The page. To read the story, cllick the individual panels for larger views.


Curt Swan Original Art
(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 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.

Like a lot of comic art, this page was produced in "twice-up" format, meaning the artist drew everything about two times as large as it would ultimately appear on the printed page. Because of this, some things that look sharp and detailed in the comic book are much more sketchy and abstract in their original form. For example, see the faces below:

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.

Another 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.

Thanks, Curt!