Saturday, December 05, 2009

Original Art Stories: Steve Ditko's Mr A: $38,837.50

What makes this splash page worth $38,837.50? I kid you not, that's what this art just sold for in the last Heritage auction. It's a lovely Steve Ditko splash page, from one of his most personal pieces of work and, if you've seen Watchmen and have read Mr A, you'd know that there's a very highly likelihood that Mr A, along with another Ditko creation, The Question, can be considered to be the inspiration behind Rorshach. Still, $38,000+? That's a fair chunk off a small house. It's a brand new car, and it's an amount that would have snared you the following Ditko pieces in the same auction, with change.

Ghostly Haunts #24 - original cover art. This sold for $1,971.75. A lovely Charlton cover from 1972. Ok, so it's not one of Ditko's own creations, and you can argue that it is Charlton and not Marvel, or DC, but it is a cover that's pushing 40 years old. And, even better, it sold for a fraction of the price of the Mr A. I've seen a lot of lesser artists price their art for more than this, and, to be brutally honest, if I had $2,000 I'd much rather this than anything, and I mean ANYTHING, by the likes of Rob Liefeld or even Jim Lee. Feel free to argue that all you want, but the truth is...it's Steve Ditko.

Creepy, #11, page 1. Sold for $5,078.75. I did mention that the Ghostly Haunts cover was Charlton, albeit a minor publisher in the grand scheme of things, but Charlton does have an advantage over a few other publishers - a lot of their art is hard to get as a lot of it has been destroyed over the years. I can't recall the collectors name, but there was a famous house/storage shed fire a few years back that saw a large cache of Charlton art completely destroyed, or burnt to the point of disrepair. Yes, it does make you want to cry.

On the other hand, Warren art is out there and accessible. Some of it is a bit clouded as to ownership as Warren's assets were sold off in the 1980s, and those assets included original artwork that had not been returned to the original artists, thus it was sold illegally. Where the bulk of the artists involved began to make strong noises in relation to having their art retrieved and returned, Steve Ditko, true to form, didn't want to have anything of it. In Ditko's (Randian) world, once it's gone it's gone. This is a man who could have easily asked for the return of the first Spider-Man story, as published in Amazing Fantasy #15 (which was originally stolen from Marvel) but didn't want to know. Mind you, in my eyes, even with Ditko's attitude being known publicly, it doesn't make it right to deal in stolen art, but then I'm in a minority there, especially when some people are offered a Ditko Amazing Spider-Man page, or anything by Jack Kirby.

Which brings us back to this page. At a shade over $5,000 it's still $33,000 cheaper than the Mr A splash. A lovely inkwash Ditko Warren page from 19668, two years prior to the Mr A. The purist will argue that this page was written by someone else, but when that 'someone else' is Archie Goodwin, possibly the best author Warren ever had, to me, that argument is then voided.

All of which brings us to this page. Beware the Creeper #2 page 10. Sold for $2,629.00. Written by Denny O'Neil and done at the same time as the Mr A page. The Creeper was also created by Ditko. The difference is that Mr A is 'pure' Ditko (that is, both written and drawn by Ditko) and there's a huge difference between the two characters. Mr A is more steeped in Objectivism than The Creeper ever was (in fact the closest that Ditko came to 'doing' Mr A for a mainstream publisher is The Question for Charlton), but for sheer action this Creeper page has far more action than the Mr A page, but it could have been had for nearly $36,000 less.

So why did the Mr A sell for so high? I really don't have an answer. It's classic Ditko art, showcasing what Mr A was all about. It could have something to do with the character, and art, being one of the few properties that Ditko created that he retained. It could be because it first appeared in Wally Wood's Witzend fanzine. It could be because Ditko had a strong hand in creating one of the most popular, and well known, characters of the 20th century - The Amazing Spider-Man. Who knows?

Well presumably the buyer knows, if indeed there actually *is* a buyer. Heritage aren't known for being totally clean when it comes to their auctions, their practices in shilling their own auctions and other dubious actions have been well documented (for example, read this, this, this, this and this, just to name a few, and place a bid on a Heritage auction and you'll soon discover that you might 'win' the auction, at a price right on your maximum bid) and Heritage are offering a service whereby you can 'Make An Offer' to the seller/buyer/someone so it might be possible that the page actually didn't sell for the amount that it's credited with, so unless a third party who bought it pops up, or Heritage reveal who now owns it (which they wouldn't, and rightly so) it may never be fully known if the art did indeed fetch $38,000+, an incredible amount for a Steve Ditko Mr A page. But then why would Heritage lie? That's the easiest question to answer. By having a piece of artwork 'realise' such a price, it brings in more sellers. They see the final figure and think, "I've got comparable artwork, so I'll consign it to auction," and hope that they, too, will win a mini-lottery. Even with Heritage taking between 15 and 19.5% of the final price, it'd be worth the punt. And the more items they get for their auctions, the more turnover, the more money and the bigger they become. So who really cares if they do the wrong thing by a few people? They're certainly big enough to ignore the criticism.


To keep things in context, these two Hulk pages, also sold by Heritage auctions, earlier this year, both sold for $6,572.50 each. Is it just me, or is it a bit odd that two pages can sell for exactly the same amount of money? Still, I'd rather have two non-Hulk Ditko Hulk pages, dating from 1963, than the Mr A splash.

You tell me - which would you rather, out of all the art featured on this page right now, all things being equal. Indeed, which would you have bid more for, and why?

7 comments:

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

easy, the final Hulk page with both Bruce Banner and the Metal Master. and I'm not the biggest Ditko fan, but that would be damn cool to have.

rodan57 said...

I agree with your choice of pages from the Hulk. They give you the "classic" Ditko with some truly superb brushwork.

The Seditionist said...

Danny: Weren't Creeper and/or Hawk and Dive plotted by Ditko??

BRIAN POSTMAN said...

i would have picked either the creeper page or the warren page....

Daniel Best said...

Ditko, by that stage, was at least plotting the bulk of his work, especially with the stuff that he either created or co-created, so you do have a valid point there. Remember, it was due to a dispute over his writing/plotting that reportedly led him to leave Marvel mid-storyline.

However he totally wrote Mr A alone, on Creeper Denny O'Neil is credited with writing, so I expect that, while Ditko might have provided the plot, O'Neil more than likely scripted and possibly co-plotted the story.

Mike DeLisa said...

Full page, excellent Mr A page ws just on ebay and did not sell w/ $10,000 min bid -- apparently a specialty piece

The Seditionist said...

My recollection, such as it is, is better now :) I believe Hawk and Dove were essentially dumped on Ditko because management thought him appropriate for it or vice versa. It was Ditkoesque and looked like a Ditko concept but was only the former.

Somewhat likewise Creeper. I think, for some reason, it was done Marvel-style, O'Neil having no

*no* plotting input.

Ditko I believe essentially, walked off H&D. Creeper he left because of illness and by the time he recovered, sales had killed the book.