Heritage Auctions' Comics & Comic Art event features hidden, historic cache of Comics Code documents

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Heritage Auctions' Comics & Comic Art event features hidden, historic cache of Comics Code documents
Comics Code Correspondence with FBI's J. Edgar Hoover Group of 7 (Comics Magazine Association, 1954).

DALLAS, TX.- How do you follow an auction featuring The World's Most Expensive Comic Book? Easy — by holding one featuring The World's Most Important Comic Book.

From Nov. 18-21, Heritage Auctions will hold its latest Comics & Comic Art Signature ® Auction, which features among its myriad highlights a copy of 1938's Action Comics No. 1, which marked the debut appearance of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman. Copies of the landmark scarcity seldom surface at auction: Heritage has offered only three complete copies of Action Comics No. 1 over the last five years, which makes the appearance of this restored CGC Apparent Fine+ 6.5 copy all the more notable. There exist but 72 copies of comicdom's most coveted and collected story in CGC's Census Report, in any condition; and when one does surface at auction, it tends to disappear faster than a … well, you know the rest.

Superman is joined in this auction by the other half of DC's World's Finest duo, Batman, whose 1940 bow in his own title is among the extraordinary 354 offerings from The Promise Collection, a collection of Golden Age comic books in pristine condition assembled by a young boy who grew up, went to fight the war in Korea and never returned.

"This auction has 57 Golden Age books graded 9.8 and another 82 Golden Age books graded 9.6," says Heritage Auctions Vice President Barry Sandoval. "Those are almost unfathomable numbers for 1940s comics, when very few made an effort to preserve comics in pristine condition, if they kept them at all."

Batman's solo-title debut is also featured in an extraordinary collection the likes of which has been seldom seen at Heritage.

The auction features three bound volumes of Batman comics beginning with 1940's very first issue — itself one of the hobby's most significant and treasured titles, where Joker and Catwoman make their first appearances. The professionally bound set features Batman Nos. 1-36, six years' worth of momentous backstory and iconic covers (and advertisements) meant to be pulled from the shelf and read, appreciated, admired. And the titles do show some wear, especially the first few issues; but as our online catalog notes: "The remaining issues appear to be in Fine or better, with page quality averaging white to off-white — in other words, very nice copies presenting impressively."

But impressive history is what Heritage's Comics & Comic Art events are all about, and this auction is no different.

Here, for the first time, is what Sandoval calls "a fascinating trove of material relating to Judge Charles Murphy and the Comics Code Authority, the vast majority of which the world has never seen."

In the spring of 1954, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent, which argued that comic books had become violent, sex-addled, homoerotic, drug-fueled tomes causing a rise in juvenile delinquency. His book was later disparaged and discredited; in her 2012 piece "Seducing the Innocent: Fredric Wertham and the Falsifications That Helped Condemn Comics,"comics scholar Carol Tilley wrote that Wertham "manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence … for rhetorical gain." Yet Wertham's attacks on comics led, in part, to the infamous Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency hearing.

In October 1954, Murphy stepped down from his job as New York City magistrate to become the so-called "czar," of the comics industry, enforcing the code intended to ban horror and terror titles and force publishers to sterilize their books. Rather than face government regulation, publishers hired Murphy to implement the Comics Code.

In this auction one will find how that played out — privately. Here, for the first time, is a Folio of Antagonistic Inter-Office Correspondence, or at the catalog calls it, "dirty laundry from the Comics Code's headquarters." Contained in these documents are unfriendly exchanges between Murphy and Comics Magazine Association president John Goldwater, then in charge of the Archie Comics line. Here, too, is Murphy's letter of resignation.

The auction also features a cache of correspondence between Murphy and the FBI's then-director J. Edgar Hoover, who told the Comics Code administrator he was "most interested in ... [your] work to eliminate offensive material ... aimed at our young people." Hoover vowed that Murphy would get everything he wanted.

Hoover wasn't the only one keenly interested in Murphy's work: This auction offers typewritten missives to Murphy from a wide range of political figures, among them Eleanor Roosevelt, Sen. Estes Kefauver (the man whose subcommittee hearings led to the creation of the Comics Code), New York City Parks Department head Robert Moses (the subject of Robert Caro's landmark book The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York) and others.

And finally, here collectors and historians will find 1954's Comics Code Fact Kit Folder and Contents, which contains a reproduction of the Code seal and five staple-bound pamphlets, among them one titled On Dangerous Ground, which makes the case for the Code acting as censor. What's found here would shape — and sanitize — the industry for decades.

That very Comics Code Authority seal can be seen on one of the most historic works of original art in an auction filled with such landmark moments.

Heritage is thrilled to offer Frank Brunner's signed original cover art for Doctor Strange No. 1, published in 1974. At the time, of course, the Master of the Mystic Arts wasn't considered a major Marvel character; he was just the Sorcerer Supreme leaping from Strange Tales to his own title, a cult favorite not yet a mainstream hero. That, of course, has changed in recent years, with Benedict Cumberbatch's Dr. Stephen Strange now a — perhaps the — central figure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Doctor Strange is also featured on one of the most recognizable covers in comicdom: John Romita Sr.'s 1974 Origins of Marvel Comics, the original of which is one of the centerpieces of this fall event. For generations of comics readers, this paperback compendium of first and famous appearances — featuring the likes of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Sub-Mariner, the Silver Surfer, Thor, Doctor Strange and the Hulk — served as their introductions to these heroes.

As Stan Lee wrote in his prologue to this collection, "Somewhere out there, furtively skulking amongst Marvel-dom, what if there be some hapless soul who hath not yet tasted the heady nectar of Marvel mania? Even one such luckless holdout means we've somehow failed." Origins of Marvel Comics set out to right that wrong — and its original painted cover (no mere pen and ink for the senior Romita!) is among the most Marvel-ous entries in this event.

DC's Super Friends are not ignored here, either. Another extraordinary rarity from the 1970s soars in this auction as well: the original artwork for The Famous Clark Bar Superhero Sweepstakes, an ad that appeared in every DC comic in 1978 and counts among its ranks Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman and Aquaman. The artwork is uncredited, but likely comes from Neal Adams' Continuity Associates advertising firm, which at the time utilized numerous comics industry professionals, among them Dick Giordano, Joe Rubinstein and Bob Layton.

The ad promised one lucky winner they would "win a trip to Gotham and appear in a superhero book!" Forty-three years later, Heritage offers one winner something even better: the original artwork itself.

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