16 and 20.
In those days the comic world was not quite so dominated by superheroes. It
was in comic book form, on short lived pulpish paper, that I first encountered
such classics as Robinson Crusoe, Ivanhoe, The Black Arrow, Gulliver’s
Travels and many others.
The original Classics Illustrated line, which eventually had 169 titles, was
founded in 1941, near to the beginning of the creation of the comic book format,
by Albert Kanter, who kept it going until 1971, and even added a junior line
of 77 titles which adapted fairy tales and mythology.
With his death the books vanished from the racks, though there was a short lived
attempt to revive the format by Marvel Comics. In fact that company is currently
producing a line of Marvel Illustrated comics which adapt classics in mini-series
format. I expect them to be collected and reissued in trade format later on.
In the 1990s there was a Classics Illustrated revival as a joint project of
First Comics (now defunct) and Berkley Books (now part of the Penguin group),
which produced 27 volumes of new material by artists and writers who were in
vogue at that time. They included everything from Dickens to Poe and Shakespeare.
Shortly after that, Dark Horse Comics produced a few issues in a black and white
format, but they didn’t catch on, even though that company has been very
successful with books based on other licensed properties.
In 1997-98 Acclaim Comics acquired the rights to the original series and produced
digest sized editions with study notes in the back of them. These were still
in colour, but the page size (like Archie Digest comics) made these densely
illustrated and worded books hard to read.
There have been several other attempts to revive this concept. One successful
one seems to be from Toronto’s Jack Lake Productions, which began work
in 2003 and has many of the originals in print again.
Just last year, Papercutz acquired the license and seems to be planning a revival
of the entire series, plus the First Comics material and other new adaptations
such as The Wind in the Willows, which seems to have originated in France.
The editor of this line is Jim Salicrup, who had a long career as a writer and
editor at Marvel Comics, as well as at Topp Comics, during the period when that
company published Bram Stoker's Dracula and various media licensed books.
This current series is in full colour, on high quality paper stock which is
not going to turn yellow and brittle on you. The books will be at various lengths
as those in the original series were 64 pages, the First Comics’ books
were 44 pages and the newer European material can be over 100. They will be
published as Classic Illustrated and Classics Illustrated Deluxe. In size they
are about 2.5 cm shorter than a standard comic book, but the same width, and
well above the cramped digest size.
I haven’t said much about this book itself. It follows the basic outline
of the novel, though it seems to take almost as much inspiration from the play,
Toad of Toad Hall, which A.A. Milne adapted from the book. It has the flavour
of the story, however, and the main incidents, and it is delightfully illustrated
I’m not the only fan of this series. The clerk at Mac’s went into
ecstasies of “Oh my father will be so pleased to know about these”
when I bought another of them recently.
If these are all this good I’m sure I’ll be picking up quite a few