Thursday, April 18, 2013

The 10 Best Comic Book Covers of All Time (According to Me): DonMangus

The Amazing Spider-Man #33 (Steve Ditko)
Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's Spider-Man was an oddball superhero — an alienated, gangly teenager, racked by adolescent guilt, angst, and self-doubt. This yarn found him tested to his breaking point — wedged beneath a colossal machine, drowning, even as his beloved Aunt May faced imminent death — in sore need of a rare medical isotope that Spidey will have to snatch back from the clutches of Doctor Octopus. Ditko's masterfully staged sequence — where the wall-crawler digs deep into his last ounce of resolve to hurl off his burden with a superhuman effort — remains the ultimate climactic moment of superhero storytelling.
Captain America Comics #1 (Jack Kirby and Joe Simon)
Few American comic books can claim to have the importance of this 1941 Timely Publications title. Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Captain America became the most successful of the many patriotic heroes to arise following the conflict in Europe involving Nazi Germany and the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan which resulted in World War II. The savvy Joe Simon once explained the inspiration behind this famous cover as follows: "There had never been a truly believable villain in comics. But Adolf was live, hated by more than half the world — I could smell a winner."
Detective Comics #69 (Jerry Robinson)
Bob Kane profited enormously from major big-league contributions by his talented associates. Indeed, Jerry Robinson and Bill Finger developed Batman's greatest arch-nemesis, that Harlequin of Hate — the Joker. Robinson's superior draftsmanship shines ever so brightly in this magical, Mort Meskin-influenced cover design.
Fantastic Four #1 (Jack Kirby)
Marvel comics was going down for the count when Jack Kirby and Stan Lee melded the appealingly monstrous with the anti-heroic, and sparked the Marvel Age of Heroes. The accomplished George Klein was a first-rate inker over both Jack Kirby at Marvel, and at DC, Curt Swan (on Superman). While other Marvel characters later became more popular, Kirby and Lee's FF laid the foundation for the revolution that followed. Some fans have noted striking compositional similarities between the covers of FF #1 and Brave and Bold #28 (the first JLA cover by Mike Sekowsky and Bernard Sachs, 1960) — well, it's hard to go wrong with a towering monster.

The Incredible Hulk #1 (Jack Kirby)
Monsters and heroes — every kid loves them. But what if the line between good and evil was blurred, and the monster was the hero? The Incredible Hulk shares many motifs with other bipolar pop culture "prototypes" such as Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," Boris Karloff's portrayal of the Frankenstein Monster — and the gamma bomb-blast origin of the Incredible Hulk owes more than a little to the API fantasy film, "The Amazing Colossal Man" (1957). Kirby and Ditko's work on Marvel's many pre-hero "monster books" prepared them perfectly for the upcoming Marvel Age.
Marvel Mystery Comics #9 (Bill Everett and Alex Schomburg)
Even in the Golden Age, Timely/Marvel's superstars were half-monster, half-antihero — case in point — those two hellraisers, Namor, the Sub-Mariner and Dr. Phineas Horton's android, the Human Torch. Two opposing elements at war — fire vs. water — as depicted by two giants of Golden Age comic art — Bill Everett and Alex Schomburg — what could be more mythic?
Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #1 (Jim Steranko)
Magician, escape artist, and graphic designer Jim Steranko reinvigorated the kinesthetic "eyeball kicks" of four-color comics with his outrageous brand of "Zap Art" — a combination of hallucinatory surrealism, eye-popping op art, visual misdirections and puzzles, and existential, film-noir storytelling. Combining such disparate artistic influences as Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Bernie Krigstein, Richard Powers, Salvador Dali, Wally Wood, and others, Steranko blew comic readers' minds in the late sixties. Nick Fury was transformed from an anachronistic, cigar-chomping ex-Howler into a James Bond-Diabolik-styled, ultra-cool, super-super-sexy Cold Warrior.
Showcase #4 the Flash (Carmine Infantino)
Carmine Infantino's jet-age costume concept was perfect for the Silver Age Flash. It left Jay Garrick's old-fashioned Mercury-inspired uniform behind in its vapor trails. Joe Kubert "gilded the lilly," adding his expressive inks over Infantino's streamlined pencils. Although DC editor Julie Schwartz is celebrated for launching the Silver Age, I hasten to point out that it was super-scribe Robert Kanigher who actually wrote the first few critical scripts and concepts. Few fans realize he also conceived and designed the famous filmstrip cover concept. This project was DC's all-star team pulling together for one rare occasion on one seminal creation.
Showcase #57 (Joe Kubert)
Leave it to controversial DC writer editor Robert Kanigher to create one of the most outrageous concepts to hit the Silver Age war comics scene. A continuing feature spotlighting Hans Von Hammer, Enemy Ace, the autocratic and merciless cold-blooded Hammer of Hell who reigned over the Killer Skies of WWI. Joe Kubert's rimlit cover presents a chilling portrait of this cold-blooded Kanigher creation, who had only a feral wolf as his confederate. This cover showcases the legendary "K-K team" at its finest.
Superman #14 (Fred Ray)
The young Fred Ray was inspired by comic strip artist and illustrator Noel Sickles, and as a result, Ray created the most iconic and beautifully designed image ever of America's first superhero.
Want to add any of these comics to your Heritage wantlist? Just click here.
Don Mangus brings his experience as a published writer and former college-level Design, Drawing, and Painting instructor to his catalog descriptions in Comics and Illustration Art. He is an artist/cartoonist, with both a BFA and a MFA from Southern Methodist University. His articles on comic art have been published in Comic Book Artist, Robin Snyder's the Comics, and The Charlton Spotlight, as well as on numerous comics-related Web sites If you like Don's list, you can drop him an email at

Friday, March 22, 2013

Steve Ditko Out of This World #11 Cover

Auction result: $15,535 on November 19, 2010.

Steve Ditko Out of This World #11 Cover Original Art (Charlton, 1959).

Is your mind blown yet? Here is one of the most iconic and infamous Charlton science fiction covers ever. Over fifty years after it was drawn, this piece has made it to market for the first time. For many comics fans, Steve Ditko's work for Charlton in the fifties was some of his most memorable. Bid high on this one -- the sky's the limit. This show-stopper has an image area of 13" x 19.5", and aside from missing a small Charlton logo stat at the upper left, and the CCA stamp at the right, the art is in Excellent condition.

J. C. Leyendecker Saturday Evening Post cover, November 24, 1928

Auction result: $98,587.50 on  October 31, 2004.

JOSEPH CHRISTIAN LEYENDECKER (1874-1951)Saturday Evening Post cover, November 24, 1928
Oil on canvas
28.5in. x 20.5in. (sight size)
Initialed lower left: JCL

As Michael Schau noted in J.C. Leyendecker, "Leyendecker painted his first Saturday Evening Post cover in 1899 and he continued to work for the magazine until 1943, creating 322 covers for The Post. The reputation gained as a result of his magazine covers established Leyendecker as one of America's most popular illustrators." This painting is reproduced on page 142 of Michael Schau's book. Leyendecker was elected to the Society of Illustrators' Hall of Fame in 1977.

This sensational painting shows America's evolution over three centuries of Thanksgiving holidays. From the accomplishments of the stern, pioneering, and freedom-fighting colonists of 1628, to the entertainments provided by the battered, yet playful grid-iron stalwarts of 1928, this blessed country has plenty to celebrate each November. Both figures regard each other as they are each given a heroic and monumental presence by Leyendecker. His vigorous and energetic brushwork bathes the figures in a sparkling light, creating a noble vision of pure Americana.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Norman Rockwell: Saturday Evening Post Cover Study 1944

Auction result: $203,105 on June 14, 2007.

A printed copy of the finished cover painting, for comparison.

NORMAN ROCKWELL (American 1894 - 1978)
Little Girl Observing Lovers on a Train, Saturday Evening Post cover study, 1944
Charcoal drawing on paper
33 x 28in.
Signed lower left

Norman Rockwell drew this finely detailed study for the cover scene which appeared on The Saturday Evening Post, August 12, 1944. In Norman Rockwell and the Saturday Evening Post, The Later Years, Dr. Donald R. Stoltz and Marshall L. Stoltz comment, "In this picture we see the serviceman and his best girl cherishing those few solitary moments together. Their thoughts are of only each other, and for just a little while, they will try to blot out of their minds that this leave like all other good things, must come to an end. The airman has lowered the window shade about as far as it will go and has hung his coat over the window to afford himself just a bit more privacy. Despite these precautions though, there is no way to shield themselves from the prying eyes of the young passenger in the front seat. She is closely watching the scene and waiting for that moment when the happy couple will again steal a little kiss. She will plant that picture firmly in the back of her mind so, first thing tomorrow morning, she can run and tell all her friends." In Norman Rockwell, 332 Covers, Christopher Finch adds, "Here we see a splendid example of Norman Rockwell's newly evolved style. It is very different from what we find in his work prior to the forties. It is almost as if we were looking at a candid photograph of some master of the genre like Henri Cartier-Bresson."

This work is reproduced as figure C412a on page 157 of Norman Rockwell A Definitive Catalogue by Laurie Moffatt. The caption notes that this work was inscribed in the lower right, "To Pvt. William Schmidt from Norman Rockwell."

This lot also includes a signed letter from Norman Rockwell to the consignor regarding the cover scene, as well as a framed puzzle box featuring the final painted magazine cover scene. The letter, dated June 15, 1971 reads, "Thank you for sending me the photographs of my painting. It was a Saturday Evening Post cover years ago. I wish I could tell you more about it but it was done so long ago that I don't remember who the models were that posed for it. I think I did it in New Rochelle, New York, but I am not even sure of that. The name 'William Schmidt' doesn't even mean anything to me. Sorry I can't be of any more help. Sincerely yours, Norman Rockwell"

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Jessie Willcox Smith: A Child's Garden of Verses

Auction result: $310,700 on February 18, 2010.

JESSIE WILLCOX SMITH (American, 1863-1935)
A Child's Garden of Verses, book illustration, 1905
Mixed media on paperboard
33.5 x 23 in.
Signed lower right
This delightful piece hails from one of Jessie Willcox Smith's most important projects, and the masterfully composed, swirling composition is one of her most intricate, nothing less than a glowing celebration of childhood--and motherhood.

One of America's greatest illustrators, Jessie Willcox Smith attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and studied under Thomas Eakins in Philadelphia, and graduating in 1888. A year later, she found work in the production department of the Ladies' Home Journal, for five years. After that, she continued her art education with classes under Howard Pyle, first at Drexel and then at the Brandywine School.Smith then established her reputation, illustrating stories and articles for Century, Collier's Weekly, Leslie's Weekly, Harper's, McClure's, Scribner's, and the Ladies' Home Journal. Smith was closely associated with the artists Elizabeth Shippen Green and Violet Oakley, who also studied with Pyle, and the group became known as "The Red Rose Girls." Smith's papers are deposited in the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. From 1918 through 1932, Smith illustrated covers exclusively for Good Housekeeping magazine.

As Jessie Willcox Smith biographer S. Michael Schnessel has aptly observed, "Jessie Willcox Smith was the creator of the ideal child. She pictured a child that was without equal in reality -- innocent, unblemished, never naughty, always perfect. Smith's touching, sensitive portraits of children at play won her the hearts of millions of Americans."
This illustration appeared on page 116 of Robert Louis Stevenson's book, A Child's Garden of Verses, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1905.

Smith's unparallel talent for figure painting with personality is on full display in this charming group portrait.

From an Important California Collection.

Don sez: From 2006-2010, I catalogued both original Comic and Illustration Art. After Heritage Auctions acquired the Charles Martignette Estate and exponentially ramped-up the scale and frequency of the Illustration Art  Signature Sales, I had to admit, super-savant or not, I couldn't maintain the pace required -- so in late 2010, it was back to Comic Art only. My father, Marvin D. Mangus, was a landscape painter from the Pennsylvania Impressionist tradition, exported to Alaska, and I grew up immersed in the works and lore of well-known Pennsylvania artists and illustrators such as Thomas Eakins and Howard Pyle -- I was thrilled to at this chance drop their names into my description.

Norman Rockwell: The Song of Bernadette

Auction result: $478,000 on November 18, 3005.

NORMAN ROCKWELL (American, 1894-1978)
The Song of Bernadette, 1944
Oil on Canvas
53in. x 28in.
Signed lower right: Norman Rockwell
Inscribed along lower edge in block letters: 'BERNADETTE' (overpainted by artist himself)
Original Movie Poster Illustration featuring Jennifer JonesLiterature: Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, Laurie Norton Moffatt, p.82, fig. A607
Norman Rockwell, Illustrator, Arthur Guptill, p.132

Norman Rockwell's famous full-length portrait, The Song of Bernadette, was the most reproduced work of Rockwell's entire career. With its somber palette and astonishing realism, this work is stunning in its conception and execution, recalling seventeenth century genre paintings by such masters as Diego Velasquez and Jusepe de Ribera.

This original work was commissioned as the centerpiece of an unprecedented publicity campaign announcing a film of the same name by David O. Selznick and starring Jennifer Jones, which opened in December, 1943. 'Nothing else I have ever painted was reproduced in so many ways,' said Rockwell of this work.

Peyton Boswell Jr., editor of the Art Digest and author of Modern American Painting, provided many captions in the official press book for the 20th Century-Fox production of Franz Werfel's novel, The Song of Bernadette. In the book, Boswell chronicles the events in Rockwell's life immediately prior to his creation of this work:

'Early in 1943, Norman Rockwell completed his famous series of paintings, The Four Freedoms. Now his stature became international and he was the recipient of a global wave of acclaim. It was at this time that the artist conceived of a subject comparable in emotional appeal and perhaps even more challenging to his mature craftsmanship. He saw Jennifer Jones as the simple girl of Lourdes in The Song of Bernadette, and she was the inspiration for one of his finest canvases. Here, through the medium of one lone girl, glorious and exalted, could be created a painting to inspire people of all walks of life. This portrait of Bernadette will reach the hearts of all who see it - for in its subtle expressiveness, in every stroke of the brush - it conveys the essence of everything that was so movingly written into The Song of Bernadette.'

In this the most highly acclaimed film of 1945, Jennifer Jones starred in the title role of Bernadette Sobirous, the Maid of Lourdes, whose fame derived from her unshakable faith and courage. Film reviewers enthused: 'In the title role of the Maid of Lourdes, Jennifer Jones makes the most auspicious debut in Hollywood history. Here is a star -- and one who has flared into being with a brilliance that shines the mark of greatness. A bow to David O. Selznick for her discovery!' Indeed, the film won five Academy Awards, including 'Best Actress of the Year' for Miss Jones.

In the press book for the film, the image is reproduced over fifty times, including one with a photograph of the artist at work at his easel. In Arthur Guptill's monograph, Norman Rockwell, Illustrator, which features this work on page 132, Rockwell commented, 'Nothing else I ever painted was reproduced in so many ways. In addition to its being run in magazines, newspapers, and on theatre posters, I was told that it covered the entire wall of one eight-story building.' In an essay for the Norman Rockwell Museum's 1999 show of Rockwell movie poster art, the author noted: 'In an unusually ambitious 20th Century Fox publicity campaign, advertising director Charles Schlaifer decided to use a 150-foot high display of Rockwell's illustration for The Song of Bernadette above a Broadway theater marquee. According to Schlaifer, 'It absolutely sold the picture' and was one of the most effective pieces ever created for a motion picture.

Laurie Norton Moffatt's comprehensive Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue reproduces the work on page 483, as entry A607, and notes that the painting's location was unknown for a number of years. It was later discovered in the private collection of the film's producer, William Perlberg (1900-1968). Ownership subsequently passed to the Mount Saint Mary's Academy in Los Angeles; thence, to the present owner.

Included in this lot is the large 32-page press book for the film, and a copy of Norman Rockwell, Illustrator.

Don sez: When I described this stunning Norman Rockwell movie poster painting from the forties, I was struck by how much it reminded me of the Diego Velasquez masterworks I used to study at the Meadows Museum in SMU and so I worked that into my description. I used to vist the Velasquez paintings frequently when I was earning my BFA and MFA degrees in 1974-81. Anyway, the heartfelt "magic realism" of this Rockwell painting, stripped of NR's usual lighthearted Americana, was that good, IMHO.