In a Time to Collect post awhile back, I covered comic book writers and noted that hardly anyone collects comics based on writers. We can’t say the same for comic book artists, collecting comics based on favoured artists is one of the oldest collecting strains in the hobby and one still very active today.
My sense as of this post is that collecting by artist for investment peaked a couple of years ago. Matt Baker, the greatest of the Good Girl Art artists enjoyed renewed interest that saw almost all his cover work shoot up in value, books with strong covers from L.B. Cole had huge run-ups in value, Alex Schomburg covers were all the rage. Things have cooled down a bit, this current lull is more a symptom of the recent overall softer back issue market or correction to the market if we can call it that.
I think the artist collecting strain is here to stay and we can expect some more peaks in the future. An artist like Charles Biro was always dismissed back in the 80s and 90s when I was a much more active collector but slowly over time and with the growth in demand of crime covers there has been a second look at Biro stuff and some younger collectors I know seek out selected issues of his. Biro groupies, who knew?
Here I’d like to compare artists to covers which makes sense since one drew the other. Collecting covers is the fastest growing collecting strain these past several years and it’s interesting to note that some of the younger fans are gravitating to covers that the collectors of my generation and the generation before me thought little of. Comic artists are being targeted in this way now too as I illustrated above with the Bakers, Schomburgs and the Coles. It’s hard to tell which of the old artists will catch fire but I think the new fans will have a lot to say about it. The good thing about new fans is that they don’t often think like the old fans and new fans are going to be the ones that decide which of the old artists get “rediscovered”. Lets let my Biro example above make that point.
I do think collecting value increases in comics that come about from a newfound appreciation for artists will be concentrated in the Golden Age and extending maybe into the early Silver Age. The reason I say this is that spikes in demand for artists will never be as crazy big as say a spike in demand for a first appearance after a major movie announcement, they will be smaller spikes so their impact on value will be felt more where supply is already tight. So, for example, a hard to find old book selling for $300 now may get $600 if the artist on the book becomes a new darling.
Modern comics offer interesting opportunities, their historically low print runs assure some level of scarcity for future collectors, now add in variant covers and we get scarcity levels comparable to early Silver Age comics. Is Stanley ‘Artgerm’ Lau a good bet for future value? The work is exceptional, the supply is limited.
In my old Undervalued Spotlight posts, I picked a few comics that featured an important artist’s first work, first cover etc. Time has past and I no longer feel the first work to be the most important in a person’s collection of an artist. As good as the cover to Daring Comics #1 is give me a copy of Alex Schomburg’s Suspense Comics #3 any day of the week. Comics containing first works are important to collectors but its the iconic artist’s most iconic covers that are the way to go.
There are the giants of the industry, the Frazettas, the Schomburgs, the Kirbys, etc. We all know what Schomburg cover we want but what about Frazetta, Kirby? What are Jack Kirby’s five greatest covers ever? One of my all-time favourites is big John Buscema and I know that my favourite covers of his are Silver Surfer #4 and Avengers Annual #2. I’m also a huge fan of Gene Colan but I couldn’t tell you what my favourite cover of his is, is there an opportunity there?
I think there is still value in mining for artists. Looking at their catalogue and zeroing in on their very best work would be a good move and it’s a move you have control over, you do the homework, you pick the horses you want to bet on, perhaps signing up for an art appreciation class might be a good investment.