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Berkley First History

With the demise of the original and much loved Classics Illustrated series in 1971 (see www.classicsillustrated.co.uk ) it had been 17 years since the series had appeared in print. First Publishing, a new and ambitious Chicago comics company, perhaps best known for its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, re-introduced the brand in 1990. The illustrations were extraordinary - many of them almost abstract in their depiction of classic heroes and stories. Top-notch cartoonists were given much more artistic freedom to adapt classic literature to comics than in the original series. Sales were poor, but the comics themselves were excellent, combining fresh artistic vision with respectful understanding of the original works. Covers were also challenging - all new and works of art in themselves. Nine titles never produced in the original series appeared:

The Scarlet Letter The Jungle The Island of Dr Moreau
The Devil’s Dictionary Aesop’s Fables The Gift of the Magi
The Raven and other Poems The Secret Agent
The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner

First Berkley had similar motivations to Albert Kanter of the original series in their desire to help educate children and the comics were intended, to some extent, for use as reading tools. For those collectors of the old series, the new artwork would jar, since the avant-garde nature of it was just too contemporary. Nevertheless they were impressive but they simply weren’t commercially viable and, in June 1991, they ceased after the publication of number 27 - The Jungle. Several more titles were planned and covers had been produced. We present some of these below. Wouldn’t it be nice to have these available to collectors now?

The story of these comic books doesn’t end there, however. In January 2008, the first new title in the Classics Illustrated line - one that could trace its lineage back to 1941 when The Three Musketeers was published - appeared. Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows was published in a full colour, 130 page adaptation by Papercutz (publishers of The Hardy Boys, amongst others) under license from Jack Lake Productions and First Classics Inc. This was followed by Tales from The Brothers Grimm and Frankenstein with a number of the original works re-published - The Invisible Man, Great Expectations, Through the Looking Glass, The Raven and other Poems, The Scarlet Letter, Hamlet, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Count of Monte Cristo and Treasure Island - in both soft and hardback format.
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