November 22, 2019

Comic book or graphic novel? Expert on Classics Illustrated comic books compares two comic book versions of ‘The House of the Seven Gables’

by Felicia Cheney

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The cover of the Classics Illustrated adaptation of “The House of the Seven Gables.”

SALEM — It seems people just can’t get enough of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The House of the Seven Gables.” Hollywood made two movie adaptations of the novel while Albert Kanter, co-founder of the once wildly popular Classics Illustrated comic books, made two comic book adaptations of the novel, one in 1947 and another in 1958. 

“Classics Illustrated was ahead of its time in many ways,” says Jack Butterworth, who has amassed one of the largest collections of comic art in New England. The expert and long-time collector will speak at The House of the Seven Gables on Sunday, December 1, at 2 p.m. He plans to bring some of the original art from Classics Illustrated editions of “The House of the Seven Gables,” “Kidnapped” and “Toilers of the Sea,” among others.

General admission to Butterworth’s presentation is $10, with members admitted free of charge. Meet in the Visitor Center, The House of the Seven Gables, 115 Derby St., Salem. Some parking is available. Those interested in attending may email or call 978-306-7003. Tickets are available here:

Butterworth has a lot of praise for the creativity and ingenuity of the founders. “Al Kanter deserves credit for putting out the first graphic novels in America.” He did it as a way to make some of the classics more accessible to young readers, especially boys. “Kanter was also among the first of the comic book publishers to hire women as editors, writers, and artists. They published the first horror comics, as well.”

In fact, says Butterworth, the first version of “The House of the Seven Gables” comic book had a bit of a horror feel to it, with the specter of Matthew Maule hovering, silent and ghost-like, in the shadows of many a frame. Over the years, parents began to object to the element of horror and Kanter moved away from gratuitous horror in the classics series and created a series specifically for horror. The second version of the comic book novel, says Butterworth, “was like night and day.” Where the first book was drawn with a darker palette, the second was brightly lit, far more colorful and devoid of brooding specters. The 1958 version was also more authentic and closer to the original story line.

Butterworth is more than a collector and expert. He once wrote comic books himself. In his adaptation of a story by Ambrose Bierce, “I used his words, but I arranged them and figured out how to illustrate them,” he says. And like Bierce, Butterworth, until recently, worked as a journalist.

“Kanter saw comic books as a type of reading,” says Butterworth. “He hoped the comic books would be a gateway to reading the actual novel.” Butterworth recalls his powerful response to the Classics Illustrated adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” which he read as a young boy. “Dickens never hated his villains as much as they deserved to be hated. There’s always that moment when you, as a reader, realized that the villain could have gone another way, been something else. I remember that. It meant something to me. The graphic stories young people read today can mean something to them, as well. That’s what stories are about. That’s why we love them.”

Click here for tickets.

About The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association and its mission

Vision: To preserve, share and continue the American Story.

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