Thursday, October 09, 2008

Classic Concept

Just read an interview here with the folks who are re-releasing the original Classics Illustrated. Problem is, they're only rereleasing them in the UK and select regions that do not include the United States--probably because Papercutz has the license for the Classics name here. The news is great for UK readers--the publisher has gone to great trouble to restore the art for these classics, they've located original plates for many of the covers, they have an ambitious release plan and sufficient funding to make it work...

And unlike the American releases, they're actually giving readers the Classics Illustrated they want, not the ones the publisher wants to force on them.

Here in the US, the Classics name is attached to a number of works on the Papercutz line--but none of them are produced in the style of the original Classics Illustrated. Some of them are the product of the short-lived First Comics/Berkley Books Classics relaunch that saw creators like Bill Sienkiewicz brought in to re-adapt the classics. I tried to use those in the classroom when I taught; give the Sienkiewicz version of Moby Dick to a high school student, and within ten minutes he'll be longing for the clarity and simplicity of the Herman Melville prose.

The original Classics were simple, straightforward, traditional... perhaps even a little staid in their approach. That's what was necessary; if the idea was to sell readers on the classics that they might otherwise not read at all, then simplicity and understandability is paramount. I often compare Classics Illustrated to Cliff's Notes; if you're buying the Cliff's Notes of a book you might not otherwise read, you don't want the author of those notes to take a bold, experimental literary approach to adapting the work, do you? Of course not! You want the story, simplified and clarified.

The other problem with the PaperCutz Classics Illustrated is that they're using the name as a home for previously-released non-CI adaptations of works like Wind in the Willows, figuring that the Classics Illustrated logo might sell them into a new audience. But these aren't the major classics that readers are looking for; this is advantageous publishing that hopes to ride on the established reputation of a brand name to sell a product that really isn't. It's sort of like buying the rights to the Kentucky Fried Chicken name so that you can fill the box with McDonald's Chicken McNuggets; odds are people will notice that what they're getting isn't what they want.

I hope that some American publisher--perhaps PaperCutz, but if not then someone with a real understanding of what the market wants--will put these UK editions out in the US. I'm not too optimistic right now, though...

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