Saturday, October 17, 2015

Columbus part 2: Buying Comics Art

Robert Boyd

Long-time readers of this blog know that I like to collect art, and a subset of the art I collect is comics art. In the past month I've got several pieces by artists I love, including four pieces of art at Cartoon Crossroads Columbus. Each piece was purchased directly from the artist--no gallery acted as a middleman. In fact, there are very few galleries that sell comics art, presumably in part because there is very few pieces of comics art will sell for amounts that make it worth a gallery's time. But this is kind of a chicken-or-the-egg problem. Artworks often gain in value due to being sold by a gallery (the right gallery). This was demonstrated in The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson. I often feel that comics artists are missing out--not getting what they should get when they sell their original art. These low prices have allowed me to build up a really choice collection, if I may make such a claim. But I would gladly sacrifice this if it meant that Jaime Hernandez earned $25,000 whenever he sold a page of comics art.

Anyway, just before I went to CXC, I was looking at Sammy Harkham's webpage. And I realized that he was selling original art. I had just gotten the fourth issue of his self-published comics zine, Crickets, and I thought, why not. Here's what I purchased.

Sammy Harkham, Blood of the Virgin p. 19, 2009, pen and ink

Here's what the printed page looked like:

 Sammy Harkham, Blood of the Virgin p. 19 printed in Crickets issue 3, 2009

Which should remind one that whatever auratic value a piece of original comics art has, it is always a work-in-progress. The final work is the published work, which in this case had a layer of half-tone added.

Even the comics fans among you might not know who Harkham is. He is an artist's artist. In the comics world, he is probably best known for editing the avant comics anthology Kramer's Ergot, which was a key document of comics moving in the direction of contemporary art. It has been highly influential. The first issue was published in 2000. It really started to click with its third issue, released in 2002, and Harkam edited an additional five issues at a rate of about one every two years. I'd say the really classic issues were issues four, five, six and seven, which included great work by Mat Brinkman, Ben Jones, Gabrielle Bell, Gary Panter, St├ęphane Blanquet, Shary Boyle, Chris Ware and many, many others. (Kramers Ergot issue 9 is scheduled to come out next year.) In addition, he, his wife Raina and David Kramer run a bookstore/gallery in Los Angeles called Family. Being a great editor and running a great bookstore are accomplishment enough for anyone, but Harkham is also a great cartoonist.

Sammy Harkham, covers of Crickets issues 4 and 5, 2009 and 2015 respectively

His main venue aside from Kramer's Ergot has been a solo series of comics, Crickets. Some of the contents of the first two issues were collected in a book Everything Together. (He has one other book as well, Poor Sailor.) The most recent two issues of Crickets have been serializing a story called Blood of the Virgin, from which the original art I bought came.

With a title like Blood of the Virgin, you expect it to be unbelievably lurid. But the title in fact refers to a horror movie being made by a B-movie studio in 1972. The story deals with the mechanics of making such a movie, the ambitions of the filmmakers and their barely middle-class lifestyles. It's about making art that is barely considered art--something that comics artists deal with frequently! It appeals to me especially because of my own connection to that world--I was an employee of Roger Corman in Los Angeles in the early 90s. As I read Blood of the Virgin, I feel like I am watching an important work of comics art unfold before my eyes in real time. So I was very happy to be able to acquire a page from it.

Jaime Hernandez, untitled (Doyle), 2015, pen and ink

Jaime Hernandez is one of the brothers who created Love & Rockets in the early 80s. I don't exaggerate when I say he is one of the most important comics artists in the last 50 years. His collective works are one of the gigantic artistic achievements in any artistic medium of its time. I have adored his work ever since I stumbled onto the second issue in 1982. Over the years I've bought three pages by Hernandez from Love & Rockets. Hernandez was a guest at Sol-Con and CXC. He had half a table at Sol-Con, and the only thing he was selling were small black-and-white ink drawings of some of the characters from Love & Rockets.

Jaime Hernandez, untitled (Hopey), 2015, pen and ink

Jaime Hernandez, untitled (Frogmouth), 2015, pen and ink

I assume he can draw these things in his sleep, and yet they are beautiful little vignettes, all the more meaningful if you have been reading the stories for years and know the characters like your own family. Hernandez has aged his characters more-or-less in real time. When readers first met Hopey, for example, she was a cute lil teenaged punk rock runaway. Now she is a middle-aged lesbian working as a teaching assistant. And Hernandez draws her as someone who has earned some wisdom about life the hard way. Or maybe I'm reading too much into one drawing--after all, I already know Hopey like family.

The crazy thing is that Hernandez was selling these for $100 apiece. I think he gets invited to a comics festival like this and maybe whips up a bunch of drawings so that in addition to whatever honorarium he gets, he can come home with a couple of grand extra in his pocket. I'm sure that it works well for him, but it still rubs me the wrong way. These drawings should be sold for a lot more. So I feel a little guilty that I spent so little to get so much, but my main regret right now is that I didn't buy more!

Dylan Horrocks, "Cornucopia" page 5, pen iand ink, 2009

This is the third Dylan Horrocks page I've bought over the years. As readers of this blog know, Horrocks is another comics artist whose work I've long followed and admired. I wrote about his book collection Incomplete Works here, and about his most recent graphic novel, Sam Zabel And The Magic Pen back when it was still a work in progress being serialized online. Horrocks is not an erotic artist, but he doesn't avoid it. This page is from a story called "Cornucopia" (included in the anthology Incomplete Works), and the eroticism of this page is critically important in this eight-page story. Horrocks has hinted at a "universe" (as they are called in comics) that all his characters inhabit. Cornucopia is a country in Horrock's universe that pops up here and there in his various stories. This particular story is about two people falling in love, one of whom is from this mysterious country which she is describing to her lover on this page.

Horrocks was at CXC, and I bought the page from him there. It was drawn on A3 paper, and I had to scramble to find a piece of cardboard large enough to protect it from damage on the flight home. Fortunately Chris Sperandio had brought a bunch of posters to the show, and he still had the cardboard backing he had used. Now the page is safe in my flat file along with other treasures of comics art.

Dylan Horrocks at CXC


  1. Hi Robert, I enjoyed this post.

    You wrote "...I feel a little guilty that I spent so little to get so much...". At the time did you offer him more money? I assume if more ppl with your level of art
    acumen did this, artists would increase their prices to a fair amount. At the very least I bet they'd be more than appreciative.

    Why not track down Jaime's paypal account and fix this oversight?


  2. Thanks for posting what you picked up in Columbus. I'll will have to go next year for sure. I enjoy seeing what other collectors purchase at these shows. I have a few Jaime pieces too that he sold at his table. I got this one a while ago at SDCC.

  3. Jealous as fuck. Just the "melting head tech demonstration "page from Crickets #3 was enough to make me go :"BASTARD!" in the nicest way possible. And of course the Hernandez drawings are beautiful. Wonderful pieces all.