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.

The Author

Mike McLarty

Mike McLarty

A San Diego native, Mike has comics in his blood and has attended the San Diego Comic Con every year since 1982. His comic interests are as varied as his crimes against humanity, but he tends to lean heavily towards things rooted in dystopian themes. His favorite comic series is Warren Ellis’ and Darick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan. Spider Jerusalem is the best character ever devised. Mike realizes those statements will alienate a good portion of his potential audience, but those are the facts. You are unlikely to find a single collector with a better Transmetropolitan art portfolio than the one he has in his possession. He is an Assistant Editor for the upcoming Transmetropolitan Charity Book.

He also occasionally freelances for various other comics websites, which he promotes through his homepage (www.comickarma.com), Twitter and other inherently intrusive forms of social media. Mike firmly believes that the best writers come from the UK. This could be because he’s of Irish descent; not so much based on physical geography as the fact that the Irish like to drink heavily.

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15 Comments

  1. Pantsthemonkey
    November 26, 2010 at 12:29 pm — Reply

    Great article! I’ve recently started collecting original art (on a slim budget, which is doable but sometimes painful) myself, and it certainly holds a different appeal than just buying comics alone. I especially like commissioning art. The collaborative nature that is required really makes the end result feel all the more meaningful.

    For those on a budget, I’ve found ebay a great resource as well as sites like Deviantart.com, where there are a lot of artists that haven’t quite hit the big time and will do some amazing work without an enormous price tag.

  2. November 26, 2010 at 4:35 pm — Reply

    I have a very small collection of art. Pages from Warren Ellis and Colleen Doran’s ORBITER, some Sonic the Hedgehog splash pages. But most of it is commissions, I had Roger Langridge do a Kermit illo for about $40, and I have had ink sketches done for free at Heroes Con, some of the coolest are from Erik Larson, Jonathan Hickman, Jeffery Brown, and Jaime Hernandez. Conventions are really cool, and even if you can’t spend hundreds of dollars on original art, you can still chat with the artists, and or writers.

    For those who want some pages on the cheap go to a con, and look in the program for comic book inkers. These guys are the unsung heroes of the big two. They usually have real good pages for prices that make a 36oz. steak look like a McDonalds hamburger.

  3. November 26, 2010 at 6:22 pm — Reply

    I collect Ninja Turtle artwork – primarily Leonardo. I had Jim Lawson and Dan Berger do me a Leonardo full figure commission after I interviewed them, and they both let me be pretty specific. I also had Michael Dooney do a Leonardo for me. Plus shipping, I ended up only spending $50-$80 on them.
    Here’s my Dan Berger piece:
    http://mechanisticmoth.wordpress.com/2010/07/01/oh-my-gosh-dan-berger-comissioned-art/

    • November 27, 2010 at 12:14 am — Reply

      That’s a GREAT piece, my friend!

    • Antonio Sanciolo
      November 27, 2010 at 1:10 am — Reply

      geez louise!
      that is an amazing piece of art!

  4. Antonio Sanciolo
    November 26, 2010 at 11:10 pm — Reply

    I’ve seen a bit of “comic production art” on ebay; they seem to be prints on acetate used to preview an actual run. Where do these stand in the scheme of comic art collecting?

    • November 27, 2010 at 12:13 am — Reply

      The production art and color guides can be an inexpensive way to enter into art collecting. It’s not generally regarded as being very collectable, but it gives you an intermediary exposure to the hobby.

      The recommendation to seek out inkers for original art pages is something I neglected to mention. Inkers usually get a % of the original art pages back after the book goes to press. Their fees are much more affordable.

      Lesser known artists are another great idea for commissions. Especially if you have a portfolio or website that they can refer to for the sake of some friendly competition. Chuck BB was honored to be included in my Transmet portfolio, amongst the likes of Chaykin, Maleev, Ba & Moon, etc.

  5. Sarcasm Kid
    November 27, 2010 at 12:00 am — Reply

    I pretty much only get commissions and convention sketches. A while back I got bored and I started a type of wish list made up of artists and what characters I’d like one day have them do. Starts at Abell and ends at Yu.

    I don’t tend to usually ask for a character an artist is well known for, at least, not in the way they’d expect. If I get a chance to have George Perez do a Wonder Woman sketch I’d want Wonder Woman from the 1960s. If I get the chance to get Captain Marvel by Jerry Ordway, I’d ask him to do Cap’s evil counterpart from the Crime Syndicate. I’ve also asked for anime characters, and I’ve had a couple of artists do “original depictions” of some characters. I’ve got Matter-Eater Lad dressed as Divine from the movie “Pink Flamingos” by Adriana Ferguson and sumo Timber Wolf by Francis Manapul.

    If a commission is supposed to be one-of-a-kind, then I’d want to actually be one of a kind by getting obscure characters instead of asking for one that’s frequently done by said artist. Also, I want to be a comic writer someday, but I don’t know when that’ll be, so I enjoy the opportunity to have an artist bring to life some of my ideas, even if I have to pay them.

    • November 27, 2010 at 12:15 am — Reply

      Good perspective, Kid. Creativity is normally rewarded with some great artistic dividends.

      • Sarcasm Kid
        November 27, 2010 at 1:07 am — Reply

        It really does. When I heard last year that Joe Prado was doing Black Lantern designs I commissioned him to do a deceased Doom Patroller in the hopes that she might show up in Blackest Night. She didn’t, but the piece is still spectacular.

    • Pantsthemonkey
      November 27, 2010 at 10:50 am — Reply

      I agree with you completely. I’ve had several artists go outside their comfort zones, and each time they’ve responded with some level of excitement over doing something different or new, and their excitement seems to show in the end result.

      • November 27, 2010 at 11:12 am — Reply

        It’s almost like a collaborative process! I think the fanboy in me responds to the personal nature of commissioned art. Unfortunately, I don’t have the income I did a year ago, but it gives me pause to appreciate what I already have.

        • Sarcasm Kid
          November 27, 2010 at 7:14 pm — Reply

          Well you can still enjoy the freebies, like the quick head sketches. You could have the artist add in a word bubble with something you think the character would say or fitting to the situation. I had Jamal Igle do a quickie of Duela Dent saying “Look at me now, daddy!”, Ragdoll by Nicola Scott saying “Who wants an underpants party?”, and a Joker by Dustin Nguyen saying a line from one of my favorite Batman episodes.

          Or mix it up a bit to let the artist have some fun with it. J.H. Williams III? Ask him to do Kathy Kane Batwoman instead of Kate. Amanda Conner? Power Boy instead of Power Girl. And so on. But, it helps to have reference material.

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