Collector Spotlight – Andrew Allen (Part 1)
Hi everybody, today please give a warm welcome to sci-fi collector supreme, Andrew Allen! Andrew’s particularly noted in the hobby for his unparalleled collection of Micronauts, ROM and Battlestar Galactica original art. I’m extremely grateful to Andrew for producing this epic masterpiece about his collecting journey, presented for your enjoyment below and continued next week. As you’ll see, Andrew bares his collecting soul in this passionate and heartfelt feature, striving to improve himself and educate other collectors, for the betterment of our OA collecting community as a whole!
My name is Andrew Allen. I’m 51 years of age and have lived my entire life in Minnesota, currently residing in the Twin Cities. Go Vikings!
It seemed that I was always reading comics. In Elementary School, it was Richie Rich. As a Middle Schooler, (and a budding World War 2 nut) I gravitated to G.I. Combat. Of course, there were always the Marvel versions of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica.
As an adult, I’ve ‘grown out’ of actively reading and collecting comics, though I have consumed the more recent modern masterpieces with great admiration: Watchmen, Walt Simonson’s Thor, The Dark Knight, The Killing Joke, and, a personal favorite, GrimJack.
But, like many of my peers, it was the conjunction of my adolescence with an amazing infusion of talent at Marvel Comics which served as the catalyst for my lifelong love of the comic book form. The storylines of that period remain etched into my psyche: Iron Man in Camelot; Elektra Saga; X-Men vs. the Brood; Death of the Red Skull; Everybody vs. Galactus.
But, throughout that time and beyond, there was ROM: Spaceknight. And there was Micronauts.
Humble (Yet Still Expensive) Beginnings
I had been collecting various types of ‘Non-Sports’ cards during the entertainment trading card boom of the 1990’s. Then, one groundbreaking Skybox product changed everything. Marvel Creator’s Collection 1998 was the first trading card set to include an artist sketch in each box!
If I recall correctly, something approaching 16,000 sketches were required for insertion into packs of cards. (This sort of effort is commonplace now, but it was highly groundbreaking at the time.) Such an ambitious offering required a plethora of participating artists, and resulted in a wide variety of subjects and quality.
I have to laugh at the blurb on the back of the above card – “Featuring Today’s Hottest Artists” – actually, Skybox had mostly engaged students at The Kubert School to produce them, and (allegedly) only paid $1 per sketch. Some of those students have since gone on to noteworthy careers in comics, and others have not. Skybox changed its approach later that year; the next release followed the ‘one sketch card per box’ policy, but they included cards by John Romita Sr., Marie Severin, George Tuska, Dick Ayers, and both Sal and John Buscema. Unopened boxes of either 1998 series are very difficult to find these days.
The Doctor Doom sketch card pictured above is indeed my first one, purchased on eBay. Skilfully executed (likely by current artist Scott Tolson) and displaying some brooding pathos, it remains a favorite of mine. When I won this card, I was only reacting to the strength of the portrait, but it was shortly after it arrived that I elected to narrow my sketch collecting to this one character, a favorite villain from my adolescence. Strangely enough, given the size of my collection of Doom cards, I have never personally pulled a Doom sketch out of a pack of cards. Here’s a link to my Doctor Doom Sketch Card Gallery: http://www.comicartfans.com/galleryroom.asp?gsub=87064
Transition to Original Art Collecting
It was while waiting for a sketch card commission that I was obliquely introduced to original art collecting. I had sent along a ‘blank’ sketch card to artist Anthony Castrillo for a Baron Karza commission, and he was running late, as artists are wont to do. (Blank sketch cards were a relative rarity at the time; these days you can buy them by the handful at art supply stores.) I was told to expect “a little something extra” along with my trading card, and you can imagine my bemusement when a large flat rigid mailer arrived, instead of the expected trading-card-sized package. Inside was this 11”x17” gem:
A major realization snapped into place when I laid eyes on this piece. I had never seen the ‘blue line’ border guide format for comic art pages before, so I had never really understood what the blue markings on the Skybox “Sketchagraphs” imported. The blue formatting on the sketch cards was merely a miniature pastiche of what the professionals used! Shortly after, I ‘graduated’ from sketch cards to original comic art with the arrival of my first Micronauts piece. My sketch card collecting has trailed off, though I’ve kept most of them.
What Type of Original Art Do I Collect?
So, that was my introduction to original comic book art. Looking back, the remarkable change wasn’t in the graduation to the larger hobby, it was in the fairly clean break away from the standard superhero brands to the more esoteric ROM: Spaceknight and Micronauts.
Why those two titles, after listing off some of the all-time best Bronze Age storylines? Why did they stay with me, while my interest in superheroes waned? My best guess: while both titles were part of Marvel Comics’ overall continuity, they both have a strong sci-fi streak running through them, to which I respond more strongly than the escapism of a superhero. A glance at my overall collection bears that out. Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Star Blazers all have prized pieces in my collection.
I do collect the odd superhero page, especially when Doctor Doom is present. I’m actually very pleased and proud of the Doom pages I’ve assembled. But my Doom collecting is just a sideline to me.
Selected Pieces from My Collection
My CAF gallery can be viewed here: http://www.comicartfans.com/GalleryDetail.asp?GCat=27108
I purchased this cover from a collector looking to drum up funds ahead of a trip to San Diego Comic Con, and given the situation, I got it for a fair price. Considering the volume of Michael Golden art throughout the rest of my collection, it’s noteworthy that this was my first cover by him. I think it must have been a challenge to make it clear that the crew of Galactica was not running afoul of the Incredible Hulk!
It’s common knowledge that, unlike most comic artists, Walt Simonson has had the discipline to keep all of his original pages. Those few pages in hobby circulation have come from distributions to his collaborative inkers. So if ‘standard’ Simonson pages are scarce, his title pages (like this one) should be downright rare!
The above is the final Hector Gomez page of the first mini-series produced by Maximum Press. It’s a favorite of mine, sporting a spectacular splash panel of the sister Battlestars cruising in formation. The word balloons were on a separate overlay page, which is now missing – a reconstruction of the word balloons now accompanies the original art.
Creators entering the comic book industry in the 1990’s had been influenced by the comics of the 1970’s, which led to revisitations of their most fondly remembered properties. Battlestar Galactica came back into publication by Maximum Press. I was able to acquire the vast majority of the artwork for the first few Maximum mini-series in one fell swoop, thanks to the artist residing in Brazil, with most of his artwork untouched in his basement!
Back in the day, a few pages from this one-shot book came up on eBay for auction. I’d already won a couple pages, but had my eye on the page 1 title splash. The page was going for a song, with myself comfortably in first position, when, much to my surprise, I got sniped in the last seconds. The lack of bidding activity had lulled me into a false sense of security. I must report some satisfaction, then, in recently landing the Gregg Tocchini cover for that same issue!
Like much of Dynamite Entertainment’s artwork, this cover is pencil-only. Dynamite typically saves some production costs by merging the inker’s duties with the digital colorist’s responsibilities.
Great Britain needed more Star Wars. Many British comic books are published on a weekly rather than monthly schedule, but with a reduced number of pages per issue. If a monthly U.S. book was reprinted in the U.K., the American book would be broken up into thirds, leaving one or two weeks a month needing additional content. Marvel UK required additional Star Wars stories to make up the extra slots in their publishing schedule.
1970’s-era American Star Wars pages are some of the most highly sought after sci-fi comic art in the hobby. This is the most an old Marvel Star Wars fan on a budget can afford – an only slightly less sought after Star Wars Weekly page. The handwritten note in the corner suggests it was from Star Wars Weekly #107, but it was actually #108.
This story is from the noted “World of Fire” 9-part weekly story, first reprinted in the U.S.A. as a paperback digest edition. (I still have mine, was a surprise find way back in the day.) Carmine Infantino’s distinctive take on Star Wars tech is on perfect display in this example. I love his interpretation of a Star Destroyer, with its nine in-line engines!
Like Star Wars, Doctor Who was published in the U.K. in weekly instalments. During the late 1980’s boom in U.S. Doctor Who fandom, Marvel decided to reprint the old Doctor Who Weekly comics in colored editions for the U.S. market. Original Doctor Who Weekly artist Dave Gibbons was asked to contribute new covers for his old stories.
This cover has bounced around various collections recently, but it’s found a forever home with me. A majority of the Star Trek comic artwork you’re likely to find is going to consist of talking-head type pages. (In a way, I suppose this mirrors most Star Trek stories.)
I tend to gravitate to pages that show off a bit of the “Trek” technology, especially when the U.S.S. Enterprise is on display. The more space battles and starship beauty shots a page might boast, the more I like them!
George Perez pieces are in great demand, but he only contributed this single cover to any of the properties that I follow. The rest of the hobby can fight it out over the rest of his output; I’ve got the only piece of his I could possibly ever need.
Star Blazers / Space Battleship Yamato
For some time now, I’ve understood under good authority that original Japanese manga pages were next-to-impossible to collect, for cultural reasons if nothing else. In addition, I have been mightily frustrated in my intent to collect the English language published versions of my favorite anime – Star Blazers and Captain Harlock, mostly.
So you can probably imagine my excitement at getting the opportunity to acquire some vintage 1974 Space Battleship Yamato manga pages! They came dearly, but I still jumped at the chance. As you can see by the manga style being used, they were produced for a book intended for younger readers. I would be lying if I didn’t report some mild disappointment at the best ‘battle’ pages being missing, should they ever surface I would love to complete this little story.
The English language version of Space Battleship Yamato was titled Star Blazers, and remains my favorite animated story from my youth. In the late 1980’s, indie comic publisher Comico acquired the rights to continue the U.S. version of the story, producing nine issues spanning two mini-series. The original art produced for these nine issues is poorly represented in the market. I have personally found only two pages from the second series, and a scan of one page from the first. That’s a lot of missing artwork!
In my experience in this hobby, when whole swaths of art are missing from the marketplace, that’s usually an indication that it is held by only a few people. But there might be other reasons; perhaps the animation market doesn’t readily cross over with the original art market? Perhaps a majority of the U.S. art has been purchased by Japanese fans, similarly restricting exposure to the American market? Perhaps, like their Japanese counterparts, the artists of this Americanized anime product have declined to sell their original pages? Or perhaps the reason is a blending of the above. Time will tell.
My time in art school taught me that I respond strongly (almost instinctively) to symmetry in art. It should come as no great surprise, then, that this is one of my favorite covers in my entire collection. It is not famous, not overly valuable, and not in high demand; and I don’t care. It just sings to me.
Now, just after I’ve finished gushing about my favorite example of symmetrical composition, I follow up with a tremendous example of asymmetrical composition, and from the same title no less. Truman is a master at balancing unequal elements on a page. Note the fading of the different types of inks here; he was using a felt-tip marker, by the look of it. This cover needs to be kept away from bright lights, or those inks will fade further!
ROM Spaceknight penciller Sal Buscema didn’t do very many covers by this point in his career; in fact, he only contributed one to his entire run on ROM Spaceknight. That meant the editorial team had to find lots and lots of ‘guest’ cover artists for the title. Fortunately, the series’ editor, Al Milgrom, was an experienced inker and cover artist in his own right, and contributed to nearly a third of the covers for the series. Milgrom inked the above cover.
This page is from ROM’s first encounter with a member of the Marvel Universe – he is matched up against fan favorite Jack of Hearts. This is truly a special page! Note that when Sal is asked to autograph his own work, he typically selects a spot within the confines of the published art in which to sign. I probably won’t be asking Sal to sign any of my pages.
The reveal of Hybrid! A ‘top 3’ splash from the entire run of the book, revealing what would become the odds-on favorite villain for our worthy Spaceknight. Truly, a wonderfully nasty piece of character design work by the art team, especially (to my 16-year old eyes) the formless feet. I am privileged to own this one. The character of Hybrid has outlived the original book, appearing in a few X-titles, if I recall correctly.
Please note the above two splashes were both penciled and inked by Sal Buscema. Contrast this with the following example:
Comparing this key splash to the earlier two really shows off the incredible difference an inker can sometimes make to the look of a book. Sal Buscema’s work was always dependable and clear from a storytelling perspective, but it wasn’t until he was paired with noted inking duo Ian Akin & Brian Garvey that the book really started to sing off the page! This issue may well signify the high-water mark in their artistic collaboration. That is, of course, my opinion; it’s worth noting that it is not shared by Sal. He is on record as having hated the effect this particular inking team had on his work, probably feeling they took too many liberties with his pencils.
I’ve made no secret of my intention to attempt to re-assemble the artwork for this book. I have been reasonably successful so far; nearly three-quarters has been assembled. (That’s usually the point where it really gets difficult to make progress.) We’ll see how it goes with the rest. When or IF I ever complete the issue, I plan to retire from collecting ROM Spaceknight pages – so I’ve always felt it’s in the best interest of other ROM Spaceknight collectors to help me complete my quest – the better to eliminate the competition!
Experience of a Focused Collector
I can only relate my personal experience as a collector of original art, obviously I cannot speak for anyone else. In brief, it feels as if my focus has the effect of slightly magnifying the collecting experience: the successes, the failures, and, most concerning to me, the frustrations. And yet, the focus puts me on a bit of an island; perhaps my experience with the hobby is the same as everyone else’s, only in microcosm. Being a focused collector has plenty of upsides. Yet, each positive has a corresponding downside. Unfortunately for me personally, much of those downsides are social in nature.
Generally speaking, I can address the rest of the hobby with a certain amount of brevity. I can canvass a convention floor quickly, even the specialty all-art conventions. I can monitor ComicArtFans, eBay, and the other major auction sites efficiently, ignoring most of the hobby’s activity. I can get by with only superficial knowledge of a vast majority of the history of comics.
People remember me because of my focus and visibility within the hobby. I am often recognized as ‘The Micronauts Guy’ online and at conventions. I am fortunate enough to have an experienced, vigilant, and agile network of friends and fellow collectors who help fill in the gaps in my attention. Yet, by having such a myopic knowledge of comic history, I find myself terribly uninformed about vast swaths of the hobby. (I once didn’t recognize a Kirby page, for example.) This often puts me at an embarrassing social disadvantage when interacting with most of the collectors I meet. (My art school background is a godsend here, since I can at least appreciate excellent art when it’s placed in front of me.) It is often difficult for me to learn and retain information that would be of reciprocal benefit to my friends and network. Addressing all of this is a work-in-progress for me.
I have far fewer heart-wrenching decisions to make than a typical generalist collector. In a typical year, there are only a handful of opportunities to expand my core collection, but I have not been able to succeed at all of them. Given the rarity of said opportunities, I have tended to sulk overmuch after my failures. Even when successful, many of my acquisitions have been strenuously (and anonymously) opposed, which frustrates. I am self-aware enough to know that this may well signal entitlement issues on my part. My rational brain reminds me that anyone else has just as much right to acquire something as I do. Just because I have declared my collecting focus does not automatically endow me with an exclusive claim. Grappling with this childish streak will always be something of a personal struggle. I’m getting better at it every day, but the heart still rankles over the forever missing puzzle pieces.
Next Week – Part Two: So You Want to See Some MICRONAUTS?
You can view the rest of Andrew’s collection here in his CAF gallery.