Super-hero comics artist Aaron Lopresti made an interesting and disconcerting discovery late last month when browsing through listings on eBay. He happened upon an online auction for a piece of original comic art he’d crafted — the cover for New X-Men #19 (2005), featuring the characters Magik and Hellion. The seller described the piece as being pencilled and inked by Lopresti and as being “published original art on 11×17 comic art board.”
There was just one problem. Lopresti knew the seller didn’t have the piece in question because he still had it.
The eBay seller’s handle is codec561. He didn’t respond to an inquiry from Eye on Comics about the disputed nature of the New X-Men cover.
It’s interesting to note the eBay listing notes the piece is pencilled and inked by Lopresti, but information online indicates the cover was inked by Norm Rapmund. Furthermore, the art carries both Lopresti’s and Rapmund’s signatures (even on the black-and-white scan included with the auction listing).
Lopresti got to the bottom of things. He said the eBay seller had apparently planned to purchase the cover in question from the artist directly and decided to list it for sale before the deal was finalized, before he paid for it and before he had it in his possession.
“He claims he had a verbal agreement to buy, but my seller in this instant denies that is true. More than likely what happened is the guy was trying to sell it before he bought it so he could then pay for it,” said Lopresti, whose latest project — Sword and Sorcery from DC — gets underway with its zero issue this month.
“I did email him and he did finally get back to me … I don’t think the guy is a criminal. I just think he made a poor decision and is unwilling to admit it or apologize because he is trying to save face.”
Comic artist Terry Beatty pointed out another potential original comic art scam in a Facebook post as well in late August. He spotlighted this auction, promising a color illustration of Superman by his co-creator Joe Shuster. Beatty also directed his followers’ attention to another auction listing: a lot of Shuster drawings that included the same one in the recent eBay auction.
There were a lot of warning signs to be found with that auction. First is the fact the seller had a zero eBay rating. Furthermore, he started the auction off at 99 cents, with no reserve — something of a ludicrous approach if one were selling an illustration by one of the men responsible one of the most iconic characters in all of fiction.
Glen Brunswick, a comics writer and collector of high-end original comic art, said artist sketches are the easiest to fake and there’s no shortage of counterfeits available online.
“Sketches are the easiest to counterfeit. Secondary artists use sketches to practise their skills all the time — this leads to quite a lot of product in the market that isn’t legit. The only way to be sure with a sketch is if the artist draws it directly for the buyer. Generally speaking as an investment, I’d stay away from sketches,” he wrote.
Counterfeiting isn’t limited to sketches or even lower-priced original comic art pages, said Brunswick, who recently launched a blog dedicated to high-end original comic art and an original art location service.
“There was a Kirby Avengers #1 page that was a copy — thankfully not a great copy — at San Diego this year, and a dealer who was working with very little sleep almost bought it from a legit collector who claimed they didn’t know it was a fake,” he said, noting the explosion of comic art in the marketplace lately has led to more counterfeiting.
“I think the recent high value of these pieces has brought more fakes into the market. I worry that in time, the counterfeiters will figure out how to do it better — match paper, markings, etc. I know do a few restorers who have the knowledge to fool even expert collectors … A good restorer can fake a large art board — they can add the proper markings and color it to look older.”
There are steps collectors can take to protect themselves. Brunswick said first and foremost, one must compare the linework on the original piece to the published artwork.
“There are exceptions to this because editorial sometimes made changes on a stated cover that you might not have — an in-between stage that changed the image from original drawing to published image,” he said.
“You need to look out for these things and it’s not always easy. On the other hand, the line may be so far off that you can tell there is no way that the original in your hands was ever related to the published piece. You also want to look for a company date stamp on the back of the art that tells when the art was shot by the printer for publication.”
Educating oneself about the tools of the trade from past eras can help collectors avoid pitfalls as well.
“For older material — let’s say ’60s twice-up (large-sized) Marvel art covers — they tend to be on Bristol board from a company called Curtiss Way. Late ’60’s small-size and ’70s boards are by World Color. As a collector you need to educate yourself by getting a sense of what these authentic boards tend to look like.”
I would’ve thought the number of high-end (five figures and up) art collectors would be somewhat limited and that it would likely have formed a fairly tight-knit community. Brunswick’s stories in his original art blog certainly seem to reflect that. As such, I imagined the ability for a counterfeit of a high-end page to be restricted since there would be an established provenance for a lot of those pages. But such is not necessarily the case, Brunswick said. He suggested the original comic art trade needed to develop an authenticity program.
“I always am concerned with this type of question. I have to wonder who to protect — the new buyer that needs basic information or the veteran buyer who buys high end material,” he said. “What I mean here is if I give enough information to protect the new buyer I worry that I also enable the counterfeiter to manufacture better copies that might fool the veteran collector.”
Brunswick’s interest in and focus on original comic art are firmly entrenched in more expensive, high-end pieces of art. He said he’s not as well versed in the trade of more affordable pieces of original art. His advice for such pieces remains the same, but he noted the risk for sketches and lower-priced pages isn’t as high.
“I have to say, the good news at the low end is if it does turn out fake, you haven’t lost that much. Also, there is less incentive for someone with knowledge to create a fake at the low end — it doesn’t pay off like the high end does and requires the same amount of work to create the fake,” he said, and he encouraged those starting out or those with limited budgets to take the plunge (while also being cautious).
“If you like it and it’s cheap, then there’s no reason not to buy it. If it turns out to be a fake, you haven’t lost that much.”
Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.