We have previously reported on the astonishing rise in value of comics and comic art in the last few years, with five recent sales of original TinTin comic art fetching over US$1 million each.
Heritage Auctions' Comics & Comic Art Auction in New York last week continued that trend when original cover art by Robert Crumb for his underground comic classic Fritz the Cat sold for $717,000, surpassing Batman, Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, Superman et al., to become the most valuable piece of American comic art yet sold.
Crumb's best known work was the cover of the Big Brother and the Holding Company album, Cheap Thrills, famously commissioned by the band's lead singer Janis Joplin. The album regularly appears on all-time-great lists of album covers, and was voted by Rolling Stone as #9 on the Greatest Album Covers of All Time. Crumb refused to accept payment for the cover, saying, "I don't want Columbia's filthy lucre."
Now, Crumb's famous underground comic works are rapidly achieving the status he has long shunned.
"Artworks from Underground Comix – especially from masters such as Robert Crumb – are becoming recognized in the fine art world as cultural cornerstones," says Barry Sandoval, Director of Comic Operations at Heritage Auctions. "Three of the top four lots in the auction were by Crumb."
Crumb's original art for his Keep On Truckin' sequel page from 1972 realized $191,200.
Crumb's original art for a complete, four-page story from The People's Comics (Golden Gate Publishing, 1972) also realized $191,200.
In selling for $717,000, Crumb's Fritz the Cat artwork surpassed several iconic works of the superhero genre, with the previous record being $657,250 and held jointly by Herb Trimpe's final page artwork from The Incredible Hulk #180 (above), which marked the first ever appearance of Wolverine, and Todd McFarlane's original art of the front cover of The Amazing Spider-Man #328 (below).
Frank Miller held the two previous records for the most valuable American comic art at auction, both from his 1980s Batman series with the 1986 cover art from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #2 (above) fetching $478,000 and page 10 from the 1986 comic Batman: The Dark Knight #3 fetching $448,125 (below).