Originally posted in 1998...

One of the best kept secrets of comic book collecting are the pleasures of purchasing and owning Original Comic Book Art. Unlike comic books themselves, which are published in editions of hundreds of thousands and subject to the current vagaries and illusions of 'price guide' hucksterism, each page of Original Comic Book Art is a true one-of-a-kind collectible, often personalized by the artist, and eminently suitable for framing and display in home or office. What follows are some FAQ about this interesting and little known slice of authentic pop culture Americana.

-- Rick Veitch

WHAT IS ORIGINAL COMIC BOOK ART?

Original Comic Book Art has been created for the production of every comic book ever published (except for a very few experimental comics done on computers). Original Comic Book Art is usually a black and white illustration, executed in pen, brush and permanent ink on high quality illustration board. Most Original Comic Art pages are black and white because the colors you see in the comic book were added later in the printing process. A small percentage of comics, especially graphic novels and illustrated fantasy magazines, feature pages completely rendered in painted color. These are advertised as "fully painted" and command higher prices.

Almost all Original Comic Book Art is done larger than what you see in the printed comic. Most pages are at least 10'x15', while it is not uncommon to see examples that measure 11"17" or 12"x18". Often it is drawn on illustration board supplied by the company that published the comic and has their logo or name printed in blue above the image area.

HOW IS ORIGINAL COMIC BOOK ART CREATED?

Creating Original Comic Book Art involves a number of disciplines which can be mastered by one individual or shared by a team. Most comics from commercial publishing houses rely on the team method, while the last few decades have seen the reemergence of comics done by a single cartoonist.

With the team method, creation of a page begins with a WRITER, who usually types out a full script that describes the action and provides the dialogue and captions. This is given to a PENCILER, who lays out the page and tightly pencils all the figures and background elements. Then a LETTERER carefully inks in the word balloons and captions before sending it to the INKER, who interprets the penciled drawings in pen, brush and ink. There can be any number of possible variations on this, with pencilers inking or lettering their own stuff, or writers providing only plots at the beginning and writing the word balloons and captions after the story has been penciled (this is commonly called the 'Marvel Method').

In the case of Original Comic Book Art created by a single cartoonist, the disciplines are the same, but the methods are as varied as the cartoonists themselves.

WHAT HAPPENS TO ORIGINAL COMIC BOOK ART AFTER IT IS PUBLISHED?

In the old days, most Original Comic book art was kept by the publisher and ultimately destroyed, which is why examples from the 1930's, 40's and 50's are highly prized and command higher prices. In the 1960's and 70's almost all publishers began returning the Original Art to the artists. Usually the pages are divided between the penciler and inker, either fifty-fifty or with a slightly larger percentage going to the penciler. This is thought to reflect the actual labor involved in creating Original Comic Book Art.

WHAT IS THE CURRENT MARKET FOR ORIGINAL COMIC BOOK ART?

Original Comic Book Art finds its way to market in two ways: through professional dealers and via the artists themselves. A few dealers operate galleries, while most work with customers through mail order catalogs and by setting up booths at comic book conventions. Many dealers like to specialize in high end items, often of historical vintage, with price tags dictated by the cultural significance of a piece or the current demand for certain artists' work. Almost all artists distribute their artwork on an informal basis, either selling it (in response to mail inquiries, selling it to dealers and while making personal appearances at conventions), or giving it away (to friends and family and donating it to worthy causes). A few cartoonists have been able to successfully show and sell their Original Comic Book Art in fine art galleries during the last few years.

The comic book industry generates many thousands of pages of Original Comic Book Art every month, each one of them unique and interesting, but for the most part ignored by professional art dealers since they need to move big ticket items to make a decent profit. As such, a cultural treasure trove of Original Comic Book Art is in the hands of the artists themselves, and available at bargain prices.

HOW DO I PURCHASE ORIGINAL COMIC BOOK ART?

Up till now, you would have had to either buy your pages through a middle-man or be fortunate enough to meet the artist at a convention. Now, at Comicon.com you have a direct e-mail connection to the artists themselves. You can browse the samples at their tables then arrange payment with them directly via e-mail. You can inquire about specific pages not shown that you might be interested in. You can ask to have your page signed or even specially personalized to you (or a friend if it's a gift). Most artists are delighted by the idea their work is ending up in the hands of someone who really appreciates it and will be happy to help you find the page you want. While some artists may be open to answering questions or involving themselves in discussions via e-mail, please respect the privacy of those who do not.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: All transactions are strictly between the buyer and the seller. COMICON.com takes no part or responsibility in any transaction.

WHAT CAN I EXPECT TO PAY FOR ORIGINAL COMIC BOOK ART?

Like any market for collectables, there are no set prices and the going rates are controlled by supply, demand and significance. Prices are posted by the artists and might or might not be open to negotiation. Certain artists, who have large fan followings, often ask more for their pages, sometimes asking many hundreds of dollars for a premium example. Right now, though, it is generally recognized that many quality pieces, featuring popular characters and executed by top-notch draftsman, can be purchased, signed by the artist, in the $75 to $100 range.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS I SHOULD BE AWARE OF IN PURCHASING ORIGINAL COMIC BOOK ART?

Like any other purchase of art, acquiring Original Comic Book Art should be a question of what you like first. Perhaps you identify with a special character, or perhaps a certain story really affected you in years gone by. Many times a particular artist's style is so enchanting that you want to own a good example. These are just a few of many good reasons to make a piece of Original Comic Book Art part of your life.

Certain configurations of Original Comic Book Art command higher prices. These include Covers (these are in the greatest demand), Splash Pages (usually one of the first pages in a story, with the logo and a large powerful image), Double-Page-Spreads (which are two separate pages taped together to create one huge image) and Pin-Ups (which usually feature a full page shot of a character). Also, First Appearances (in which an important character is seen for the first time) are highly prized by collectors, as are Death Scenes.

When inquiring about Original Comic Book Art, always ask about the condition of the piece. While pages executed on good illustration board in permanent India Ink should last for many lifetimes if properly cared for, Original Comic Book Art is subject to the same problems as all paper collectables and a few that are particular to it. Here are some general guidelines to be aware of:

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TEARS AND STAINS: A piece in excellent condition should not be torn or stained within the image area. Many pages have been clipped in the corners or cut across the top unevenly during the production process, but again, as long as these do not intrude upon the image area, the page will look fine when it is framed.

WHITE-OUT: Many artists utilize white-out in different ways. Most use it for small detailing which is considered acceptable and usually doesn't affect the condition. But, some artists use white-out as an all purpose correction fluid, painting out mistakes over large areas, then inking right over them. This can lower the value of a page, especially if the white-out is deteriorating. A third type of artist utilize white-out as a painting tool, creating interesting textures and effects by layering it with ink. As long as the finished work is not deteriorating, this should not affect the value significantly.

TAPE: Sometimes corrections are made to pages with white tape, which is used to cover mistakes, then inked over. Small taped corrections are considered acceptable, while large ones can lower the value of the piece.

STATS: Some pages have complete panels replaced by photostats. Some stats can yellow or fall off over time, so these reduce the value of a piece. In recent years laser prints, which are even less durable, have been used in place of stats.

COMPUTER LETTERING: In recent years some companies have gone over to computerized lettering, which is printed on sticky paper and glued onto the original art. This is generally considered to make the piece a little less desirable.

BLUE LINES: Almost every page from a large publisher will have some blue lining, which is how editors alert inkers and production people to correct mistakes. Normally this would not affect the value, although a heavily marked up page might be less desirable to some collectors. Conversely, a historically significant editorial comment might push the value of a page up (Say if you had a page from the first SUPERMAN story with a note from the editor telling the colorist to "Make this guy's costume blue with a red cape.")

RED LINES: Starting in the late70's, artists could indicate color holds by drawing a line in red. These should not affect the value of the page.

MARKERS: Some inkers began to experiment doing comics with markers starting in the late 60's. While the effects were interesting, markers are NOT a permanent media and fade relatively quickly. Marker drawn pages go for considerably less than their more permanent India Ink cousins.


HOW DO I DISPLAY ORIGINAL COMIC BOOK ART?

Professional framing is always an attractive option and a wonderful way to share your collection with friends and visitors. Original Comic Book Art frames up terrifically, and makes an instantly accessible and intriguing art statement anywhere, especially when signed or personalized by the artist. Sometimes, the printed comic book can be included in the framing. Savvy collectors look for pages that contain an interesting vignette, complete in itself, for a subtle or perhaps ironic effect. Interior decorators have been known to purchase and frame complete stories to create powerful and highly original installations. And of course, superhero action pages fit perfectly into the decor of any kid's room.

Some collectors choose to keep their art in portfolios, usually ones with plastic sleeves for protecting the pages. There are many styles available at art supply stores. Large collections should be stored in metal art files, also available at art supply stores.

WHAT SHOULD I BE AWARE OF WHEN PURCHASING FULLY PAINTED COMIC ART?

It is very important to understand the qualities of the many different media used in fully painted art. Certain media, like dyes, will fade unless kept away from sunlight, while others, like oils, will survive for centuries. Ask the artist what medium he used and research it's durability so you will understand how best to care for it if you make the purchase.

-- Rick Veitch
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