Let's Talk Comics

Let's Talk Comics
With Rob Lamberti
Owning an Action 1 isn't all that it is cracked up to be.
It is believed about 200 exist from an original 1938 print run of about 200,000. That makes it scarce and very valuable. Remember that a 9.0-graded copy sold in 2014 for about $3.2 million.
But it's not unique.
And that may be where many collectors in the collectible comics market are inching towards: buying and selling original art used in the making of comic books and book covers, and hand-drawn items by artists.
Owning a one-of-a-kind page of art would make the collector the only person on this here green-and-blue earth to possess it.
It would be kind of like owning a Picasso or Rembrandt, no?
Okay, that might be a stretch, but the euphoria the collector experiences would be similar: “I got a Kirby. I got a Ditko, I got a (put hot artist’s name here).”
The price of the item would reflect the popularity of the artist, and much of it is sold by auction.
But buyers beware: purchase original art from a reputable dealer or auctioneer, and remain alert for counterfeits.
Sketches are probably the easiest pieces to counterfeit but pages can also be mimicked. The same applies if the collector is interested in children’s book art, poster art and movie poster art.
Also be aware there are pieces of art and pages redrawn by the original artist. It was a way for comic artists to offer legitimate copies of their original work, and make a few bucks. But it's all above board and it should be known the work is a copy of the original by the original artist.
The history of the buying and selling original art includes a controversial side. An example includes some of Jack Kirby’s original art somehow making it out of storage and onto the comic conventions’ floors and he didn't get a nickel for it.
Kirby is estimated to have drawn about 10,000 pages for Marvel between 1958 and 1970, but only about 2,100 pages were returned to him in 1987 following a round of legal battles. No one really seems to know what happened to the rest, maybe the company believed it owned it and used it to barter or to gift, maybe some pages were thrown out or lost, or maybe some walked out.
Comics great Neal Adams got DC Comics to stop destroying and trashing original artwork, as the company then believed it had no value.
Are we seeing why some of this original work from particular eras and artists is potentially worth a lot? Much of the original art from the Golden Age and a significant part of the Silver Age doesn't exist.
As artists gained control of their artwork, many sold it off to supplement their incomes. It was a niche market in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, with only the die-hard fans buying original art or sketches.
Nevertheless, the joy - and potential investment payoff - of owning a unique piece of art has been a growing field in the market. And the demand for original art is expected to grow, says Barry Sandoval, director of operations for comics and comic art for Heritage Auctions in Houston.
Sandoval says about half of Heritage’s comic-related sales is in comic art.
“In a way, that’s a more amazing development” than the recent sky-high prices reached for key comic books, he says.
That is saying a lot. Remember, a 9.0-graded Action 1 sold for more than $3.2 million in an e-Bay auction in 2014.
Sandoval says it wasn't uncommon in the ‘80s and ‘90s to find a Marvel or DC artist signing and selling single pages of his artwork during an appearance at comic shops or conventions for a few bucks. But single pages that sold for a pittance then can now auction off for tens of thousands.
“Covers could sometimes be had for $20, $30, $50 back then,” he says. “In some cases (sales), it literally could be a factor of a 1,000 for what people paid.”
Again, as in any collecting, not all original art will reap big rewards. Similar to the traditional art world, a Rembrandt would demand a higher price than a painting from an unknown.
Comic artwork by a top artist, like Will Eisner, Adams, Kirby or Ditko, would command huge prices. Expect to pay premiums for covers and front-page splashes, which are coveted more than, say, Page 10 of an 18-page story.
Sandoval says for some collectors original artwork is a shift in their goals after achieving their aims in collecting comic books.
“A lot of them transition into comic art, especially when they get to the point when they realize, ‘Well, I got a Fantastic Four 1, a Tales of Suspense 39 (first Iron Man), a Journey Into Mystery 83 (first Thor)… there are other guys out there who have the same comics, too,’’ he says.
“If you have a certain piece of art, there is a powerful satisfaction from knowing that you're only person who has it and if anybody else wants it, they have to get it from you."
He says the advantage of collecting comic books is a collector can better control the amount spent on a book, based on the grade. There are multiple copies of an issue and if a collector can't afford a high-grade book, a low-grade book is usually available within the collector’s price range.
“Yet with comic art, it's a little bit harder to do that, because everything has gotten so expensive. Usually, if a few years have past, most of these people are recouping their original sum and then some.”
For an idea of the market, Google “original comic art” and see was pops up.
1 & 2 - The Tombs of Dracula, comic book and comic art
3 & 4 - Green Lantern/Green Arrow comic book and comic art
Previous column: Santa Claus in the comics way back when
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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