Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Artful Dodges

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 12th, 2014

I’ve grown more and more interested in collecting original comic art over the past couple of years, and I’m slowly gathering a collection of original pages. My budget is limited, so I’m always on the lookout for bargains. I’ve managed to land some great deals by keeping a close eye on eBay listings, and I’ve managed to pick up quite a few pages for less than $100 apiece on the auction site. In my quest for those bargains (and as part of my general interest in the hobby and market), I think I’ve managed to develop a general sense of appropriate ranges of values for many kinds of pages by various artists. So when I happened upon a listing for a Captain America page from 1992, pencilled by the late Rik Levins, I was taken aback.

The starting bid of just shy of $2,000 US was, in my experience, clearly overinflated. Levins isn’t a sought-after artist, and the page featured no major characters. Even if it depicted Cap or Wolverine (who guest-starred in the issue in question), the price seemed well beyond the page’s “real” value. Given my studying of auctions and retail listings for original comic art pages in recent years, I estimated the ceiling for the page in question would be about 10 per cent of the seller’s starting bid.

I reached out to the seller, messaging him/her on eBay, and I asked the following: “$1,900 seems quite high for a Rik Levins page from his Captain America run, and the page in question doesn’t feature a Cap appearance. Why the big price tag?” I received no response.

It’s not the only such outrageously overpriced page I’ve happened upon on eBay recently. Another seller has a page from Batman: Orpheus Rising #5 and a Fantastic Four Unlimited #3 page by Herb Trimpe in a Rob Liefeld-esque style, both listed for a Buy It Now price of $1,000. Both sellers have relisted these same pages many times, always at the same prices.

Now, both of these sellers are experienced eBayers, and their high feedback ratings would lead one to see them as reliable sellers. It’s also clear they don’t sell a lot of original comic art. The Levins page seller, birthdaybuddy, has more than 2,000 items listed for sale, but only one piece of original comic art. And intlduotrading2, the seller of the overpriced Orpheus and FF Unlimited pages, has thousands of items available, but only four of them listed under the Original Comic Art category. So it’s safe to assume original comic art isn’t exactly their area of expertise.

I have to admit, while I have a strong interest in original comic art, I’m far from an expert. Maybe my assumption about the prices being too high was off the mark, even though comparisons to similar pages by the same artists from the same titles yielded an array of significantly lower prices. So I figured I’d check in with an expert. Glen Brunswick is a comics writer of such titles as The Gray Area and Non-Humans, but he’s best known in the world of comics as a collector and seller of high-end original comic art. I emailed him links to the three eBay listings in question and asked him what he thought.

“I’m not sure I understand this myself. The only people that would purchase these pages at those prices would be those ignorant to the hobby,” he wrote in an email. “That being said, even with newbies, I doubt those pages would entice as they are not even good representative character pages by lesser artists.”

I asked Brunswick if this might be a situation arising from the quick rise in interest in original comic art, if the sellers might be simply ignorant about the market values of these pieces, or if they might be counting on the ignorance of potential buyers. He had a theory about the sellers’ approach.

“I guess the idea is to throw these pages out at very high prices and hope that someone makes them an offer at a price that’s still much higher than their value,” Brunswick wrote. “I know with the high-end material, collectors can be reluctant to throw out a sale price even if they want to move a thing because with the recent increase in prices they’re afraid they might under-price themselves and leave some money on the table. Maybe this is an extension of that thinking at the very low end.”

I have to believe there’s at least some ignorance playing a role here. The listing for the Orpheus page refers to it as “original comic strip art.” Anyone with any experience in comic art would know it’s comic book art, not strip art. Text in the Levins page listing incorrectly identifies it as being from issue #44 rather than #404 of the series. And the Orpheus Rising listing makes no mention of the artists (penciller Dwayne Turner and inker Danny Miki). The sellers in question also offer certificates of authenticity, which seems rather pointless for pages such as these. If someone were going to put counterfeits pages on the market, low-end pages such as these certainly wouldn’t be the best way to capitalize on such a scam.

If the sellers know their prices are overinflated, there’s little risk they’ll be able to empty someone’s wallet with these listings, Brunswick said.

“Bottom line, they’re not going to sell unless this happens to be someone’s very first comic and has a nostalgic attachment,” he wrote.

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One Response to “Artful Dodges”

  1. Don MacPherson Says:

    Addendum: Here are links to a couple of Rik Levins galleries on the websites of a couple of the better-known original art dealers. Each features comparable pages from Cap #404:

    Romitaman’s Levins listings

    Anthony Snyder’s Levins listings

    It doesn’t take much research to find appropriate values for a Levins Cap page.