Comic Art

A Comic Art Interview

These were a series of questions asked of me by the great site ComicArtFans, who do these weekly interviews with premium members. It was published in their newsletter on Jul 17th 2014.

1. Please tell us a little about yourself.

I am a 34-year old Indian guy living in Los Angeles for the last four years. My move to the US may or may not be because of this hobby. I work in linguistics/machine translation and other than comics and comic art, I am also into music, reading, cooking, technology, film and travel.

2. Which piece in your gallery is your favorite and why?

Some of the favorite pieces have great stories attached to them (like being on an overnight bus with near-nonexistent internet when the soon-to-be-mine Tezuka painting was about to end on eBay), and some have the hard-fought sweat of a Deal That Almost Went Away But Didn’t (yes, that Swamp Thing 29 page will probably be buried with me). I think I will say that my Milo Manara commission is probably the one I will pick. My then-girlfriend commissioned it from Mr Manara. To this day, when people ask me how she did it, trust me, you will not believe how unorthodox her modus operandi was, and I am honor-bound not to spill the beans. I believe about 9-10 people from 5 countries were involved in this operation (this includes payment, transport and delivery) and it was kept a secret from me for more than 6 months.

This being real life and not a romantic movie, we eventually split up. She let me keep it. It is not on my wall but I keep dithering over whether I should put it up or not. It has the words “will you marry me?” written below the painting, in Italian. So yes, a lot of bittersweet memories, but that makes it truly the most special piece in my collection, and probably the last piece I will ever consider letting go.
ragazza_indiana_cropped

3. How long have you been collecting comic art and what prompted you to start?

I read a lot of comics growing up, but because of the way comics were sourced in India in pre-Internet/pre-TPB days, I was reading mid-1980s comics in the 90s. Began collecting whatever I could (Alan Moore Swamp Thing, hence my special fondness for that particular title, Knightfall-era Batman, John Byrne-era Superman). Graduated to Vertigo and indie comics. Once I graduated and got a job, began to buy comics on eBay and get them delivered to India once every 6 months through friends. Wrote a column on graphic novels for Rolling Stone magazine, became known as “that comic-book guy” in India, and also as the guy approached for a quote in any comics-related article in the mainstream media

I was 27 when I realized that at the rate at which I was buying comics (I had graduated from getting random runs on eBay to buying people’s collections), I wouldn’t really have much of challenges by the time I reached 30. I believe I was looking to see if I can find a signed print or two on eBay for my walls when I stumbled across the original art section. My first piece of art was bought on Christmas day 2005. It was a Phil Hester Swamp Thing page that I sniped for the princely sum of $25, from the Donnelly Brothers. A shout-out to them, because they were very patient with me. They did not accept Paypal at that time, and I had to get someone in the US to send them a money order two weeks later, because everybody was on vacation. Then I graduated to a $200 Frank Quitely Authority page on eBay, and still kick myself for not buying the other Quitely page the seller offered to me for $250. That guy clued me into Comicartfans, and that was when all hell broke loose. All I remember after that is the money flowing from my bank account every month and the thrill of the hunt, the pounding in my eardrums – sorry, got carried away there.

I would like to add (without being asked) that the answer to what prompts me to stay on in this hobby, despite the craziness of it all – it is the stories and the people I have met. Both of these are integral parts of the hobby to me, and I love listening to the old-timers about what they missed out on and what they got, some of it by sheer blind luck and others by dogged persistence. I have met my closest friends as a result of collecting comic art, and that kind of makes everything worth it.

4. How do you display/store your collection at home?

I sleep with some of my favorite pieces under my pillow so that I can wake up in the middle of the night and caress them. Er, I kid, I kid.

I love pieces on the wall. A lot of my art-buying decisions are based on whether something qualifies as a wall piece or not. My Sandman pieces are on the wall, as is the Prince Valiant, the Tezuka and the Koike, three of my Swamp Thing pieces, a Mignola, an Aragones sketch. They keep getting swapped out every now and then, for whatever strikes my fancy. The rest of the art is in portfolios, and I have to confess that I don’t like that. Art deserves to be seen. Maybe I should just sell everything and keep the pieces that are on the wall, I don’t know.

5. What are your top five most wanted original pages or commissions?

I think I have lasted long in this hobby precisely because I do not have specific nostalgia-based wants. (page X of issue Y, things like that) I also happened to bypass the Marvel mania of the 80s – That has helped my collection and my tastes to develop somewhat differently. I do have broad things that I would love to own, though every year the chances of buying some of them seems slimmer.

1. A Little Nemo page by Winsor McCay. What McCay was doing in the 1900s on the Sunday page, the comic-book industry caught up in the 80s. Truly timeless work.
2. A James Jean Fables cover. I love the first 75 issues of the series and it is a testament to Jean’s work that he won Eisner for best cover artist 5 years in a row.
3. A published piece from Blankets or Habibi by Craig Thompson.
4. There is a section of my wall specifically reserved for a definitive Chris Ware, Charles Burns and Dan Clowes piece. Depending on placement, there could be just enough space left for a small Crumb work.
5. Something by Uderzo (preferably from Asterix) and something by Herge (from Tintin, obviously).

Yes, I feel like I cheated on this list by saying more than 5 names, but it feels cathartic saying these names out loud. I feel good.

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Comic Art

Limpin’

“Your blog is dead, man”, a friend says to me this morning. I respond with an emoticon, the most antiseptic response I can venture at this observation. He’s right, and he’s wrong.

So what really has been going on this year?

It’s not like I don’t feel like writing about things in my life. But it’s so hard to start talking without, I dunno, a pivot. An Archimedean place to stand on when I move a world of words out from my head onto the page. When I switched from Live-journal to this blog, after a similar extended hiatus in 2007, I wrote down a hundred points about myself. That exercise in vanity got my brain – well, at least the part that refused to get away from the gluttonous lifestyle of single-minded consumption – out on the metaphorical blog treadmill. That post and the ones that followed in the first few weeks were it gasping but limping along bravely,  heedless of its lizard sibling’s screams of dismay. And after a while, obviously, it took on momentum, finding typing fodder in the most innocuous of life-events. It got to the point where I was on the brink of – gasp – actually writing something about my feelings and not just Things and Stuff and AwesomeCoolMindbendingActsOfMaterialism.

What usually happens then is that someone I know in real life makes a reference to my writing, interpreting the content in a way that tells me that they think they know more about me than I am letting on. Then I stop, because fuck you, you don’t know me just because I blogged about something. This perilous slip into self-consciousness affects the blatheriness of my blather, know what I mean? I think I like writing better when no one’s looking. I would keep a diary but, ugh, paper.

AND ALSO. This is what happens when I want to write – I find out it’s been done. For example: I bought an Alphonse Mucha print from a thrift shop in San Jose recently. (Isn’t it great that all my conversation-starters are about buying things? I mean, 12 years of this blog and my schtick hasn’t changed, though many other things about me have. I see those hundred things I wrote about and stifle a hollow laugh.) We had a great breakfast, two of my friends and I, after visiting a comic shop they knew about in the area. We decided to take a walk in Downtown San Jose, mostly to window-shop around the book and antique stores that I had noticed when parking the car. So I saw this gigantic framed Mucha print in the store window. It said “$100” next to it, and I was tempted. The frame itself was a work of art, and the piece in question – which I later found out was called ‘La Trappistine’ – had everything one might want in a Mucha print. A gorgeous woman, a great Q-design (I will get to that in a bit), wonderful iconography, curlicue lettering – the works.

Except the shop was closed.

I tend to look at the brighter side of things in situations like this. “Ha, I saved myself $100”, I said. My friends offered to come pick it up later, but I knew that I would start giving myself a lot of reasons not to spend money. So I passed by, walked them toward their place, and doubled back to my car. Longingly glanced at the Mucha again when I saw movement inside the store. Someone was inside! I waved, she waved back, and brought up a sign that she was writing on. It said “50% off all items”.

Long story short, 15 minutes later (because of the walk to an ATM nearby), I was hauling a rather heavy frame back to my car. I had no idea of when it was printed – pretty sure it was not an original late 19th century print, but it was just what I wanted.

And obviously it went up on the wall.

And obviously it went up on the wall.

So that got me to thinking about why I had stumbled onto Mucha’s art in the first place, and I realized that it was – obviously – comics. I believe I had read an interview by Adam Hughes about his art nouveau influences way back when, and got around to looking up the Czech artist’s work and realized that his influence on the comic-book/illustration world was formidable. Everyone from Terry Moore to Tony Harris, JH Williams to JM Linsner, Joe Quesada to Michael Kaluta have done their share of cover and interior designs inspired by Mucha’s distinctive flora-based border patterns and soft color palette.

(On an aside, check out this set of Wolverine Art Appreciation covers from 2009, where a bunch of covers featuring the Marvel character were all inspired by great paintings and painterly styles.)

So I thought of doing a post on Mucha’s influence on comics, talking about how his work is the right kind of eye-candy to be appropriated in comics. On how the commercial aspect of his work is echoed by the (somewhat) assembly-line driven work done in comics, where the intent of the cover is to grab the reader’s attention by pushing just the right aesthetic buttons.

But of course, I did some looking around, and found out that someone beat me to it. Link to a paper called Alphonse Marie Mucha: Posters, Panels … and Comic Books? by Brandon Bollom and Shawn McKinney of the University of Texas, which talks about all of the above and in much greater detail than I would have, obviously.

Mucha - Lefevre-Utile biscuits.

The first Mucha I owned is this image on tin, from a flea market in Amsterdam. It now hangs in a friend’s living room.

 

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Comic Art, Comics, Conventions

San Diego post #2 – Getting to SDCC

This is one of the best-known words of advice about Comicon, especially comic art collectors: Preview Night is where the action happens. Allow me to explain: The con officially begins on Thursday morning at 9 AM. It ends on Sunday at 5 PM. Preview night is on Wednesday evening, when the convention floor opens up for a few hours just so that you can look around for the good stuff before the crowds hit. Some of my friends take it a step higher and head inside the convention center (using Exhibitor badges) around noon on Saturday. I did that in 2011, too. That’s when you have random brain-freezes when you see Robert Kirkman walking around, or Dave Gibbons passing by.

(However, the best Retail deals happen in the last few hours of Sunday, when booths, eager to load as less inventory back to their trucks as possible, go for insane discounts. There’s a tip right there for you.)

This year, I was eager to get in early on preview night, mostly to check out Adam Hughes and Mike Mignola’s booths. They bring original art to the show at very decent prices, and which is plucked clean in the first few hours.

However.

Tuesday evening, I find out that my rear left tire is running low. This after I had filled it up 2 days ago. I headed over to the service center and asked them to look at it, plus there were some other small things wrong with the dashboard console. Wednesday morning, they call me to say that my tires need to be replace – the front tires, because there was an air bubble. Damnation and hellfire. I was supposed to leave at 10 AM, so that I could get to the convention by 1 PM. It was 2 by the time I got the car back, and by the time I navigated through bumper-to-bumper traffic on 5 South to Downtown San Diego, it was 6 PM. But to balance this cosmic injustice, I got a free parking spot opposite the convention center – the chances of that happening are astronomically low and everybody I met told me the exact same thing.

By the time I got inside, Mignola and Hughes were picked clean. There was a single Hellboy in Hell page remaining and I thought it wasn’t good enough for the price. Adam Hughes had a Fables Encyclopaedia cover for $8000, and a few Fairest covers that made my heart stop. I spent thirty minutes hanging out and talking with art dealer Scott Eder and the various people who flocked to his booth, old collectors I knew by name, others I had met before. I was in “view” mode, Scott and I have a deal for something major and I could not afford to jump in with something else. Then I walked over to some other booths. A James Jean Fables cover sold in front of my eyes, one of two that a consigner had brought for sale the minute before it sold, for a little less than a quarter of my annual salary. Two pages from Frank Miller’s 300 – those were the only pages from that series that had ever been available on the market – had sold an hour ago. There was the Robert McGinnis painted cover from Stephen King’s Joyland, and a Charles Addams unpublished cartoon, a few Kelley Jones Sandman pages that made my toes curl. One dealer, remembering how I had asked for a good Spirit page a few days ago, pointed me to an excellent example of a 1940s strip that had P’Gell in it. Since $8000 was a little too much for my immediate budget, I bid it a fond farewell.

There was, on one gallery wall, the greatest Prince Valiant strip I remember seeing, with Val and his wife Aletha in all panels, and one in which Val spanked Aletha on his lap. Already sold for $15,000 and a little of my tears. A Preacher page with the Saint of Killers, the cover to Bruce Timm’s Naughty And Nice pocket book, one of the best Dave Johnson 100 Bullets covers, featuring Dizzy. San Diego, on preview night, had me feel like Aladdin inside the cave for the first time, except of course, there was no lamp, because this ain’t no stinkin’ fairytale. The surprise of the evening was realizing that Juanjo Guarnido’s commission list was not full yet, and after a few minutes of vacillating, I decided to go for a full-figure drawing of Alma. I love Blacksad, and getting a piece of artwork from Guarnido without having to pay through my nose appealed to me.

A bunch of us met for our annual Secret Art List dinner, where we talked comics, art and the films of Julie Delpy. I found out that a collector lived a few miles away from my place, and we promised to get together. I put plans in place for a Miller Daredevil page, and probably another Sandman page, but obviously, time will tell.

That was the first day. I slept happy, and very very tired.

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Comic Art, Comics

Comic Art Update

For most of the later part of 2011, I had stayed away from Comicartfans, that great big time-sink of a site. Last year was fairly decent for my art habit. I streamlined my addiction quite a bit, paring down the collection to minimize the chaff. Yes, that means I sold and traded a bunch of pages that would have never really gone up on the wall, but which I bought just because it seemed like a good idea at that time. This has had the fortunate effect of making me feel contented about the pages that I own right now, being on a plateau of sorts, where I can just relax and not worry about art-related expenses. Pages come and go, and nothing really grabs my attention unless it’s really cheap or truly one-of-a-kind. The former makes me wonder if I really need one more portfolio-warmer, the latter inevitably makes my bank account whimper.

This may sound zen, but the art-habit seems to have settled down from a burning “I-want-this-page-now” feeling to a gentle simmer of a “Do-you-really-belong-in-my-collection?” question.

High points:

A Kelley Jones Sandman page and a Dave McKean Sandman commission. ‘Season of Mists’ is one of my favorite Sandman arcs, as I have mentioned before, and I already have a Dringenberg page from it that fills my heart with joy every time I look at it. A bulk of the art from the run though was by Kelley Jones, who does not sell most of his originals. Whatever’s available in the market comes from Jones’ inkers, Malcolm Jones III and John Beatty. This page came up for sale on Scott Eder’s gallery at a mind-numbing high price during Wondercon last year. It did not sell. He put it up on eBay a few weeks later, and I emailed to ask if he would accept time payments. Long story short, I bid on it, won it for a little less than my final bid, and much less than the original asking price.

The Dave McKean commission was bought at San Diego, thanks to my friend Joe’s contacts with McKean’s agent Allen Spiegel. McKean himself did not make it to the con, thereby putting my plans of asking for a personalized commission on hold, but he had sent a few pre-done pieces to Allen’s booth, and I got a chance to select and pick one of them up. This conveys just the right amount of grandeur and melancholy associated with the Lord of Dreams. Also, it did not involve me paying $25000, which is the price that one of McKean’s covers usually go for.

 

Kelley Jones - Sandman 22, page 6 and Dave McKean - Sandman

Two Batman pages by Kelley Jones again. One of them was the promotional poster image from a Batman and Dracula crossover, which is one of the most recognizable images of Batman from the nineties, if you were buying comics back then. Jones, in my opinion, is one of the top 5 artists that have worked on Batman, his neo-Gothic, somewhat-surreal style meshing perfectly with the tone of the character. The other one is a cover pencilled and inked by him, and knowing what I just mentioned about him not selling his art, I have no idea how this came into the open market. I saw both of them on a dealer’s page a few days before San Diego Comicon, and jumped on it without hesitation. They were priced well below-market, and also, I fucking love Kelley Jones’ art, man.

 

Click on each image to enlarge

Three Preacher pages. I owned a Preacher page before which was a self-proclaimed placeholder – quite cheap, but not really something I would put on the wall. It got traded away this year. One of these came from eBay, from the collection of Albert Moy, dealer extraordinaire. It encapsulates the story of Preacher so far in a single-panel spread that caught my eye. The one with the bar scene from a collector who was, in his own words, cutting himself to the bone to get money for a Bolland Killing Joke page. And the third from a close friend. The three of them represents three different art styles through the series, as Dillon drastically stripped down his line-work as the issues chugged by, sort of evolving as an artist and also increasing his output to meet his deadlines.

The third also has an interesting history – it came up on eBay one fine day a few years ago at a ridiculously low Buy-It-Now price, so ridiculous that most of the usual Preacher-maniacs were wary of pulling the trigger. That ensured that my friend saw it and bid on it, and was deluged with higher offers over the years from the ones that missed it. I had asked him to let me know if he was selling it any time, and he made up his mind recently. Needless to say, I pounced on it.

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Three Preacher Pages (Click to Enlarge)

And finally, something that came in a few days ago. An Adam Hughes painting of Jean Grey as the Black Queen from the Hellfire Club. Now I could give you a manic foaming-at-the-mouth rave about how Adam Hughes’ work combines early 20th century pinup-girl aesthetics with a distinctive art-deco-influenced style and how it is so gosh-darned beautiful and so on and so forth. But I’ll just let you go take a look at his site to decide for yourself. If you collect comic art, getting an Adam Hughes page is a trial in itself. But getting your hands on a good Adam Hughes pinup without breaking the bank? Forget it. He used to do special sketches for fans at conventions – with rates at 200-400$, the pinups would fetch 10 times the amount on eBay when collectors went around to selling them. Due to some “fans” selling their pages a day after a convention was over, Hughes stopped those sketches, causing prices to jump even more.

So I do not exaggerate when I say that this piece fills a very important hole in my collection, and does so in style. It’s 26 inches by 19 inches, and drawn using a combination of crayons, colored dyes and markers. Adam did it as a commission for a collector, and made it extra-large because he made the guy a long time. The collector went on to sell it to someone I know because he was getting married and he needed to raise money quickly, and I bought it from the latter recently. Not cheap, but not that expensive either. And it makes me really, really happy.

Click to Enlarge

Adam Hughes - Black Queen

So yes, happy happy.

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Comic Art

A Good Art Year

2010  has been a good year for art.

I refer to ‘comic art’ by the way, not art as in music or drama or art art, if you know what I mean. To be even more specific, I refer to my small collection of comic art,  something which has taken up quite a bit of my daily life. Hello, I am a Comic Art Addict and proud of it.

At the beginning of last year, I was fairly convinced that there was one great piece that I would buy. It was a page that I saw when I was in LA towards the end of 2009, in a friend’s collection. I was at his place, and he had just finished showing me the pieces on his wall, and then remembered a bunch of stuff that had just been framed but were not up on the wall yet. It was a page from one of my favorite comics, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

A brief word on the art of Sandman – in course of its 75 issues, the series had a tremendous line-up of artists, some extraordinary. most of them good, a few pretty middling. In most cases, the bad printing process on the series – remember that this was the late 80s/early 90s, where comics were just beginning to get used to computer coloring, and the quality of the paper, while not the cheap newsprint quality ‘mondo’ format from the 60s and 70s, was still far from the glossy format you young punks are familiar with today. So some of the printed art came out muddy and ugly, which ruined some of the artwork. Especially the work of Mike Dringenberg. Dringenberg was co-creator of the Gaiman run on Sandman, he inked Sam Kieth’s work in the early issues, and when Kieth moved on by the end of the first arc, Dringenberg took over the pencilling duties, along with inker Malcolm Jones III. Because of the aforementioned quality issues, I never really appreciated Dringenberg’s work all that much – and was glad when Kelley Jones, who was to become one of the all-time great Batman artists by the early 90s, took over the acclaimed Season of Mists arc. Dringenberg pencilled the first and last issues of Season of Mists, and that’s it. He moved on from comics work, apparently, going on to illustrate children’s books and album covers.

The first chapter of Season of Mists, issue 21, was the first in which six of the seven Endless make their appearance. So far, readers had seen Dream and his sister Death, and there were hints dropped by the writer about the fact that those two might have other siblings. The introductory sequence in that chapter had an interlude of sorts, where Gaiman wrote brief essays about the six Endless, choosing to omit the Prodigal (we are to find out later that it’s Destruction, who abdicates his position). Desire and Despair on one page, then Destiny and Delirium, and finally Dream and Death.

This last ‘interlude’ page was the one my friend owned.

I had to sit down. Because the art was so brilliant, so delicate and otherworldly that it made my knees weak. The expression on Death’s face, the bubbly water-color shadow that Dream cast behind him (later, when I held the page in my hands, free from the framing glass, I saw that Dringenberg had used glossier paper pasted on the bristol board – probably to enhance the watercolor effect), and the overall  My friend had asked me a few weeks ago about which page from his collection I liked the most, and I had, without hesitation, mentioned one that had struck my fancy. At the moment I saw the Sandman #21 page, I changed my mind, and I told him so. He smiled, and said that if he was ever going to sell this page, I could buy it from him at the price he had originally bought it for. Which was a lot, obviously. But yup, if there was ever a gotta-get-this-or-I-shall-regret-this-forever moment for me, it was when I saw this page. So I agreed.

A lot of collectors do not like artwork that has been personalized to other people. This page has both Gaiman and Dringenberg addressing someone named ‘Jordan’. Gaiman has the words ‘First you dream, then you die’ scrawled before his signature, while the artist just let his art do the talking, and says ‘For Jordan’. I do not mind. Jordan, whoever you are, thank you for keeping this page in  your collection and selling it to the right person who sold it to another right person.

Because 12 months later, I am the owner of the page.

It took some careful budget management, and much brain-ache. In the meantime, I prepared myself mentally – I know it sounds pompous saying it aloud ( hah! Like the rest of the post doesn’t) but really, wrapping my head around the idea of owning it needed a bit of …self-conditioning. Reread Sandman again, and enjoyed myself thoroughly. Read Hy Bender’s Sandman Companion, which gave me much deeper insight into the series, as I discovered things about it that I had not realized, or aspects of the story that I had overlooked. (I heartily recommend that you read The Sandman Companion, if you are a fan) And yes, I felt really bad for Mike Dringenberg, because his artwork, even in the Sandman Absolute Edition had taken a beating thanks to the limitations of printing technology. Or probably because the printer was high – the printed page made the blacks of the original pink – PINK! – because the text had to be given prominence.

Obviously that was not the only page I got this year. I mean, I do have self-control and all, but  the best-laid plans of mice and men….

But that, as they say, is another story altogether.

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