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Three Generations of Classical Kanters

By Trav S.D.

I think I may have mentioned my dad’s old copy of the Classics Illustrated version of The Ten Commandments in my post about the film. Subsequently I encountered many other examples of this comic book series, which adapted classic works of literature into a visual format not unlike what we now think of as graphic novels. The man behind them was a Russian Jewish immigrant to the U.S. named Albert Kanter (1897-1973). Kanter worked for years as a traveling salesman before selling his Big Idea, initially called Classic Comics, to a publishing company in 1941. For some perspective, comic books had only been in existence for a few years at that point. Superman had debuted in 1938; Batman in 1939. This was essentially a variation on a brand new invention. Kanter clearly had noble intentions, I think, but he was still criticized. Believe it or not the anti-comics crusade of the 1950s attacked Kanter’s creations just as it had more obvious malefactors like E.C. Comics. It was charged (no doubt with accuracy) that kids would go to the comic books instead of their assigned literature in English class, much as they would later go to Cliff’s Notes. And naturally, the comic book versions were more sensationized, violent, and simple-minded, thus contributing to the overall degradation of the culture (so it was charged). For a variety of reasons the enterprise ceased in 1961, although reprints and old copies circulated for decades, which is how I knew about it.


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