On cleaning out some cabinets in my classroom, I ran across some relics of a long ago era. Or maybe an age, like the Pleistocene. This is what happens when you occupy a room formerly the realm of a nearly ninety-year old English teacher--I found a couple of Classics Illustrated comics.
To tell you how truly elderly these things are, I don't even remember them being available when I was a kid, and as I face a new crop of high school kids this year, I feel somewhat older than carbon. I had a sizable stack of them that had been my dad's when he was a kid, dating them precisely to about 1684. Actually, I just looked at one of them and it has a copyright date of 1946--the year my dad turned nine and twenty-three years before I graced the delivery room at Greenville General.
This particular one is Ivanhoe. I remember struggling through the real thing when I was somewhere around junior high school and let me tell you, that book is enough to make birds drop out of the air. Sir Walter Scott was good at concocting a plot, but unfortunately suffered from serious diarrhea of the pen. The Heart of Midlothian was, quite honestly, the only book I've ever given up on--I slogged through three hundred pages of that damn thing and nothing had happened except for somebody walked down the street. I think someone also got pregnant but it was so mired in prose and early 19th century propriety that she may have just bought a goat.
Side note: the coolest thing, to me, about Sir Walter Scott is that he was responsible (if unwittingly) for the names of several Virginia crossroad towns. Back in the 1880s, the president of the Norfolk and Western Railroad and his wife toured the newly-completed trackage between Norfolk and Petersburg. Since there were no existing towns of any size on the line, new stops were built to serve the passing trains. Since the wife had just finished reading some of Scott's novels, she named the new towns for places in the novels. Hence we end up with Wakefield, Waverly and Ivor, Virginia. There's also Disputanta because the couple couldn't agree on what to call that one.
Anyway, Classics Illustrated really aren't that bad. They certainly went a long way to expose kids of their day to actual literature. (Even if I don't like Sir Walter Scott, personally.) The art isn't too bad in most of them, though the coloring is a little off. The sky of medieval England seems to have changed color on a regular basis, and by "changed color" I mean went from actually sky blue to pink to orange to green. Vegetation is pretty reliably green, but tree trunks are occasionally pink and there is one castle wall that is decidedly Carolina Blue.
Somewhat bizarre colors aside, the series is a far cry from the Graphic Novels of today. I capitalize here because I want you to understand that I know that these things are Not Comic Books, but a Genre to Be Taken Seriously.
Bullshit. They're comic books. I have seen graphic novels foisted upon hapless classroom teachers "Because kids can get into them!" Poor grammar notwithstanding, as a classroom teacher I am not here to entertain children. If I were I'd have gone into vaudeville. I don't care that many Graphic Novels have a dark and twisty side, that they psychoanalyze their characters. They. Are. Comic. Books. As such, they might be highly entertaining. I'll even admit to enjoying a couple of them; though they tend to be--for my taste at least--a little overly busy.
I don't know that I really advocate the use of Classics Illustrated as teaching tools, but something of their ilk would be nice to have around today. I'd rather have my kids reading a weirdly-illustrated version of A Tale of Two Cities than analyzing the angst of Batman's repressed inner child.