Published: June 16, 2020
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy PBA Galleries
BERKELEY, CALIF. – In a sale that was billed as the first of many that PBA Galleries said it intends to conduct, its comics auction on June 4 promised to “bring you the best overlooked gems in the world of comics, all the good stuff that hasn’t been vacuumed up by the big guys yet.”
That promise was kept as some 34 lots were offered, including EC, Kurtzman, pre-code horror and undergrounds and a sampling of comics from a previously undiscovered single-owner collection of silver age Marvels. The collector bought his 1960s Marvels off the stands as a boy and had kept them in storage for decades.
One of the most lurid covers of the pre-code era in comicdom, depicting a mad scientist removing the brain from a severed head, in Weird Mysteries, No. 5, from June 1953, grabbed $19,200, beating the previous high price of $15,600 established in August 2019.
Published by Gilmor and CGC certified: VF- (7.5) with off-white to white pages, the Weird Mysteries comic featured a classic Bernard Baily cover as well as a classic Basil Wolverton “Swamp Monster” story.
Every detail amplifies the queasy sense of horror: the gaping eye sockets; the rotted, fleshless nose; the jagged incision of the craniotomy; the way the head lolls in a vile, soupy mixture.
Publisher Stanley Morse was described by Taschen Books as “the ultimate fly-by-night publisher and creator of some of the most extreme horror comic books of the early 1950s.” Years later, when asked about the content of his seedy horror mags, Morse shrugged, “I don’t know what the hell I published. I didn’t care. I never read the things.”
PBA Galleries said the sale achieved world record-breaking results. It was PBA’s inaugural comic book auction under the direction of Ivan Briggs. “It’s a niche that no other auctioneers have filled, and PBA is glad to step up and lead the way,” said Briggs. Bidders communicated their appreciation with their paddles, closing the sale with a tremendously successful 96 percent sale rate. Overall revenue exceeded expectations, and many individual lots achieved either auction highs or auction records.
Weird Mysteries No. 7 from October-November 1953 was another classic horror mag, featuring a bizarre “amputee fondling skulls” cover by Bernard Baily. CGC certified with Pedigree Grade: NM- (9.2) and with cream to off-white pages, it brought $9,000, thus realizing the best result ever for this comic in any grade. The sale price far surpassed the comic’s previous high price ($2,272 for a 7.0 copy) by a significant margin.
The comic’s stories and art by Tony Mortellaro, Vince Fodera, S. Finocchiaro, Sal Trapani and Eugene Hughes, it was from the Northford collection, found in a chest of drawers sold to an antiques dealer in the early 1970s. The collection contained the most complete run of pre-code horror comics of all the pedigree collections. Northford books can be identified by a small “circle-X” stamp on the back covers. Bailey’s bizarre cover was used in Seduction of the Innocent, a book by American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, published in 1954, that warned that comic books were a negative form of popular literature and a serious cause of juvenile delinquency. As evidence of the lewd content to be found in children’s comics, Wertham showed a panel depicting a bikini-clad bosom, captioned “With plenty to offer,” to which he added an indignant, “Indeed!”.
Moving from the macabre to Silver Age gems, Marvel’s X-Men No. 1, published in September 1963, featured the team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in script and cover and art, respectively. Graded VG+ (4.5) with cream to off-white pages, the combination of first appearances by the X-Men, Magneto, Danger Room, with good mutants taking on evil mutants, as an obsolete mankind watches from the sidelines in fear and loathing, the comic was bid to $6,000.
Robert Crumb (b 1943), of course, is well-known as the zany American cartoonist who often signs his work R. Crumb and contributed to many of the seminal works of the underground comics movement in the 1960s, including being a founder of the successful underground publication, Zap Comix. Fetching $4,500 was a handwritten and illustrated “Note” letter to close college friend Marty Pahls, 1961, illustrated and lettered by Crumb in blue ballpoint pen. The letter’s cover illustration depicts a bespectacled, bow-tied, hat-wearing 18-year-old Crumb.
Other world-class sale records included those for The Thing! #15 (7.0), whose final price of $3,000 represents the best result by far in any grade, obliterating the previous record of $1,701 from December 2018. When the gavel landed at $3,600, the Tomb of Terror #5 (9.0) sold for a world-record result that was more than $2,000 higher than any other CGC copy in any grade, and the result was repeated with #13 and #16 of the series.
Other sale highlights included Shock Illustrated #1 (CGC 6.5): When the winning bidder took the sale for $3,600, they attained the best-ever result for a non-Gaines file copy, and the second-highest price in any grade, only exceeded by a 9.6 Gaines file copy ($4,995, April 2009). The Mister Mystery #12 (5.0) sold for $1,920, achieving a record price in this grade and beating the previous record for CGC 5.0 copy ($1,650, February 2020).
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. PBA said it looks forward to continuing to achieve world-class results in future comic auctions, and is currently accepting consignments of comic books, original comic art or comic-related ephemera and literature. For more information, 415-989-2665 or www.pbagalleries.com.
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