Art Prices: Inflation or Deflation?

by Patrick Bain

Inflation-Or-Deflation-1024x536 Art Prices: Inflation or Deflation?Are comic art prices climbing like most goods and services in the economy?  Or has the weak economy finally caught up with even the high end of the comic art industry?  Let’s look at some samples of comic art prices: past, present, and future.  Then, we can suggest if inflation or deflation controls comic art prices at the end of 2022 going into 2023.

Comic Art Deflation: Myth or Reality

Calvin-and-Hobbes-Sunday-1987-e1669641077273-1024x711 Art Prices: Inflation or Deflation?My observations and my gut lead me to believe that high-end comic art does not rise and fall with the economic surf like other ‘boats’ in the economy.  That is, while the stock market and real estate rise higher over decades but may experience severe price pullbacks, we don’t see the same deflationary period for significant original comic art.  But is my gut right?

Case Study: A Death in the Family by Jim Aparo

Batman-426-complete-story-art-by-Jim-Aparo-e1669641040779-202x300 Art Prices: Inflation or Deflation?

I frequently discuss “A Death in the Family” art.  Partly because I am a huge Jim Aparo fan.  Partly because of the infamy of that storyline.  And mostly, because we’ve seen four of the six story chapters come to auction this year, with the final two coming early next year!

For comparison purposes, we could wish for the ideal situation that each of these chapters had previously sold pre-pandemic.  Still, we can compare page groups from Batman 426 to Batman 429 with each other.

Death-in-the-family-part-1-e1669641188885-205x300 Art Prices: Inflation or Deflation?

The complete 22-page story, Part 3, Chapter 5 from Batman 428 sold first last June.  Since that issue revealed the key moment of Batman finding Jason Todd’s body, it naturally sold the highest.  Bid plus premium: $288,000.  Art in that issue heavily featured Batman, and Superman co-starred.

The story arc’s conclusion sold next in September.  Batman 429 complete art raised $156,000.  It also featured Superman and more of the Joker.  Scoring each page from these chapters using the CAT scale might help, but overall, I ‘feel’ issue 428 had slightly better pages than 429 in addition to the key moment.

Most Recent Sales

Key-page-in-A-Death-in-the-Family-e1669641238485-208x300 Art Prices: Inflation or Deflation?

The two most recent sales of Jim Aparo complete Death in the Family story art came a couple weeks ago.  Admittedly, these groups did not have the panache of the first two groups that sold.  Price reflected that: $78,000 and $72,000.  At an average price per page of roughly $3,500, that’s still a case of the whole being worth more than the sum of the parts.

I don’t think the 50% haircut compared to the Chapter 6 $156K sale should be wholly attributed to the quality of the individual pages.  Certainly, the place in the story mattered–there were fewer great action scenes and powerful moments.  However, with two similar chapters being offered in January, the results should provide a very good indication of the market direction.  At least, for this niche.

Signs of Irrational Exuberance

Sandman-art-sells-for-over-100K-e1669641306420-194x300 Art Prices: Inflation or Deflation?

Do you remember when $100,000 bought original art by the best artists doing the most significant works?  Usually, it was an iconic cover.  I hope I don’t sound like a hater to artists Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III, but I don’t get how a modern-era panel page from Sandman merits six figures.  To me, this signifies the irrational exuberance that sometimes precipitates big price drops, at least in the stock market.

What makes published original art different from the stock market–demand ALWAYS outpaces supply for significant pieces.  So, I’ll trust this is a legitimate demand for a precious piece.

C&H Art Prices: Inflation is Real

Calvin-and-Hobbes-daily-e1669641353361-1024x302 Art Prices: Inflation or Deflation?

Back to the Calvin and Hobbes Sunday page that also sold in the November HA auction.  With a final sales price of almost half a million bucks, bidders probably wished art prices were experiencing deflation rather than the apparent inflation.  You might recall we talked about a hand-colored daily C&H that sold in September for $216K.  That was more than double what the same art sold for in 2020.  In fact, the Compounded Growth Rate (CGR) hit a whopping 35%.

In contrast, the Sunday art that sold a couple weeks ago reached $480, 000, nearly two and a half times the prior sale of a C&H Sunday from 2012.  However, that produces a CGR of only 9% during the ten-year timeframe.  Guess what, over the same period the CGR of the S&P 500 was 11%!

So, do we have inflation or deflation on art prices?  I guess the answer is inflation, but possibly at a reduced rate.

One More Pitch: Art Prices Inflation or Deflation?

Death-in-the-family-chapter-3-e1669641413112-203x300 Art Prices: Inflation or Deflation?I ran out of words before I could cover a diverse set of recent sales to fuel the debate on inflation or deflation of art prices.  So, PLEASE suggest an artist and work that sold recently.  I’ll do some comparisons and crunch the numbers and add the info in the comments section.

Finally, I rambled on about Calvin and Hobbes recently in the article on One Man’s Treasures: Comic Strip Art.  Also check out one of my first CAT Eyes on Original Art articles: Focus on Batman art.  There, you will see I got it wrong before getting it right on Jim Aparo Death in the Family art.

000080221A_Games_2-Footer Art Prices: Inflation or Deflation?*Any perceived investment advice is that of the freelance blogger and does not represent advice on behalf of GoCollect.

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ABaer November 29, 2022 - 10:24 am

Patrick ..,
As someone who travels in the “lower bracket” of comic art, I have to agree on the ever increasing prices via auctions. My target artists have really jumped in prices I simply can’t afford. This also seems to be true of “ superhero cartoon” Cels.
On the upper end, I think the stock market tells us that the rich get richer and, you know…,, I wish I knew a “geeky, techy” Silicone Valley type as I would believe they grew up on comic books, and now have more money and then they know what to do with, and as certainly don’t mind spending the dollars you noted above, and more.

Patrick Bain November 29, 2022 - 12:07 pm

Well, here’s hoping that someday we graduate to the upper bracket of comic art! Meanwhile, rich people will continue to have most the fun . All we can hope for is a fair playing field. thanks for chiming in Andy!

Patrick Bain January 12, 2023 - 8:20 pm

Results are in for Batman 427 22 page art chapters by Jim Aparo: Chapter 3 for $55,200 and Chapter 4 for $72,000. Interesting the average price of these two chapters is significantly lower than the other 3 issues in the series. Again, the story elements figure into the “relatively” cheap price. Could the economy or burnout for this storyline play a role?


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