Let's Talk Comics

Let's Talk Comics
With Rob Lamberti
There's only one thing on Earth that is more complicated than quantum physics: Figuring out Collector’s Illustrated comic editions.
It's a subject I have been putting off writing because, well, E=MC squared makes for breakfast reading compared to determining a CI edition. It's downright mind-boggling and makes one’s knees quake.
But it is an important topic because editions that look alike aren't necessarily the same and values can vary greatly. Some issues were reprinted often - such as War of the Worlds - while others only had a few printings.
CI comics are among the most popular because they not only attract collectors who love the art and artists, but also people who want to avoid reading a classic novel. Or maybe they are truly loved because they do tell a classic tale.
Why read The Moonstone when the comic will do? The Moonstone, in fact, was the first CI I read, followed by the Man in the Iron Mask, and the Count of Monte Cristo. My family brought home a copy of the War of the Worlds for me as a gift, but of course they overpaid. The comic was priced for an earlier edition. (Don't tell ‘em. It's the thought that counts.)
Albert L. Kanter, the brains behind Gilberton Co., believed the comic book form would be a great way to link children with the classics. By the 1950s, CI was booming while other comic companies floundered and some vanished.
Another point, as pointed out in the Overstreet Price Guide, is that CI titles were marketed as books rather than comics and the line expanded to include international editions of Classics Illustrated, and CI Junior, CI Special Issue and the World Around Us.
Initially called Classic Comics, the first comic was The Three Musketeers, published in October 1941. It had 64 pages and would eventually be reprinted for the 23rd time in the spring of 1971.
The price difference of near mint copies between the two editions is about $8,400 and there's about a $475 spread between the two editions in good condition. That emphasizes why it's important to have at least a rudimentary understanding of telling the editions apart.
While some editions were mere reprints of earlier editions, others had their artwork updated and cover art moved from line drawn works to painted covers.
The first step in identifying the print edition of a CI is to know the comic’s Highest Reorder Number, or HRN. It is the highest number of the reorder list that is found on the back cover.
Let's look at that War of the Worlds, CI 124, comic my family got me for more that it was worth. The indicia states it was printed in October 1954, but as a collector, never rely on the publication date, as Gilberton often didn't change it.
However, on the back cover, there is a checklist of all the comics published to date by CI and the last number 165, is The Queen’s Necklace. So the full number of this version of the War of the Worlds should read 124 (HRN 165).
The next step is to look up CI 124 in the price guide and we'll find that the War of the Worlds had a total of 11 editions. Looking for the HRN numbers listed, mine is revealed as the sixth printing, the most valuable of the reprints in near mint. Huh, who knew? But mine is in good/very good condition, worth about $3 retail.
Determining original editions is a task and a half.
Originals have an ad indicating only what is coming next, not a checklist like on the back cover of my War of the Worlds.
But of course there are always exceptions to very complicated complications and please rely on the Overstreet Price Guide for guidance. In a nutshell, there are three rules and a number of exceptions.
The first rule is only originals have ads announcing the next issue. The exceptions are that CI 14 (HRN 15), Westward Ho!, has a coming next ad, along with CI 55 (HRN 75) Silas Marner, and CI 57 (75) The Song of Hiawatha, all second editions, have coming next ads. Both CI 168 and 169 don't have these ads.
The second rule is the originals between CI 1 and CI 80 have 10-cent covers, except for reprints CIs 37 (HRN 62), 39 (HRN 71) and 46 (HRN 62) have 10-cent covers.
The third rule is all originals have an HRN close to the title’s issue number. And the exceptions are (drum roll, please) CIs 58 (HRN 62), 60 HRN (62), 149 (149), 153 (HRN 149) and titles between 160 and 169.
There are also 82 foreign editions in various collections and some are very collectible, particularly the Dr. No issue, CI 158A. Brazilian versions boast 80 titles not on the American list.
The Canadian editions, started in 1946, have 15-cent covers and an HRN between 44 and 75. Also check the publisher’s address in the indicia.
Some collectors just want a cheap copy to read, others want to collect the line drawing covers or the painted covers. Interior artwork was regularly updated to keep up with the times or to match the reduced number of pages of later editions. Later editions, particularly the 25-cent editions, were also bound with stiff covers as opposed to glossy paper.
There is a resistance by buyers to plunk down more than a couple of bucks for these comics. Many have a tough time reconciling market values for early editions and the scarcity of some of these comics with their memories of reading them when they were kids.
It's hard to find a high grade CI. They were very well read.
The same reluctance to spend big bucks also applies to other once common titles like Sad Sack, Casper the Friendly Ghost and Archie, where early editions are truly valuable and tough to come by in higher grades.
Now that this lesson is done, let me get back to studying works about frame-dragging of space-time around rotating bodies. You know, simple stuff …
Next column: Romance comics
Let's Talk Comics with Rob Lamberti, who started collecting comics when the going price was 12 cents an issue and Peter Parker really was a teenager. He dabbled in the comic convention circuit in the Toronto area for a while, but stopped to concentrate on his career as a not-so-mild- mannered crime reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, where he hoped he managed to record a little bit of history the past three decades.
You can reach Rob at lamberti@cogeco.ca
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