Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Dave Sim: NYC Art Auction 'Post-Match Analysis'

Originally serialised within the pages of the self-published Glamourpuss #1-26 (April 2008 to July 2012), The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond is an as yet uncompleted work-in-progress in which Dave Sim investigates the history of photorealism in comics and specifically focuses on the work of comic-strip artist Alex Raymond and the circumstances of his death on 6 September 1956 at the wheel of fellow artist Stan Drake's Corvette at the age of 46.

(from Kickstarter Update #143, 25 February 2013)
Much obliged to everyone who continues to donate to the Dave Sim Fund, helping (in a BIG way) to finance my as-yet-undetermined period of writing THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND.  Still in the pure research phase, it's really sprawling all over the place, but is in a relatively neat and orderly form somewhere in the back of my head.  "Yes, I can do this. I'm pretty sure I can do this. I sure hope I can do this" (rinse and repeat).

I've had to get my slide rule out, trying to figure out how to allocate the money coming in. We are getting VERY close to the release of the GOLD LOGO SIGNED AND NUMBERED CEREBUS and GOLD LOGO SIGNED AND NUMBERED HIGH SOCIETY and I'm having to decide how many to print.  The more I print, the lower the per unit cost, but sales being down across the board in ANY book publishing, there's no way of knowing if I'd be printing a three-year supply (a good use of limited resources) or a ten-year supply (a bad use of limited resources).  Is the book business just plain DYING? Just resting its eyes?  If it IS dying will it continue to die at the same rate or is it going to expire quickly (leaving me holding the bag on a 20-year supply of CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY?  Just asking.

Right now donations [to The Dave Sim Fund] are about a third of the revenue stream, so, I mean, REALLY! THANK YOU!
Heritage Auctions at The Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion, NYC
The auction of the "High Society Collection" in NYC last week was certainly the best news for the Dave Sim Fund since this Kickstarter campaign last year.  Lon Allen and I had the ambition to try to get the price-per-page up from the $700 area (generally) to around $1,000.  The average price at the auction was $1,700 with the most expensive going for $3,000. Very good news indeed. The $15,000 or so that the Dave Sim Fund will get out of that will definitely buy several months of STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND writing time (and maybe drawing time -- depends on how long it takes to write it).

Tim of A MOMENT OF CEREBUS faxed me:  "It must have been pretty exciting to attend and watch the live auction as the bidding went up."  Well, yeah, exciting is one word for it. More like riding a roller coaster without the roll bar locked into place.  The actual auction goes VERY VERY fast. Kathleen and Andrea, Heritage's auctioneers, are amazingly good.  I did Kathleen a sketch of Cerebus while she was reviewing her notes and I asked her if she got butterflies when she's about to go on.  Well, yeah, of course. Anyone who is really good at something has butterflies.  You don't want to just get by, you want excel.  The real level of excitement comes with the complete unknowns. The $240,000 bid for the Romita SPIDER-MAN cover for the death of Gwen Stacey had everyone's jaws dropping on ARRIVAL (very gratifying that the "NIGHT BEFORE" splash was next to it in the display case...

(and made a great news item for Heritage on the local CBS morning news show.  Ed Jaster did that interview and I watched it on his laptop when someone downloaded it for him, like, two hours later -- ah the modern Internet.  The starting bid on the SPIDER-MAN cover was $240,000 and the guy who had consigned it had bought it for $700.  Morning news gold.  I got to share in it a bit when Ed told me that he had committed me without asking -- but figured it was all right -- the producer of the news show was a huge CEREBUS fan and wanted to know when I would be doing sketches and Ed said "Dave's a pretty nice guy, I'm sure he'll be glad to do one for you and I'll send it over."  Which, of course, I did.  But I just did the quickie head sketch I was doing on the little Heritage Auctions notepads they had for people in the display room.  I'm doing it and I'm thinking.  This is a news producer at CBS New York City.  I should do a GOOD head sketch. And I told Ed as I handed it over. "This will be fine, he'll be delighted."  Yeah, but I was more talking to myself.  A REALLY GOOD full figure sketch might make the difference between a one-time item on the morning news and maybe getting the next three NYC Heritage Auctions on the morning news.  You really want to stick in their minds.  Live and, hopefully, learn.)

...but it was the auction of the first WATCHMEN cover -- a great unknown, that iconic smiley face button with the blood drop on it, how much would it go for?  It started, I think, at $19K and then just took off.  I was sitting next to long-time CEREBUS patron James Santangelo.  "Here we go," I said.  It topped out at $130K and everyone just naturally broke into applause. A record-shattering gold medal performance at the Indoor Comic Art Olympics.

In that context, you need to give yourself a good talking to -- YOUR pages are NOT going to do that.  YOUR pages are going to amount, in total, to a ROUNDING ERROR in that context.

There are different patterns to the bidding.  Sometimes its maxed out with the starting bid. Someone guessed exactly what everyone would bid, bid a little higher than that and then got it.  Some guys obviously intend to scare everyone else away with a Big First Jump.  Starting bid of $8,000 and the first bid is $14,000.  Sometimes it works, but most times it doesn't.  It's like pouring too much blood in the water, you just attract bigger sharks. 
Glamourpuss #16 (November 2010)
Art by Dave Sim

Tim asked:  "I was wondering if you had any 'post-match analysis' you'd care to share on AMOC?"

That's a very apt way to put it. After my part of the auction was over, I was dazed and wondering, Okay, why did that one go for YAY much and this one went for almost four times as much?  I'm still looking at the starting bid and finishing bid and looking at the page and trying to figure out what the bidders saw.  It's very much like a football match when the whole auction is over.  Albert Moy, a legendary art dealer and CEREBUS supporter asked me if I'd come over and see him after the auction and sign a couple of things for him.  Sure.  And I was signing some stuff for a couple of guys who had come in -- "Winston" and Michael -- and I'm really in shock, to be honest. WOW! 17 HUNDRED DOLLARS! and trying to wrap my head around 17 THOUSAND DOLLARS and still do a plausible head sketch and make conversation with two guys who had come WAY, WAY uptown just to see me.  AND trying to remember "DO NOT WALK OUT OF HERE WITHOUT GOING AND SEEING ALBERT MOY!"

One of the things Albert wanted me to sign was the original cover for CEREBUS No.24 and he mentioned that he had sent a scan to Scott Dunbier for the CEREBUS COVERS book.  Which is great because it printed TERRIBLY and even the match print is washed out.  It's still in really good shape.  And Todd Hignite of Heritage came up and the three of us sat together and Todd asked, "So, do you want to do more CEREBUS pages?"

Man, I didn't KNOW.  And I STILL don't know.

I'm the kind of guy who CAN and DOES walk away from the blackjack table if I have a sudden run of luck. If that's what it is. Of course I haven't gambled in a good fifteen years, but that was always my nature. Walk away while you're ahead. Or way ahead as I see myself being with the ten pages.

It was like three sports guys sitting around after the big game and just wondering at it.  Why did that go for that much?  What happened with that one?  It was a seller's auction so I was very lucky.  I asked James at one point -- since he buys a lot of artwork -- if the pieces were coming in on the mark, under-performing or over-performing?  Everything was going for more than he had thought it would, a LOT more.  No idea why that was.

Tim also wrote: "Brian Coppola offers some reaction to the auction (he thinks they all over-paid!) over at his Artvark site (if you're interested)." I don't have to READ it, I wouldn't have expected Brian to say otherwise.  That's why I'm on the spot.  I'm SUPPOSED to be preserving the Cerebus artwork in perpetuity in THE CEREBUS ARCHIVE.  If I'd have known that the bump up in payroll taxes was going to be taking place in the US at the beginning of February, I wouldn't have gone near the February auction. WalMart had reported the WORST first two weeks of a month in a long, long time. If I could have pulled the pages when I read that in the financial section of the NATIONAL POST I would have -- in a New York Minute. And it would have been the WRONG call even though the internal logic was, as far as I was concerned, irrefutable.

You have to be careful not to let it go to your head.  FINALLY my genius is being appreciated! Yeah right. Was it a fluke? How much of a fluke was it? When your pages go for $700 and a page goes for $3,000 the odds are it's a fluke.  Will it fluke again or fluke the other way?  I faxed Steve and Debbie at Heritage this morning.  Three-page fax covering all the angles the best I can.  We still have a LOT to talk about.  And the next auction isn't until May in Dallas.  So I have 'til the beginning of April to make some hard decisions. Which is really starting to seem like trying to calculate how many face cards the dealer has in his "shoe" in Vegas.

You feel lucky today? Punk.
Glamourpuss #16 (November 2010)
Art by Dave Sim
Tim concludes: "My e-mail-shot the weekend before the auction resulted in 7 comics news sites running features on the auction of varying lengths, which I was pretty pleased with.  I've listed the sites with links on Saturday's 'auction results' post (if you're interested).  It might not have helped towards the final auction total, but it's all good profile-raising stuff."

It might NOT have helped or it could be the way the fellow or lady who bid $3,000 on the Cerebus changing into his suit page found out about it.  (I told James if I'd have known it would go for $3,000 someday, I'd have done a whole issue of him changing into his suit.) It's all so hidden from view.

Thanks, Tim, but the last thing I need to do is to read my own press clippings.

But I do seem to have backed into having my own NEWS SERVICE in A MOMENT OF CEREBUS. So thanks to Tim for that.  Which came in handy in this case because of the confusion about whether my going to the Heritage Auction qualified as a signing or not.  Um. It wasn't my intention, but it was borderline.  To me it was a private event and was only supposed to be publicized INTERNALLY by Heritage Auctions.  I still don't think that a misogynist should go out in public.  I was going as a consignee of my own work to see how the whole process worked.  But it was also a four-storey mansion filled with comic-book people.  I couldn't very well say, no, I won't sign an autograph for you.  Buddy has spent a CHUNK of change on me over the years and I haven't been to The City since 2005.  To me, that's just a little too Frank Sinatra for words.  Noah Fleisher, Heritage's crackerjack Park Avenue Public Relations Director for their NYC auctions, turned out to be the world's biggest CEREBUS fan and misconstrued what I had said to him on Wednesday that I was more than willing to do head sketches and autographs FOR THE BIDDERS and did a more general "come one, come all" announcement.  Natural mistake. This was less of a problem in NYC than it would have been elsewhere.  As Nate Oberstein said when I was hanging out with him (he, coincidentally arrived back in the City Friday night from a trip to California), "The only reason anyone in New York would go up to 79th and Fifth Avenue is if they lived there or they were going to one of the uptown Museums or they were passing through on their way to another borough."

So the handful of people who did show up over the few days were obviously REALLY dedicated and realized when they got there that it wasn't structurally a signing and were very cool about just sneaking over and handing me some stuff to sign, or giving me something of theirs and then sitting down and watching the auction.  I did want to clarify that the September 24th signing in 2010 at Cal Johnston's STRANGE ADVENTURES in Halifax is still THE LAST SIGNING.  BUT! If I have to be somewhere on business and people who are there know who I am and want a couple of autographs and a sketch, I'll be glad to do it for them.  I'll revisit the question of doing conventions or signings if we get 2,000 signatures on the I DON'T BELIEVE DAVE SIM IS A MISOGYNIST petition but, really, right now we're about 1,500 signatures shy of that after four years which means I'm not going to be revisiting the question until around 2028 when I'm 72.  And the fact that it took until I was 72 will definitely factor into my decision. "Let's check back when I'm in my 80s. Gum, gum, gum."

The only thing carved in stone with Heritage Auctions right now is the IDW covers -- which everyone quite liked when I showed them to people in NYC -- which will be in their weekly auctions.  Not being on the Internet, I have NO idea how you sign up for their weekly auctions but I'm sure you can find out at HA.com.  Remember, EVERY piece starts at $1.  The way we're setting it up is that when I get the printed copies of the comic book that I did a cover for, I'm going to sign and number 5 copies (HERITAGE 1/5, HERITAGE 2/5, etc.) bag and board them, put them in with the cover and FedEx the lot to Heritage which they'll hopefully get up on the site ROUGHLY at the same time that comic is in the stores. You bid on the package, the cover and the signed and numbered books.

The first one is the CEREBUS ATTACKS cover which I'll be FedExing to them as soon as I get caught up on all the stuff I've fallen behind on while I was gone (and all the stuff I brought back with me), so that should be up and offered for bids before you know it.

I was very tempted to stay down there for a couple of extra days and go up to Westport to see the crash site, but I'm still really paranoid about HOW LONG I have to make the cash on hand last. It's 2013. Money EVAPORATES as you've, no doubt, noticed.

The ONLY work I took down with me was the 1603 version of HAMLET (which ties in by way of Leonard Starr's MARY PERKINS ON STAGE).  Did you know there were two versions of HAMLET?  The 1603 First Quarto which Eddie found for me online was completely revised the following year, 1604, with much of the material rearranged and  a lot of material added.  Which seems kind of...screwy.  With the expense of actually typesetting and printing a play (this was EARLY in the days of moveable type), why would you go to all that expense and then basically redo the whole thing the next year?  Anyway, Shakespeare was never my best subject (although I can still remember most of "The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth..." speech from A MERCHANT OF VENICE and "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks..." from ROMEO AND JULIET, grades nine and ten respectively) so I really needed to focus on it and the best way to focus on it is to a) make sure I have nothing else with me I can work on and b) basically perform it.  So, that's what I did, pacing around my room for two and half hours, getting completely lost and then following it again and getting completely lost and... fortunately... finding what it was I was looking for.  If it's in the 1604 version (which I also read) it's in a different form.  You want to know how dedicated that is?  The New York Rangers were playing the Ottawa Senators on the MSG (Madison Square Garden) network.  And I turned it off at the end of the first period.  For a Canadian who doesn't have a TV of his own?  THAT'S dedicated.
Glamourpuss #16 (November 2010)
Art by Dave Sim

When I got home, the fax machine had spewed pretty much all over the office.  As I was picking up the ones that had just landed I had a WTF moment.  "Typewriter type? I'm the only person on the PLANET who still uses a typewriter. Who could this be from?" It was from Arlen Schumer and IT WAS THE ORIGINAL POLICE REPORT for the car crash that killed Alex Raymond!!!! I could not have BEEN more surprised.  Wiped out a big chunk of my speculations in One Swell Foop, answered a number of others and posed a number of brand new questions.

HUGE step forward.  HUGE step forward.

Apart from that, I've got a lot of stuff to get caught up on. I'm sure the mailbox is stuffed and I've gotten compulsive about having a completely clear desk. NO unanswered mail.  But I am now on the other side of the New York trip and it's now completely uninterrupted work, 12 hours a day, 6 days a week.  And I've still got three days of catching-up work and HOPEFULLY some writing I can get in before it's time to do my four IDW covers for March starting next Monday.

And, just for the record, the revenues from the Dave Sim Fund donations were $1,000 for the first month, another $800 up to February 14 and another $400 between Feb 14 and today.  A lot times it's paying for pretty prosaic stuff -- $500 (minimum) for the warehouse storage, $1,000 a month for heating, $800 every other month for municipal taxes, bookkeeper bills, accountant, printing bills when necessary, $1,000 for me, groceries, Federal taxes, etc. etc.  It may not SEEM like much, but it's a big psychological lift when I get a $500 bill in for something and there's $400 in donations.  "It will be FINE, Dave. CHILL! WRITE! They're paying you to WRITE!"

Okay, I'm off to the post office.

...And, again, THANK YOU for your $1, $5 and $10 donations.  I'm really starting to think that THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND is actually going to happen!

Back in a couple of weeks!


Dominick Grace said...

The first version of Hamlet was almost certainly a pirated copy, printed without authorization. The second version is "official." Actually, there's a third version, too, also "official" but not published until about 20 years later. This one adds other stuff and cuts things, as well, probably reflecting Shakespeare's revisions for a subsequent production. Any decent recent critical edition of the play will discuss these versions in some detail and perhaps even clearly identify which passages are unique to which.

Menachem Luchins said...

Interesting post by Colleen Doran about the recent change in comic art purchases that might explain why Dave did better than he had expected:

"Been talking with my agent and colleagues about the values on comic art these days. There've been some interesting changes over the last decade. Most artists have noticed that interior panel pages don't get the prices they used to, but covers and commissions have gone up significantly in value. Not for all artists, but certainly for me. My indie work has gone up significantly in value, with "A Distant Soil" covers pulling in $1500-$2500, making me wish I hadn't gone digital after all. Yet some artists, including some artists you'd think would be raking it in on their reps - not so much. I've noticed a big change in the buying patterns of the serious collectors: they buy for aesthetic reasons, not just context. That is, just because you did a major comics character, that page is not necessarily going to bring in the big bucks. A Superman panel page does not get the value it used to. In fact many panel pages don't, especially the newer ones without lettering. Collectors want beauty shots, pin ups, covers, and commissions and prelims. That wasn't always the case. Collectors used to want panel pages and covers from major books. Now they want something personal, like a commission or unpublished sketches. Comic art collectors are now buying more like art collectors. I've seen a huge increase in the value of my original art over the last ten years, so much so that financing "A Distant Soil" really doesn't look like a problem anymore. And that also means that the art of an indie book like mine is being bought up by collectors willing to pay very good prices without a connection to a major mainstream character or super-popular book. We were discussing creators whose originals don't go for much: the serious art collectors aren't buying their work, even though the artists had fans. Yet the art doesn't really appeal to anyone directly outside that fan base. You probably wouldn't want it on your wall, and it would have no meaning to anyone who didn't know where the work came from. I wondered why a collector would pay much more for my work, even though "A Distant Soil" is not as popular. And several pros (including my agent) said that even without knowing what the "A Distant Soil" art was, it was attractive art. Lettering on my original art gave the work context, and the art is appealing in and of itself, while knowing nothing about it. I like to think that's the case. I guess what I'm seeing is more collectors making aesthetic choices, and not just nostalgic or contextual choices (popular comics character) about what comic art they buy. Discuss."