Saturday, January 12, 2008

Original Art Stories: Mike Zeck & John Buscema

This past week I was subjected to a series of questions as I'm a premium member of the Comic Art Fans site and have my own gallery there which shows off my original art collection. It's no big deal, although even a five question questionnaire is a bit odd for me as I'm usually the one asking the questions, not answering them. One of the questions went like this: How long have you been collecting comic art and what prompted you to start?

My answer was, Blame Mike Zeck. I contacted Mike in 2001 to buy some signed comic books and he threw in a Captain America convention style head sketch. I got it professionally framed and haven't looked back since. Mike is one of the genuine nice guys and one day I hope to be able to buy a Zeck splash, pin-up or cover.

That's almost the entire story, I edited it more than slightly as I didn't want to send back answers that would fill people's email inboxes. But yes, the answer is correct, it was indeed Mike Zeck who started me off down the road and has led to me having several pieces of original art on the wall, including my Zeck sketch. So what happened?

Every so often Mike sells copies of his comic book work, usually signed and if they're not then he's generally happy to sign them for you. I'd never thought of buying original art because the prices were just a little bit too high for my blood at that point, but I loved looking at them in various places. As I corresponded with Mike he asked if I did indeed have any original art. I responded, no, and that the bulk of my collection consisted of signed (and usually numbered) books as the things I'd want were too high priced and that as most artists will probably never visit Australia, going to a convention just wasn't going to happen, so I'd not be able to get head sketches. I also mentioned that it wasn't a problem, that was just the way the cookie crumbled. Mike responded and said that if I wanted to pay a little bit extra he'd be happy to do a head sketch. I was over the moon, paid the extra and Mike allowed me a choice: Captain America, Spider-Man or the Punisher. As much as I like Mike's work on all of those characters, and let's face it Kraven's Last Hunt is an absolute classic, as is the first Punisher mini-series, I've always had a soft spot for Mike's version of Captain America, so I plumped for that. Mike emailed me and said he was starting work the next day on the sketch and would send it as soon as he finished it. I was happy, went out with a friend of mine, got slightly drunk and got woken up in the wee hours. You see this was September 11, 2001 and we all know what happened there.

One of the first things that happened in the aftermath was that all mail was suspended indefinitely (sometimes I wonder if it's ever really gotten back to normal, or if the 'attacks' were used as an excuse to check mail more closely). Mail stopped coming in from and, although I'd send stuff, it also stopped getting shipped out to America. However, and I have no idea of how he managed to pull this off, a few days later a package turned up in my PO box. Postmarked the 12th of September, it was from Mike Zeck and contained my signed books and the Captain America head sketch you see above. That's the kind of guy Mike is - as professional as they come. I'm sure he was as stunned as everyone else was on that day, but he still finished his work and made sure that life, and the mail, went on. How that managed to get through is beyond me, but off to the framers it went and it's been on the walls of every place I've lived in ever since. Good ole Mike Zeck!

From there it's all been downhill. The second piece of art I bought was this John Buscema sketch. I snared it off eBay from a damn good guy named Larry Shell. If my memory serves me correctly I paid Larry about $25 for it, plus a few bucks extra for postage. As I still wasn't sure about what I was buying Larry gave me the heads up on what to look for with Buscema sketches, sage advice that's carried me through and managed to see me not get ripped on some Buscema since (basically it's the signature and the pen work - Big John did a lot of his sketch inking with ball point pen, not marker, and a lot of his stuff is partially inked). Larry also told me something important - if it doesn't feel right then check with someone who knows. He told me to check with the artist directly, if possible, and then bid. All of this he didn't need to tell me but again, Larry is a good guy in his own right. I keep checking his auctions but I've always been outbid since and I think the days of getting a John Buscema sketch for $25 are now long gone. Still, those two pieces of art, obtained shortly after one another, are what set me down the track to me now owning more art than I can count.

One day I'll snare me a lovely Zeck cover, and also a Buscema. They're on the list.

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