Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Art Gallery Openings

Posted by Don MacPherson on March 20th, 2011

I’ve been focused on original comic art over the past few days. I’ve been thumbing through my small collection of pages, scanning through websites that sell original comic art and searching through eBay listings. I’m always keeping an eye out for affordable pages (stuff less than $100 US) from comics that I love, especially comics from my childhood years of which I have fond memories and connections.

I try to limit my original comic art purchases only to comics I own and have enjoyed, and most of my art shopping has been done at the few comics conventions I’ve attended. It’s been several years since I made it a con, and therefore, it’s been quite a while since I’ve added to my collection. Today, much more important and enjoyable priorities — namely, my wife and infant son — make it so I keep my comic-art budget at a manageable level, nil (can’t get much more manageable than that).

Still, every now and then, I look at dozens of pages online during a session at my computer desk, as was the case this weekend. I’m mindful of the fact that original comic art is a dying animal in a way, as many artists are producing their work exclusively by digital means. Furthermore, since I’m a fan of old-school comic art, it’s harder to find pages that have the lettering right on the boards, or pages that feature the work of both the penciller and inker. Furthermore, what art is out there is being viewed more and more by buyers as investments. And in many instances, I feel some artists and many dealers are placing pages at too high a premium.

The Holy Grail of comic art for me personally wouldn’t be a Jack Kirby page, a rare sample from the Golden Age of comics, or anything from such seminal works as Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns. No, I’ve always dreamed of owning a page or cover from Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. Perez has always been my favorite artist, and Crisis has always been one of my favorite comics stories. Owning an actual piece of the original work will likely never happen. Crisis pages are pricey (and understandably so). I have a Perez page from Avengers v.3, and that tides me over.

What really gets me about my collection of original art are a couple of missing pieces from two different sets in that collection.

The first comics convention I ever attended was the 1996 Chicago Comicon. I had a limited budget for shopping at the show, so I focused (foolishly, I now believe) on getting comics autographed. I did purchase a few of the first pieces in my art collection, and among them were two pages by penciller Tony Harris and inker Wade von Grawbadger. I picked up pages 5 and 6 from Starman #14 from art dealer Scott Edelman (Edit: Maybe it was Scott Eder), I believe for $50 apiece. While they don’t feature the title character (or any other recurring characters from the series), they were from a poignant scene about a young widower who finally manages to move past the pain of his loss. I absolutely love the pages (pictured below – click to see larger versions), not only for Harris’ wonderful dark, art-deco style, but for writer James Robinson’s touching script, lettered right onto the boards.

There’s one problem: the two pages are from a three-page sequence. I’m missing the first, page 4. As I recall, Edelman didn’t have that page in his inventory. Either he sold it before, or it never came into his possession. That’s entirely possible, since pages are typically split up between pencillers and inkers; as I understand it, pencillers get two thirds of the pages, and inkers get the other third.

I’ve never seen that other Starman page for sale, and if I ever did, I’d be hard-pressed to resist it. The hole in my collection — and in the lovely scene — would demand to be filled if the opportunity ever arose.

The other set of pages is from Superman #151, a 1999 comic written by Jeph Loeb, pencilled by Mike McKone and inked by Marlo Alquiza. It was the first issue in a new direction for the title; if I recall correctly, all of the Superman titles at the time got new creative teams and directions. At the 2000 Comic-Con International in San Diego, I happened upon McKone’s table in Artists Alley, and I immediately noted the large stack of original art he had for sale at the show. If memory serves, he was selling numerous pages for about $50 each. I immediately started thumbing through the stack, as I was a fan of his work. When I found pages 1 and 4 from Superman #151 (pictured below — click for larger scans), I knew I’d found the pages I was going to buy from him.

One of the reasons I love them so much is that the narration on those pages is about the business and ideals that go into publishing a daily newspaper. I’d worked as a news reporter in the past, a career I resumed after my brief time as a professional online comics journalist (for Psycomic.com and the Fandom.com incarnation of Comics Newsarama). Furthermore, it features an iconic scene, depicting Superman lifting the Daily Planet globe from a pile of rubble and returning it to its rightful place atop the Metropolis newspaper building.

I was also lucky enough to happen upon Loeb shortly after I’d purchased the pages and asked him to autograph them. Instead, surprised and excited to see the pages, he asked how I happened upon them and offered to buy them from me (for twice what I’d paid). I declined the offer, noting I never get a chance to buy original art, and Loeb obliged me with my autograph request. I also pointed him in the direction of McKone’s table, and I believe he headed in that direction soon thereafter.

As I noted before, I only bought two Superman pages from McKone, but those two were from the four-page opening sequence from the issue in question. I can’t remember if McKone had pages 2 and 3 and I passed on them for financial reasons, or if he only had pages 1 and 4 (again, maybe 2 and 3 went to the inker). I hope it’s the latter not the former, as I’d kick myself now if I learned I missed the opportunity to have the entire four-page sequence. Again, I’ve never seen those other two pages listed for sale in the years since that con.

Honestly, I can live with those two gaps in my collection. The happiness I experience from examining those pages every now and then far outweighs any regret or disappointment I have for the lack of the missing companions.

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4 Responses to “Art Gallery Openings”

  1. Blog@Newsarama - Linkarama@Newsarama Says:

    […] “I’m mindful of the fact that original comic art is a dying animal in a way, as many artists are producing their work exclusively by digital means”: Don MacPherson on collecting original comic art. […]

  2. Augie De Blieck Jr. Says:

    Small world — I bought pages 8 and 14 from McKone from that issue, likely at the same convention. They’re both relatively quiet pages of Clark and Lois in the bullpen at the Daily Planet. Sorry I can’t help you complete the sequence you’re looking for.

    I’m not sure if it was that year or the next that I picked up the first eight pages of Superman #153 from McKone, too.

    All of those pages are scanned in and on ComicArtFans.com. Search for “McKone Superman” and they’ll pop up, I’m sure.

    But I’m with you — haven’t bought a page of art in years now, mostly due to the wife and kid and mortgage. And when I do idly find myself perusing pages on eBay or ComicArtFans.com, it’s usually for artists whose work I enjoyed a decade ago. I just assume the new hot artists are out of my price league, even if I did have the money.

    If I had it all to do over again, I would have bought those $300 pages a decade ago and sold them today for a thousand or more… Baby needs a new pair of shoes!

  3. Don MacPherson Says:

    Augie wrote:
    If I had it all to do over again, I would have bought those $300 pages a decade ago and sold them today for a thousand or more… Baby needs a new pair of shoes!

    If I had to do it all over again, I would’ve bought that Man-Bat page from Batman Family #19 — my first ever comic book as a kid — for $60 instead of trying to haggle the dealer down to $30. I think he’s selling it for $100 now.

    Though for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. I might be the only person on the planet who’s interested in acquiring it. And it’s remained on the market for years since I first saw it. We’re talking like a decade here.

  4. Brock Says:

    I have only a few pages of original artwork but I too wish I had purchased more during my more bountiful discretionary spending years. My best deal and favorite, which I have framed and hanging over my desk, is a page from Sandman Mystery Theater #50 that I purchased from Guy Davis at the Motor City Con many years ago (and it was reasonable too, maybe $35 if I recall correctly). I can relate to the Man Bat obsession: I would love to have a page of art from the two-issue Man Bat series from many years ago. It was one of my first comics and still a favorite.