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Collecting Comics & Art

Collecting Comic Art ..... Part Three
Where Do I Find Comic Art?

A frequent question I hear from people is "where do I find original comic art?". In my life as a collector and dealer I have dealt with people from all walks of life in pursuit of art. Sometimes I find an old storage bin, or an antique store that has a piece. I have bought art from the artists or a fan who got a piece from the artist. The usual way however is to locate a dealer or a collector like myself, who sells art to most likely support his own voracious appetite to add to his collection those items that interest him, or her.

Permanent exhibits can be seen by the public at museums that include the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art, the Cartoon Museum in Florida,Ohio State University in Columbus (which houses the Milton Caniff collection & a portion of the Woody Gelman collection among others) & the Comic Art & Graffix Gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio. Several exhibits have traveled the country's more popular museums such as the Smithsonion in Washington D.C. & the Museum Of Modern Art in New York City. The Louvre in Paris has hosted a number of shows including one man shows of Burne Hogarth's work & others.

In addition to the above museums & institutions, permanent exhibits & collections exist in Syracuse University, Boston University (where almost the entire run of Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray is enshrined), the National Cartoonists Society in NYC, The Smithsonion has a large collection, and the newspaper syndicates themselves also keep permanent collections.

Unfortunately, large quantities of art were destroyed routinely by the syndicates & comic publishing houses. Even the artists themselves would destroy their art. In the cases of the publishers, they generally had no use for the art after it was published. They could easily reprint from a proof copy of the art that would be kept in the files for that purpose. The result was either the return of the works to the artist, gifts to people who ask for them or storage & then outright trashing once the storage areas were full. "Horror" stories are of Frank King, creator of Gasoline Alley, who burned thousands of originals in his backyard when he needed to empty out his barn; and Dick Calkins, artist on Buck Rogers from 1929-1939, who built a bonfire in his yard after a contract dispute with the owners of the strip. As a result there are only a few examples of genuine Calkins work on Buck Rogers known to exist & only a slightly larger quantity of Frank King originals known. Many of the Frank King examples are Sunday pages that were hand-colored by King for an exhibit in the forties. Likely, had they not been separated from the rest of the originals for this purpose. They would also have been destroyed.

On the other hand there were a large number of artists whose work is very accessible due to their retrieving the art after publication, or even in some cases publishers who would not throw out the art & instead keep it in their warehouse or vault. Bill Gaines, the publisher of EC Comics in the 1950's, kept 99.9% of what he published in his vault until 1980 when it was slowly sold off to collectors through a series of quarterly auction catalogs which only just finished in 1990. Harold Gray was such a stickler for getting his art back after publication by the Chicago Tribune Syndicate that almost 100 percent of it still exists today. But due to his endowing it to Boston University, only a tiny amount is known to be in private hands, these are almost entirely inscribed by Gray, indicating that in general they were gifts. That is a perfect case of supply having nothing to do with the actual quantity of extant examples, and the resulting high value of early, quality examples is due to this.

Something that every collector can remember is that a good piece of art does not have to be valuable to be good art. Only the less educated equate value to quality & though there is a direct correlation when it comes to the top artists, there are so many artists that there is only one cardinal rule when you collect. Follow your taste. If you like what you buy, you will always be happy.

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