Collector Spotlight – Robert Frey
Hello all, today I’m delighted to welcome seasoned collector and all-around nice guy, Robert Frey! Robert’s deep appreciation for the medium is matched by his knowledge of the hobby, and he’s more than happy to share that joy and experience with other collectors. Robert enjoys forming lasting friendships, and also closely studies market movements, which have contributed greatly to building his marvellous collection. I’m truly glad to have made a friend in Robert through this hobby, and hope you all enjoy his article as much as I did!
Hi I’m Robert Frey, a 53-year old living in New York with my lovely wife. My favorite character is Captain America and my favorite book is Avengers. I remember the excitement I used to have when my brother and I would wake up on Sunday mornings and at 10:30, turn to channel 68 on UHF in Riverhead (waaaaaaaaaay before cable!) to watch the Marvel Super Heroes cartoon. I recall being thrilled to see the episodes with Captain America and Thor (Kirby characters) and how disappointed I was when the Sub-Mariner was on, LOL. The first comic books that I can remember buying were Avengers #124 and Captain America #172, picked up at the local card store. A short while later, circa 1975, my dad would take me to the orthodontist (I had braces) and afterwards, we would go to the local 7-Eleven, where he would give my brother and I an allowance to buy the comics we liked/collected. I was reading titles like Captain America, Avengers, Marvel Triple Action, Doctor Strange, Master of Kung Fu, and Captain Marvel. The first artists who REALLY made an impression on me, the first ones who really stood out, were George Perez (Avengers #143) and Jack Kirby (Captain America and the Falcon #196). As I kept following these tiles, I discovered that there were other artists I really liked as well – that is where I got my love of Barry Windsor-Smith, Neal Adams, John Buscema, Marshall Rogers, etc – so a lot of my interest in other artists mushroomed from me liking their work in those books.
I’ve been collecting comic art for 20 years or so. For many years, I attended the Big Apple Comic Convention, where I used to pick up Silver Age back issues in order to complete my collection. As I neared completing these runs, I would find myself spending more and more time looking at comic book art. Yes, I blame it all on Albert, Anthony and Saul Zimmerman – they all had booths at these shows and man, I could have had some really good art at really palatable prices! So it goes. Anyway, one day, I bit the bullet and picked up a page from the Ultraforce/Avengers crossover by George Perez and my life was never the same again! I suppose that was a natural progression as comic books are a visual medium.
My art collecting habits are very similar to my comic book purchasing habits. I try to stay relatively focused and buy art that fits my collecting interests. Specifically, that means most of the art I buy is Avengers or Captain America-related, with a smattering of Dr Strange thrown. As a result, 98% of the art that I have comes from comic books that I also own. Occasionally, I will stray if there is a striking image of something that is done by an artist I like. There is a lot of good art out there by many fine artists, and if I bought everything I liked, I’d be both bankrupt and divorced! So I try to have a plan when I am looking to buy something. As I really do not follow the current storylines, I try to keep away from modern art and just stick to what I know (or think I know).
Thoughts & Experiences
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Mathematics and Statistics, and am both a computer programmer and business analyst in my professional life. I’d like to think that this training helps me formulate decisions on how and what I purchase. I pore over auction results and study the various prices that pieces are assigned on dealer websites, CAF offerings, the CGC boards and even on Facebook. I also pay attention to who has bought what, for how much, and try to follow the trends; including the merry-go-round that occurs with some pieces that bounce from person to person. So, I crunch the numbers and get a feel for value on what things should or should not cost, and then hopefully make a good decision.
As no one is truly an expert on anything (unless you are Mike Burkey) and because this art is so expensive, I like to bounce ideas and obtain opinions from other collectors. As many others would say, networking is probably the most important part of both finding art and getting unbiased, educated opinions on values… plus it’s a good way to meet people and make friends! When you are spending hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, it is a smart thing to get as much information as possible to make an informed decision.
Another thing that I think very important is patience. It really is a virtue, to paraphrase Michael Golden. Rome was not built in a day and neither was my collection. I try to use my head, not my heart, when buying art – it makes it easier on my wallet and bank account. Buying something for instant gratification is not always the smartest thing to do, and usually those are the decisions that you regret later on. As Albert Moy says on his website, something else will always come along!
Well, I remember the feeling when I first opened the pages to Captain America #196, “The Mad Bomb”. It was my first exposure to the work of Jack Kirby and I was totally mesmerized by what I saw! It was a real departure from what Frank Robbins was doing at the time PLUS I had missed the previous 9 issues due to crappy distribution at the newsstand. I could really feel the power and energy of Jack’s work. So, when I became heavily immersed in this hobby, one real goal that I had was to get a standout Captain America piece by Kirby. After a while, I decided that I wanted to get a cover. This is a difficult task now and it was also not easy back then. At the time, a collector, Doc V, had quite a few of them and I was able to make a deal for one. It gave me the opportunity to meet him, see his collection and talk comic books and comic art. Here is the cover to Captain America #194 which has a big, fat shot of Cap, the Falcon in danger, a monster and renegade soldiers – pretty much all you could expect and want from a Kirby Cap cover!
Here is another artist who really knocked me out: George Perez! I loved how he was able to juggle all those characters in the team books he was working on, and make them interact in a cool, interesting and visually exciting manner. Unfortunately for me, I am not the only one who feels this way! To this day, if George is involved in a project, I am interested in seeing it. One of my main goals in collecting was to obtain a really good Perez Avengers example; I think that I’ve been able to do that! While I really enjoyed Perez’s art from day one, I think it reached a new level when Pablo Marcos took over on inks. Here is an example from my favorite story arc in Avengers #161-162, a page that I got from my pal Jon Mankuta, featuring the Scarlet Witch:
And this one was purchased much more recently – the cover to Avengers #195, part of the Taskmaster trilogy with Yellowjacket, Ant Man and the Wasp:
Here’s one from Avengers #84, by what many people feel is the greatest Avengers art team of John Buscema and Tom Palmer. This is Roy Thomas’ spin on Lord of the Rings, and I’ve always loved how Big John and Tom drew the Black Knight character. I had it cleaned up, and a new indicia and title stat made so it presents better:
I am also a huge fan of Barry Windsor-Smith. My initial exposure to him was in back issues – first from Avengers (#66, 67 and 98-100) and then later I was re-introduced to his work in Conan the Barbarian through a friend of mine. I really, really like the way he tells a story and his attention to detail. When I was buying books in the late 1970s/early 1980s it seemed like he just vanished – I was not aware that he left Marvel to form Gorblimey Press but when I found out, I set out to get all of those prints/posters/portfolios he published. Later, I was able to obtain some of his published comic art from auctions and others from him directly. One of my favorite pieces of his is from “Weapon X”, arguably the greatest Wolverine story ever:
Another book, Avengers #100, was an issue that took me forever to get (or at least seemed like it)! New York was not the Garden of Eden it is today and back in the 1980s, there were certain areas that were populated with, as we say, unsavory characters. I swear that I must have sent my dear aunt to every crappy comic book shop in Manhattan to find me this issue. I did eventually get it and am lucky enough to own two pages from the story. The one below is a very recent pickup. The first six pages of Avengers #100 are penciled and inked by Barry Windsor-Smith and truly are things of beauty. The team assembles in the UK to figure out how to get Hercules back from Olympus, and here you get an idea of what made Barry a major star: hyper-detailed art and a superior sense of storytelling and design. While I still want page 2, LOL, here is a GREAT example from this book:
Also semi-recently, I was able to acquire something from his non-comics related output from Gorblimey:
Two pieces which proudly hang in my living room. It’s quite a thrill to own these, let me tell you!
On the Lookout
As the prices of pieces I’m interested in keep spiraling up, I try to get the best bang for my buck. Besides the aforementioned Avengers #100 page 2, I am looking for just a few more pieces:
- First-run Perez Avengers interiors
- Perez Marvel Fanfare cover
- I really have to take a longer look at the Avengers #124 splash that Bechara has
- Another piece or two from favorites like BWS, Kirby, Brunner and John Buscema
And I always enjoy talking shop with other collectors!
You can view more of Robert’s collection here in his CAF gallery.