Original Art, One-of-a-Kind Collector

 

Written by Amy Dee Stephens in the January 2018 Issue

Comic book art

Original Art, One-of-a-Kind Collector

A year ago, James Siegel learned about the genre of collecting original comic book art—not the comic books themselves, but the one-of-a-kind drawings made by the artist before publication. It’s a small but growing niche of art collectors, and Siegel has entered the field aggressively.

Tell me about your collection...

I own about 40 pieces. I collect images that mean something to me, usually because I enjoyed reading the comic book or because I like the artist’s style. I’m really drawn to Spiderman, Wolverine, and Venom, who is Spiderman’s villain. I’m also big on collecting paintings by Clayton Crain.

How did your collection get started?

I started reading a monthly comic series called Chew. I hadn’t read comics in years, but when I looked up the artist, I saw that he was selling the original artwork—the very artwork that he spent a ton of time drawing before it got scanned in and published. I thought, “I can buy this? This is a hobby?” I guess all collectors want a collection with exclusivity, but you can’t get more exclusive than one out of one!

What lessons have you learned?

Some people get into this hobby to earn a profit, but most of us just want to appreciate the artwork. Each artist generates tons of comic book pages, but not all of those pieces are desirable. Pages without much action, called “talking head” pages, have a lesser value. The ones that sell have action scenes, characters in costume, or scenes of significant dialogue that reflect the storyline.

It’s a hobby that can become financially significant if you want to purchase something like a pre-1960s Superman or Batman. The classics are extremely rare, because the original art was rarely saved. A lot of it ended up in the trash or on the publisher’s floor to spill coffee on. Those can go for six figures, but more modern work by lesser-known artists is pretty inexpensive.

Any advice to interested collectors?

I did a ton of research before buying my first page, and I still regret one of my early purchases, because it was a scanned image that someone had inked over. A good starting point online is Comic Art Fans. It’s a good place to see major collections, what you like, and what’s for sale. Also, Original Art Aficionado articles talk about beginning a collection and how to understand industry terminology.

What do you do with your art?

When I started last year, I had blank walls in my home office, so now I have a lot of my collection framed so that I can enjoy it every day. The pieces I’ve bought are ones that I really love. I don’t really buy pieces with the intention of selling them, although I did just complete a major trade of three of my Clayton Cain’s works in exchange for some legendary artists’ works. Financially, it was a no-brainer, but I had a lot of anxiety in letting go of something I loved. Once it’s gone, you’ll likely never get it back.

How does this collection fit into your life?

It’s a hobby that can be as time-consuming as I want, but since I’m a dad, I mostly look online after my son goes to bed. So far, I’ve not yet met anyone in Oklahoma with this same hobby; I’m mostly connecting with collectors around the world. The Marvel movies have definitely brought the comic book industry back, and that appeals to the people who read comics as kids in the 1970s-1990s and are now adults with a disposable income. For me, there’s nothing like looking at the original art of a classic character I grew up with. Like most collectors, my preferences are decided by nostalgia.

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