Saturday, May 7th, 2011
An original drawing penned by Frank Miller for his 1986 Batman comic The Dark Knight Returns has sold at auction for $448,125, including a 19.5% buyer’s premium. That’s the largest sum ever paid for a piece of original American comic book art, beating the previous record holder (the cover art of Weird Fantasy #29 by Frank Frazetta) by $70,000.
The Frank Miller image isn’t even a cover, though. It’s page ten of issue No. 3, a splash page with Batman and the first girl Robin doing calisthenics in the air above Gotham. The previous record price paid for a piece of interior American comic art is a measly $88,500 spent on the art from a splash page in Amazing Spider-Man #50 written by Stan Lee and drawn by John Romita Sr. The fact that interior art from just a couple of decades ago could sell for such an astronomical sum is a testament to how The Dark Knight Returns and Frank Miller’s work have become almost instantly iconic.
The image is the single most memorable image from the entire comic book series and the greatest image from the decade of the 1980s ever to come to market, as well as now standing as one of, if not the most desirable pieces of original comic art from any era to come to market. It is a perfect stand-alone image of Batman and Robin (Carrie Kelley, the first female, full-time Robin) soaring high above Gotham City, emblematic of the entire storyline.
“I’ve always loved that drawing,” commented Miller, when asked before the auction what his thoughts on its imminent sale were. “Danced around my studio like a fool when I drew it. I hope it finds a good home.”
It was purchased by an anonymous collector, surprise, surprise, so I guess we’ll never know how good a home it has. Heritage Auctions hasn’t had much to say about the seller, either. All we know is that the art came from a private European collector who obtained it just after issue No. 3 hit the newsstands. He has kept it until now. That “fresh to market” cachet is something collectors look for, so that probably helped add to the sale price as well.
This is also the first splash page from The Dark Knight Returns that has ever been offered at auction. Despite its relative youth, original art from the series is much more rare than other comic art from the period. Another advantage this piece has is that the original drawing and the published versions are basically the same. That’s rare with Frank Miller’s work, because he is known to make frequent changes on pasteovers.