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Ars Gratia Artis

I just made an important Art Deal. The offer was to buy two key panel pages from a brilliant series, featuring the first appearances of the primary protagonists. The seller and I had been negotiating the terms since the beginning of the week. I had initially enquired about two other pages, but these two had attracted me when I saw them a couple of months ago so I went ahead and asked him if there was any chance he would lower prices. He came down to an amount that was about midway between what I had quoted and what the initial offer price was. On top of that, he would give me the two other pages I wanted, the ones that led to this enquiry in the first place, for free. He gave me until Wednesday to decide.

I made the Art Deal. I refused the offer and ultimately agreed to buy just the two cheaper pages.

This, I think, taught me two important lesson. One, to not overcommit myself, out of blind lust for something that has just come out into the market. This was a problem that had plagued me all of last year. 2007 was a good, no, an AMAZING art year for me, but it also meant that all of last year, I was committing my money to pages that caught my fancy without giving myself a clear set of Collecting Goals. I promised myself that this year would be different, that my money would go into clearing just ONE time payment and that’s that. There was one weak moment, the cover to Hitman #50 – it came on eBay last month and made me sweat until the last minute. I bid an amount that I was pretty sure was the fair market price for that cover, but it went for a 100$ more. Which only means that my Hitman covers right now are worth about triple of what I paid for them – not a bad thing. I knew my limit, I made my call, and I was breathing easy after the auction ended – which is a darned good feeling, let me tell you.

And that’s one thing I would like to tell aspiring comic art collectors who look at this post – hahahaha, I nearly crapped myself while writing this last line – patience is a virue ( the missing ‘t’ in ‘virtue’ is an art collectors’ in-joke, if you get it, consider yourself part of the club. ) Pieces come out on dealers’ sites and CAF members sites with alarming regularity, and it requires a herculean amount of self-restraint to know which piece is the right one for you and which can be passed over. Yes, every piece of comic art is unique, and most likely when they are sold, they will stay locked in some collector’s portfolio for a very, very long time. But while an art piece can be unique, a first appearance can be unique, an artist’s ouevre, thankfully, is not confined to a single good piece or a single pathbreaking series. Which is to say, unless said artist is dead, there will always be more artwork being produced, hopefully better than the one you briefly lusted after and were beaten to. Live with the defeat, and keep your eyes open for the next good piece that comes your way. Fire-sales are not uncommon in the field, when a collector needs some quick money and is willing to offload part of his prized pieces. And one of those prized pieces could be the one that got away the last time.

The second thing I learnt is the importance of discussion. All throughout the last two days, I talked about this deal with my friends, the ones who have some amount of opinion about my art collecting – opinions other than derision and skepticism, that is. I heard a great deal of different opinions, a fair amount of them encouraging, and all of them lucid, tangible arguments that helped me come to my own decision. To all those who helped me out, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am glad I have you guys to fall back upon in times of need.

A few more words about why 2007 was such a good art year. If you have been following my various art update posts, you would have seen quite a lot of new pages that I got.

Some more that I haven’t talked about, at least on this blog:

John Totleben – Vermillion page. What is Vermillion? A mind-bending scifi story written by Lucius Shepherd, published by the Helix imprint of DC comics. Helix was extremely short-lived, with its only successful offering ( in terms of length ) being Warren Ellis’s epic Transmetropolitan, which moved to Vertigo once the former folded. I never really got into Vermillion, but the high point of the series was the two issues drawn by John Totleben who, if you will remember, is one of my favourite artists. The page I bought is, in my opinion, a mindblowing piece of work. Look at the design of the lower panel – but you will be able to do that if you can tear your eyes away from the central figure, a face inked with such loving detail that the face seems three-dimensional.

Another John Totleben page, a Tarzan cover prelim. Normally the idea of a preliminary work is to provide the artist with some idea of how the final piece should look like. Most prelim pages you will see are sparsely pencilled works, with stick figures and quick strokes that vaguely allude to the finesse of the final page. But this is Totleben we are talking about, and his concept of a prelim is a detailed inked piece that is a scaled-down version of the final painted piece, that you can see here. Compare the two. I like to think that the painting is a lightboxed version of the ink piece, which makes my cover prelim the original original art. *grin*

A double-page spread from Shade the Changing Man, by Chris Bachalo. I don’t think this eminently frameable piece needs words to accompany it.

Another 100 Bullets page by Eduardo Risso. Muhwahahahaha.

A Dan Brereton page from The Black Terror, his earliest work. When I received this page in the mail and opened it the first time, I got a little weak-kneed and had to sit down for a bit. Brereton’s watercolors are beautiful – much, much more detailed on the actual page than you would ever see in a scan.

And, the Highpoint of the Year, and currently the glory of my small collection – an original watercolor painting of Daigoro from Lone Wolf and Cub by Goseki Kojima, the co-creator of LW&C. I attribute this acquisition to just one thing – Plain Dumb Luck. When at Super-con, I was hanging around the comicbook and toy stalls, occasionally asking about Studio Ghibli figurines to sellers who had some amount of anime-related merchandise on display. One of the sellers said he didn’t have them right now, but I could get in touch with him later, and gave me his card. The name on it looked familiar, and I realised it was a comic collector, one I had bid against for the Transmetropolitan piece in my collection, and he had also left a comment on the page in my gallery. Introductions and an enthusiastic conversation followed, and after we looked through each other’s portfolios, he pointed out that I would probably like to meet another CAF member who had tastes similar to mine. And that’s how I met Felix.

Felix’s portfolio had one great piece after another. A full-page splash from The Boys, a James Jean print, a a couple of Supreme Power pages, and then, finally, two Kojima pieces.

I collapsed.

Some quick negotiations ( “Please please sell this to me.” “Ok.” “How much?” “<high four-figure amount>” “Excellent, I will pay.” ) and I owned the page, at least in spirit. It took another six months to complete the time payment and yay, I had something that I had only dreamt about. Believe me, getting a Kojima piece at this stage of my collecting career is like a major threshhold – I can actually feel pride in my collection right now, and think I am going about art collecting the right way. As Felix himself says, it’s near-impossible to get manga artists’ works. He travelled to Japan multiple times looking for Kojima pages, and finally hit the paydirt through a friend. He found a couple of pieces done on plain paper, and a couple done on 14″ by 16″ art boards. Mine is one of the latter. You can check out Felix’s piece on his own gallery, it’s a much better work than mine but that does not mean I am any less proud of the one I have.

Another page I bought from Felix was a Supreme Power page, a splendid face-off page pencilled by Gary Frank and inked by Jon Sibal.

There were other pieces that came in last year, but I am holding them close to my chest. For a number of reasons.

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6 thoughts on “Ars Gratia Artis

    • Re: NIN

      Haven’t heard it yet. A couple of people I know are raving about it, and a couple of other people say it’s a waste of time and money.

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