Charles Burns' RAW cover, a Moebius Silver Surfer and a full Valérian star in Heritage Auctions' event
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Charles Burns' RAW cover, a Moebius Silver Surfer and a full Valérian star in Heritage Auctions' event
Jean Giraud (Moebius) Silver Surfer, Parable #2 Story Page 19 Original Art (Marvel/Epic Comics, 1988).

DALLAS, TX.- The comics reader, whether casual or ravenous, likely needs no introduction to Charles Burns, whose Black Hole remains among the scant handful of graphic novels allowed to join what New York magazine once called "the canon of respectable modern literature." That oft-ghastly yet heartbreaking 2005 tome won countless awards; garnered Burns the sort of acclaim normally reserved for highbrow authors; and attracted the attention of screenwriters, including Neil Gaiman, still trying to adapt Black Hole for the big screen.

But long before Black Hole, and Iggy Pop and MTV and Coca-Cola came calling, Burns made his bones as one of the earliest contributors to RAW, Art Spiegelman and wife Francoise Mouly's international comics anthology. That short-lived publication, a masterpiece in any medium, unearthed unheard-of underground American and European (and African and Spanish-language) sensations on their way to mainstream success, among them Ben Katchor, Gary Panter, Lynda Barry, Kaz, Bill Griffith, Chris Ware, even Alan Moore. For a generation of comics fans and creators, RAW was their A-Z education -- Action to Zap.

"What I like about RAW is how it served as the link, the bridge, between European and American cultures," says Olivier Delflas, Heritage Auctions' European-based Director of International Art.

RAW is perhaps best remembered today for the tales that became revered under their own titles, among them Spiegelman's serialized Holocaust story Maus, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and Burns' original version of the story that morphed into Black Hole. Its legend and legacy far outweigh its output: There were only 11 RAW issues published between 1980 and 1991.

Now, one of its extraordinarily rare covers comes to auction: Burns' original art that graced the front of 1982's RAW No. 4, a strangely unsettling black-and-white die-cut piece meant to reveal bits of Burns' second color cover behind it. So exceptional is this early Burns piece that it graces the cover of the catalog featuring the nearly 800 works available in Heritage Auctions' March 13-14 International Comic & Animation Art event.

In a 2005 interview, Burns said each issue was intended to be "an object in itself," and that the cover to issue No. 4 was the result of drawing "goofy sketches and just slowly building from there." In the end, he said, Spiegelman and Mouly wanted the cover to play like a puzzle, with the artist's macabre, mysterious front piece playing with the more colorful image beneath he set behind it.

In 1992, Burns told The Comics Journal that RAW was the turning point in his fledgling career: "It was like my work was getting taken seriously by somebody." The opportunity to own one of his earliest works, which adorned so beloved and important a publication, is not likely to come this way again.

The same, of course, can be said of each one-of-a-kind offering in Heritage's latest International Comic & Animation Art auction event, which is open for bidding and spans comics and continents – from Frank Miller's Sin City to Enki Bilal's La Croisière des Oubliés, from Hal Foster's Prince Valiant to Jamie Hewlett's Tank Girl, from Hergé's Le Paradis des Jouetsto Kevin O'Neill's Marshal Law.

Something for everyone. From everyone. From everywhere. Even a McDuck named Scrooge.

This splash page from Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières's 1972 Valérian, Le Pays Sans Etoile No. 3 is the very definition of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The long-running space opera, the basis for both an animated series and feature film, is widely beloved and wildly influential; it's not too big a stretch to say that without Valérian and Laureline traveling space and time as members of the Spatio-Temporal Service, there may have been no Luke and Leia, at least as we know them.

For those reasons alone, this piece is significant. But what makes it truly exceptional, a rarity in any language, is that this is one of only a handful of full-figure renderings of Valérian known to exist. There are but two or three known to have been published. This is the only one Heritage has ever offered, and comes from the private collection of the artist himself.

Here, too, is a rare offering from one of Jean Giraud's earliest and best-known Western works: page 17 from 1964's Blueberry Fort Navajo No. 1, his French-language collaboration with writer Jean-Michel Charlier first published in Pilote to critical acclaim. Mike Blueberry, who decidedly and deliberately reminds the reader of French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, was an anti-hero roaming the American West imagined by two Europeans for whom it existed only in movies and pulp novels; just as the man called Moebius would reinvent the science-fiction genre in years to come, here, too, he remakes the white-hatted good guy into something decidedly … grayer.

The page offered in this auction is all one could want in a Moebius Western: Here you will find Blueberry alongside Cochise, leader of the Apaches, alongside the reviled Major Bascom of the U.S. Army.

"This is a museum-quality piece," says Olivier Delflas. "It's impossible not to admire the mastery of Jean Giraud, the delicacy of his line and the inking that made him a legend."

Such a legend, in fact, that some two decades later Moebius was enlisted to tell stories for Marvel Comics – with Stan Lee as writer, no less. Their collaboration --but two issues of Silver Surfer: Parable published in 1989 by Marvel and Epic Comics – was brief but significant. Not only did it win the Eisner Award for best limited series, but it used two weary and well-traveled characters, the Surfer and Galactus, to bring philosophy to the funny pages.

Here Galactus presents himself to earthlings not as conqueror, but as savior promising to end war, poverty, crime; he's a god, he claims, offering "a new era." The Surfer, living on the streets, more squalid than silver, warns humanity of Galactus' intentions, only to be shunned as blasphemer. The page offered here – Page 19 from Parable No. 2, just one of three to come to market in recent years – is that very turning point in front of the TV cameras, in which the knowing hero is made to look like he is cursing the new god.

This sale also features an extraordinary work from a legend only recently lost: Jean Graton, who died at 97 in January. Graton was best known as the creator of race-car driver and all-around greatest-guy-ever Michel Vaillant, who took his first spin in Le Journal de Tintin in 1957. That one story birthed a franchise that survives to this day, and remains filled with real-life racing figure interacting with Graton's fictional family. That's on clear display in this dazzling page from 1979's Michel Vaillant, K.O. pour Steve Warson No. 34, set in the world of Formula One and featuring no less than Mario Andretti, Niki Lauda, ??Vittorio Brambilla and Didier Pironi among Graton's creations.

Perhaps there is no more familiar nor famous creation in this entire event than Scrooge McDuck, who made his debut in 1947 and never falls out of favor or fashion. Here for the first time Heritage offers a splash page by the other famous artist to work on the character: Don Rosa's opener to the story "Of Ducks and Dimes and Destinies", which first appeared in a Swedish publication in 1995 before finding its way to the States a year later.

What makes this story especially significant is its appearance in the collection The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, for which Rosa won the Eisner Award for Best Serialized Story in 1995. This story was never meant to be part of Scrooge McDuck's "biography"; yet, eventually, it became known as Part 0 of that acclaimed work.

This piece comes from Rosa's private collection – yet another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in an event filled with them.

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