Collecting the First Works of Marvel’s Great Artists

by Ryan Kirksey

SW1-205x300 Collecting the First Works of Marvel's Great ArtistsOver the last 60 years, Marvel Comics has employed some of the most fascinating and famous artists in comic’s history. Often known simply by one name (Kirby, Ditko, McFarlane), these giants of the industry created, styled, and presented some of the most notable heroes of the past three generations.

But while these artists became world-famous for being synonymous with a specific team or a certain superhero – Kirby: Fantastic Four, Frank Miller: Daredevil, McFarlane: Spider-Man – rarely did these artists start at the flagship books of Marvel’s superhero empire.

For a collector looking to invest in the famous artists’ first appearances with Marvel, it involves quite a bit more digging. What follows are six of Marvel’s most recognizable names, and their first (or believed to be their first) appearances on pages of the company’s comics.

Jack Kirby – Strange Worlds #1

To tell the story of King Kirby is to tell the story of how Marvel came to be the world-leader for comic books, superheroes, superior storytelling, and imagination. Kirby had his fingerprints over all of those. No matter what you consider the “beginning” of Marvel, Kirby was there. And it’s because of his history with the company and its assets that Kirby’s first true issue with Marvel is up for debate.

But for our purposes, we will settle on Strange Worlds #1. Kirby was responsible for Captain America #1 in 1941, but Marvel as we know it did not exist and Cap was not its property. Kirby began work for Atlas Comics (which became Marvel) in 1956, and first did work on Battleground #14, but there are no copies of this book on the CGC census and it is not considered Kirby’s first work with what would become the behemoth that is Marvel. That title goes to Strange Worlds from 1958, which would be the seminal work that would kick-start his legendary run that led to the Fantastic Four in 1961 and continue through his departure in 1970.

If you are lucky enough to have one of the 64 copies on the CGC census of this issue, well, kudos to you. If you are on the hunt, however, all sales at all grades of this book over the past year have been under $1,000.

JIM33-198x300 Collecting the First Works of Marvel's Great ArtistsSteve Ditko – Journey Into Mystery #33

A few short months before Kirby would be published in Strange Worlds #1 in November 1956, a young artist named Steve Ditko was published for the first time in Journey Into Mystery #33, a four-page story that followed the main story about an incense candle that caused trouble for its owner if it burned out. Safe to say, Journey Into Mystery hadn’t quite reached Thor levels yet.

Back-up stories would follow for Ditko in Strange Tales, Tales to Astonish, Tales of Suspense, and Strange Worlds until creative differences took Kirby away from a new idea that would be featured in Amazing Fantasy #15. The job was given to Ditko, he drew Spider-Man and the rest is history.

JIM #33 has fewer issues on the census than you have fingers and toes, so getting those fingers on one might be a problem. The most recent issues that sold at a grade 4.0 were north of $200.

ST150-201x300 Collecting the First Works of Marvel's Great ArtistsJohn Buscema – Strange Tales #150

To settle the debate on Buscema’s first work, you must ask yourself, “Am I a Timely/Atlas guy or a Marvel guy?” John Buscema has credited works at Timely Comics (which became Atlas, which became Marvel) as far back as Lawbreakers Always Lose #3 from 1948. He would work at Atlas through the mid-’50s, but left to pursue a job at an ad agency, and wouldn’t return to Marvel until 1966 when he penciled a Nick Fury story in Strange Tales #150.

Buscema would go on to be a classic artist for Avengers and other popular titles such as Sub-Mariner, Spider-Man, and launched a Silver Surfer title in 1968. With enough data to look at trends, we can check the CGC census for what it will cost us to own Strange Tales #150. With more than 200 CGC copies available, prices remain reasonable. In January of this year, a 9.2 copy sold for under $200 while a 9.4 sold for only $252. By the way, if you’re thinking of looking, there is exactly one copy of Lawbreakers Always Lose #3 on the census.

Avengers23-200x300 Collecting the First Works of Marvel's Great ArtistsJohn Romita Sr. – Avengers #23

This is deja vu all over again with Romita the elder. Like others before him, Romita Sr. had a stint at Timely/Atlas in the early- to mid-’50s, left for another job (DC Comics) and then rejoined Marvel during the Silver Age and amassed astounding success. According to the Comics Database, Romita’s first definitive work at Atlas was All True Crime #44, and while there are apparently a couple rogue CGC signed copies floating around the world today, there have never been any recorded sales.

Romita would return to Marvel in December 1965 to pencil Avengers #23 which led to him earning a spot drawing early Daredevil issues including a two-part Spider-Man crossover (Daredevil #16 and Daredevil #17) that was essentially a tryout to step into the big time of taking over Spider-Man when Ditko left Marvel in summer 1966.

As an early Silver Age Avengers issue, this one won’t come cheap, although the last five sales in a CGC 9.6 have all come in under $1,000. If a mid-grade will make you happy, the latest CGC 7.0 was purchased for merely $128.

JohnCarter-196x300 Collecting the First Works of Marvel's Great ArtistsFrank Miller – John Carter Warlord of Mars #18

Miller experienced quite a rapid and dramatic rise at Marvel. After transitioning to Marvel from DC in late 1978, Miller worked on the one issue of John Carter before being asked to pencil X-Men Annual #3 in early 1979, then the Spectacular Spider-Man series in spring 1979, and then given control of Daredevil in May 1979 beginning with Daredevil #158.

He would go on to work on The Avengers, Spider-Woman, and the Incredible Hulk, among others, over the next several years, but it all started with a 17-page penciled story for John Carter #18. There are less than 30 registered sales of this book, all at grade 9.0 or above. The last 9.8 sold one year ago for only $288, with all lower grades well under $100. It’s a scarce graded book (less than 50 on the census), but still an affordable one for the Frank Miller fan.

Coyote11-195x300 Collecting the First Works of Marvel's Great ArtistsTodd McFarlane – Coyote #11

Love him or hate him, McFarlane made and continues to make a lasting impression on the comic book industry. Long before his famous Spider-Man and the spaghetti webbing, long before Incredible Hulk, and long before his Batman, there was Coyote #11.

Coyote was a story of an animal-like hero published by Epic Comics, an imprint of Marvel, and McFarlane’s first work here was a backup story in 1984’s #11 after trying for months to land a comic book job out of college. There are presently only 106 copies of this issue on the CGC universal census, and a 9.8 recently sold for its highest price ever – $325. Dropping down slightly to 9.6, two copies sold in January for under $100. While it may feature the inaugural work of a famous artist, this remains one of the cheapest premieres on the market.

What other artists should be on this list? Who are your favorite artists over the years and what are their first works?

 

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