Amazing and spectacular original comic book art in Heritage Auctions' January event

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Amazing and spectacular original comic book art in Heritage Auctions' January event
Justice League of America No. 89, published in 1971 as an homage to science-fiction author Harlan Ellison.

DALLAS, TX.- At the beginning of 2020 Forbes pondered why collectors are increasingly drawn to original comic-book art and whittled down the list to a few factors, among them: rarity (Hey, there's only one!), approachability (Well, everyone knows Superman!) and displayability. Because, well, nothing looks cooler than a Todd McFarlane-drawn Spider-Man splash page as decoration, the Wall-Crawler hung on the wall.

The story missed only one further pull to these original works: They are the raw, hand-crafted building blocks of modern myth and memory, blank pages upon which handmade heroes and villains strain and struggle before their adventures were mass-reproduced and placed for sale on spinner racks and comic-shop shelves. They're first drafts of comics history, nostalgic fragments from beloved books, fond memories, cultural touchstones.

Art, in other words, plain and simple, without need of qualifier or apology. And for proof look no further than the myriad offerings in Heritage Auctions' Jan. 14-17 Comics & Comic Art event, which, like its record-setting predecessors, is stuffed with iconic and indelible images from ages Golden, Silver, Bronze and Modern.

"Over the past decade or so, comic book collecting as a hobby — and a wise asset diversification strategy — has been growing faster throughout the world than almost any other major collectibles field,” says Heritage Auctions' Co-Chairman Jim Halperin. "I believe that growth will continue, in large part due to mass appeal of fascinating and often thought-provoking stories and characters appearing in so many of the world's most popular movies, streaming series and video games. And many, if not most, serious comic book collectors eventually expand into original art, because each piece is unique and no one else can own it. The appeal is undeniable — and, as many collectors will attest, irresistible.”

One of the most famous covers from one of the most revered runs of the 1970s surfaces in this event: Neal Adams' front for Green Lantern No. 77. This was writer Denny O'Neil and artist Adams' second installment in the 13-issue storyline that paired cocksure space cop Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen's righteous do-gooder Green Arrow as they sojourned across a corrupt, pitiless, racist, drug-addicted America. DC Comics has reprinted these stories as often as any title in its history.

In Green Lantern No. 77, published in 1970, the so-called Hard-Traveling Heroes find themselves in an impoverished town called Desolation — "in the heart of America,” blared the cover, "a war zone!” The place is ruled by a despotic mine-owner named Soames and his former Nazi sidekick, each as dangerous as any space invader. GL and GA arrive the day before Soames is set to hang a folksinger (like "that Dylan fella”) who might alert outsiders to the cruelty contained inside the city limits, and the heroes set right that which is terribly wrong.

Another favorite Adams cover finds its way into the Jan. 14-17 event: Justice League of America No. 89, published in 1971 as an homage to science-fiction author Harlan Ellison. In writer Mike Friedrich's telling of this dangerous fantasy, Ellison becomes "Harlequin Ellis,” a writer with a crush on Black Canary that winds up endangering the entirety of the League.

But the original cover art offered here features the Flash speaking directly to Ellison — not the fictional Ellis and certainly not the "Reader,” which is how it went to retailers. Ellison, as it turns out, had given DC permission to identify him throughout the tale, but editors felt using the writer's real name, even with his OK, might eventually prove actionable.

This auction also features three pages from one of the most reprinted and revisited Justice League stories ever: "Crisis on Earth-Three!” Justice League of America No. 29, released in 1964, marks the debut of the Crime Syndicate of America, a mirror-universe reflection of the JLA's heroes featuring evil doppelgängers Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Power Ring and Johnny Quick.

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The CSA is set to star in its own series in the coming year, and right on time, the Jan. 14-17 event features among its offerings the splash from JLA No. 29, in which writer Gardner Fox and artist Mike Sekowsky explain the heroes of Earths 1, 2 and 3 with illustrations of each world's heroes (and villains). Page Four, also offered in the event, delves even further into Earth 3's alternate history — a place where England won its freedom from the United States and Abraham Lincoln assassinated President John Wilkes Booth. The final lot is Page 21, in which the most powerful villains of DC's multiverse seem to have the upper hand against its most beloved heroes.

These pages come with a story, too, as each was gifted to Don and Maggie Thompson during a long-ago visit to the DC offices.

The Thompsons were responsible for a litany of fanzines, among them Comic Art and Newfangles, which eventually led to Maggie's influential tenure as editor of the now-defunct Comics Buyer's Guide and Don's work on the essential 1970 comics history All In Color for a Dime. Comics execs so revered the work the Thompsons did in building their fanbase that these pages were given to the couple by no less than Julius Schwartz, the DC creator-turned-editor who helped revive Golden Age hero the Flash, essentially created the JLA and, in the process, launched the company's Silver Age.

Reprinted almost as often as that Justice League story is Page 14 from 1973's Swamp Thing No. 5 by the character's co-creators, writer Len Wein and illustrator Bernie Wrightson. Here, after Swampy's arm is severed by a group of angry small-towners, he's stunned and delighted to discover he possesses regenerative powers. He watches as the stump becomes a twig becomes an arm — "thicker, stronger” than what was there before.

For those collectors who make theirs Marvel, the January event is larded with spectacular, amazing, fantastic and uncanny pieces, including ones by such drawing-board legends as Jack Kirby, John Buscema and Steve Ditko. There are many, too, from the modern era that have never seen an auction block.

At the top of that list is one of the most eye-popping pieces artist Jim Lee and inker Scott Williams drafted during their celebrated run on writer Chris Claremont's X-Men.

From 1991's X-Men No. 272 is the two-page splash featuring an all-star lineup of heroes that includes Wolverine, Cyclops, the Beast, Cable, Cannonball, Gambit, Psylocke, Banshee, Sunspot, Archangel and Marvel Girl. Drawn in that fine-point detail that made Lee a best-seller, the members of the X-Men, X-Factor and New Mutants stand trial for "Capital Crimes,” the title of this seventh installment in Claremont's "X-Tinction Agenda” storyline.

This piece is another to hail from the collection of Jeff Nason, who began buying comic art when he was a teen and wound up with some extraordinary early-days offerings from the likes of Lee and Todd McFarlane when their works were available for a few dollars at comic cons. Nason kept his collection under wraps for decades – until November, when, among other notable lots, Heritage auctioned Lee and Williams' cover art for The Uncanny X-Men No. 268 for $300,000.

Another piece from Nason's collection comes to market for the first time in this event: Page 2 from 1989's Amazing Spider-Man No. 322, in which the Web-Slinger is rendered by McFarlane halfway into the artist's celebrated tenure on the title. The action sequence, with Silver Sable, features all the early days McFarlane hallmarks, from Spidey's almost impossible poses to his spaghetti webbing.

Also from Lee and Williams comes the cover to 1997's Fantastic Four No. 3, Marvel's "Heroes Reborn” FF reboot that lured Lee back from his upstart Image Comics. Lee was given free rein to write and illustrate two newly launched titles, the other being Iron Man, but this cover is perhaps the most iconic reminder of his return to Marvel as it features not only the Thing and Invisible Woman, but also Captain America, Thor and the Sub-Mariner.

There's a veritable history of Marvel Comics on that single page, which is drawn on Image Comics Bristol board, no less. To underscore the point, there, at the bottom, between Lee and Williams' signatures, is the autograph of Stan Lee himself. Excelsior, indeed.

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