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Scott’s Classic Comics Corner: S is for Shakespeare

Shakespeare has made quite an impact in comic books, ranging from the classic ‘S is for Shakespeare’ panel from World’s Finest #186, to the numerous Hamlet inspired covers. This week, I’ll be taking a look as some lesser known Shakespeare related comic books:

Let’s start with Classics Illustrated. This long-running series published by Gilberton featured no fewer than five Shakespeare adaptations: A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. I’m not a huge fan of Classics Illustrated, but I do find them to be quite fascinating as a historical artifact. I really prefer the versions with painted covers. Of the five adaptations, I’d say that Macbeth is my favourite as the battle scenes are quite decent and I dig the portrayal of the three witches. These books are not terribly expensive, especially ones with higher HRNs. The Classics Illustrated rip-off series Stories by Famous Authors Illustrated also adapted Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Hamlet in the early 50s.

A good example of a fun Shakespeare inspired tale can be found in ACG’s Adventures Into the Unknown #41 (March, 1953). In this story, a young director is determined to put on Hamlet. The only problem is that the theatre is haunted by a ghost who kills anyone attempting to stage a production of Hamlet. The brave director cuts a deal with the ghost and before you know it the audience is applauding the high ‘spirited’ production.

Another fun Shakespearean tale can be found in Gold Key’s Grimm’s Ghost Stories #25 (August, 1975). In my opinion, this is a very underrated series and most issues feature at least one enjoyable story. The cover story here is By the Bones of Shakespeare, a tale involving the Bard himself, or at least his remains. The great thing about Gold Key books in the 70s is that you never really know what talented creators you might find between the covers. This story was written by the great Arnold Drake, who was turning in scripts in almost every genre for Gold Key back then. The artwork is by a young José Luis García-López.

Superman #44 (January, 1947) features a very strange tale in which Clark Kent and Lois Lane are accidentally zapped back into Shakespearean times. When Superman rescues the captured Lois Lane, Harry Stafford’s goons are shocked to discover that neither ‘cudgel nor sharp steel’ could harm him. This is an absolutely nutty story, with Shakespeare himself solving the Clark Kent/Superman mystery in about 30 seconds. Superman recounts the story of Macbeth and convinces Shakespeare to use that plot instead of writing a play about Superman. I am not making this up.

House of Mystery #277 (February, 1980) features my all-time favourite Shakespeare inspired story. Gordy Muldaur is a struggling actor is encouraged by his girlfriend Claudia to make a deal with a shadowy figure. Before you know it, Gordy is the toast of the town and Claudia is along for the ride. Gordy starts to get a little too intense and, by the end, Claudia certainly wishes she hadn’t got the gig as Desdemona to Gordy’s Othello. It’s a terrific tale written by Bob Kanigher and Martin Pasko with moody artwork by the team of Howard Chaykin and Allen Milgrom.

There are plenty more nods to Shakespeare out there, so keep your eyes peeled. In the meantime, stop by my blog for more funnybook talk: Seduction of the Indifferent.

8 Comments

This is too new to fall under the scope of your column, but the early 90s “Classics Illustrated” had an adaptation of Hamlet with amazing art by Tom Mandrake.

It takes covers like that one to remind me how classy and upmarket the trade dress for Gold Key was. The title is essentially a horror book, and it has all manner of classical murder transpiring on the cover, but it’s a painted cover with actual typography and the use of the portrait of Shakespeare that makes it look more like a paperback novel than a comic. I mean it’s still disposable pulp fiction but it’s notably less lurid. And its dramatic and effective. I’ve always loved the covers to their horror and suspense books. Their Twilight Zone book had covers like this all the time.

That Ditko cover is a stunner.

If Superman told “Macbeth” to Shakespeare, and Shakespeare wrote it down so Superman could eventually read it, then who originated the story?!

Rob — you just blew my @#%$^#ing mind!!!!

In the mid 90s, when I think it was Valiant/Acclaim that was reprinting Classics Illustrated, the Midsummer Night’s Dream was reprinted with a beautiful cover by either Richard Case or Richard Pace. I hang my head in shame for not remembering which of these fine artists it was.

Sorry I hadn’t seen this earlier, Scott. Hadn’t known about any of these but the CI issues. If I may, please let em add two issues of The Sandman, #s 19 and 75 (the final issue) which are classics themselves; “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Tempest.” Shakespeare is the protagonist in both. The first won a prestigious World SF prize for short stories, after which comic book stories were no longer allowed as entries. Both are exemplars of Neil Gaiman’s love of language and Shakespeare and in moments of glory and melancholy, reveal the price exacted of storytellers.

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