The market for original comic art, commissioned comic art and sketches by noted professionals in the medium has exploded in recent years. Pieces that were once valued at less than $100 are now selling for hundreds more. Four- and five-figure prices for sought-after art and artists is commonplace these days. With the rise in demand and corresponding rise in prices comes an unfortunate side effect: fraud.
Phony comic art has definitely circulated in the marketplace, so buyers have to be knowledgeable and aware so as to avoid being fleeced. In addition to reading comics, I’m a collector of original art, and as such, I’m always scanning the marketplace for affordable pieces. Ebay has been a great resource to get bargains, so I peruse the original comic art listings on the site almost on a daily basis.
I stumbled across a piece Sunday that caught my eye; well, truth be told, it was the listing title that caught my eye: “BLACK CANARY FULL FIGURE original art commission by DARWYN COOKE (BEAUTIFUL).” I have three sketches from the late artist in my convention sketchbook, and I’ll always treasure them. As a fan of his work, I’m always up for a glance at something else he did.
As I looked at the scan of the sketch included in the auction, I immediately had some questions about it. The confident, flowing lines that normally characterize a Cooke sketch aren’t to be found. Furthermore, the way Canary’s eyes are drawn struck me as quite un-Darwyn-like, and the bluelines don’t appear nearly as soft and airy as what one finds in other examples of the artist’s work.
Eye on Comics reached out to a couple of authoritative voices on comic art. Comics artist Terry Beatty has been crusading against counterfeit comic art online for some time now, and he even incorporated the concept as a plotline in Rex Morgan, M.D., the syndicated newspaper comic strip he writes and illustrates.
“While I can’t find a ‘source’ drawing this could have been copied from, I’m very suspicious. The line quality looks wrong (traced) to my eye,” he said after viewing the eBay listing. “And I already had the seller flagged for having sold fakes (Jim Woodring, LeRoy Nieman, John Romita, Jack Kirby) in the past. Buyer beware on this one.”
The eBay seller in question is “rah-4224,” listed as being in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. His seller rating is a rather low 22, but his profile lists 100 per cent positive feedback. However, that feedback rating is misleading, as those only count feedback ratings for the past year. The seller has one negative feedback listing, from more than a year ago, alleging a forged product.
An unidentified eBay buyer, who apparently purchased an item listed as “1948 YOUSUF KARSH’S ALBERT EINSTEIN PHOTOGRAPH-STAMPED-Press Photo,” posted, “This ‘photo’ was a ‘COPY’ of a photo completely fake even the stamp are fake.”
Seller rah-4224 responded, “Competitor sell the same photographs, full refund given never got my photo back.” Curiously, there was no mention of the fake allegation or a response, though the space eBay provides for feedback and responses is quite limited.
Eye on Comics contacted rah-4224 through eBay to inquire about the provenance of the piece and has received no response as yet.
Calum Johnston, a respected and award-winning comics retailer who was also close with Cooke, said he saw the same Black Canary sketch listing on eBay and immediately recognized the illustration as a fake. He said he contacted the seller but hasn’t received a response either.
As Beatty noted, he wasn’t able to find the original art from which the rah-4224 might have been faked, and Eye on Comics wasn’t able to turn it up with an online search either. However, the search did turn up a possible source of the personalized Cooke signature: a sketch belonging to collector Deborah Mustone that she has posted in her Comic Art Fans gallery.
Beatty agreed the Mustone sketch appears to be the source of the alleged signature swipe, and Johnston said from his eye, it appears the signature was lightboxed from that sketch as well.
This isn’t the first time rah-4224 has been accused of selling forgeries. On the message boards of the Certified Guaranty Company Comics website last year and into 2017, collectors discussed some pieces purported by the seller to be by the late Jack Kirby were forgeries as well.
Update: I believe I have found the original image from which the fake was sourced. A subsequent Google search of Black Canary images without any reference to Cooke yielded an interesting result from professional comic artist Colleen Doran’s blog. She posted a Black Canary sketch on eBay back in 2014, and it’s a perfect match for the traced image offered for sale by rah-4224.
As you can see, Doran’s linework is much smoother than the traced lines from the forged sketch. It’s a lovely sketch, but honestly, the only aspects of it that are really reminiscent of Cooke’s style are the waistline and the simplicity of the fishnets. While I’m pleased to have solved as aspect of the mystery, it’s frustrating to learn the eBay seller is managing to besmirch two artists with one fake.
Update 2: The eBay listing has ended early, and the anonymous seller responded to my inquiries, starting, “Thanks! for bringing this matter to our attention, all the scans of the drawing has been sent to Mrs. Darwyn Cooke for authentication, untill i hear from her the listing has been removed from Ebay, i apologize for the inconveninc i may have cuased you.” [sic]
It should be noted rah-4224 sent identical responses to Beatty, Johnston and Marsha Cooke, Darwyn Cooke’s widow. As seen in the comments below, Marsha Cooke said she hasn’t received any scans of the supposed sketch for verification, which isn’t surprising given its clear status as a fake. EBay has yet to respond to inquiries from Eye on Comics about the incident or its practices in such circumstances.
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