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Collecting Comics & Art

Collecting Comic Art ..... Part One

Collecting comic book & comic strip art has always been a very eclectic hobby to most. The perceived difficulties that surround it's acquisition have continually dissuaded many a potential "panelologist".

But actually, collecting comic art is a very simple task, and in the end can be unusually satisfying. All that you really need to begin is a mild understanding of the creation of the actual artwork, and an interest in a particular character or an artist's work. From there it becomes startlingly easy to find & purchase (or trade for) original comic art. But without these general interests it is nearly impossible.

The first thing you need to decide is exactly why you want to collect. If you are like most collectors, you collect out of a nostalgic attachment to your hobby. I learned how to read from the comics and have been involved with them since I was 4 years old, therefore I have a great nostalgic thread that trails throughout the field. I know who my favorite artists & characters are and this forms the basis for my collection.

There are other collectors who are on the other hand largely interested in the investment value of collectibles. This is not the best reason to get involved however as it is usually only the educated collector that can make the knowledgeable determination if profit is possible in any field.

Original comic art is created by an artist who will generally pencil a rough sketch of his strip & then "ink" it with a brush or a pen & india ink. The boxes that partition the pages are called "panels" (I.E..Panelologist). For the Sunday comics or a comic book, the original is photo copied and then the copy is colored - leaving the original in black & white. The colored copy is then sent to a technician who makes a four color process plate which is used in the printing of the comic. Until recent years, most of the art was destroyed after publication. However, because of the sheer quantity of art created for the medium from 1890-1992 there are vast amounts that are sold & traded all the time.

The easiest way to buy is by contacting a dealer or collector who is himself involved in the hobby. The best way to meet these individuals is by attending one of the many comic book conventions around the world. In the USA, the best shows for this are the San Diego Comicon every summer, the Chicago Comicon over July fourth weekend every year and Wondercon in Oakland, California every April

The San Diego con which has the largest selection of art dealers also has the largest selection of art available as many dealers & collectors save their best items for display at this show.

Other sources would be the artists themselves who may sell their own art or who donates to charities which in turn auction it. Several museums including the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco actively sell art as part of the maintenance of their museum.

Of course the most difficult hurdle many have is how to determine what price can be paid and leave you, the purchaser, with the most gratifying feeling after the purchase. This is easily accomplished by employing the same type of price comparison that you would at the supermarket.

For instance, if five dealers each have artwork of similar nature - the price should be just as similar. There are however many exceptions to this rule as though each piece has a particular similarity, each is still entirely unique unto itself, unlike comic books or baseball cards where you can find numerous copies of even the rarest items. You could have ten examples by a single artist and nine of them could all be similar enough that there would be little price variation. The tenth item however could be one of the more striking images, it could be a particularly famous image or it may have an extraordinary value to just one collector, and this piece could be valued at many multiples of the prices associated with the other nine. Therefore the individuality of artwork creates a dynamic all it's own.

One example might be the work of the late, great, Milton Caniff. Caniff was the artist & creator Terry & the Pirates from 1934-46, and latterly Steve Canyon. His Terry daily strip originals from the period 1936-38 are highly sought after & sell generally in the $300-500 range. But the dailies dated 2-6-36 & 10-7-39 recently traded for $2000. and $3000. respectively. The example from 1936 is said by some to be the finest single example of the chiaroscuro technique Caniff employed.

Hal Foster who drew Prince Valiant for over 30 years is one of the most popular artists of the field & his originals trade for wildly different prices depending on the vintage. pages from the 1960's might sell as low as $, but originals from the earlier years trade for as much as $20,000. and sometimes even more. On a strip of this nature a collector also cannot chose from as wide a selection as would be preferred as they do not trade frequently, as such whatever price the item is available at is the market price because there is no comparison except the most recent sale which may or may not be relevant.

What might be the most financially rewarding area of comic art in the coming years may be Silver Age comic book art. The silver age period is roughly measured as 1954 to 1972. This period coincides directly with the age of the Baby Boomer who make up one of the largest consumer groups in today's economy.

Who is the most popular of these silver age artists? The King of the hill is Jack ("the King") Kirby. He drew more comic pages than any comic artist living or dead. For Marvel comics alone Kirby drew tens of thousands of pages & well over 1000 covers just from 1957-1972. Still the prices on his work rise, largely due to just a few collectors. This handful of collectors will pay more than any other collectors, exemplifying the difference in interest from one collector to the next. The average price for those who want to know is $100-$500 per page for superhero stuff. Less for western & horror. But for the right item, matched with these few collectors - the sky is the limit!

So what's the best way to collect? If you are price conscious, do some comparison shopping. Subscribe to dealers lists, trade publications that art dealers & collectors advertise in, go to conventions and talk to collectors & dealers who are willing to help you. Don't get caught up in prices before nostalgia however. Your interest in the items you buy will be more pleasurable than the few dollars you might make if you sell something & get a profit, which is only an added plus to collecting for fun.

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