Collecting Original Comic Book Art – The Basics
Comic book fans express their love and fandom of their favorite characters and stories in several ways. They may collect every issue of a character’s comic book, obtain signatures from their favorite creators, cosplay in creative homemade designs, collect action figures or statues, and even commission sketches from their favorite artists. For me, the ultimate in collecting comic books is obtaining the original art that created the book. One comic book may have had 100,000 copies of the issue produced, but there’s only one page of original art for each page in that book. In the following, I’d like to present to you some very basic details on collecting comic book art.
I’ve been collecting comic book art since 1995, and the hobby has changed drastically in that time, nowhere more so than in the price of the pages. I bought my first page of art for $5, but now I see stories of art pages selling for over a million dollars.
I’m here to tell you that collecting comic book art pages is still affordable and fun. Yes, the pages that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars will get all of the press, but there are still pages out there that any comic book collector can afford. Hopefully by the time you finish reading, I’ll be able to shed some light on the hobby and point you in the direction of where you can learn more and find some art at a decent price.
What is comic book art?
I believe the Comic Art Fans website (CAF) presents the most concise description of what comic book original art is: “comic art consists of the original art that is created in the process of developing a comic book, made available to collectors in the form of the pages that were reproduced to create the book.” By that description, any step along the process of creating the page should be considered “original”, and I totally agree, provided the step you are acquiring is stipulated. What do I mean by step? Let’s discuss.
An original comic book art page will always start with the penciling. Basically, the penciller is the one to create the first steps of the comic book page. They take pencil to paper literally, and draw the piece. Once the penciling of an art page is complete, the next step is the inking.
Per CAF “By far, the penciller is considered to have the greatest creative input — they are the one that starts with the blank page. The inker can make or break a page, but their contribution is creative in a different way. This is why original comic art pages are always listed with the penciller’s name first.”
Inkers provide depth and shading to the penciled piece, and oftentimes provide additional definition to finish the artwork. In the movie “Chasing Amy”, there’s a famous scene where Jason Lee’s character Banky Edwards confronts a fan for deeming him a “tracer”. Upon seeing many pieces go from pencils to completed inks, I can tell you that inkers are themselves true artists, each having a unique style of their own. When it’s all said and done, it’s the inker who provides the final rendition of the image you see on paper.
Lettering prior to the development of computer technology was originally pasted directly onto a completed piece of art. In some cases, although very rarely, the lettering was done directly on the artwork itself. With the advent of computer technology, lettering has become purely digital. It’s unusual now to see any lettering on an original art page.
Even in the earliest days of comic book art, coloring was always a separate step. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an original art page (unless you count painted works) where the coloring was done directly on the original art page. The typical process consisted of applying colors to a photo-stat of the original. Once again, with the advent of computer technology, original hand coloring has gone the way of the dodo. Still, original, hand-colored pages do indeed exist. Provided when you purchase a hand-colored page that it’s stipulated that the only original art on the page is the colors, this is totally fine to be considered “original art.”
Original Comic Book Art – Prior to the Digital Age
There’s no exact date when computer lettering or coloring or blue line scans (more on that later) occurred, but a rough estimate would be the start of the 2000s. If you are buying an original art page prior to the turn of the millennium, then you’d expect the penciling, inking and letters to be all done on the page.
For collectors, several factors go into the value of the page, including the following:
- Penciller: The bigger the name of the penciller, the more the value will be increased. Pages by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko will most likely go for more than their contemporary counterparts.
- Inker: Although not as drastic to the value as the penciller, whoever inks the piece does indeed control the final look of the image. A page inked by Joe Sinnott will most likely fetch a premium to a collector.
- Page Style: Covers fetch the highest of premiums, followed by double-page spreads (DPS), and then splash pages, and finally single multi-panel pages.
- Content: Is the page from a key title or issue? Does the page contain a key character? Is the key character in costume? Spider-Man battling Green Goblin (both in costume) will most likely present more value to a collector than Peter Parker talking to Norman Osborn in an elevator.
As with anything, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s really up to each individual collector and seller to determine the value of any piece.
Touches of Uniqueness
When it comes to original art, each page is unique, and every tiny detail can make it more special and appealing to a collector. For instance, if the page is signed by any of the contributors (penciller or inker) it will be more appealing to collectors. Are there any written notes in the gutter area between creators? Do you see rough sketches or doodles on the back of the art page that the creator used to test the look of an image? All of these touches provide charm and a back story to the piece that can increase its appeal to collectors.
Comic Book Art Collecting in the Digital Age
The advent of computer technology in the creation of comic books has complicated the hobby of comic book art collecting. It’s not just the fact that colors and lettering can be done digitally, but often, every step is done digitally, from pencils to inks and so on. When it’s all done digitally, it’s actually the easiest, because then no original piece exists to be purchased by a collector. What happens when some of the steps are done digitally and others are done traditionally?
Traditional Pencils Only – Digital Inking
Here we have the penciller starting the page traditionally. They will hand draw the original art page in pencil, and then scan the image and submit it to be inked. The inker will digitally ink the page. When this occurs, the only “original” art produced is the penciled page.
Traditional Inking Only – Digital Penciling
In this instance, the penciller chose to draw the page in digital pencils. They then submit the art to the inker who chooses to print the image (or light box it) and hand draw the inks. When this occurs, the only original artwork is the inked page. If you are buying an inked only page, the inker or their sales representative should let you know in advance that there are no original pencils involved. If you are unsure, it’s perfectly fine to ask.
Traditional Pencils and Inks but Separated by Scans (aka Blue Line)
There are instances when everything is still done by hand, from pencils to inks. However, for time and ease, technology is still used. In this instance, a penciller hand draws the entire page. Instead of sending the original pencils to the inker, the penciler scans the art and sends it digitally. The inker then takes the digital scan and once again prints the image (or light boxes it) and hand draws the inks. In this instance, there are in fact two separate pieces of original art, the penciled page and the inked page. Since you can clearly tell when a page is penciled only, there isn’t much concern when buying a penciled-only page. However, if a page is inked over blue line pencils, it is expected for the person selling the inked-only page to let the collector know the pages have been inked only.
Hawkman #18 pages 2+3 (DPS) blue line pencils by Pat Oliffe and inks by Tom Palmer
Comic Book Color Art Collecting
Color art is still original art, provided the seller is stipulating that the only portion that’s original is the color. If you know of hand-colored originals on photo-stat that are still being produced today, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section. It’s my belief that all coloring is done digitally now. Early digital coloring was always wonky, and didn’t provide the charm and elegance of the hand-colored counterparts. However, with the advancement of technology came advancements in digital coloring. Digital colors not only provide convenience to the artist, it’s also faster and (typically) more appealing to readers.
Is there downside to digital coloring? Well, for collectors, there’s no more “original” art. When everything is digital, then there’s nothing available to collect. Can the artist print out a copy? Sure. It’s still a copy though, as the original resides in digital form.
Where can I learn more?
My personal favorite resource for everything comic book art related is the Comic Art Fans website. Run by Bill Cox, he stated in a recent interview that “During a regular month, we typically have between 250,000 and 300,000 unique visitors to the site.” I personally have been a site member since 2007. It’s a great resource to all collectors, as well as to those who are curious about the hobby.
Where can I buy original art?
Sometimes, the best place to start is directly from the artist. If you happen to be at a convention and see a stack of pages, it can be intimating to ask how much the pages cost. The dreaded “They are all different prices” is always the scariest. I’m always fearful I’ll pull out a page I like only to be told the page costs $1,000. There’s no harm in asking if there are any pages available to folks on a budget. The artist can perhaps steer you to something affordable or politely (hopefully!) decline.
For those of you who don’t have access to conventions (even during normal, non-pandemic days), or prefer to shop from the comfort of your own home, there are countless sites devoted to the sale of original art. You can often buy original art pages directly from the artist, and some sell originals directly for as low as $40 a page. Here’s just a couple of examples:
There are also numerous dealers online, who often double as sales reps for artists. One of my personal favorites is Anthony’s Comic Book Art, who has been selling original artwork since the 1990s and has original art pages on his user-friendly website for as little as $20 a page. You can also peruse the aforementioned Comic Art Fans site to see what other users recommend. There really are several options.
Ultimately the final decision is up to you. Whatever you may decide, know that original art collecting can be fun and lucrative. Once you do start collecting, then the big decision will be the best way to store and display your collection. That, I’m afraid, will have to be an article for another day.
Is comic book art collecting something that interests you? Have you seen pages from sellers/collectors before? Do you own any treasured artwork yourself? Are there any pieces that you are looking for to complete your collection? Let us know in the comments below.
*From Anthony’s Comic Book Art