Thursday, May 23, 2024

Trajectory, the Cambridge company that owns the Classics Illustrated series, released the 123-comic series last week to the Apple iBookstore, with books for younger kids at $1.99 and those for older kids at $4.99.

The Classics Illustrated library of great novels in comics form — lifesavers for generations of kids running short on time to get through “The Last of the Mohicans” or “Jane Eyre” or who don’t like to read — date back to the 1940s. Now a new generation can read them on the high-resolution Retina displays of iPhones and iPads borrowed from their parents.

Trajectory, the Cambridge company that owns the Classics Illustrated series, released the 123-comic series last week to the Apple iBookstore, with books for younger kids at $1.99 and those for older kids at $4.99.

“The publishing industry is in complete turmoil right now, but it’s never more fun to enter into a new space than when there’s confusion and the pieces of the puzzle need to be put together again,” said Jim Bryant, Trajectory’s chief executive. The starting point was Stephen Huneck’s “Sally” series, about a black lab that has adventures, which took Trajectory to the top of Barnes & Noble’s e-book sales with “Sally Goes to the Beach.”

“We looked beyond ‘Sally’ at trying to identify an iconic series that would represent tools kids could use for learning or just entertainment,” Bryant said. Another goal presented itself as well: matching Amazon’s announcement in October of an exclusive partnership with DC Comics.

“We found a series that fill the shelves pretty quickly and had relevancy,” Bryant said, recalling how the idea of marketing the comics emerged during a caravan of Trajectory workers for a trip to the Vermont mountains. The epiphany came when another executive mentioned how he’d been helping his 80-year-old father move some items and found copies of the classic comics in a closet.

Tracking down the rights “took a fair amount of research,” Bryant said, and it’s easy to see why: Toronto’s Jack Lake Productions published the comics as recently as 2008, but a Chicago company called First Classics Inc. was boasting in August about buying the rights from California-based Frawley Corp. In short, ownership was a mess. Bryant said the rights holder was indeed in Toronto, and that negotiations took a couple of weeks — a fraction of the six months the company has spent building out the technological infrastructure for downloads of its books across the various services and sites.

Now the need is to catch the attention of the kids who’ll read the comics on their parents’ iPhones or iPads and “the huge following of classic comics from older people who read them when they were young,” Bryant said.

Craig Gardner, manager of Harvard Square comic shop The Million Year Picnic, is a skeptic.

“They were the Cliff’s Notes of the day, a good way to read something without reading it. And they’re fun adaptations, they are — Heaven knows I read all the science fiction ones when I was 8 and 9,” Gardner said. “My own feeling about the app is that it doesn’t sound particularly exciting.  It’s a different world now than it was. I don’t know if kids will go and follow this.”

“The median age of comic book readers has gone from being middle school and high school to late high school and college and beyond. Kids really aren’t reading comics that much anymore, and I think this will necessarily get them back to reading comics,” Gardner said.

Trajectory is willing to bet they are. Especially as it’s standard parental practice to distract a child with a phone or tablet during a shopping trip or car ride, Bryant said: “Parents indeed are trying to educate their children, and [can do it by ] handing them their phone that will have an illustrated comic on it … for a child that can already read, the Classics Illustrated editions are perfect.”

It’s too early to tell the most popular titles from the Classics Illustrated digital bookshelf (some are already doing well via Barnes & Noble), but Bryant had some guesses.

“‘The War of the Worlds,’ ‘The Three Musketeers,’ ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,’ these are all really iconic stories that are timeless,” Bryant said. “It’ll be fun to watch as we introduce these in new channels to see which titles are preferred in each.”

Trajectory , formed in October, has a staff of 12 publishing veterans based at 1 Broadway, Kendall Square.