Remembering the Classics, Illustrated

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By: Steven Heller | October 14, 2008

When I was twelve years old, I made a pilgrimage to the offices of Classics Illustrated Comic Books on Third Avenue and 16th Street in New York. The walls were covered with illustrated covers, each done in a realistic pulp style that tickled my imagination. I was particularly taken by their approach to Frankenstein (no Boris Karloff monster he), frightened by The War of the Worlds (which now seems so quaint), and I marveled at The Time Machine (I still believe someone will invent one). The other day I found a few of my favorite issues and was reminded how these comics taught me the joy of reading–comics, that is. Although I never got away with only reading these comics for class assignments (I also read the CliffsNotes), seeing how the Classics Illustrated artists portrayed Paul Bunyan, Oliver Twist, and the Prisoner of Zenda helped me to visualize thesestories and their protagonists more easily than reading the original books.

I also recently found a copy of Robinson Crusoe, a Classic Comics book, the precursor of Classics Illustrated, and was reminded where graphic novels really came from.