Comic book aficionados mark the history of the medium in ages. The Golden Age is heralded by the first appearance of Superman in 1938 and the current Modern Age is being noted by greater creative freedom and the permeation of comics into all corners of pop culture. But if recent sales of comic collectibles are any indication, a subset of today’s fans may be living in a Gilded Age.
In August, a nearly pristine copy of “Action Comics” No. 1, in which the Man of Steel made his debut, was auctioned for $3.2 million. In May, a page of original art from 1974 featuring the first appearance of Wolverine, sold for $657,250. Unlike comic books, which are usually in color and printed by the thousands, the original black and white artwork is one-of-a-kind.
“One thing about the original art is that it’s a little messy: you see notes; you see word balloons pasted on,” said Steven Payne, the author of 2009’s “Grail Pages: Original Comic Book Art and the Collectors.” The unpolished look of the pages — ink stains, erasures, stick-on logos or word balloons — add to their appeal as something from behind the scenes. And comic book publishers have taken note. DC Comics and Marvel Entertainment often print special editions of comics that showcase the artwork in black and white and IDW has an “Artist’s Edition” series that presents the pages in their original size (typically 11” by 17”).
Mr. Payne, 52, bought his first piece of art — a page from “The Savage Sword of Conan,” illustrated by John Buscema — in 1979 for around $20. Those halcyon days are gone. A search on the Heritage Auctions website found similar Conan pages from $59 (the artwork did not depict the hero) to $11,352.50 (which showed Conan during a violent battle).
Some fans have grown up to be successful professionals, Mr. Payne said, who do not hesitate at buying pages whether their price is $5,000 or $50,000. Today’s artists are also aware of the resale value. Certain pages seem drawn for this secondary market — “Everything has a poster look to it,” he said — and many illustrators work with dealers to sell their work.
Here is a selective guide as to where to buy original comic book art.
HERITAGE AUCTIONS(comics.ha.com) has seen record sales for original art. The Wolverine page, drawn by Herb Trimpe, and a 1990 cover of “Spider-Man,” illustrated by Todd McFarlane, sold for $657,250. Another of Mr. McFarlane’s works will be auctioned Nov. 20-22: the 1988 cover of “Spider-Man” No. 300, which depicts the hero in his black costume. The final price is expected to be more than $300,000.
SPLASH PAGE COMIC ART(www.splashpageart.com) features more than 50 artists, including biographical information for many of the creators. A 2013 page from “The Walking Dead” comic book, the basis for the television series, was penciled by Charlie Adlard, inked by Stefano Gaudiano and is being sold for $875.
ROMITAMAN (www.romitaman.com) has an embarrassment of riches. The home page has a clickable carousel of images, highlighting some of the artwork for sale. There are also good search options, and results can be sorted by price. A Green Lantern page from 1966 by Gil Kane is $14,000.
SCOTT EDER (www.scotteder.com) has an exhaustive list of artists, but some links lead to dead ends or art that has been sold. An unpublished cover by the cartoonist Chris Ware is being sold for $9,000.
ANTHONY’S COMIC BOOK ART (www.anthonyscomicbookart.com)has work by more than 1,400 artists and includes helpful links like “featured,” “new” and “covers.” The drawing of Princess Leia from “Star Wars” was done on commission by the artist Chris Sprouse and is being sold for $125.
COMIC LINK(www.comiclink.com) has a great selection of artists and helpful subcategories (“pin up pages,” “stories”) that can be sorted by price. The 1996 cover of “Amazon” by John Byrne, available for $18,500, was part of a publishing gimmick that combined DC and Marvel heroes into new characters. In this case, DC’s Wonder Woman + Marvel’s Storm = Amazon.
GRAPHIC COLLECTIBLES (www.graphiccollectibles.com) lists around 70 artists, but a few of the searches come up empty. Looking by price, however, turned up a 1966 “Fantastic Four” page ($20,000) by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott and a 1972 “Adventure Comics” cover ($10,000), by Bob Oksner, in which Supergirl informs the Justice League that Superman is a traitor!
THE ARTIST’S CHOICE(www.theartistschoice.com) offers illustrators’ work for sale, and a handful of that group can be commissioned to draw whatever the buyers want. June Brigman, the artist behind Marvel’s “Power Pack,” has an alternate cover of that series for sale at $1,000 and custom sketches starting at $30. She offers recreations of published covers for $450.
ALEX ROSS ART (www.alexrossart.com) has examples of Mr. Ross’s much-lauded work and pieces available for purchase, including the cover of this year’s “Justice Inc.” No. 5, from Dynamite Entertainment, which teams up three champions from the Golden Age: the Shadow, Doc Savage and the Avenger. The price: $6,000.