It’s old news…two months old. But one should chew on data and let it digest rather than gobbling it down and possibly choking. The data relates to two sales of original Spider-Man art.
The artists stand as legends, though I would call one classic and the other nouveau. Steve Ditko and Todd McFarlane. Both Ditko and McFarlane illustrated Spider-Man with distinct styles. And original art by each commands awesome sales prices. But one created Spider-Man along with Stan Lee, and the other waited almost 300 issues before penciling Amazing Spider-Man #298. The tangled web I weave relates to two sales on November 19, 2020. Steve Ditko Spider-Man page: $96,000. Todd McFarlane Spider-Man page: $120,000. So, when Todd McFarlane Spider-Man art surpasses that of Steve Ditko at auction, what does it mean?
Amazing Spider-Man 298 marked McFarlane’s first turn at penciling the flagship series. Does its GoCollect $400 9.8 FMV reflect more on McFarlane’s 1st or Venom’s cameo first?
A Perspective on Ditko
First, let’s do a quick survey of Steve Ditko Spider-Man. Unless you are accessing this blog from some wi-fi hot-spot on Mars, you already know that Ditko and Lee introduced Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15. But did you know the original iconic artwork from 1962 exists? In fact, it lives at the Library of Congress. An anonymous donor gifted all 24 pages of the Amazing Fantasy #15 Ditko original art to the institution.
A couple months ago there was some hub-bub around the cover art for Amazing Spider-Man #129 featuring the 1st appearance of the Punisher. Speculators suggested a two million dollar sale price for that art. While that story seems to have quietly died, what would landmark art from Amazing Fantasy #15 command in the open market? Well, to quote Luke Skywalker, it would take “more wealth than you can imagine!”.
Quick Ditko Review
Let’s review some old Ditko art sold recently. Ditko’s run on Spidey began with AF #15 and ended with Amazing Spider-Man #38, that’s 1962 through 1966. In 2020, the pictured Vulture page Amazing Spider-Man #7 Page 9 sold for $66,000. The more dynamic page from Amazing Spider-Man #10 featuring Spidey battling the Enforcers sold a year earlier for $75,000. Another panel page from issue #32 in 1966 sold for only $36,000 in 2020, but Spider-Man only appeared as Peter Parker (Doc Ock and Betty Brant made nice appearances).
The big winner for Ditko interior pages: in 2018 a half splash page declared “I was born to be Spider-Man!”. That page sold for a whopping $288,000.
Now What About Todd McFarlane?
Let’s get some of McFarlane’s huge cover sales out of the way first. It’s not a fair comparison to talk about McFarlane Spider-Man art surpassing Ditko if comparing covers to interiors. The year 2012 was a boon for McFarlane original Spidey covers. Buyers broke the bank to purchase the cover art for Spider-Man #1 for $358,500. That was chump change compared to the sale of Amazing Spider-Man #328 cover art. The 1990 cover depicting Spidey punching out the Hulk fetched $657,250. Several McFarlane covers from Spider-Man and Amazing Spider-Man have auctioned since, prices range from $33K to $140K. The best price came for landmark issue 300 cover art.
Now we can survey recent sales of Todd McFarlane’s interior pages. Page 22 from issue #322 pops with action. The art co-starring Silver Sable sold for the modest price of $26,400 in January. I grade this as R5 on the CAT scale since Spider-Man appears in roughly 2/3 of the page. For the same money in July 2020, a buyer picked up art from Amazing Spider-Man #320. That page grades about the same.
The art that led me to this discussion has better eye appeal than either of these two pages. And, it also grades slightly higher on the CAT scale.
Head to Head McFarlane Spider-Man Surpasses Ditko
After this build-up, I need to get to the point. As mentioned, two terrific Spider-Man pages sold on the same day last November through HA. Both by legendary artists with unique but imitated styles. (I would say that McFarlane’s style reflects the modern interpretation.) Also, though I have a passion for the Silver Age, modern pages enjoy greater visual appeal to a casual observer in my opinion. So let’s compare.
The Ditko page exploded with panel to panel Spidey acrobatics. The panels are linear as was customary. The featured villains, the Enforcers, rate low among Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery. But the art from Amazing Spider-Man #10 (1964) that sold for $96,000, represents a slice of early history for a character by a creator.
On the other hand, McFarlane’s art from Amazing Spider-Man #328 features an iconic McFarlane Spidey pose in a half-splash. No super-villains. Across the room visual appeal. But no Hulk! Depending on your age, the 30-year-old art may seem new or classic. And the price is right (for someone) at $120,000.
By the way, both the Ditko page and McFarlane page shown here received CAT R7 grades.
What is the Takeaway for Investors?
From these two sales, what should we conclude? If anything! As I recommended at the top, let’s chew on this data before gulping. Someone on Facebook rightly pointed out that people who grew up on McFarlane are coming into their peak buying power for hobbies. Considering the above pages passed thirty years old, he’s absolutely right that market conditions for McFarlane demand should expand. By the same token, fewer children who read Ditko’s Spider-Man in the early sixties are adding to their collections. The reverse is probably true. Ten-year-old fans from 1964 may be timing liquidation.
Before dumping Ditko, note one page sold in 2019 for $75K. A similar page from the same issue sold a year later for $96K. That’s a 28% bump in one year. At $120K, the recent McFarlane sale may fall outside the norm. That is, it could be an outlier. Recall, other similar pages fetched under $30K. I think the issue 328 page generated additional demand because of the nice 1/2 page splash, but it could represent the new normal for McFarlane Spider-Man art.
Sorry if you’ve read nearly a thousand words with less clear guidance than a talking head on CNBC. Though I believe some plateauing of art prices is in order, I don’t see any evidence that Ditko art is ready for a sudden decline. I do believe McFarlane art has its best years ahead. McFarlane’s cover for Amazing Spider-Man #299 just sold through ComicLink for $250,000. Though nothing like the 2012 sales, certainly a premium compared to other recent cover art by the multi-talented McFarlane.
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