Original comic-book art has seen jaw-dropping prices set in recent auctions, but those record-breaking numbers are usually reserved for covers from Silver Age crusaders like Superman and Spiderman, and rarely anything from the modern era. But that all changed last night.
A Batman and Robin splash page from Frank Miller's revolutionary 1986 four-issue series The Dark Knight Returns was offered as part of Heritage Auctions' Signature Vintage Comics and Comic Art Auction held Thursday in New York. With an estimated pre-auction value of $125,000, it was easily one of the most valuable pieces of American comic-book art to go up on the block in years. Buzz building up to auction time reached a fever pitch.
Miller (300, Sin City) is the arguably the greatest superhero writer/artist to produce during that pivotal period, and Dark Knight was his Rembrandt. The drawing depicts a hulking Batman gliding into frame with Carrie Kelley (the first-ever female Robin) over Gotham's stark skyline in Miller's signature style.
When the gavel struck and the smoke cleared, Batman's interior page sold for an astonishing $448,125 to an unnamed bidder. This was a record for the most money ever paid at public auction for original American comic art, eclipsing last year's Weird Fantasy #29 cover by Frank Frazetta, which sold for $380,000. $448K?!! Picasso sketches don't sell for a 10th that price!
According to Heritage's Barry Sandoval, this was a monumental evening.
"To put it in perspective, our record for a piece of comic art was that we sold the cover art for Batman No. 11, which is from the 1940s, and that sold for more than $195,000," he said in a Wired interview. "To think that an item from the 1980s could even approach the price of something from the 1940s is a pretty mind-boggling thought."
This sale is also a victory for the industry artists and writers who toiled in relative obscurity for years and helped elevate comic books to the level of esteem achieved today. Along with fellow comic renegade Alan Moore, Miller's neo-noir words and images led the charge in altering the way comics were perceived, injecting a raw, psychological complexity to the broken superhero genre.
So pick up those Crayolas and don't give up the art classes just yet. You too may be immortalized in a hotshot auction someday.
It could be a bit premature to nominate Miller for sainthood, but stay tuned. Where do you stand? Justified pennies for precious art, or just plain crazy?