As with any hobby, collecting comics original art has its own complexities which take in both the aesthetics and economics of the form.

The latter aspect is one of the most hotly debated topics in the hobby because of the escalation of prices of original art over the last few years – prices which which have been barely affected by the ongoing global recession (more on this at a late date).

With regards the aesthetics of original art (i.e. an original page of comics art viewed in isolation on a wall), the academic Andrei Molotiu has written an approach to this in The International Journal of Comic Art (IJOCA) the main points of which I might bring up sometime in the future.

That article uses Molotiu’s own collection as a frame of reference. I should say here that much of the writing concerning original art tends to focus on the individual writer’s personal collection if only because of the lack of public access to most of the art in question. Not only are public collections of comic art small in number, even fewer have sufficient depth to allow for the study of a broad range of cartoonists. In fact, the vast majority of important pieces lie in private hands. There are exceptions of course. The large collection of original art from Little Orphan Annie under safekeeping at Boston University and the complete art to Amazing Fantasy #15 for example.

Viewing a piece of original art can sometimes reveal circumstances not immediately apparent on a simple reading of the final product (i.e. the comic itself). For example, some might find the number of corrections and white out marks on this page by Frank Miller from The Dark Knight Triumphant worthy of interest.

The fact that people own small panels from the same comic which are likely to be Miller’s reworking of some scenes as well as possible corrections to Klaus Janson’s inking might also be of note historically speaking.

At the risk of stating the obvious, pages from The Dark Knight Returns are some of the most expensive pieces of art in modern comics. Pages from Walt Kelly’s Pogo on the other hand are cheap. Certainly much cheaper than a page from The Dark Knight Returns but also considerably less expensive than art from some other classic strips like Flash Gordon, Krazy Kat or Prince Valiant etc.

[A Pogo Sunday from an upcoming Heritage Auction which is another site to find high quality scans of comics original art.]

Most of Kelly’s strips have not seen publication for a few decades which obviously contributes to their lack of visibility and desirability. Only a person with access to a sizable collection of vintage newspaper cartoon sections would be apprised of the bulk of Kelly’s run.

Pogo is, to me, one of the greatest strips ever published. A full Sunday is available at a fraction of the price of other more illustration-based strips or even the estimated price of a Calvin and Hobbes daily – a strip which it influenced significantly and to which it compares very favorably. This relates to supply and demand. Not only is art from Calvin and Hobbes much more desired than art from Pogo, the supply is virtually non-existent (though there’s this example by one of the biggest collectors in the hobby) because of Bill Watterson’s understandable reluctance to sell his art work.

One of the pleasures of “living” with a piece of art is that you begin to notice details which you would not in a 2-3 minute gallery appraisal (online or otherwise). Most readers would probably have read through an average Pogo Sunday like the one below in a matter of minutes (if not less). Take a moment to read it now.

As most readers will know, while Pogo is of particular note for its political content, it began life as a children’s comic in Dell’s Animal Comics. The example above reflects the strips more light-hearted origins. Even so, it reveals a great deal of Kelly’s craft.

For one, there’s the extensive wordplay which may not register, in all its fullness, on a simple Sunday morning read through. The constant exposure to the Pogo Sunday above (which hangs in my apartment) has made me even more acutely aware of the density of Kelly’s technique.

In the fourth panel of the strip, we have Miz Beaver commenting on “the finest mess of pies..ever seed” in anticipation of what is to happen later in the strip – something which would require more than a single reading to pick up (And who has actually asked the question of her? Are we the readers asking with anything but our eyes?).

In the sixth panel, Albert breaks into a soliloquy on the seasons declaiming, “Off I spring, as prettily as a summer zephyr…” , as he launches into one of his cricket hops. In the eighth panel, Miz Beaver exclaims, “Oh dear, always they go Splobsh”, almost as if she had some experience in the bespatterment of pies, while the last 2 panels of the Sunday suggest a reference to the economics of the same. The pies are noted to be “a mite tart but tasty”, not only referring to their slightly acidic taste (def: 1 : agreeably sharp or acid to the taste 2 : marked by a biting, acrimonious, or cutting quality) but also a synonym for that type of confection. And let’s not forget that Albert is using the word in relation to a female baker who has recently laid out her wares.

Perhaps most complex of all is Albert’s complaint in the third panel where he states, “My Ma was cricket champeen of Ol’ Gummidge-on-the Wicket”. Gummidge-on-the-Wicket is an obvious reference to a cricket ground and nothing to do with insects. Nor is it named after any notable first class cricket ground but is ostensibly some Anglicized village in the middle of the Okefenokee Swamp in the Southern United States. If anything, the name of the cricket ground has more to with the nature of Albert’s mother. One online encyclopedia defines “gummidge” as:

“Gummidge a peevish, self-pitying, and pessimistic person, given to complaining, from the name of Mrs Gummidge, a character in Dickens’s David Copperfield (1850).”

And here we have the Wikipedia entry which I have not confirmed myself since I read David Copperfield far too many years ago to remember the character’s exact nature:

“Mrs. Gummidge – The widow of Daniel Peggotty’s partner in a boat. She is a self-described “lone, lorn creetur” who spends much of her time pining for “the old ‘un” (her late husband). After Emily runs away from home with Steerforth, she changes her attitude to better comfort everyone around her and tries to be very caring and motherly. She too emigrates to Australia with Dan and the rest of the surviving family.”

The crickets which appear in over half the panels remain silent bemused observers throughout, pacing along with Pogo while not demonstrating any of their own hopping skills.

Beyond the dense wordplay, there are certain elements which can be seen only upon viewing the original art. There’s the carefully hand-drawn title “Pogo” which contrasts with the occasional title paste-ups which occur in some of Kelly’s Sundays.

There are the ubiquitous blue pencils which were used to sketch in the script in many of Kelly’s strips and his careful arrangement (or rearrangement) of word balloons.

A pencil sketch which does not correspond to the final inked version is used to delineate Albert’s flight (a change of heart or merely a guide?) …

… and later, Kelly corrects the disposition of one of Miz Beaver’s pies to allow for a more accurate trajectory with respect to a previous panel.

Something else which might not be apparent from a simple reading of the final printed strip is Kelly’s effortless technique which is devoid of hesitation, a single inking correction or white out.

A simple and somewhat insignificant Pogo Sunday like this one may not have the endless fascination of a truly great painting or etching but it still affords a reasonable amount of pleasure whenever I glance at it each day.

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