By Margaret Duncan, Ed.D.
I fully admit I am
an adult that still gets excited to go into a comic book shop. I am also a parent who has used children’s
books, as well as comics to introduce reading to my girls. I have also used
comics in my classroom to help get students more excited about a certain time
period. Classics Illustrated was a series of comics that ran for thirty
years (1941-1971) and would adapt well known novels into comic book form. Think of it as an earlier version of
CliffNotes with pictures for students.
Many of the Classics Illustrated
comics hold up well, they were beautifully adapted and illustrated. For my girls, they enjoy the comics as much,
and in some cases more than the original book. So, let us take a trip down
memory lane with some classic western adapted novels from Samuel Clemens, James
Fenimore Cooper, Francis Parkman, and Owen Wister.
Illustrated Comic is about a young boy, Tom Sawyer, growing up along the
Mississippi River. The story is set in the fictional town of St. Petersburg but
was inspired by Hannibal, Missouri, where Clemens/Twain had lived. The story is
about Tom, an orphan who lives with his Aunt Polly and his half-brother Sid,
and his adventures with his friends Becky Thatcher, Huckleberry Finn, and Joe
Harper. Also included in the comic is a
biography on Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. As well as a story Bulldog Courage, a biography of George
Westinghouse and an overview of the opera, Madame
Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini.
The Prairie (No. 58), by James Fenimore Cooper
Although The Last of the Mohicans is Cooper’s
most famous novel, The Prairie is the
third novel written by Cooper featuring Natty Bumppo. However, the fictitious
frontier hero Bumppo is never called by his name, but instead referred to as "the
trapper" or "the old man."
It depicts Bumppo in the final year of his life and he continues to be helpful
to people in distress on the American frontier. Also included in the comic is a
biography of James Fenimore Cooper, considered by many to be the first great
American novelist. There is also a
biography of Hippocrates, the father of Medicine, and a dog hero story, Tunney, the Champ.
The Oregon Trail (No. 72), by Francis Parkman
The Oregon Trail is
a first-person account of the two month summer tour in 1846 of the U.S. states
of Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, and Kansas. The book covers the three weeks Parkman spent
hunting buffalo with a band of Oglala Sioux. The book is dated in its portrayal
of Native Americans and the title is misleading, the book only covers the first
third of the trail. Also included in the
comic is a biography of Francis Parkman, who many consider to be an
authoritative source of early American Western history. There is also a
biography on Edward Livingstone Trudeau, the isolator of the tuberculosis germ,
a story about the famous opera, La Boheme
by Giacomo Puccini, and a dog hero story about Duke, the Seeing Eye Cop.
Buffalo Bill (No. 106), no author given
According to the
comic tease, this is one of the greatest adventure stories of all time. It is the story of the American West and the
men who conquered it, including one of the most celebrated, William Cody,
better known as Buffalo Bill. Also
included is the biography of William Quantrill, part of the Bad Men of the West
series, a biography of Henry Clay, the Great Compromiser, and a story of Early
America, Wreck Ashore!.
The Virginian (No. 150), by Owen Wister
The Virginian is a novel
set in the Wild West and describes the life of a cowboy at the Sunk Creek Ranch
in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. The Virginian’s
real name is never given. The Virginian does
have an ongoing romance with the newly appointed schoolmarm, Miss Molly Stark
Wood. Also included is a biography of
Owen Wister. Also there is a story about the person Wister dedicated The Virginian to, Theodore Roosevelt, T.R. and the Thieves, and a story about
the Capture of Geronimo.
One thing I really
like about Classics Illustrated is
that each contains a bio on the author.
It is really nice that the reader can read the novel in comic/graphic
form and then learn all about the person who wrote it. Another great thing is that each story also
ends with the same challenge: “Now that
you have read the Classics Illustrated edition, don’t miss the added enjoyment
of reading the original, obtainable at your school or public library.”
These are just a few
American West classics, what novel would you like to read as a comic book?