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Collecting Comics & Art

Collecting Comic Art ..... Part Four

For decades now, comic books & newspaper strips have been a popular & collectable piece of American culture. Collectors & collectors stores have popped up in every corner of America. There have comic book collectors since 1937, there have been comic art collectors longer!

William Randolph Hearst

The comic strip & comic book are solely American creations which had their early beginnings during the late 1800's appearing in William Randolph Hearst's "New York American" and Joseph Pulitzer's "the World". The three men widely acknowledged as creating the comic strip itself were James Swinnerton with his "Little Bears" strip, Rudolph Dirks - whose "Katzenjammer Kids" is still in syndication and Richard Felton Outcault with his mega historic "Yellow Kid".

Joseph Pulitzer

Hearst & Pulitzer,to whom we owe a great deal to the creation of the medium were very agressive publishers, and they would do their best to out-do each other. In the course of this it was not uncommon for one publisher to hire the best reporter away from his competitor. Pulitzer would hire the reporter back after Hearst took him away, and then Hearst would hire him away again, at an ever escalating salary. But when Outcault was hired away from Pulitzer the second time, Pulitzer sued Hearst and a period of "muck-raking" in the competing papers ensued. From this,the term "Yellow Journalism" emerged.

Even so, this did not disuade the publishers and just a few short years later, another legal battle ensued after Rudy Dirks jumped the Hearst ship after a dispute with the legendary publisher. When Dirks landed at the the World, Hearst sued! In a landmark decision, Hearst syndicate was awarded possession of the title to the Katzenjammer Kids while Dirks was allowed to maintain ownership of the characters. The results were immediately obvious as Katzenjammer Kids continued in the Journal American, drawn by Harold H. Knerr while Dirks continued with the Captain & the Kids in the World.

As recognized humorists of the era, such artists as Winsor McCay, Dirks, Outcault & George McManus were very rich men in the early part of this century. McCay & McManus were frequent entertainers on the vaudeville circuit where McCay exhibited "Gertie the Dinosaur" during his act.

The comic strips later gave birth to the comic book & still later, comic book collecting. The popularity also created a demand for the original illustrations as millions of readers clamored to satiate their appetite for American culture. Hearst himself collected comic strips by his "stable" of artists. The reasons for collecting this art are widely varied; interest in the characters, interest in American culture, nostalgia or interest in the art form itself.

In the 1920's & later, fans who would write in could find a reply in the form of artwork arriving at their mailbox, or they could simply appear at the syndicate & receive a piece for the asking. I have purchased art from people many times having been told that the owners, having business with King Features in the 1940's were able to take home numerous pieces. We salute these early collectors for helping to preserve artwork that in many cases was discarded after publication, frequently in the trash can.

Collecting tastes have varied widely over the decades & from person to person. Some individuals collect the adventure strips while others collect the humor strips. Even others collect any strip to which they have nostalgic attachment while others collect for investment. The latter of which has only been apparent in recent years as the art form becomes more widely accepted by the world community, and as prices escalate.

I began collecting art solely for nostalgic & artistic concerns many years ago. As a child, I learned how to read from comic books and as I got older I began to understand and appreciate the art from them. That, to me at least, is the most important reason to collect, and I have devoted my life to the preservation & understanding of the form as have many others around the world.

at right: Hal Foster illustrating a Prince Valiant Sunday page circa 1950's

That you may understand the art better, here is a description of how it is produced:
An artist will first loosely pencil in how he would the page to be constructed. He then does very tight renderings of each "panel" which he then "inks" over with a brush or a pen & india ink. Different artists have different techniques in inking styles. From 1934-1940, Alex Raymond used a "dry Brush" while Chester Gould used a thick bold line and George McManus used a pen instead of a brush frequently. Some artists vary their style over the years. Alex Raymond abandoned his "dry brush" in 1946 when he created Rip Kirby. Sometimes two artists work on a strip as penciller & inker. After the penciller finishes his work the inker gets the job. Frequently an artist uses an assistant, who may ink the background.

Due to the different styles, some collectors might be interested only in a specific period of the artists' career. Again the example of Alex Raymond whose originals of Flash Gordon & Jungle Jim from 1935 thru 1937 which are highly sought after items by some collectors, and his Rip Kirby originals of 1953 to 1956 which are sought after by others. Hal Foster is one of my very favorites, as such his art is of great interest to me. However, I am far more interested in his Prince Valiant of 1939-1948 than of 1937 or post 1949 pages. I also like his Tarzan of 1934 more than 1932, 1933 or 1937. To Herriman Krazy Kat collectors different periods have different attraction of appeal. I prefer 1921 to 1939 over pages prior to 1921 and those later than 1939.

For these reasons of course, prices of different pieces; even by the same artist; vary widely as well. So being one of-a-kind items & having individual appeal, plus each collector having his own priorities one piece may have an entirely different value from one collector to the next.

A good example of this from my collection would be a Graham Ingels "Haunt of Fear" #27 comic book cover I purchased at auction for $6320. One collector only bid to $2500. another to $4000. and finally the underbidder over whom I paid $500. more than his bid.

Prices can be as little as $10. for some items, and there have been pieces of comic art that have sold for more than $50,000. as well. A piece of the French "Tin Tin" sold for f400,000 or $80,000 American dollars!

Popular artists are Hal Foster (Prince Valiant & Tarzan), Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby), Chester Gould (Dick Tracy), George Herriman (the fabulous Krazy Kat) and Frank King (Gasoline Alley) from the comic strips & Frank Frazetta, Berni Wrightson, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, Steve Ditko & others from comic books. Though I have only mentioned ten artists, there are dozens, or even hundreds of others who make up a long list of sought after practitioners. New names are always being added as well.

A short list of sale prices are; Blondie Sunday page by Chic Young from 1962 $200., Dick Tracy daily strip by Chester Gould dated 5/31/61 $175. and daily strip dated 2/20/33 which sold for $5000.. Prince Valiant page by Hal Foster 1960 $2000. Joe Kubert "Hawkman" splash page (the first page with the large panel) $2000., and an interior page sold for $275. A Jack Kirby "Fantastic Four" comic cover...$2000. & Jack Kirby "Demon" cover...$300.; Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond 1935..$30,000., another from 1935 $15,000. (an example of different interest!), another from 1943..$2500.; Flash Gordon by Mac Raboy 1954 $200. (Please note this article was written in 1992).

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