Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

The Con of the Art

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 3rd, 2012

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 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.

Glen Brunswick“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.”

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8 Responses to “The Con of the Art”

  1. AndrewI Says:

    Very interesting stuff – thanks Don – I really hope you keep this sort of article going.

  2. Aussiesmurf Says:

    I have to say, that in my (layman’s) opinion, buying a fake impacts upon the speculator far more than the person buying for their own enjoyment. If you are buying an original sketch to hang on your wall because you like it, then the original provenance is surely only marginal to your artistic enjoyment??

    Sorry if this sounds muddled – I’m just reading a book about art forgers who were good enough to fake styles of artists such as Vermeer that people, even after a confession, wouldn’t accept that they were forgeries…

  3. Daniel Best Says:

    And this is why I almost always buy directly from the artist these days. I’d say that 85% of my Breyfogle collection comes from Norm himself, and 90% of my Dave Simons collection was obtained directly from Dave.

    Buying on-line these days is fraught with danger, especially for those, like myself, who live outside of America.

  4. PortlandDude Says:

    This article kicked off a new hobby for me! I’ve always been a comic book fan – Marvel super heroes as a young teen, only to rediscover the fun of reading comic books decades later through titles like Planetary, Fables, Lucifer, etc. When I was a kid, I was just blown away by George Perez. This article opened my eyes to the possibility of owning some of his original art. I was never interested in commissioned art, but to own actual original published panels – how cool would that be?!

    Anyway, I have since bought a nice two-page spread featuring the Black Panther just as he’s encountering Ultron in the Volume 3 version of the Avengers penciled by George Perez. Here’s where I have to differ from Aussiesmurf. For me it is very important to look at that art and know it came directly from George. A copy would hold no real value to me, just as a flawless photocopy would be meaningless. I’ve also acquired a favorite panel by John Cassaday from Planetary and an FF 1234 piece by Jae Lee.

    I’ve had so much fun starting this collection. It’s costly, so will have to pace myself, but so cool. I’m now massing my resources to try and acquire a special piece of original comic art from Perez from the 70′s, from a book he drew that caused me to first fall in love with comics. Thanks Don, for opening my eyes to collecting original comic art!

  5. Bubbah Says:

    Aussiesmurf wrote:
    “I have to say, that in my (layman’s) opinion, buying a fake impacts upon the speculator far more than the person buying for their own enjoyment. If you are buying an original sketch to hang on your wall because you like it, then the original provenance is surely only marginal to your artistic enjoyment??”

    Sorry, but your layman’s opinion is just silly. Why not just buy a photocopy then? I buy a Kirby page because that is a guy I grew up with and I want to own something actually by him and I like the page. And if I plunk down $3,000, I want it to be real. It has nothing do with “speculation.” If I do ultimately need to sell it later, even if I never expected to make a profit or even totally break even, I don’t want to lose $2,990 on the sale because it was atually drawn by soeone tracing a Kirby page. Not wanting to pay big bucks for something that is worthless is hardly speculation. And even if someone is speculating, is it OK to rip them off?

  6. ashrael Says:

    I don’t trust codec561.

    I purchased a page from him 14 months ago on eBay and he marked the page is shipped. A month later I still had not received it and contacted him. He said he had shipped it, but said it must have been lost and immediately refunded my money. At the time I thought, “wow, this is great service for someone to trust me like that and immediately refund it.” Fast forward 10 months and the page pops again for sale by codec561, this time for twice what I paid. I messaged him about it, but he did not get a response. Currently the page is once again listed, this time for what I originally paid for it.

    Also, he fails to mention when blue line copies are used, instead of pencils.

  7. Brian Says:

    Quoting from the article:
    “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”

    This is a trend that I think will increase as time goes on. All the more reason why I collect CGC-authenticated sketches.

  8. KM Says:

    Quoting from the article:
    “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.”

    This is absolutely not true. Many people including myself believe that this is the best way to determine the true market value of a given piece art on a particular day. It’s also a common way to determine how to price artwork if you are selling multiple similar examples.

    The best way to spur action at the end of an auction to get as many people involved as possible. This means as many bids early on in the auction- which is best facilitated by the lowest starting price. The early bids are only meaningful if the piece is sure to sell- hence 99 cents and no reserve, aka buck and gone.

    BTW, I have sold original comic artwork both on and off ebay since the mid-90s comprised of thousands of pieces at this point, including large collections for three estates, for myself and on commission, covering pretty much every major artist pre-2000.