Since the target demographic of my Pop Sequentialism show was collectors of fine art, I had to write detailed descriptions of each page outlining what made each of them important. Unlike, say, oil paintings, comic book art is made valuable not only through the quality of the technique or a particular artist's fame, but also by the popularity and fame of the writer, the characters illustrated on each page, and the chronology and importance within the canon of each of them (artist, writer and characters). The regard and acclaim for the story and the era from whence it comes can add to or detract from the value derived from key composition, as can the word balloons (or lack thereof) that punctuate the action.
|Catalog available for purchase at |
La Luz de Jesus Gallery
The great benefit to figurative, narrative work is that its aesthetic value need not hinge on bullshit. Any reasonable person can look at a well rendered drawing or painting and conclude that a high degree of ability went into creating it. Whether or not they've been educated on the importance of composition or have any knowledge or inclination toward understanding allegory or symbolism, as human beings they will pick-up on the fact that these other things make the work in question great. They may not be able to tell you why it's a masterpiece, but their appreciation of what elevates it beyond average is intrinsically embedded in their DNA. We, as people, are born with an understanding of such things. We recognize faces in inanimate objects, because our eyes are trained by our brains to do so. Certain colors elicit certain responses, and shapes behind or incorporating the figure in the foreground are collected and appreciated based on our need to find them–sometimes consciously, and sometimes subconsciously. The truly great works of antiquity are hailed as such because they tap into all of these stimuli. So tell me, how is an abstract conceptual piece more legit than a published illustration of the modern mythology?
Because a few people with a lot of money had a dog in that fight and decided it should be so.
|The most important work of the 1990s. Really?|
|Because sometimes ownership just isn't enough...|
So, as you can see, discussing the art is as relevant as discussing the weather, because the former has the staying power of the latter in most cases.
|A Fine Art Hedge Fund Group|
The people who actually do enjoy abstract expressionism tend to be academics or big thinkers who may find comfort in the presence of a big idea piece that delivers on a single promise (the concept). Maybe they use their brains all day long, focusing on minutiae and such and don't want to be overwhelmed by complicated brush strokes or even the easily recognizable. Like most other art, it boils down to personal taste. Sometimes it's a design motif, sometimes it's bragging rights. I'm not judging them for what they collect, but I'd be lying if I said I don't judge them for what they pay for it. There are brilliant, high-concept pieces out there; I'm not denying that. It's the assumption of brilliance in the lack of either concept or craft with which I take umbrage. Add cost to that concern and you've got the makings of class war.
|Warhol's "Burning Green Car 1" sold for $71.7 million in 2007|
|Jack "King" Kirby. 'Nuff Said!|
What's that he said about enormous profit?
Take note, would be investors: it turns out that comic book art is a far better investment than just about any other kind of art.
It's true. Before sitting down to write this column a few weeks ago I decided to do some research. I looked at thousands of realized auction prices for contemporary and post-war paintings and sculptures, called and wrote a few dozen galleries, and poured through twenty years of purchase receipts. After addressing anomalies, such as the sudden spike in sales an artist's death will cause, and comparing market inflation with economic bubbles I discovered that in the world of fine art there are frequent cycles of appreciation and decline. They are invariably connected to wall street, and art market bubbles tend to mirror the late 1980s hedge fund explosion, the 1990s stock market rise, the dot com bubble and the recent real-estate collapse.
|This is what $140 million looks like|
Raymond Parker, Mary Frank, Ernie Trova and Damien Hirst, who were each the most important artists of their day, are all seeing their prices fall far below peak sales figures. Some have fallen back into obscurity.
Now let's take a look at comic book art.
|Available now from Albert Moy|
Pretty much every single title from the Bronze Age has followed this pattern, so a George Perez Teen Titans cover, which might have been $400 in 1993 is now $7,000 or more. A John Byrne interior Iron Fist page which might have been $200 could now be $3,000. Cockrum's Uncanny X-Men pages were never as high demand as Byrne's, so back in the 90s a really great non-splash page with Wolverine and Nightcrawler could've been obtained for a few hundred dollars. Now it's an auction piece.
And what about comic art that was new back then?
|Now in the Felix Lu collection|
I'm not claiming that this is a standard scenario, but none of the comic book art I've bought has ever gone down in value. In my own personal experience, in a decade case study, not only has nothing ever decreased, but the minimum return on investment has been 150%, with the maximum being over 2000%. In other words, if you hold onto comic book art for ten years, it is virtually guaranteed to increase in value–even if you buy unwisely. Often times, comic book shops will have original comic art for sale that was priced when it originally came into the shop, but has not been adjusted since. So while prices and demand may have increased elsewhere, a savvy buyer can score a bargain and obtain art priced years behind the current market. Even in this age of heavy online sales and ebay, shops aren't keeping up on these things.
|What's the buyer premium on $657,000?|
|My retirement fund?|
I won't tell you what I paid for it until it sells, but it's looking to be a very, very good return on investment.
Matt Kennedy is the author of Pop Sequentialism: Great Comic Book Art of the Modern Age, and the gallery director at La Luz de Jesus Gallery. MK wishes to stress that his opinions are his own and may not reflect those of the gallery.