Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Steranko

The practice of collecting original comic book artwork is fraught with peril! In the back of the collector's head should always be the worry about whether artwork he is considering purchasing is legitimately owned by the seller or whether it was shadily purloined from the artist. The water gets particularly murky if the artwork was long ago purloined but in the interim there has been a years-long or even decades-long chain of ownership.

Savage Dragon creator Erik Larsen wrote eloquently on this topic a couple of weeks ago in his blog entitled One Fan's Opinion that I only recently stumbled across. He tells of his own earliest purchases of original artwork and explains that pretty much any page of Steve Ditko artwork on the market was originally unlawfully procured since Ditko never himself sold any artwork and instead just stacked page upon page upon page in a pile in his studio. This information hit me hard, as I in the past owned three pages of Ditko artwork (click here if you'd like to see the Hawk and Dove page I used to own) and I never had any inkling that there was any skullduggery in those pages' pasts. Click here if you'd like to see Erik's blog posting on this subject, and my kids and I recommend that you go out of your way to see Mr. Larsen at any comic convention panel on which he appears as we have found him to be one the most entertaining of all the comics panelists we've ever seen. (We even enjoyed watching him eat his lunch at the McDonald's down the road from the Rosement Convention Center one year when he and we attended WizardWorld Chicago.)

What brought up all the recent talk about original art provenance was a high-profile story about a beautiful piece of artwork that Jim Steranko pencilled and inked and colored back in 1973 when he was helming F.O.O.M. magazine for Marvel Comics (and nobody needs me to remind them that F.O.O.M. stood for Friends of Ol' Marvel). I myself was a charter member of F.O.O.M. back in those days and I very much enjoyed receiving F.O.O.M. magazine and the Steranko-drawn materials in the good ol' U.S. mail. It's been years since I've seen the beautiful Steranko poster that all the hubbub was about, but I remember it well.

The artwork showed up for auction last month on ebay, and Steranko put out press releases that the original had been stolen from the charity to which he had contributed it, and that the seller of the page was not its owner and that that individual should not be selling it and that nobody should be buying it. Click here to see what Steranko wrote and Newsarama published. Whoa! Heavy stuff and lots of details!

After I read that Steranko article I clicked over to eBay and there was the piece, up for bid! I put the item on my eBay Watch List so I could observe what would unfold. Well, the bids went up by thousands of dollars just about every day. While the auction was still running, the seller added an update to the listing in which he refuted Steranko's claims and described Steranko's efforts as a smear campaign. Wow! Click here to view the now-completed auction listing and also to get a view of what the poster itself looked like. (I might even mention that the lucky winning bidder won one or two pages of artwork from me last year when I was selling my art collection!)

The whole Steranko scenario sent chills racing down my spine because I had had a similar experience last year when I was selling my stunning Action Comics cover featuring Superman drawn by the team of Neal Adams and Murphy Anderson (and please click here for a reminder of just how beautiful that piece of artwork was and is). After my auction for that page opened, I received an eBay message from the son of Neal Adams saying that they believed that the page had been stolen and that I should call Neal to discuss the matter with him. I added an update to the listing to assure all bidders of my legitimacy of ownership, much like the seller of the Steranko piece did. One evening while the auction was running, Mr. Adams was the live guest on the radio program Coast to Coast with George Noory and I was sincerely worried that he was going to talk on live national radio about me selling his artwork, but instead (whew!) he talked about the earth's crust and theories about the former shapes of our planet's continents (!).


At 4:13 PM, Blogger Harry Mendryk said...

An interesting post about a troubling problem, that is if you are an comic art collector. It is so difficult to be sure what the status of a piece of art really is. In the past I have heard a number of experts say that any Kirby piece that is unsigned was stolen. But I own some unsigned Kirby pieces that were advertised in the Jack Kirby Collecter for sale by the Kirby estate. Without any lists of stolen art collecters must always wonder about the true status of pieces that they own.


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