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 by Plessix.
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 of them.