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Sotheby’s Comics Art Auction:

Nearly Four Million Euros of Originals

The differences in the status and value of comics art, the original artworks created for comics, between Britain and France were cast into sharp relief on Saturday afternoon, March 7th. In London, The Cartoon Museum announced the significant award from the Heritage Lottery Fund of £164,300 to buy original pieces for the Museum’s collection of comics artwork and develop exhibitions and programmes to promote Britain’s comics heritage to the public. The Cartoon Museum welcomes recommendations for what it should acquire - you can email your favourites by sending an email to projectcurator [at] cartoonmuseum.org.uk and explaining why you love it and why they should buy it. All in all, this is another historic tipping point in the growing recognition of the art form in this country.

That said, meanwhile at the same time in Paris, coinciding almost exactly, Sotheby’s staged their major auction sale of 288 lots of Bande Dessinée, offering a stellar A to Z of classic and contemporary artists, mainly French, with some from the rest of Europe and the USA, from Alex Alice to Yslaire. Sotheby’s called on Bernard Mahé from Galerie 9eme Art in Paris and Eric Verhoest from http://www.galeriechampaka.com/” target=“_blank”>Galerie Champaka in Paris and Brussels to be their specialist advisors. The sale total has been announced as 3,821,947 euros, nor far off 4 million based on hammer prices plus buyer’s premium, which puts The Cartoon Museum’s budget into some perspective. A number of lots were withdrawn, passed or unsold, but the majority were sold, several at impressive prices, proof of this robust market among collectors and connoisseurs. The whole catalogue is browsable online here…

It’s revealing to look at some of the highest success stories of this important sale and how they compared to the estimates. The lot with the highest estimate by far was this Hergé cover illustration to commemorate the tenth birthday of Le Petit Vingtième from 1938 (above), and the sale price came in on target at 453,000 euros. Other Hergé lots topped the sale results, reaching 327,000 for page 102 from King Ottakar’s Sceptre in 1939, and 183,000 euros for the sketches of page 25 of The Castafiore Emeralds. But it was the statue of Tintin and Snowy by Nat Neujean from 1976 (below) that went way past its upper estimate of 180,000 euros, reaching 261,000 euros under the hammer.

Highlighted on the catalogue cover (see above), Hugo Pratt’s cover art for the Corto Maltese album Les Celtiques, estimated at 220,000-240,000 euros. was one of the other expensive pieces at 315,000 euros, alongside an interior page from Asterix and The Great Crossing from 1975 by Uderzo, estimated at 145,000-155,000 euros, but purchased for 243,000 euros.

Other artists whose works substantially exceeded expectations and more than doubled their lower estimates were Americans Charles Burns, whose six-panel Big Baby strip (estimate 6,000 euros, above) was snapped up for 12,500 euros; Chris Ware, whose Jimmy Corrigan page (estimate 11,500 euros) shot up to 26,250 euros; and Charles Schulz with a 1983 Peanuts daily strip (estimate 12,000 euros) demanding 21,250 euros.

Equally successful Franco-Belgians were François Avril, whose acrylic painting ‘Indian Summer’ (estimate 10,000 euros, above), sold for 27,500 euros; Blutch, whose pastel ‘You’ve Seen Nothing Yet’, (estimate 3,000 euros), reached 8,125 euros; Druillet, whose page from Delirius (estimate 8,000 euros) was bought for 16,250 euros; Jacques Martin’s rare 1956 Alix comics page (estimate 10,000) which peaked at 32,500 euros; and perhaps most astonishing, Tezuka’s potentially rather fugitive felt-pen sketch of Astro Boy (estimate 4,500 euros, below) which shot up to 23,750 euros.

Other high-flyers, indicating artists and types of powerful painted single-image artwork that appealed strongly to the bidders and will look good framed on a wall, were Juanjo Guarnido’s alluring Blacksad illustration (above), which fetched 43,750 euros; Enrico Marini’s wraparound cover painting for The Scorpion at 45,000 euros; Grzegorz Rosinski’s Thorgal cover at 56,250 euros; Ana Miralles’ erotic Djinn tableau at 21,250 euros; Mathieu Lauffrey’s Long John Silver front cover at 31,250 euros; Schuiten’s stunning ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ at 47.500 euros; and Dave Steven’s dazzling Rocketeer cover at 60,000 euros (below).

Most artists already established in the international comics art market held up well and confirmed their collectability, such as Barks (above), Bilal (film poster artwork for Mon Oncle D’Amérique), Caniff (including the first Sunday page of Steve Canyon, Crepax, Crumb, Eisner (a complete Spirit story), Franquin, Giraud/Moebius, Herriman, McCay (below), Miller, Raymond and others, providing their iconic characters are well featured. A few notable omissions were mainly American comic book legends like Kirby, Ditko, Steranko, et al. In contrast, some relative newcomers like Paul Pope and Thomas Ott did not apparently sell. Like the ‘real’ contemporary art market, it can take time for an artist to build up a reputation and these two were probably less well known so far in France itself. Of note, two choice British artists were included, Don Lawrence with a single page from Trigan Empire and Kevin O’Neill with art from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Marshall Law.

The majority of artwork made for comics is made for reproduction, as Crumb has reminded us, and not necessarily for the art gallery. On the evidence of this auction’s results, mutli-panel narrative pages of sequential art can sometimes prove less attractive to certain art-lovers and investors than one striking painting-like or ‘pin-up’ image, and some of the no-show items in this auction bear that out. Even so, this Sotheby’s sale proves that the status of comics art shows no signs of slumping, but if anything will go on rising in value and in recognition. Even if it may put these artworks out of reach of most of us, and strain the purse of even Britain’s best-funded arts institutions.

As a footnote, the following Saturday March 14th, rival auction house Christie’s in Paris sold near six million euros of original comics art, setting new world records for pieces by Moebius, Bilal and others, more proof of the rising prices for these works. Didier Pasamonik reported on the sale on ActuaBD and quoted one art magazine journalist as saying:

“This is a generational phenomenon. These buyers are not so much connoisseurs of the great old masters to be interested in drawings from the 16th or 19th centuries, whose value is sometimes less at these auctions than comics art. And they have little interest in the issues of contemporary art to get fully involved. So there was a space to be filled. The emotional and universal dimension of comics reassures these collectors, but also investors.”

Posted: March 8, 2015

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Article Links

Sotheby’s catalogue online
The Cartoon Museum’s Comic Creators Project

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British Comics
Charles Burns
Euro Comics
Hergé
Hugo Pratt
Winsor McCay

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