Original Art Stories: Yeesh! The Price Of Art These Days, He Says!

I posted this one on FaceBook only yesterday but was told that it deserved a wider audience, so here goes.

Now this I can't understand. The sketch you're looking at is on eBay right now. No crime there. Norm probably did this at a convention, took him under five minutes and he either gave it away to someone or charged them an amount so small that it wouldn't have bought him much more than a can of fizz. The seller of the sketch is based in the UK and has the item described as follows: "BATMAN original ART 12x8 hand drawn & signed NORM BREYFOGLE". By now I'm sure you're wondering what the problem is - it is what it says it is: a sketch hand drawn and signed, and also dated, by Norm Breyfogle, and better yet, it's a sketch of what is probably his signature character (is anyone from DC listening? Bring Norm back to Batman!). Here's the kicker though - the seller has it listed with a Buy It Now price of approximately $260 Australian.

That's right - a sketch that was more than likely a freebie is now selling for around $260. Is it vintage? Nope. it was done this year. Nothing vintage about the present day. Let's say it cost the original collector $20 - and I doubt that Norm would charge that much, but for argument's sake let's settle on $20. That's a bastard of a mark-up. If someone bought the new U2 CD for $20 today and then attempted to sell it for $260 tomorrow imagine the outcry.

I've bought several of Norm's sketches over the years but I have to admit that when it comes to convention sketches I've only ever paid more than $100 for two of them - the Julie Schwartz Birthday card and the Batman-Green Hornet sketch - both of which can be found in my Breyfogle Art Gallery on Facebook, or over at my Comic Art Fans galleries. When I told Norm how much I'd paid for the birthday card he told me he thought I was nuts - it was slightly over the asking price for the current sketch on eBay. I felt it was worth the price due to the history behind the piece - Norm had drawn it at a birthday dinner for Julie and handed it to him, Julie held onto it and then sold it in the early '00s. The buyer then sold it to me about six years later for far more than he paid. I was happy - it's not merely a sketch, it's history. The Batman-Green Hornet, well that just looks cool.

The other recent eBay listing that bothered me a lot was a listing for an 'original' piece of art from Fred Hembeck. Now when Fred sends a piece he includes a little 'thank you' note, generally personalised and with a funny sketch of Fred himself. They're lovely to have - I have several now - and, as they're personalised, you'd imagine that people would be glad to keep them. I have seen a few listed in various galleries on the Comic Art Fans site and people appear to appreciate the gesture and the charm behind them. What bothered me was that someone who'd obviously bought an original from Fred decided to list his on eBay as a 'rare' piece of art by Hembeck. They're not that rare - you just buy something from Fred and the odds are better than good that you'll get one. It's a gift from Fred in appreciation of someone buying something. They have your name on it, it's for the buyer so why sell it? Unless you bought the art with the sole purpose of selling it beforehand. I found the selling of the 'thank you' letter most distasteful and I doubt I'll be buying anything from that seller again in the near future.

If something is a gift then I see no valid reason why it needs to be sold, unless someone has passed away and the gift has some intrinsic or historical value. I've been handed a few items of art in my time and I value them all. The ones that an artist has selected and decided to send me are held dear to me. After all if they've gone through the effort to grab a page, a sketch or anything else and mailed it out then I feel the least I can do is keep it. That's just me. I've sold one item that was sent to me as a gift once - more a replacement for a page of art I'd paid for and never got - and I still feel like crap about it, and that was around seven years ago now and I parted with it in order to pay a bill. Never again. Some artists have told me, "Oh, they're just sketches, I was going to throw them out anyway," and I think, 'So what/" Instead of throwing them out you decided not to take the easy option and send it out. A little letter, a thank you note - they mean a lot to some, I'd say to most, and I'd hate to think that someone a decent as Fred Hembeck will now think twice before making such a small gesture just because some mercenary looks upon it as an opportunity to make a quick buck.

So where does this leave me? I'll only buy Breyfogle sketches now if they're unique or vintage. If I want a simple Batman head sketch from this year I'll email Norm and ask - and I urge everyone to do the same. Buy a book from Norm and he'll happily do a head sketch - or more - inside for free - and here's the link to prove it. And if I want a thank you note from Fred Hembeck I'll keep buying his art, as I've been doing for a fair while now. At least that way the notes have my name on them. And I'd strongly suggest that others do the same, or at least boycott the practice of selling such items. And anyone else out there - rest assured that anything sent to me as a gift stays with me until such a time as I'm dead or so destitute that people would understand - and I doubt either of those two are happening anytime in the near future, indeed the former is more likely to happen before the latter.


Anonymous said…

I see a lot of rip-off prices on ebay right now. I see a Norm "Batman" splash page going for $1,499 USD and a standard five panel "Batman" page going for $550 USD. Are those deals any better?

I can point you to reputable on-line retailers who would charge far less for Breyfogle artwork, and I still think those prices are too high.

I guess, bottom line, it's buyer beware. If you want that particular page bad enough, you'll pay for it. I'd be willing to sell some of my Norm "Spectre" art for the prices I'm seeing other sellers request on ebay. It's not that I don't try because I am afraid of ripping someone off. I don't bother because I am not willing to pay the fees associated when that artwork doesn't sell.

If anyone out there wants splash page Spectre artwork by Norm and is willing to pay me $1,500 for something I paid $100 for, please let me know.

Hey, at least this guy isn't selling photocopies!

George "The Stooges"
Daniel Best said…
True, true. For less than the $550 in the past month I've picked up a vintage Whisper page, an Of Bitter Souls splash, a Detective splash from 1988 and a wonderful Batman panel page with a great 1/3 splash of the Bat on it.

If people rate those pages on eBay for that much, what would my end page from 'Tec #610 be worth?
I do understand that you find it distasteful, but the message on ebay has always been: lets see what we can get. And if they can get it, then a new price is set for the item. And if all the original art collectors think that they're idiots, then the sellers will learn their lesson. Or not.

As an artist who has been selling work for god knows how many years, I'm really happy that the market is a fluid thing, as it can reflect the beauty of artist's work rediscovered. Me finding a gil kane/giacoia page from team-up 16 for $10 at some guys table it being so cheap that wehn the assistant asked his boss if it was really $10, the guy couldn't be bothered to turn around, so yeah, I got it. Bronze age Kane. Cool.

Gulacy was persona non grata for a while there in the '80's and then Paul and I did the Grackle and I've had requests for more artwork from that over the last 10 years than anything else. I know that you're a huge fan of Norm's work, but its easy to get jaded when the guy is working for years and years and the books come out and you just expect that the work will keep coming. Norm's star will rise again if they ever collect any of the work so that people get some distance from it. Makes them appreciate it more.
Anonymous said…
That "Detective Comics" #610 end page is the best Breyfogle Batman page I've ever seen (I believe that's my comment on your Comic Art Fans page). If you're ever going to sell that, you are obliged to let me know in advance, so I can sell whatever vital organs necessary to come up with the necessary funds.
George "The Stooges"
Scott Koblish said…
Well, I'm going to have to stop cutting up all my original art into little 1/4 inch squares and sprinkling it on my morning cereal - you mean there's real money in that stuff?

and here I just thought it was a good source of fiber!

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