The Destruction Of Norm Breyfogle's Original Art
It’s enough to make you cry. A while back I decided to buy up as much of Norm Breyfogle’s original trading card art as I could find. This resulted in me digging up some nice pieces and also finding that there were some pieces that people just didn’t want to part with. I can understand that – I’m not parting with my Norm art either. So far my quest has seen me end up with five of Norm’s cards, out of approximately thirty*. Not many at all really, but I am about to buy some more to at least bring my tally up to ten. Ultimately I want all of them but I now know that’s just not going to happen for a number of reasons.
The first of these is a fairly innocuous reason – some people don’t want to part with their original art. Fair call. As I stated I can more than understand that stance. When I find a piece that isn’t going to be sold I just chalk it down to one that I won’t own. It stays on the wants list but it’s not a priority. However there’s now a secondary reason as to why I’ll never own all the art – it’s been defaced and damaged beyond repair, deliberately, and far as I’m concerned it’s a crime.
I first became aware of this art destruction early this year when I came across one of Norm’s cards on eBay. The card was promoted as being drawn and coloured by Norm, something that made me think. I posted a message on Norm’s forum asking about the veracity of the piece as I was under the impression that all of his trading card was simply line art – black and white. At the time Norm responded, “I didn't color that, I think it's a really stupid idea to hand color an original that the original artist didn't intend to be colored, and it looks like a crummy coloring job, anyway.
“If it is the original, whoever colored it might've run into difficulty if I didn't use all waterproof ink in my inking (and I may not have, since the original wasn't meant to be colored). I should add that I consider it an immoral act to alter another's original art without the original artist's authorization.” I agreed with him and decided to put this card into the basket which is marked, ‘Damaged beyond repair’. I didn’t bother bidding, just crossed it off my own personal list. The last line in Norm’s comments did make me think, but at the time I was busy with other projects so I let it go.
(To the left is the original art for the DC Universe trading card you see on your right)
This week has seen yet another defaced trading card appear on eBay. This time the art was described as being ‘painted’ by Norm himself. I again pointed it out to Norm, who again responded via his forum, “…we did discuss another one that had suffered the same destruction. I wouldn't be surprised if they were both done by the same person. And no, the destroyer wasn't me!
“Okay, once was bad enough, but now I'm getting pissed. Is there any legal recourse for an artist who sells his originals and then watches the buyer destroy them in this manner?” To be honest I didn’t know the answer to that. In order to help find an answer I posted a message on the Comic-Art mailing list about this topic. Sadly the bulk of the people there were far too engrossed in discussing the merits of Bruce Timm drawing naked ladies pleasuring themselves, so after one response I decided to go onto another tack. The suggestion that I got was that Norm might want to start exploring a contract of sorts between himself and the purchaser of his original art, whereby the purchaser agrees to not knowingly mutilate, deface of destroy the art (clearly if a house burnt down then all bets are off). The pay-off would be that if someone did do any of the above then they’d be potentially held liable for damages to Norm’s own reputation. I passed that suggestion onto Norm who was obviously thinking along the same lines and is now looking into drafting and putting such an agreement into place. After all when we buy original art we’re the custodians of the art and as such it’s our responsibility to look after the art and ensure that it doesn’t become defaced or otherwise damaged.
I also decided to contact the seller of the piece and sent the following email, “Hi, Just a heads up - this isn't a Breyfogle painting. He did all his trading card art in black and white and someone not associated with Norm coloured some of the art in at a later date. Just letting you know. The sad thing is I'd have bid on the art if it were still in it's unaltered form – but the colours on this aren't that good and they ruin the appeal of the art. Feel free to contact me if you want to talk about it some more." The seller then responded, “Hello, clearly you must be correct. I purchased this art this way. I also heard from Norm directly and have changed the listing and lowered the price.” No animosity and they then dropped the price from the original asking price of $500 down to a more reasonable $175. I won’t be buying it though, although I’d have more than considered it. Norm also contacted the seller and got a similar response. The seller also informed Norm that they bought this particular piece of art and the other offending piece (which I sadly didn’t save a scan of) already coloured from the same person, meaning that someone, somewhere is practicing their colouring ‘skills’ on professional art. Put this into a form of perspective – if you owned a sketch by say Monet, would you allow ANYONE to colour it in, no matter their qualifications? If you answered yes then you, sir, are an idiot (and no, I’m not comparing Norm Breyfogle to Monet, but art is art and in the eyes of some people they’d much rather own an original by Neal Adams over a Claude Monet sketch).
Insane! But of course.
Is it legal to deface original art? Well there’s no law against me getting anyone’s original art and using it to line my cat’s kitty litter tray. I can use it to mop up the oil that leaks from the sump of my car. I can hand it over to kids and let them wipe their crayons over it. It’s nothing new really. On a rainy day such as this one I’m reminded how, back in the day of Timely Comics, they used to line the floor with original art so that people wouldn’t track mud into the offices. So while it might be legal, it’s certainly not moral. When I spoke to Mike Esposito about the subject of original art among other comments he had this to say, “My nephew coloured a Hogarth Tarzan page with thick crayons, and now they’re worth ten thousand dollars each. The only reason we got those was because Hogarth was nice enough to say, ‘Take what you want fellows,’ because we were his students. And he thought we’d appreciate them. He never thought they’d have any value otherwise he’d never have done it.” I like to think that if Hogarth knew Mike’s nephew would be attacking his originals with crayons he might have thought twice about letting Mike take those Sunday Tarzan strips. This is not to say that Norm’s trading card art is worth as much as an original Burne Hogarth Tarzan page, but to the right person, any art is priceless (unless it’s been ruined). How much would I pay for Norm’s art? Let me say this, if anyone came up with the right pieces then we’d be talking some decent cabbage indeed.
As I previously touched upon the art in question is hardly a painting and isn’t from the paintbox of Norm. If someone bought that in good faith thinking they were getting a pure Breyfogle original and then found out that they’d spent a few hundred on what at best is a partial fake then they’d be rightly angry. They could come after Norm himself, who might have no knowledge of what art the person is talking about. It damages his reputation as both an artist and as a person.
For example, to the left is the art in question; to the right of this paragraph is one of Norm’s paintings. Now if you bought the Superboy card thinking it represented Norm Breyfogle’s painting abilities would you bother buying any more of his art? But then if you bought the Batman painting, well you’d clearly go back for more surely? If the price was right then you would. However if you were looking to commission an artist to paint for you and all you’d seen is that trading card then odds on you’d not hire him. Clearly the person who did that can’t colour all that well and certainly isn’t professional enough to warrant any serious work.
(To the left is how the trading card in question finally appeared. Sadly there's no scan of the original art)
At the end of the day it now means is that I doubt I’ll ever own an original from Norm’s ‘Firepower’ trading card line, nor will I be able to completely own all his trading card original art that's on the open market. But then I doubt that anyone will own a 'Firepower' original as some of the originals have been defaced beyond repair. You can’t remove the colours from the originals, they’re there for good. The other sad part is that Norm will be more cautious about selling his original art. He’ll never truly know if someone isn’t buying the art to practice their own artistic fantasies upon. He’ll still put his all into each and every piece that he sends out and will sell them in good faith, but then that faith might be violated by someone who wants to ruin them for all time. That’s the idiot minority though as the majority treat their original art as it should be treated – as items of value, both monetary and personally and as one-off pieces of art worthy of display. They might not be Picasso’s but, for some people, they’re better than that. The thrill of reading a book, a magazine or a comic book and knowing that the illustration in question is in your possession can’t be denied. To ruin art like that, well I just don’t understand that mentality at all.
*So what exactly is out there in the way of Norm's original trading card art? To answer that we need to look at what Norm did do in the trading card field. Here’s a partial checklist:
NERD DETECTIVE CARDS
Norm did seven of these cards back in the day. They were given away attached to packets of Nerds candy. These are amongst the rarest of Norm's trading cards to collect.
Batman vs Two Face (I own this one)
Batman vs Bane
Batman vs The Joker
Batman vs Dr. Victor Fries
Batman vs The Penguin
Robin vs The Riddler
Robin vs Poison Ivy
DC UNIVERSE TRADING CARD GAME
Thorn (I own this one)
Brainiac (I own this one)
The Joker (inked by Bill Sienkiewicz - as seen on your right)
DC FIREPOWER TRADING CARDS
Superman heat vision
Superman Rescue (damaged beyond repair)
Superboy Rescue (damaged beyond repair)
Prime (done for Hero Magazine #7, January 1994)
Prime (Ultraverse Trading Card set)
Batman (DC Stars series)
Mr T (insert with issues of Mr T)
I’m not sure what sets these appeared in but Norm also provided the following art to a series of DC trading cards as Holographic cards in 1997
Rose & The Thorn (I own this one)
Two Face/Harvey Dent (I own this one - you can see a scan of one of the original art pieces to the left. As this was a holographic card there are three separate pieces of art)
There’s possibly more. If anyone has sets of trading cards out there and can help complete this list then get in touch.