Friday, June 28, 2013

An Island Find: A Teacher's Bound Volume of Vintage "Classics Illustrated"

Earlier this month, Red Dot Diva received a surprise message from a blogger pal Vernon, about something that his cousin had found while going through his uncle's belongings. (His beloved uncle Mr Wee, a school teacher till his retirement, had passed away not long ago.)

The unexpected family find was a bound volume of vintage comics from the "Classics Illustrated" series. His cousin Janice thought that her dad's lovingly kept comics looked old and unusual, but wanted to sell it off to a collector. However, she did not know how much it was worth. 

Not a hardcore comic collector herself, Red Dot Diva was not able to provide her with any information. But the vintage comics got her curious, and she dug around to find out more about "Classics Illustrated".

From the internet, she gathered that the series was released by not one, but a few publishers from the 1940's to 1970's. There were 169 issues, and were graphically depicted adaptations of a wide range of literary classics like "Tale of Two Cities" (Charles Dickens), "Gullivers Travels" (Jonathan Swift), "Frankenstein" (Mary Shelley) and "Macbeth" (Shakespeare).

Mr Wee's bound set contained mainly the adaptations of classics by H.G. Wells and R.L. Stevenson - "The Time Machine", "War of the Worlds", "Treasure Island" and "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" - just to name a few.

Red Dot Diva then emailed a legendary silver fox based in NYC, who is quite the treasure trove of information when it comes to the history of comics. He told her that for a generation or so, many American kids used to use them for book reports on classic literature. This was before the Internet and the existence of "cliff notes" (i.e. study guides used primarily in the USA).

Probably because of the way "Classics Illustrated" was used, the series was frequently reprinted and reissued, so the value of the series would vary. Naturally, first printings and full sets might be worth a fair sum of money.

After conveying to Janice what she found out about "Classics Illustrated", Red Dot Diva was told that the information have helped solve the family mystery of why Mr Wee would have owned and kept his small set of comics. They had never knew of its existence till they were sorting through his belongings.

Mr Wee was an avid reader and collector, especially of the literary classics. Janice said that he introduced several titles to her sister and her. "I remember reading an entire collection of illustrated classics - novelette sized books in black and white comic form which he introduced to me when I was young, but never knew until now about his precious collection of original comics from the fifties," said Janice.

"He had them long before I was born, before he even met my mom, whom he loved dearly. His home where I grew up in had shelves of books, with cupboards filled with comics which gave us much reading pleasure. He was a movie and entertainment buff who collected books about movies and stars through the decades, These supplemented his video library, which he'd watch time and again."

Even before Red Dot Diva knew how the "Classics Illustrated" were generally used, her friend Vernon had told her that his uncle "was a very open minded, generous man who believed in the value of reading and making reading materials - books or comics - available for children". That special connection made between the man, his choice of vocation and his collection was heartwarming.

Red Dot Diva could identify with Mr Wee's passion for books and pop-culture entertainment, although he belonged to another generation. In this day and age, he would have been hailed a geek. And an awesome and very knowledgeable one at that.

It seems that the family was still intending to sell the set so Red Dot Diva gave Janice some tips on where to get her father's bound volume of "Classics Illustrated" valued - like scouring listings on eBay and/ or heading to comic dealers. Soon after, Red Dot Diva received an email containing news that made her smile.

"I have found a home for the comics," Janice told her.

Janice's brother-in-law had decided to buy the storage space necessary to preserve Mr Wee's set of "Classics Illustrated" and probably some of his other precious collections so that their family's future generations can still read and enjoy them.

"I think that's what my dad would have wanted."

A tribute to Mr Wee for his 75th birthday

Pics credit: Janice Wee and family

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