The Great Comic Art Inventory of 2013 is finished.
When I say “finished,” that’s a slight overstatement. Not every entry in the database is 100% complete. There’s a small group of pieces — mostly items I bought via eBay between late 2007-early 2008 and mid-2010 — for which I still need to research and input purchase prices. (That information resides on my current PC’s immediate predecessor, so I’ll have to go to that computer to look it up.)
Aside from that, though, I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. There’s a unique entry for every piece of comic art in my collection (with the exception of 20 published pages from Millennium Comics’ Doc Savage, Man of Bronze: The Monarch of Armageddon #1, which I considered a single item). I’ve recorded the artist(s) and character(s) pertaining to each piece, as well as the item’s size, medium, purchase price or commission fee, and other pertinent details. For the first time in several years, I can tell at a glance exactly how many artworks I own, and can easily access all of the information about each work that I’d ever care to know. In many cases, more than I’ll ever care to know.
This inventory proved far more than a mere data-compiling exercise. To do the project justice, I required myself to connect, visually and physically, with every single item. I handled each piece — touched it, measured it (even those whose dimensions seemed obvious at first glance), looked at it up close and in person — often, for the first time in years. I saw each piece with fresh eyes. I was stunned by how emotional the experience was. It’s ineffably different holding an artwork in your hands — or at least, seeing the physical work — than observing a digital image on a screen. When you can really examine every pencil or pen line or brush stroke, you climb into the mind of the artist in a way that is otherwise impossible.
It’s a humbling reminder of why art is such an essential element of humanity.
Not long ago, the Pirate Queen and I went to San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum to see Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, currently touring the U.S. and Japan. I’ve seen this painting dozens of times in photographs. I’ve even watched the film that presents a fictional account of its creation. But viewing Vermeer’s actual canvas in person was altogether different, and powerful. Tears welled in my eyes as I stood before it, and saw the nuances that no reproduction can fully capture. In a gallery crowded with strangers, I felt for a moment utterly alone with the artist’s creative force, preserved in a painting nearly 350 years old.
I don’t own anything that approaches that Vermeer; no offense intended to any of the artists whose work I do possess. But as I paged through and pondered the hundreds of drawings in my collection, mostly late at night in the quiet of my living room, I felt many reactions equally potent. At times, I found myself enveloped in magical rapture. At others, I laughed out loud. In still other moments, my mind raced into the panel to invent an entire story based on the single scene that my eyes took in.
And then, there were memories, and personal connections. More than half my collection consists of artworks I commissioned — pieces that exist only because I hired artists to draw them. Each of these carries a back story of how it came to be — correspondence, dialogue, and in a few cases, lasting friendships made. I’ve been fortunate, in that most of my commission experiences have been positive. I’ve not, unlike many of my collecting compatriots, had scenarios where an artist took money for a commission and never delivered the art, or had to be hounded for years before finally coming through. (I’ve had to chase a commission here and there, but rarely for more than a few months.) I’ve rarely had a commission result in a piece of art that I actively disliked. (There have been a couple, but looking at them again after the initial disappointment has faded into history, in most cases I appreciate them better now.)
I thought quite a bit about artists who’ve passed on since I commissioned them, or since I purchased their art. I’m grateful for the several pieces I own by Dan Adkins. I’m grateful for the many works — some commissioned, others not — by the amazingly talented Al Rio, and wish I had commissioned him even more. I’m glad I commissioned so many pieces from Ernie Chan and Tony DeZuniga, and I dearly miss chatting with them both at conventions. I discovered a lovely handwritten note that Jim Mooney — whose career as a comic book artist spanned more than a half-century — sent me when I bought a drawing from him. There’s a nice image by the once-ubiquitous George Tuska in one portfolio. I’m still sad that Dave Simons, a delightful man, never had a chance to complete the commission he started for me, though I love the Common Elements that Dave’s longtime collaborator Bob Budiansky created in his memory. And I still wish I had back the other drawing by Mike Wieringo that I sold mere months before his sudden, untimely death, to go with the one Ringo original I’ve held onto.
More than a few pieces in my collection were impulse buys — things I saw (usually on eBay) and thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have that?” Some of these purchases, in retrospect, might not have been wise investments. But there are others that, years down the road, make me ecstatic that I pulled that trigger. And the fact of the matter is that every preexisting piece I’ve bought somehow resonated with me in the moment — something about the image motivated me to spend money on it. It’s interesting to reflect upon what that resonance was, and to consider whether it still exists, or has faded with time.
Equally intriguing, there’s the realization that my art collection is uniquely reflective of me. No one else would have commissioned all the works I’ve commissioned, or purchased the exact combination of other pieces that I’ve compiled. There’s no other theme collection quite like Common Elements. Although there are any number of nose art-inspired pinups, no one else has an aggregation of them referencing Golden Age superheroines, certainly not in the specific manner that Bombshells! does. No other collector, to my knowledge, collects images of both Taarna, the silent avenger from the film Heavy Metal, and Isis, from the ’70s Saturday morning TV series. Other collections of Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Storm, Mary Marvel, and the Scarlet Witch exist, but I don’t know of another collection with a focus on all five. And none combine the above with a Black Panther gallery, or a group of images of male-female couples or teams.
No one else would have done this — built this specific collection, exactly this way. No one else could.
Therefore, when you look into my portfolios or online galleries, you look into me.
That’s amazing — and more than a little frightening — to think about.
And that’s your Comic Art Friday.