One area of focus in comic collecting that has been overlooked since other forms of media began to have such a great influence on the hobby is that of hunting down key comics by top creators. Never fear. We’re here to help you sort through the top books by individual creators, both in terms of investing and reading. This time we’re looking at the works of John Buscema.
John Buscema was one of the key artists for Marvel once Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby left the publisher. Taking off from Kirby’s masterful artistry, Buscema incorporated some of the King’s power into his own work and quickly became Marvel’s top artist.
Most famous for his work on Avengers and Silver Surfer, Buscema also had long runs on Fantastic Four and Thor and was THE Conan artist on multiple titles once Barry Windsor-Smith left.
Breaking into comics with Timely in 1948, Buscema’s pencils first appeared in Lawbreakers Always Lose #3. With a CGC census of only four graded copies, determining value is tough. There was a February 15 fixed prices eBay sale of $450 for a 6.0 graded copy if you’re looking for a comparison. But with so few graded copies, you’re going to have a very hard time finding one for sale.
Buscema would freelance for many publishers – Atlas, Ace, Quality, St. John, Hillman, and Ziff-Davis, among others – throughout most of the 1950s. His lengthiest run was on Dell’s Roy Rogers #74 through Roy Rogers #91. In 1958, Buscema left comics to work in the commercial art field.
Return to Comics – The Avengers
Buscema returned to comics with a bang in 1966, taking over one of Marvel’s flagship team books beginning with Avengers #41. The power of Buscema’s work was unmistakable, and he elevated the series beyond what it had ever been before.
Fortunately, if you’re a Buscema fan, this issue won’t set you back more than the previous few issues in the series. There are 318 graded copies. On the high end, a 9.6 has a one-year average of $585, while in the mid-grades, a 5.5 to a 7.5 will only set you back $50-$60.
Buscema penciled nearly every issue through Avengers #62 (the first appearance of M’Baku) and many more sporadically afterward. Some of his top issues in that run include Avengers #43 – the first appearance of Red Guardian; Avengers #52 – Black Panther’s Avengers debut and the first appearance of the Grim Reaper; Avengers #55 – the first appearance of Ultron; and Avengers #59 – the first appearance of Yellowjacket.
Arguably the greatest issue in that run is Avengers #57. Marking the debut of the Vision and with its powerful red cover, Avengers #57 is widely considered one of the top late Silver Age Marvel comics. There are 5,754 graded copies in the CGC census and even in a down market, prices aren’t cheap.
The latest sale of a 9.8 was nearly a year ago in a June 2022 Heritage auction, where it went for $18,600. While down nearly half from an April 2022 eBay sale for $35,000, I can’t imagine the price dropping too much more. If you’re looking for a more affordable copy, one in the mid-grade will set you back roughly $300-$350 based on current 30-day averages.
Stan Lee tapped John Buscema to pencil the new Silver Surfer series in 1968, an event that was the beginning of the end for Kirby at Marvel. Despite the controversy, the series is among Buscema’s greatest works. From the iconic cover of The Silver Surfer #1 to the creation of Mephisto in The Silver Surfer #3 to one of the greatest covers ever to grace a superhero comic on The Silver Surfer #4, the pure majesty of this comic moment was beyond compare, and a great deal of the credit is due to Buscema’s art.
There are 6,829 graded copies of The Silver Surfer #1 in the CGC census. Only 10 are graded at 9.8 and it’s been nearly six years since any of those have been put up for sale. In the 9.6 grade, the top price paid was in the most recent sale in the November 2022 Heritage auction, in which this comic sold for $45,600. Even in the 6.0 grade, you’re looking at values slightly north of $1,000. It isn’t until you get down to the 4.0 grade where prices become somewhat more affordable at roughly $500.
While there are far fewer graded copies of The Silver Surfer #3, it’s still a quite plentiful census count of 3,432. This book has taken a nosedive of late, particularly since MCU spec on Mephisto has yet to come to fruition. A 9.6 sold in the November 2022 Heritage auction for $6,900, just a fraction of the nearly $16,000 paid in an eBay sale in February 2021. It’s now skirting with 2020 prices, so we could be looking at a buying opportunity.
If I had to pick one of these three issues, I would go with The Silver Surfer #4. The cover is just that amazing. With 5,045 graded copies, collectors clearly agree. A 9.6 sold in an April 2 Heritage auction for $31,200. While not the top price paid (that crown goes to a 9.8 selling in a June 2021 Heritage auction for $90,000), it’s still near the peak for the grade and a reversal of a slump that had brought the value as low as $11,400.
This cover is Buscema at the top of his game and worth adding to your collection if you have the means.
Fantastic Four and Thor
It’s not surprising that Buscema would enjoy lengthy runs on Kirby’s top two titles – Fantastic Four and Thor. He would be the primary penciler on Fantastic Four from Fantastic Four #107 through Fantastic Four #141.
Easily the top Buscema issue in that series is Fantastic Four #112 with its black Hulk vs. Thing cover. The most recent sales have current 30-day averages sitting at $1,800 for a 9.2, $385 for a 7.0, and $175 for a 5.5.
Buscema’s run on Thor was even longer, from Thor #182 to Thor #259. Thor #225 is a favorite among collectors. Besides another iconic Buscema cover, the issue also features the first appearance of Firelord, herald of Galactus.
There are 1,098 graded copies and a 9.4 will set you back $535 based on current 30-day averages, while mid-grade copies can be found for less than $100.
It may come as a surprise that, despite his profound ability when it came to drawing super heroics, Buscema actually preferred the work he did on Conan the Barbarian and Savage Sword of Conan.
He managed to produce art for over 200 issues between the two series. He was also the artist on the daily Conan comic strip that began running in newspapers beginning in 1978.
Buscema’s first issue of the original series is Conan the Barbarian #25. In general, the Conan issues are easily more attainable than some of his top superhero books. A 9.4 has a current 30-day average of just $68.
Being a first issue, The Savage Sword of Conan #1 is far pricier, with current 30-day averages for a 9.8 at $960, while a 9.4 is valued at $360.
Return to Avengers
Work on Conan kept Buscema away from superhero comics until he returned in the mid-1980s to the comic on which he first made a name, beginning with Avengers #255. He would finish out the 1980s with the team, penciling all but one issue through Avengers #300.
While for the most part the issues are run fillers, there are some notable books, including Avengers #257 – the first appearance of Nebula, Avengers #267 – the first appearance of the Council of Kangs, and Avengers #280 – the conclusion of an epic battle against the Masters of Evil and a touching story about Jarvis.
Buscema’s last great superhero work came on Marvel’s most popular character at the time. He was tapped as penciler beginning on Wolverine #1 and would last on the series for fifteen of the first sixteen issues, as well as the Wolverine stories in the first ten issues of Marvel Comics Presents.
Of the more than 18,000 graded copies of Wolverine #1, 3,033 are graded 9.8. While it dropped like most comics following the boom, it’s begun to rise once more, with a 30-day average of $504, exceeding the 90-day average of $415 and the 1-year average of $430. Another issue worth considering for your collection, if you’re a Buscema fan, is Wolverine #8 with its classic Patch and Joe Fixit cover.
Sadly, John Buscema died of stomach cancer in 2002 at the age of 74. His legacy is massive. While there’s no doubt that Marvel would have likely survived following the departures of first Steve Ditko, and then Jack Kirby, Buscema’s powerful artwork on at least one issue of nearly every Marvel series in the 1970s, as well as his seminal work on Avengers, The Silver Surfer, Conan the Barbarian, Thor, and Fantastic Four made the transition seem almost effortless.
He will forever be remembered as one of Marvel’s great early artists, one who has produced some of the greatest covers in the publisher’s history.
Do you collect John Buscema’s works? What are some of your favorites? Let us know below.
*Any perceived investment advice is that of the freelance blogger and does not represent advice on behalf of GoCollect.