Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

For Sale: The Ruins of Comico

Posted by Don MacPherson on November 29th, 2010

Comico: The Comic Company was something of a publishing force in the comic-book market in the 1980s. Though perhaps little more than footnote in industry history now, it was noteworthy for the talent and properties it fostered. Perhaps best known as the home of the Robotech licence at the time, it was also noteworthy as the original home of Matt Wagner’s Mage and Grendel, as well as Bill Willingham’s The Elementals. Among its editing talent are two of the most respected figures in comics today: Bob Schreck, formerly of Dark Horse, DC and IDW; and Dark Horse’s Diana Schutz.

I was browsing the original comic art auctions on eBay the other day, and I happened upon an unusual listing dealing specifically with Comico’s history.

The seller, identified by the eBay user ID coyotesurplus, describes the lot of material thusly:

HUGE collection of proofs, color separation & color key printing cells, art copy, original artwork, comic books, graphic novels, posters and advertising items. THOUSANDS OF ITEMS. Collection from the founder of Comico Comic Book Company.

[snip]

Approximately 95% of this collection consists of THOUSANDS of color separation sheets/printing proofs. These are the original acetate sheets or “3-Ms” used to print the comic books. Many sheets have multiple pages on them. The rest of the collection is a mix of artwork, splash sheets, promo pieces, graphic samples, posters, signs, et al. Mostly all of the collection is from the 1980s.


THIS IS A MASSIVE AMOUNT OF MATERIAL. THE STACK OF ACETATE SHEETS IS ABOUT 3′ X 4′ X 8′ TALL AND WEIGHS IN THE THOUSANDS OF POUNDS.

The listing — which isn’t really an auction as it carries only a Buy It Now option for $12,000 and a Best Offer option — goes on to provide contact information and promises potential buyers the chance to view the lot in person in Pennsylvania. Furthermore, coyotesurplus has a solid eBay rating: 100 per cent positive feedback with more than 2,000 transactions. Given the description of the lot, though, whether it’s worth $12,000 is another issue.

I contacted the seller through eBay for information about how he came into possession of this material from Comico, which went bankrupt in 1990.

“Comico was located down the road from us in Norristown, PA. Following the bankruptcy, we had the opportunity to assist in the liquidation of some of the inventory. We became friends with the former owners who in turn used our warehouses to store their assets. The color separation sheets need to be moved — taking up too much space!,” the seller answered.

“We listed them to test the market and get an idea of demand. Most people seem interested in the associated artwork such as the splash sheets and sketches. Does not appear to be too much demand for the acetate color separation sheets. We are hesitant to just sell the artwork. We need to move the entire lot because we need the room. We specialize in paper, books, photos and art. This particular lot has been with us for sometime.”

The response was signed by “Greg.” A quick online search of the telephone number listed in the eBay description revealed it’s associated with Gregory J. Lignelli II of Phoenixville, PA.

Schutz said Monday that Comico’s policy was to return all original artwork to artists.

“If any of the original art up for sale on eBay is part of the stuff that ‘disappeared’ when Comico folded in 1990, then that art was not Comico’s, legally, to sell. That art was in Comico’s hands for reproduction purposes only, and should have been returned to the rightful owners — the artists, that is — at the time of bankruptcy,” she wrote in an email.

“The only original art that Comico should have sold off would be artwork that had been gifted to the owners of the company. I hope that’s what Mr. Lignelli has in his possession and not the art that was never returned to its rightful owners 20 years ago.”

The Comico auction is slated to end midday Dec. 3.

Addendum: One of Comico’s original partners has sounded off on his blog about the material available for sale and some Comico history.

Thanks to Jamie S. Rich for his assistance with this report.

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11 Responses to “For Sale: The Ruins of Comico”

  1. Comics A.M. | Kirby/Marvel copyright fight continues, John D’Agostino dies | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment Says:

    [...] to the rightful owners — the artists, that is — at the time of bankruptcy,” Schutz said. [Eye on Comics] [...]

  2. Atomic Kommie Comics Says:

    What the eBay listing describes appears to be production art (photostats, xeroxes, etc) and printer’s proofs (3-Ms, chromalins, acetates) and possibly film negatives used for printing, not penciled/inked original art.

    That stuff was/is the property of Comico, since it was created in-house during the course of book production after the original art was photographed. (This was pre-digital reproduction material).

    If Comico’s principals have abandoned the material, it can be sold like any other abandoned property in a public storage warehouse.

    (Of course, no actual reproduction rights are being sold, only the ownership of the physical property.)

  3. Don MacPherson Says:

    Atomic wrote:
    What the eBay listing describes appears to be production art (photostats, xeroxes, etc) and printer’s proofs (3-Ms, chromalins, acetates) and possibly film negatives used for printing, not penciled/inked original art.

    Actually, you’re mistaken — at least when it comes to what the listing describes. It specifically mentions that the lot includes “original art.” The seller confirmed in his message to me that original art and sketches are in the lot.

  4. Vince Argondezzi Says:

    From a new blog on Comics and Media:

    What’s Next,Man:

    Comico Clarifycations Part One: It goes something like this: (This will be extremely deliniated this spring which I join the “redo” of so many other Comico folks and and throw my hat in for another new studio and media house; I’m also going to start my own look back at these halcyon (did I spell that right Diana?)days also.)

    Anyway, here goes: Phil and I decided to start a comic company back in high school, WAY back in the mid-to late seventies. This was partly because we were the “artists” of each of our respective grade schools, and, just as the motor heads of each school bragged and dared each other in study and lunch hall, and the jocks did, and the studs did, et al, so did the artists.Phil was the appointed artist from St Pats. I was the appointed artist from St Francis. And of course, there were other grade schools. All the other kids in your clic would dare you ” you can draw better than the artist of THAT school! Draw a horse, Vinny! Draw a Corvette, Vinny!” And of course, way at the other end of the table, Phils’ pals would egg him on, and then everyone would compare notes,and leer at each other, but actually it was a way of sorting each other out; kinda like the Lord of the Flies, but a little more civil…It was great! You were a champion for your peers, a warrior for the pride and honor of your “home team”.

    This happened, as I said, in the early grades of high school; for those unfamilar with Catholic school, you have eight years of grade school and four years of high school.There’s no ‘middle school”. So as the months go by, thru freshman and sophomore years, each grade school becomes one school. It’s an incredible socialogical metamorphosis; in our case, the school was Bishop Kenrick in East Norriton. Phil and I became good friends, and would hang out during the summer months, with the “second string” artist for St Pats, Aaron Keaton, who had almost as many comics then as he has guitars now. This was the late seventies, and of course, the only thing on my mind, and Phil’s mind, was getting into comics. How? I had a bit of an edge on speed over Phil, who really had cornered the Mad magazine thing, with Don Martin and Spy vs Spy, etc. But the superheroes were mine, and I would not stop sending samples out.I still have the letters to prove it.Everyone would be amazed that, at sixteen, when they were getting just form letters back for the sample they sent out, I was getting these great, encouraging personal signed letters from John Romita(Sr, the Jr had not gotten started yet), and Marie Severin, and others. I have treasured these things, because they helped not only in my comics work but also in commercial art and illustration; that kindness that they showed me will never be forgotten.

    And it helped the proto Comico, too, since that would really excite us, and motivate us. And, although there is MUCH more I am going to say about EVERYTHING, I don’t want to miss the Basics. For, after a certain point, when I say “us”, perhaps it is time to introduce you to the third important element of what would become, actually, a quartet, and more, of the energetic, crazy, very talented people that helped reshape comics into what we know them as today.

    That’s Next, Man…

  5. Rick Taylor Says:

    It’s reassuring to hear the same lecturing tone railing to anyone who will listen after 20 years.

    What’s it going to change?

    Real concern might result in some sort of legal action on behalf the artists.

    However, it’s been my experience it’s always been easier for folks to complain and appear effective rather than actually DO something about the situation…

  6. Don MacPherson Says:

    Rick, to whose comments are you referring? Mine? Mr. Argondezzi’s?

  7. Atomic Kommie Comics Says:

    Don sez…
    Actually, you’re mistaken — at least when it comes to what the listing describes. It specifically mentions that the lot includes “original art.” The seller confirmed in his message to me that original art and sketches are in the lot.

    Actually, I’m not. The description on eBay sez…”Approximately 95% of this collection consists of THOUSANDS of color separation sheets/printing proofs.” Of the remaining five per cent, judging from the photos, a good chunk are stats, xeroxes, and hand-colored color guides. There may well be a number of actual pen & ink on Bristol board pieces in there, but not that many. Did the seller specify how many?

    With all the problems Comico had, returning originals to artists didn’t seem to be one of them. How many pages are currently considered or listed stolen or missing? Most of the artists who worked for Comico are still in the business to one extent or another.

    I see Next Man co-creator Vince Argondezzi has spoken. (And best of luck on the webcomix, Vince). Anyone else?

  8. Rick Taylor Says:

    Don – Neither…

    If there is original art involved it looks like some Bill Willingham covers towards the end-run of the Elementals. Having been there as art director at the ‘end’ of things that’s all I recall being around as most if not all of the books that didn’t see print were returned and saw print elsewhere. Not sure what was meant by ‘disappeared. The Late Phil LaSorda had myself, and Shelly Roeberg-Bond return the things that would not see print by his incarnation of COMICO .By selling the Elementals to Andrew Rev, Mr. Willigham set the deathblow to COMICO in motion. Not sure whether he was looking for them to be returned.

    It looks like most of the pieces are paste-up ads(we pre-dated computer layouts) old ‘color key’ proofs that were in the basement of the original location along with a ton of printed books.

    So the assertion that there’s a lot of unreturned art in the grouping is pretty much false.

  9. Don MacPherson Says:

    Rick wrote:
    So the assertion that there’s a lot of unreturned art in the grouping is pretty much false.

    No one’s made that assertion. I only inquired where this material came from, and others have pointed out that if there’s original art in the batch, it’s a bit unusual in that Comico’s policy was to return art to artists.

  10. Don MacPherson Says:

    Atomic wrote:
    Of the remaining five per cent, judging from the photos, a good chunk are stats, xeroxes, and hand-colored color guides. There may well be a number of actual pen & ink on Bristol board pieces in there, but not that many.

    “Not that many” pieces of original art doesn’t equal “none.” I didn’t suggest there was a lot of originals in the batch (neither really does the eBay listing). The listing does specifically mention there are some.

    So yes, your earlier statement was mistaken. :)

  11. acespot Says:

    Interesting that 2 offers were made against the original listing price of $12,000, yet both were declined.
    No offers were made on the relist price of $5,000.
    And the lot is back up again, this time with an asking price of $3,500.
    Act now and it could all be yours!!