Monday, November 18, 2013


Obscurity of the Day: Illustrated Classic

Thank goodness there are folks out there who are utterly devoted fans of the Classics Illustrated comic book series. I don't know if it is the actual comics that they like, or the complexities of tracking the confusing and complex history of the series. Gotta love tracking those HRN numbers, am I right? Whichever it is, I can say without a doubt that without them, today's obscurity would be a heck of a lot more obscure than it is.

In 1947, the folks at the Gilberton Company, publishers of Classics Illustrated, made a deal with the New York Post to syndicate some of their comic book wares as newspaper comics. The idea was to produce an insert-style comic section on a folded tabloid sheet. When the tabloid sheet was cut in half horizontally, an eight page mini-comic book would result, with two quite small comic book pages shoehorned onto each page. The adaptations would generally consist of four weekly installments, thus each adaptation was 32 newspaper booklet pages, or 64 comic book pages, in length. The novel adaptations offered were from as yet unpublished Classics Illustrated comic books, and would generally be published in newspapers about a year before their publications in comic book form.

The New York Post syndicate was, to be charitable, not the strongest sales machine around. That they managed to sell the Illustrated Classic insert concept to a known client list of just six newspapers I would count as not nearly as dismal as it sounds, given their track record on other properties.

Given that the insert page size was extremely small (I estimate the pages to be roughly half their intended size in the forthcoming comic books), and if my sample is any indication, the proofs rather muddy, it is also not surprising that half the client list bailed out after a half year. By the time the series was cancelled, exactly 52 weeks in, even the New York Post itself couldn't bring itself to run the final insert -- an abbreviated single episode version of The Courtship of Miles Standish. Only the Newark Star-Ledger is known to have soldiered on to the bitter end.

Here are all the stories, along with writer/adapters, artists and running dates:

Kidnapped3/30 – 4/20/47?Robert H. Webb
20,000 Leagues under the Sea4/27 – 5/18/47?Henry C. Kiefer
David Copperfield5/25 – 6/15/47George D. LipscombHenry C. Kiefer
Alice in Wonderland6/22 – 7/13/47?Alex A. Blum
The Spy7/20 – 8/10/47?Arnold B. Hicks*
Adventures of Tom Sawyer8/17 – 9/7/47Harry G. Miller*Aldo Rubano
House of the Seven Gables9/14 – 10/5/47John O’Rourke*Harley Griffiths
Julius Caesar10/12 – 11/2/47?Henry C. Kiefer*
Silas Marner11/9 – 11/30/47Harry Glickman*Arnold L. Hicks*
A Christmas Carol12/7 – 12/21/47George D. Lipscomb*Henry C. Kiefer
Lady of the Lake12/28/47 – 1/18/48George D. Lipscomb*Henry C. Kiefer
Man in the Iron Mask1/25 – 2/15/48John O’Rourke*August M. Froelich
Toilers of the Sea2/22 – 3/14/48Harry Glickman*August M. Froelich*
Courtship of Miles Standish3/21/48 ?Alex A. Blum*

Not many of the adapters and artists signed their work; all starred (*) entries are credits found at the Grand Comics Database or at Classics Central. I gather there may be separate inking credits on some or many of these as well; for instance, Alex Jay tells me that David Heames may be due inking credits on Webb stories.

According to Classics Central, the stories as seen in the Illustrated Classic series are close but not exact duplicates of what would later be published in the comic books. Because of formatting constraints, panels and pages were reformatted, often for the worse, for the newspaper series.


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