Research for Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story has dug up a lot of long-forgotten dirt, but here’s a particularly sad one: Marvel selling art by Romita, Sinnott, Kane, Sal Buscema, and more to a Winnipeg art gallery for $1000:

Marvel began returning current pages to artists sometime in 1974, and eventually worked retroactively back a few months, to comics cover-dated from January 1974; among the earliest issues from which art was sent back were Avengers #119 and Amazing Spider-Man #128. 
But a year earlier, Marvel sold the covers to these issues, cover-dated January 1973, to the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Seven covers, plus progressive proofs and color guides for each, for a total of $1000.
Back in 1986, Irene Vartanoff (who began managing artwork return in 1975) told The Comics Journal that Marvel would occasionally send artwork to exhibits. But as far as I know, this is the only evidence that exists of Marvel actually accepting money for pages of original art.

Ownership of Marvel’s artwork was a huge issue throughout the ’70s, with most being returned to the original artists after they signed a release, but only after 1000s of pages had been stolen, lost, or…maybe even sold.


  1. Easy solution, Marvel can pay the museum an inflation adjusted refund for the art , about $5000 from the calculator I just checked, and the art is returned to the artists.

  2. I wonder what those covers would sell for in today’s marketplace. I bet well over a million dollars isn’t out of the ballpark.

  3. What I heard is that in the early 70s Marvel kept old original art in a large cabinet next to the freight elevator and 1960s original art would be removed on a regular basis and sold to local art dealers by various employees. After 40 years the provence would be impossible to prove because there was no paperwork involved. It’s still odd that one person wound up with ALL of the original art from Amazing Fantasy #15, which was then donated anonymously to the Smithsonian a few years ago.

  4. >> It’s still odd that one person wound up with ALL of the original art from Amazing Fantasy #15,>>

    Not if one person simply picked up that envelope and walked out with it. It’d take more time to split it up…

  5. Do we know for sure the AF #15 art was stolen? Another possible scenario is that the art could have been returned to Steve Ditko and he or someone he gave it to could have donated it. He did all the pencils and inks for the issue.

  6. I’d just like to point out I am commenting on a thread with Kurt Busiek and Danny Fingeroth. Holy crap. I think you two are both AMAZING (and I’m wishing I said something cooler).

  7. >> Another possible scenario is that the art could have been returned to Steve Ditko and he or someone he gave it to could have donated it. He did all the pencils and inks for the issue.>>

    Ditko doesn’t sell or give away his originals, as far as I know, and wouldn’t donate them to a museum; to him, they’re means to an end, not a finished work to be taken on its own.

    And back when Marvel started returning artwork, they gave a portion of the pages to the writer; that wasn’t dropped until later. So I think it’s unlikely that AF #15 would have made its way to the museum through Ditko, intact or otherwise.

  8. Okay, so the art was returned to the artists in 2006. Does that wipe the slate clean?
    Now, have the artists sold those pages? We need to know!

  9. Take a ride on The Wayback Machine: http://web.archive.org/web/20060522081832/http://www.wag.mb.ca/htmlfiles/whatson/exibition/Funny_Papers.asp

    “In the 1970s, The Winnipeg Art Gallery began an initiative to push the boundaries by asking the question “is this Art?” in relation to objects such as comic books, quilts, pinball machines(!), editorial cartoons, craft, and even photography. One of the first groundbreaking exhibitions of this period was The Structure of the Comic Book (1973) which sought to investigate the techniques of storytelling used by comic book artists with a secondary motive to address the debate between notions of high and low forms of art. An impressive and exhaustive exhibition, approximately 50 works were borrowed directly from Marvel Comics in New York City. The loan comprised original inked drawings, panels, progressive proofs, and final prints by these award winning artists and their infamous characters: Rich Buckler: The Avengers; Sal Buscema: Captain America and the Falcon; Gil Kane: The Invincible Iron Man; Gil Kane and Tom Palmer: The Daredevil and the Black Widow; Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott: The Mighty Thor; John Romita: The Amazing Spiderman; and Barry Smith: Conan the Barbarian.
    Marvel Comics was so impressed by the organization of the exhibition that they offered all of the works to The Winnipeg Art Gallery for purchase. To the Gallery’s credit and foresight they followed through with this incredible acquisition and even received a grant from the Secretary of State in support of it.

    Sal Buscema, Captain America and The Falcon, “Vengeance” Cries the Viper!, 1973. Letter press final print on coated on paper. Collection of The Winnipeg Art Gallery. Acquired with a grant from the Secretary of State, 1973. G-75-77 b 1-8″

    I’m not so peeved at the WAG. I mean, the exhibit sounds great. Very informative and educational — and the best of all, focused on the art and artistry of comic books! Put yourself in the mindset of institution-to-institution back in the early 70s in Canada. They dealt with Marvel, and probably had no idea there were even questions from the artists over creator rights or ownership. Hell, I would venture to guess that in 1973, these Buscema originals were probably treated far better by WAG than I daresay what they would’ve experienced within Marvel’s own drawers, if they didn’t grow legs and walk off that is.

  10. <>

    If the artwork wasn’t returned until after the writers stopped getting a share (early in Shooter’s EIC tenure, as I recall, so, say, 1978 or ’79), then SD would have gotten it all. And who knows where the Smithsonian would fit in Steve’s philosophy? But I have no more proof than anyone else, just trying to point out that there are other scenarios that could have been behind the donation of that art. Plus, would the Smithsonian would accept a donation that they suspected might be stolen? (And thanks for the kind words, Alex.)

  11. First off, just for the record, it was the Library of Congress, not the Smithsonian. And the statements by the acquiring curator at the time made it clear the anonymous donor was not Ditko. Ditko has stated publicly that he got back two full issues of Spider-Man interiors, one issue missing three pages and no covers. So under 70 pages of almost 1000.

  12. “Good on them. I hereby retract the many mocking things I’ve said about Winnipeg over the years.”

    No no, you’re right to criticize. Winnipeg is the WORST.

  13. Kurt quotes and asks:
    >> Now, have the artists sold those pages? We need to know! >>

    Oh, I am being facetious. We followed the art to Winnipeg and found out the purchase price. Let’s follow the art back home, and continue following the money. We don’t need to know, it is of course nobody’s business.
    But I am wondering what became of those covers, and how much the creators were paid if they sold them. Since an earlier poster speculated that the original art would be very valuable now.

  14. Dr. Philip Fry, curator of the WAG at that time, approached me in 1972 as I recall to supply the WAG with comics to be used in their exhibit tentatively titled “The Art Of Comics”. I supplied them quite an extensive quantity of Marvels. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the books would in fact be CUT UP and individual panels would be foam-core mounted with explanations and breakdowns that gave technical details about the way the artwork represented the writers’ intentions and how the artists (penciller and inker) interpreted the writers’ words (plural in both cases because the books in question were still done bullpen-style and hence may have had more than one contributor.) I was not credited in the program book as the source of the comic book material in the show, although that was promised to be done at the time I sold the books. That show included the artwork referred to above.
    The show was re-presented two (or was it three) years ago as I recall, and the originals were still in it. I offered to purchase the artwork (mostly Gil Kane pieces and covers, with other pieces by Smith and Romita as I recall) with an eye towards returning it to the artists or their estates, but was politely told that it was part of the Gallery’s permanent collection and would never be sold.
    That’s a bit more of the untold story that nobody up until now may have been aware.

  15. Having checked the archival links, maybe it was 2006, but it sure seems like it was much more recent than that. Time flies when you’re having fun I suppose.

  16. Having just spoken to my wife about this (nothing better to do in the middle of the night but wake her up) she thinks the re-presented show was three or so years ago as well, so there may be some controversy here…..

  17. Cut up. Ouch. I guess that’s perhaps more an indictment of the complete lack of respect for the art of comics.

    Can you imagine a museum doing a Monet collection and hacking up a piece loaned to them?!?

  18. Pete Koch stole all of the Ditko ASM’s except for two issues (one of them incomplete) that was already with Steve D at the time that Pete was arranging for the art to be stolen from the Marvel warehouse. To this day he still has several complete issues including #1, 2, 3 and 4. He never had the AF 15. I believe that his theft will go down in history as the largest art theft in American history. If you total up all of the values of the key Ditko and Kirby books, they would be well into the hundreds of millions of dollars. I believe that the Spidey 1-4 are probably worth five million dollars. What about all of the FF’s, Hulks, Avengers, X-Men, JIM, TOS, TTA, and so on… There is not one clean Ditko ASM page out there in the marketplace. All should have been returned to Steve.

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