Here’s something to think about. At the San Diego Comicon recently, a cover by Mike Kaluta was for sale at $30,000. Not directly from Mike, more’s the pity; he’s not going to get another penny for that piece of his original artwork. The dealer’s price was met via a trade with another dealer, according to my inside reporter (okay, fine, my husband, Scott Edelman; go to his LiveJournal blog to see a photo of him holding the cover). We thus do not know whether the price was merely a starting point for a negotiation, or something close to reality.
I don’t know about you, but $30k is still a lot of money to me. It’s a nice cover, very pretty. I wish I could draw like that. But $30k? Okay, dial it back. What if it actually sold for a mere $15k? Poor families live on that for a whole year. Most women on Social Security get less than that per year, the average being $11,000. And for many people, Social Security is their only income. So who is buying all this original art? Not people on Social Security, that’s for sure. People with a lot of disposable income. A lot.
I can remember feeling priced out of the market for Golden Age comic books even back in the Silver Age. Collectors always seemed to have far more money to spend on these items than fans did. True, most of them were adults with jobs, and we were still teenagers. But still, there is a demarcation. If I want to own it because I want to read it or it’s pretty, I’m not really a collector; I’m a fan. If I want to own it because it is valuable and possibly also pretty, I am an art collector, or a bibliophile. Or something.
Some comic books from the Golden Age are getting enormous prices at auctions these days. Most of those collector copies are sealed in rigid plastic, though, and would lose most of their collector value (the resale value) if opened and read. But that’s the only reason I would want a copy of Action #1. To read it. At least with this piece of Kaluta art, if it gets framed and put on a wall, it can be fully seen and enjoyed. The old comic books get sealed in a plastic vault.
A significant part of the appeal of a comic book is touching it, looking at the colors, seeing the progression of the story through the art. When I worked in the business, I used to joke that you could tell the pros from the amateurs by who could toss a comic book across the room without damaging it. (Raises hand.) Touching these comics, feeling that smooth, slippery cover stock, could be so magical. And then you opened the cover and started turning the pages, and you were in another world. A world that the collector with the sealed plastic copy of FF #1 can never experience, I fear. Maybe having this piece of original artwork will make up for it. Maybe not.