One of the most unique facets of the comics collecting hobby is the acquisition of original art and commissioned pieces. For the uninitiated, most of the art featured within the pages of your favorite comics is a reproduction of an original art composition. The art is normally composed on specially sized 11 x 17 inch pages. For some enthusiasts, this original artwork represents a chance to own a piece of history. It can potentially be a great investment opportunity for the collector and it allows the artist an additional revenue stream. Some complications and monetary considerations make this specialized facet of comics fandom an exercise for those with tenacity and strong communication skills. Otherwise, the likelihood of disappointment becomes an exponentially potential outcome.
There are many avenues for procuring original comic art. The most obvious source, and my personal favorite, is directly from the artist. Most artists have either a personal website, a Facebook page, or at the very least, an e-mail account. Dealing directly with the artist omits extra charges normally associated with additional individuals and their involvement. Fees such as agent commissions and 3rd party art dealers’ fees can add to your cost. Depending on the notoriety of the artist in question, sometimes the consumer has no choice but to consult an entity other than the actual artist. For the purpose of securing a personal commission, the more layers of other people’s involvement, the more potential negative scenarios begin to surface.
Particularly for those of us on a limited budget, you’ll need to decide what types of art you’re most interested in collecting. If you go the route of pursuing original comic art as it appeared in the book, the investment potential can wield strong financial returns. The most expensive examples of original art typically involve any number of factors that represent the universal acknowledgment of desirability. Cover art commands high premiums. Average price for a cover ranges from about $300.00 all the way up to several thousands.
Interior splash pages are highly collectible commodities for the comic art fan. If it features full-figured action shots of popular characters, the pricing escalates. If it’s a key moment from a popular comic, add some more dollar signs to the list price. Did a big name, A-list artist do the work, because if so, you’re well on your way into the thousands. Names like Alex Ross, Jack Kirby, Jim Lee, Frank Miller and John Byrne command thousands of dollars for their original artwork.
A considerably less expensive alternative to original comic art is collecting commissioned artwork. This is the path that I’ve chosen for most of my personal collection. Although I do have a few pages of original art, the commissions are the ones that resonate most strongly for me. Commission pricing, just like with the original comic art, entails many variables. If it’s a well-known, popular artist, their availability is more limited. This means that their fees will be substantially higher than some of their peers. Penciled head shots tend to be the least expensive way to go. Pricing ranges from $30.00 to $100.00. Inking over the pencils normally adds another 50% to your purchase price. Full figure drawings start at around $60.00 and can go as much as $500.00 or more. As you add complexity, such as inking, backgrounds, multiple characters, the dollar amounts begin to skyrocket.
As a longtime comics fan and convention attendee, my tastes have gradually changed over time. Acquiring cheap comics will always hold some appeal, but with the proliferation of the Internet, obtaining heavily discounted comics is not a difficult task. The same can be said for most other collectibles. The area I’ve found that offers unique buying opportunities is at a comic convention. Here you get to see the artwork in person. For those who track down commissioned art, you will get the chance to actually meet with the artist and discuss what you’re looking for. For all of my commissions, and I have about 80 individual pieces, I have a personal story that accompanies them. I can remember talking to the artist, their opinion of my art subject, how busy they were, how long it took for them to finish the commission, the amount of detail in the piece, their enthusiasm, etc. The entire experience is part of the final illustration.
For those interested in commissioned art, I have a few tips that I’ve learned along the way. First of all, always have reference art. Don’t assume that the artist knows what your character looks like. I have always received positive feedback every time I’ve ever handed over reference material. It can be a printed copy, the actual comic book, or even other artists’ renderings of the character. Just make sure they have something to look at. Generally speaking, you don’t want to get overly specific with exact poses and implicit direction. Being an artist means that they enjoy being creative. Give them some ideas on what you want, but let them put their individual spin on the product. I’ve found that I get the best return on my investment when I give them the latitude to create something that they’ll have fun with.
I personally chose to pursue collecting a specific theme. All of my artwork focuses on the characters from Darick Robertson and Warren Ellis’ series Transmetropolitan. This is my favorite piece of comics literature and Spider Jerusalem (the protagonist in the book) is my favorite comic character. Spider Jerusalem is not a common request for artists, and for the most part, that has worked to my advantage. Can you imagine how many times an artist is asked to draw Batman? Or if an artist is known as ‘the X-Men guy,’ they are probably sick of drawing Wolverine. Will they tell you that to your face, as a potentially paying customer? Probably not. Artists I’ve talked with either immediately know Spider Jerusalem, or they don’t have any idea who he is and they’re curious to learn.
I’ve spent as little as $1.00 for a commission and as much as $300.00. In terms of price, you don’t always get what you pay for. Some of my favorite pieces were in the $40.00 range. One that I spent $150.00 was a bit of a disappointment. As with anything, your mileage will vary.
Whether you collect original comic art or you pursue commissioned artwork, you’re in for a treat. You will own a one-of-a-kind piece of art that you can treasure for many years to come. In my case, I got to show my commissions to Darick Robertson, Spider Jerusalem’s designer and co-creator. He was blown away by all the different interpretations of his character. I’ve formed a friendship with him and other opportunities have come my way because of my love of the art form. Collecting comic art has been an extremely fulfilling experience.