Original Comic Art Sets New Record Price At Auction – Forbes

This iconic image of Fritz the Cat, R. Crumb's laconic underground comix superstar, sold for $717,250 at auction in May, 2017.

Art by R. Crumb, Imaged by Heritage Auctions (HA.com)

This iconic image of Fritz the Cat, R. Crumb’s laconic underground comix superstar, sold for $717,00 at auction in May, 2017.

An original cover by underground comix artist Robert Crumb sold for $717,000, a new record price for a piece of American comic art, at the Heritage Comics and Comic Art Auction that closed yesterday. Two other Crumb pages sold for close to $200,000 each and work by legendary superhero artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko also brought in six-figure bids.

The record-setting work is the cover to a collection of Crumb’s Fritz the Cat comics collected by Ballantine in October 1969, at the height of the underground comix movement that emerged from the counterculture and the San Francisco scene. The cover is an iconic depiction of one of Crumb’s most famous creations, the sex-crazed feline lothario Fritz, cuddling with his girlfriend Charlene. The 11×12.5” ink on Bristol board illustration from the estate of Felix Denis changed hands for nearly $800,000 after commission to an undisclosed buyer bidding by phone.

That’s the highest recorded price for any piece of original American comic work to date, surpassing the $657,250 realized for the final page of Incredible Hulk #180 by Herb Trimpe and Jack Abel, which featured the first appearance of the character Wolverine, in May 2014. The world record is more than $3.5 million for original endpapers from Tintin by Belgian creator Hergé.

Two other Crumb works, a page from XYZ Comics featuring another signature Crumb image (“Keep On Truckin’”) and a complete 4-page story “The Confessions of R. Crumb” from The People’s Comics (1972), each sold for $191,200.

The rising prices for Crumb’s original art stem from the 73-year-old cartoonist’s growing reputation as one of the greats of graphic illustration, not just in the modern era but in Western art history. Critic Robert Hughes has compared Crumb to 16th-century Flemish master Bruegel, and Crumb’s work was recently exhibited alongside Rembrandt, Goya, Picasso, Hogarth and Durer in a monumental retrospective of engravings and drawings.

Other notable results from the Heritage auction include a story page from the Amazing Spider-Man #23 (1965) by the reclusive artist Steve Ditko, Spider-Man’s co-creator, whose best originals rarely come up for sale. That sold for $104,562.50, according to Heritage. The cover of Thor #136 (1967), a bold and distinctive image by Jack Kirby with inks by Vince Coletta gaveled at $101,575. Kirby (1917-1994), who has finally won formal recognition for his role in creating most of Marvel’s superhero pantheon in conjunction with writer-editor Stan Lee, is being recognized with celebrations and exhibitions this year to mark his centenary.

I’m the author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture, Generation Blend,  partner at MediaPlant and consult on future trends in technology and entertainment. Follow me @robsalk.


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