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Curt Swan Original
(Action Comics #464, page 2)
It's easy to see why original comic art
is so popular with collectors. First, there's the nostalgia
angle, or at least the kitsch factor. Plus, if you get a
good page, you have a whole little story to read...it makes
for a great conversation piece.
Most appealing to me, though, is the notion
of owning a slice of comics history. Every page of original
art is, by definition, one of a kind. No matter how often
comics are touted as "collector's items," the
reality is they're printed in the hundreds of thousands.
If you want to talk about true rarity, try the original
pages from which the comics were printed.
This page hangs on the wall of my home office.
It's page 2 of Action Comics number 464, in all honesty
a fairly average and overall unremarkable comic from 197?.
No "firsts," no character deaths, no landmark
events, just a typical, garden-variety comic book. That's
part of the appeal, for me. That and the fact that I bought
the comic as a kid, and having an original page from it
is a hoot.
The page was pencilled by the great Curt
Swan, who added his signature later on. It was inked
by one of Curt's better embellishers, Tex Blaisdell. A sort
of "story within a story," it shows Superman making
short work of the latest costumed nut-job to menace Metropolis,
a guy who calls himself the Purple Pile-Driver, and smashes
things with his head using a powerful helmet. In a mere
six panels we see Supes using his super-strength, super-speed
and flying powers, moralizing on why crime doesn't pay and
finally soaring away in a patented Curt Swan pose.
Besides capturing the action, fast pace
and corny melodrama of classic comics, the page provides
a glimpse into how comic art is produced. For example, along
the top edge, someone, maybe Swan or an editor, has written
the issue number and page number, just in case it got mixed
up with the hundreds of other pages in production at the
same time. At the top and bottom of the page is the residue
of magic tape, perhaps used by Curt to hold the page to
his drawing board or by a printer to secure the art for
reproduction. In the detail below, you can see hints of
Curt's original pencil lines in Superman's face, and how
the inker has added to the solid black "motion lines"
with lines of white-out, breaking the inks here and there
on Superman's torso and arms.
Also note the use of an editor's blue pencil.
Various things are circled on this page, most notably Superman's
face. I'm not sure why: the circles are connected to lines
that run off the page. Maybe at one point the other end
of the line connected to a post-it note with an editor's
notes about how to color something? Anyway, blue was the
color of choice here because it would not reproduce in a
photocopy. In fact, some pencillers preferred to work in
blue pencil so the inker could work over their lines without
having to erase anything.
trick of the trade appears on a word balloon. Somewhere
along the way, it was decided to change a word, probably
"THE," into "THIS." The letterer made
the change on a bit of white tape and pasted it over the
original. Like the blue pencil, this was a technique that
passed the copier test.
There's probably cleaner pieces of art out
there, but I really like all these artifacts of the creative
process. Just think: at some point
this was just a blank piece of paper on Curt Swan's art
board. Reading from a typed script, Curt looked at the white
page and imagined it filled with images that would tell
a story. Then one by one the pictures travelled from his
imagination through a No. 2 pencil by way of his practiced
fingers, bringing Superman and the Purple Pile-Driver to
life for readers all over the world. This page, then, is
a lasting record of an act of creation...the transformation
of dreams into reality. In the end, that's the most amazing
super-power of all.