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An expert's guide to collecting comic book art

Batman
Frank Quitely sketch for NYCC x MCM Metaverse St. Jude Charity Art Auction (Image credit: Frank Quitely)

Are you a comic fan that appreciates the art and wants to do more than just collect the comic books? Well, you can, with original art.

Whether it is to admire, to collect, to give, or to invest in, original comic book art is a thriving part of the comic book industry. I've been collecting since 2007, and have seen just how much the market can change in a few years.

At this point in my life, it's become less of a hobby and more of a ritual at every comic convention I go to. I get a budget plan together, assemble my portfolios, pack my sketchbooks, and roll out to Artist Alley for the rare opportunity to meet comic artists face-to-face and, hopefully, snag a great piece or two.

But if you haven't started, it can be daunting. Where would you even start? What's the right way and wrong way to try and get sketches and commissions from your favorite artist? 

Let's break it down so you can begin collecting original comic book art online and/or at conventions, and be better prepared than I ever was when I started. 

What is original art?

Velma by Joelle Jones (Image credit: Joëlle Jones)

Let's start here. What are you looking for when your goal is to buy original art? The word has sort of become also meaning 'traditional' art, meaning a physical medium on some sort of paper, canvas, wood, etc. 

As for what's on the proverbial page, there's a variety of thing: the original art for comic book pages/covers, prelim sketches/concept art, original commissions, rejected work, and even privately commissioned work.

'Original' has also come to mean 'one of a kind' when it comes to the digital art market. A lot of comic artists these days work digitally to save time and sell the print of the page as a 1/1 artist proof. It's still art. It's still original, but it just takes different tools to create it. 

Where do I begin looking for original art to buy?

Original art by Kevin Wada (Image credit: Kevin Wada)

This might seem pretty easy, but there's a multitude of answers. The biggest one being each comic conventions' artist alley. But with cons largely nonexistent for the time being, there's always the internet. 

I've picked up a few hidden treasures on eBay, but you can also go to Heritage Auctions, or in some cases the artist's own online store for available pages, covers, sketches, prelims, prints, etc.

Some artists belong to a group that is run by an agent/representative, which makes it easier to set up a commission or see if a certain piece is available. These middlemen make it easier to navigate the waters if you're not used to the market or art buying (we'll get into that in a bit). 

There are a lot of artists on Etsy as well, but if you're looking for a specific artist, you might want to just check their website and see their commission and store policy. 

Can I get art from the artist directly? 

Zatanna by Brian Stelfreeze (Image credit: Brian Stelfreeze)

Definitely! Most artists love interacting with their fans as well as making a little extra money. If they're unavailable for commissions, usually they'll have pre-made pieces like small sketches, preliminary art, or even pages, thumbnails, prints, etc. 

If that artist has an agent/representative, they'll have a website and contact. That representative will have the information and prices for anything you might ask for. However, that page (or sketch) you might have had your heart set on could be a smidge pricier now since the reps take a percentage with each sale. 

There are few big groups when it comes to art representation: Felix Comic Art, Comic Sketch Group, Essential Sequential, and Cadence Comic Art. Each has its own stable of artists, but all are very helpful in making sure you're able to get that piece of art you've been eyeing. 

Can I commission new art, and not just something already made?

Zatanna by Evan "Doc" Shaner (Image credit: Evan 'Doc' Shaner)

Of course - if the artist is available. Commissioning is seen more like a side-gig for most professional artists, as working on comic books themselves is their main source of income. 

That being said, when there is downtime, artists can take a list of commissions (depending on that downtime, the list can be small or long). The problem with that might be that the turnaround could vary if work picked up. 

I know I've waited as long as a year for a commission (but it was beyond worth it). If the artist has to extend the turnaround, be patient. 

How much does original art cost? 

A Superman page by Evan "Doc" Shaner (Image credit: Evan 'Doc' Shaner)

This is the trickiest subject but pretty much an easy answer: whatever they charge. 

Prices fluctuate for various reasons on certain artists or even titles. Much like most things, it's all based on demand for the most part. Some smaller independent artists, just starting out or whatever the case may be, might charge considerably less than more established stars. But the days of $5-$15 sketches are pretty much over with -and rightfully so. 

Usually $20-100 is pretty good for a solid quick sketch from an average comic book artist. If you want to go bigger, see what a full-scale commission costs. If your budget is bigger than that, go for a page, after that a cover. All possess different price points, but covers are considered more important because they're commonly used in marketing and what are used to 'sell' the book, so to speak. However, they are usually exponentially more expensive as a result. 

How do I know I'm getting a good deal?

Fantastic Four

Jam piece by Ryan Stegman, Annie Wu, Howard Chaykin, Valerio Schiti, and Stan Lee (Image credit: Ryan Stegman/Annie Wu/Howard Chaykin/Valerio Schiti/Stan Lee)

That all depends on how you view your purchases in your collection. Are you seeing them as something to enjoy, cherish, and treasure, or something you're looking at to get a return on investment later on? 

I'm definitely in the former group, and actually rarely sell any piece I've personally commissioned, but have absolutely sold pieces for artists who have gotten more famous over the years as I picked up random pieces from their store early in their career. I've even done a few trades. 

But if you walk away happy from an artist, no matter what you paid, with a piece you're delighted about, I think that's always more than a great deal.

Looking for a unique gift for a comics fan in your life? We have assembled a comic book gift guide - with the perfect presents for comic lovers.

Lan Pitts likes watching, talking, and writing comics about wrestling. He has mapped every great taco spot in the DC and Baltimore areas. He lives with his partner and their menagerie of pets who are utterly perfect in every way.