Introduction: You’re about to read the first guest post on ComicArt.Tips, written by the collector known in the hobby as “Rabid Ferret”. Here he explains his favorite tip for new original comic art collectors, a worthwhile research technique you can apply to your favorite artists to help know when it’s time to bid strongly on a piece you don’t want to lose. In this example he walks through Jim Lee’s Uncanny X-Men run and helps you realize that having big pockets is probably not enough…
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Researching an Artist’s Run
When Francesco asked me if I had any interest in writing an article one topic jumped immediately to mind; the tip I give to every new collector entering the hobby that I always feel is overlooked.
Research. More specifically, sitting down with an artist’s run and doing the legwork to know what pages exist.
One of the most common problems in this hobby, especially for new collectors, is that they assume a lot based on memory. “I loved McFarlane’s Amazing Spidey run! I know it by heart!” But do you really? How many issues did he work on? How many pages did he draw? Of those pages, how many were any good? How many had Spidey? How many were all Aunt May? How many did Todd ink himself? How many splashes did he do? How many DPSs?
Chances are, you probably don’t know these answers and are relying on memory to fill in the gaps. And when you get into the weeds of reality, you start to get surprised.
Let’s walk through an example.
Back in the ’90s, there was a popular fellow named Jim Lee who did some work at Marvel. Maybe you’ve heard of him?
His big breakthrough came on Uncanny X-Men alongside inker Scott Williams. It’s a classic run with some epic issues. His first issue is Uncanny 248. The famous changeover when Whilce Portacio took over is Uncanny 281. I suspect a lot of folks who haven’t opened the books recently think “Jim Lee must’ve done 33 issues of X-Men”. Maybe there were a few fill-in issues here or there, but he did a good solid run…right?
In fact, Jim only drew 15 issues. 248, 256-258, 267-277. He did covers for 22.
The rest were a variety of artists including Marc Silvestri, Paul Smith, Andy Kubert, Rick Leonardi, and Mike Collins.
There are also some caveats:
- In UXM267, he mixed art duties with Whilce Portacio.
- In UXM273, he only drew 4 pages.
- Scott Williams only inked 12/15 issues, and sometimes had help.
So those 15 issues he drew? That represents only 337 pages of interior art. That includes all the talking heads, titles, establishing shots, and everything else NOT on your wishlist.
Jim Lee Wolverine Original Art
Now let’s delve deeper and use the example everyone cares about – Wolverine.
Would you guess that of those 15 issues there were 5 that didn’t have a single panel of Wolverine in them? And that the ones that did often found him in his Patch persona?
In fact, of the 337 interior pages he did, there are only 94 with Wolverine. That sounds decent, but keep in mind that includes the weak pages with the back of his head or him standing in a crowd or being out of costume sitting at the bar.
Jim Lee X-Men Original Art – Wolverine Out of Costume
If you narrow it down to pages with Wolverine in costume the number drops to 48.
If you want him in costume and not the back of his head? Now you’re down to 28 pages.
And if you want to filter that to the best pages? The claws out, fighting berserker Wolverine that we all want? Roughly 22.
Oh, and when I say “in costume”, that includes his blue/yellow team costume. Want the maroon and orange costume? The list thins out even more to roughly 13.
So to summarize quick – Jim Lee, one of the biggest names in comics history, famous for his rendition of Wolverine – has a grand total of 13 great maroon costume Wolverine pages in his entire UXM run.
And this isn’t filtering by style or inker; this includes things like the Dan Green inked page 1 from UXM248.
Jim Lee X-Men Original Art – Good Wolverine Example
Were those the numbers you were expecting? I suspect not.
And this is really only the first step.
From here I usually rank them, putting together a spreadsheet of what my favorite pages are and separating them by tiers of quality so that I have a clear sense of what exists and where I draw the line on what I want to own.
For some artists, I extend this exercise to multiple titles. For Todd McFarlane, I did it for Incredible Hulk, Amazing Spider-Man, and Spider-Man. For Rob Liefeld, I did New Mutants and X-Force. For Whilce Portacio I did Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, and Punisher.
In Jim’s case this topic could quickly spiral into a career-spanning list of all his Wolverine art that would extend to X-Men, Punisher War Journal, and various covers for Wolverine, Alpha Flight, trading card sets, and more. Since this article was meant as an example of how to break down a specific run from any artist, we encourage readers to do their own continued legwork
For some artists, after doing this I realize that I can’t afford any of the original art that I love. For others, I realize that I could afford all of it.
But doing this legwork and intimately knowing the artist’s work is incredibly important in this hobby for a variety of reasons.
First, it helps you understand the rarity of some artists and their work. There are 337 Lee UXM pages. There are 2000+ Jack Kirby FF pages. If you have an A-list Lee and an A-list Kirby side by side, it’s worth knowing that you’re more likely to see another A-list Kirby before you see another A-list Lee. There just aren’t as many of them. (If you’re a 90s collector, almost every artist from that era is in that same 10-20 issue window.)
Second, this helps you to recognize the great pages when they surface and understand what you’re looking at. I’m a huge McSpidey fan. For my personal taste there are roughly 75 pieces between ASM and SM that fit what I’m looking for, and that includes covers and pinups. But some are not as flashy as you’d think, and when they surface they often go under the radar. I chuckle when I see people brush off a piece for some tiny defect, not understanding that they won’t see a piece this good again for 5-10 years!
Third, and probably most important, it helps set you up for success in knowing when to chase something that is higher on your list than your nostalgia-brain would’ve thought. Know your rankings before the opportunity arises. That way, when that gem appears that you ranked a top 10 piece you know to break the bank and sell something to help acquire it.
So there’s my best tip to new comic art collectors – don’t rely on your memory and nostalgia to guide you, but do the research on an artist and their oeuvre. Go through the issues, rank the pages, and be prepared to recognize the best stuff when it surfaces.
Oh, and if you’re curious what practical use I made of this? I did this exact exercise in 2017 when I decided to chase an epic Jim Lee Wolverine page. I boiled my list down to 10 pages I considered the best of his run, including things like the UXM268 Captain America splash and the UXM269 Magneto splash, and then inched down the list seeing what might wiggle free. I ended up getting this piece that I’d rated my 5th favorite page in the run.
Bonus! Jim Lee Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine Original Comic Art:
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