First Wolverine artwork exists & it’s up for auction

The now-iconic mutant Wolverine made his first appearance on the last panel of The Incredible Hulk #180 in October of 1974. Designed by Marvel art director John Romita, Sr, and penciled by artist Herb Trimpe, the Wolverine debuted in “And the Wind Howls Wendigo,” a story by Len Wein in which Hulk wanders the wilds of Quebec only to become ensnared in an adventure with Wendigo. The Hulk draws the attention of the Canadian military who deploy Weapon X to intercept him. Wolverine is said weapon, “a living, raging powerhouse who’s bound to knock [Hulk] back on [his] emerald posterior.”

He only appears once in the final panel as a teaser for the The Incredible Hulk #181 which debuted in November, 1974, with Hulk and Wolverine fighting on the cover. Wolverine closed out the Wendigo story line in issue #182 and didn’t appear in print again until Giant-Size X-Men #1, published May 1975. When the old X-Men title was revived a few months later, Wolverine was part of the crew. He wasn’t immediately popular, but by 1982 he had enough of an audience to garner a solo title.

The next year, a teenaged fan met Herb Trimpe, who would remain a Marvel quota artist until the company went bankrupt in the mid-1990s, and Trimpe gifted him a piece of signed artwork. It was that last page of The Incredible Hulk #180 with the Wolverine challenging Hulk and Wendigo to tangle with him. The young man quietly kept the page for decades. Because he was not a collector, nobody in the comics community had any idea the page still existed, never mind where it might be.

Now that young man is all grown up and has decided to sell the prized possession Herb Trimpe gave him 31 years ago. The original artwork of Wolverine’s first appearance will go up for auction at Heritage Auction on May 16th.

In 1983, on the afternoon that Trimpe handed over the piece of original art to the then-teenaged consignor of the piece as a souvenir of their visit that afternoon, neither had any idea that the ink, graphite and blue pencil drawing would turn out to be one of the most influential comic book images ever created. As the decades drew on, and Wolverine soared in popularity and influence in Pop Culture, it because obvious to the owner of the art that he had something of significant value and importance.

Inspired by Trimpe’s generosity to him more than 30 years ago, the consignor has specified that the majority of the after-tax proceeds from the sale of the artwork be donated, including a large portion designated for the Hero Initiative, the first-ever federally chartered not-for-profit corporation dedicated strictly to helping comic book creators in financial need.

Because the industry paid so abysmally and played fast and loose with royalties, the people who drew and wrote some of the most beloved characters of all time (not the mention all the others who never made the big time but did the hard work of rotting young minds for decades) didn’t have much to fall back on. The Hero Initiative raises funds to support comic book artists and writers with whatever they might need, from medical care to food, rent and help getting back to work.

How fitting that the sale of what is sure to be a big ticket collector’s item will directly profit the comic creators.

As Marvel Editor-In-Chief at the time, Roy Thomas came up with the original idea for the character and tells us “Because Wolverine was introduced in the final panel of the final page of Hulk #180, that has become one of the holy grail pages from any 1970s comic book. I’m overjoyed to know that it still exists — and even happier that its sale will in part benefit the comics industry’s own charity, Hero Initiative, on whose disbursement board I’ve sat since its founding. Wolverine was never a do-gooder… but this time he’s going to do some good in spite of himself. Take that, Logan!”

Bidding will open online around April 25th, 2014. Track the lot here.

On a tangentially related note, if you’re a fan of Golden Age comics, including the lusciously lurid pre-code horror and detective titles, run, don’t walk, to the Digital Comic Museum. There you will find high resolution scans of complete issues of public domain comics available for perusal online and download. (Don’t look for the big names — Marvel, DC — because none of their stuff is in the public domain.) It’s a time sink of most epic proportions and every minute nothing but sheer joy. The advertising alone is enough to bring a nostalgic tear to my eye.