Friday, April 19, 2013

PART 1 - THE REAL STORY - How the original art to X-MEN 1 by JACK KIRBY was found!


I've known Bechara Maalouf for as long as I've been an original art collector. He's been a high end dealer in OA and comics for over twenty-five years. Back in 1994 he sold me my first two John Romita Spider-man pages from ASM 116 for $400 and $600--the more expensive page had Gwen Stacy on it.  We've done hundreds of deals since then.  I can honestly say that some of the best pieces in my collection came through him.  Prominent collectors like Hari Naidu and even dealers like Will Gabri El began dabbling in OA with Bechara's help.  He is someone you must absolutely know in the hobby.  If you are looking for a particular piece he knows not only where the bodies are buried…but how deep.

For years Bechara has promised to share the details with me of how the complete X-Men 1 story came out into the marketplace, and how he had a hand in it.  We finally had that discussion the other day:

GLEN: How did you first hear about the existence of Jack Kirby's X-Men 1 original art pages?



BECHARA: Through Brad Savage--he has been a collector of comics and original art for a generation or two.  I met Brad in the 80's and at that time he revealed to me that he had the complete original art to X-Men 1 by Jack Kirby, as well as other stuff.

GLEN: As you got to know him better he finally agreed to show them to you?

BECHARA: He invited me to his house--a collectibles emporium if there ever was one--the place looked like a serial killer had put his mind to collecting comics and related items instead of bodies.  He showed me the complete book to X-Men 1 and I was astounded.  My first question was how did you get this?  It turns out the original pages had turned up at a downtown comic shop in Manhattan around 28th street.

GLEN:  Wait a minute, the historic pages to X-Men 1 were available for sale at a comic shop?

BECHARA: One day in the mid 80's, Brad was in the local comic shop he frequented when two young men entered the store with a bundle of comic art to sell the owner.  Brad was stunned as the art turned out to be originals by Steve Ditko.  The actual original Marvel art pages from complete stories to Amazing Spider-Man unfolded before his eyes--ASM issue 4 with Sandman, the third issue with the first appearance of Doc Ock, issue 2 featuring the Vulture and finally the complete original art to the historic Amazing Spider-Man number 1.



BECHARA: The two men offered the whole lot, four issues of originals, to the shop keeper for $2000.  Brad couldn't believe it--the shop keeper either couldn't afford it or didn't want to buy the art but Brad absolutely did.  Between what he had in his pocket and a loan from the shop keeper he was able to scrape together $700.  Brad offered to give the men the $700 as a down payment but they wouldn't take it.  They needed the full $2000.  Brad desperately tried to buy just one of the stories, the ASM 1, for the $700 but they wouldn't take that either.  However, they were willing to meet Brad back at the comic shop the next day and do the deal if Brad had all the money.  Brad figured he would never see the men again.

The next day Brad was surprised to find the men back at the shop just as they had agreed.  Brad was ready with the cash.  Unfortunately, the men explained that they had found a guy to give them $2000 for the ASM 1 story alone, and they sold the book and the other Spidey stories to that same guy as well.



BECHARA: However, they did have some good news for Brad.  They had with them additional art that included the complete stories to X-Men 5, 2 and the complete art boards to the first appearance of the X-Men--issue 1--all by Jack Kirby.  Brad asked them how they were able to get all this art.  The young men explained that it all was very legit.  They promised the books weren't stolen--they just couldn't talk about it.

Brad wasn't about to argue--he was able to buy the complete X-men 1 story for $400, and the other original X-books as well for the paltry sum of $200 a piece.




In part 2 of this story, that I promise to post next week, Bechara and I will talk about how he was able to fiinally convince Brad after 20 years of pursuit to actually part with his X-Men 1 story.

Bechara Maalouf can be found at Nostalgic Investments for one of the very best selections of original art on the web at: http://www.nostalgicinvestments.com or email: nostalgic5@aol.com


44 comments:

  1. I heard this story in person many years ago, surprised that Bechara and Brad are willing to have the information be made public giving that the art as we are now aware was indeed stolen and not legitamately obtained.

    Spiro

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  2. I think it's great that Bechara was willing to go on record with such an important story.

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  3. Simply mind-boggling...

    Huge thanks for sharing this piece of comic art history

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  4. My pleasure. It's just as exciting for me to be able to share it.

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  5. Great story Glen. Interior Art is cool and all...but THE COVERS are truly the GOLD!

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    1. Congrats on selling your cover,...but weren't you holding out for ONE MILLION DOLLARS???

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  6. Thanks Matthew. I'll keep a lookout for the X-Men 1 cover for you.:)

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  7. Fascinating, thanks for sharing!

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  8. Great job in you and Bechara putting this important history on the record finally...

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  9. How nice would it be if they gave the Kirby faminly Jack's art? A little hopeful, I guess...

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    1. I'm not really sure who you mean by "They." At this point, the art has been broken up. Many of the pages have been auctioned at very high prices to individual collectors through Heritage Auctions over the last few years--you can see them on their archives. All of the pages are in other collectors hands--many that have paid thousands of dollars to purchase the art. It would have to be a collective effort from the collecting community to decide to return art to the Kirby family.

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    2. By "they," I think he meant the original sellers.

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  10. I want to chime in and say that I appreciate the transparency, but I'd like to hear more from the buyer about how he reconciled his good fortune with the knowledge that the art was in all likelihood stolen. Also, I'd like to find out if he took any steps to find out how the pages made their way from the Marvel offices and into hands.

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    1. I did not get the chance to interview Brad for this article. But if he wants to come forward with his views, I'd be happy to include them in a follow up.

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  11. Thanks for the reply!
    Given this account I do hope he comes forward to explain. It's possible he had a good reason to feel comfortable buying this art, or that he's had a change of mind about the decision since. At the bare minimum it would add to our understanding of the art's provenance.
    Anyway, the ethical and legal questions surrounding Kirby's Marvel OA, specifically the OA that wasn't returned to him, are really fascinating.

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  12. I assume the guys who were selling the art were Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby right?

    May someone please forward this to the heirs of Kirby, so they can look into getting the art back, since they are rightful owners to these works.

    As for Ditko, I once wrote to him and begged him to fight for 1/2 ownership of Spider-Man, and then donate his ownership to an institute that would benefit people. I wish Ditko would fight for his art back, but I doubt he will.

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    1. Why in the world would you beg a complete stranger (doubtful you know his health or personal situations) to get into a fight in his twilight years with a large corporation that can afford the best lawyers and drag things on for years? You want him to spend his remaining years in stress and litigation?

      You take many liberties- including telling him how he should spend his money. Fascinating.

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    2. I assume you are taking those same liberties with me. You are a hypocrite. The irony is making me laugh too hard.

      How do you know I am not a in "difficult health or personal situations"?

      As for an explanation, why not? Why should his age prevent him from fighting? Would you give up on what you created in your advanced age? Last, why do you think he would spend his money? Many lawyers would do it pro-bono.

      Please, don't get offended at the prospect of missing out on a new Spider-Man book.

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    3. Your first post made no sense and your response to me also makes no sense, so this will be the last time I bother with you as I don't wish to derail the blog or waste my time.

      1) I took no "same liberties" with you, and have said nothing hypocritical. What you did is tell (basically demand) some complete stranger how to live their life. What I did is tell you that that is absurd. Your angry response to me tells me that you really do not comprehend how obnoxious you are acting, which is actually pretty scary when you think about it. You say you are laughing but I believe you to be very upset.

      2) Your health situation has nothing to do with anything, nor does it matter if I know your situation (I also don't care). Not sure why you brought it up. Ditko's health matters because he is older and you are telling him to get in a huge battle that will cause emotional and eventual physical strain. Once again, if you can't see this then you are not living in reality.

      3) As far as your last paragraph, I'm not offended at anything, I just think you are acting irrationally and am pointing it out. I couldn't get offended if I wanted to as your "missing out on a new Spider-man book" line makes little sense. Par for the course though.

      I love Ditko's work and want to see him get a fair shake as much as anyone, but he is not your slave and does not have to live according to your beliefs or morals (especially when they are not thought out whatsoever).

      Think about how riled up you are because I told you that you are acting silly. Don't like it? Then think about how Ditko feels when you tell him how to spend his last years and spend his money- which is infinitely worse than what I said to you. I'm sure you weren't riled up at yourself for telling him what to do though. There's your hypocrisy my friend.

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  13. Ditko has no interest in anything related to Spider-man.

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  14. I beg to differ. I think he does. I mean why else would he publish lengthy articles about Spider-Man and characters relating to it. I just think he kids himself when he writes he that it was a 'character' he simply worked on. A few years back, he illustrated and published a piece called 'Who created Spider-Man'? Why do this, if you didn't care?

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  15. Ditko may care--but the doesn't care about the money. My understanding is he walked away from a huge pile of cash Marvel offered to give him when the movies came out.

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  16. Stolen is stolen, no matter how long it's been. And I'm sure that the sellers were insistent that it was all 'legit'. It's not like people who knowingly sell stolen goods are going to come clean.

    This art should be returned to it's rightful owners.

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  17. In the 1980s, there was "a downtown comic shop in Manhattan around 28th street"?

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    1. Jim, At the time in question here the Marvel Offices were at 387 Park Avenue South. That's the corner of Park Avenue South and....28th Street.

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    2. This art is so valuable now that it needs to be recovered and seized and returned to the artists and families of the men from whom it was stolen. Every year artwork that was stolen many decades ago is returned to its rightful owners.

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  18. And the fact that I had forgotten the old Manhattan Comics, on 23rd Street in the Chelsea Hotel, has been pointed out to me elsewhere. That may be the store in question.

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    1. Could be. Bechara may have had the street wrong.

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  19. It seems that many collectors see this as a completely polarized issue. I'd like to offer a more balanced perspective (grey area if you will...) --not all OA was stolen, in fact it was sometimes gifted. Gifted to inkers, writers, staffers, distributors, investors, etc. I know of an inker that worked with Kirby at Marvel during the late 60's and again during the mid-70's that was in possession of several covers pencilled by Jack...but that he did not ink. From memory all of these covers were from the Silver Age and predate the inker's professional work. Are we to automatically assume he stole these covers? I wouldn't make that leap and given their longstanding relationship it is more likely that Jack either gifted the covers or was aware they were in his sometime partner's possession.

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    1. Since the pencils were often erased once the inker had inked them, wouldn't it be normal/logical (and also justified) for the inker himself to retain the original pages...?

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  20. There is also the argument that Marvel was the owner of the pages when they "Went Missing." And Marvel as the owner NEVER filed a police report thereby abandoning their rights to the the property. Legally speaking, not morally or ethically, they are probably fair game in the marketplace.

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  21. What a disgrace, this article about how cool it was that someone was able to buy stolen art. Absolutely, several of us reading this will be informing the Kirby family who should sue for the return of the work that rightfully belongs to them.

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  22. I sent an email to the Kirby Museum myself linking the article for them to read. I'm sure they've been duly informed. This article was not simply a celebration of buying and profiting off stolen art, but a documentation of the history of OA. By all means contact them as well, James.

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  23. There are all sorts of interesting arguments that could be made (and have been.) For the most part, though, the question of the provenance of each piece of art remains murky. The simple assertion of ownership by publishers doesn't make it legally binding, either. Nor, does a Bill of Sale from an auction house, unless all previous transactions can be proven. Witness the art that has been returned to Holocaust survivors (or victims' families), even after a half-century or more of presumed ownership by purchasers, who bought it in what they asserted was good faith. Possession, despite old wives' tales to the contrary, is not "nine-tenths of the Law."

    Who owns the Elgin Marbles? There's been a controversy over that for 200 years and it's unlikely to die down any time soon, unless Britain relents and returns them to Greece. But, Britain has an army, navy, and air force to (theoretically) protect the sculptures. It's doubtful that many "owners" of original comic art have any of those.

    So, if one day, the heirs to any artist whose work was appropriated by publishers who can't themselves demonstrate its legal transfer - by means other than "standard practice" and a "rubber-stamped back-of-the-check contract" - may find themselves forced to turn it over. Then, they can go looking for "the guy who sold it to me for cash outside a comics store once" to get back what they paid for it. And the same would apply to all subsequent legally questionable transfers.

    Every sale of art at highly-publicized astronomical sums, hastens the day when such actions will start clogging the courts.

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  24. http://artlawteam.com/the-delicate-issue-of-provenance/

    "Even living artists may have a claim to improperly sold works; New York has gone further than any other state in protecting the rights of artists to recover works sold by dealers who did not properly compensate the artist. Relying on the advice of a trusted art advisor, a reputable dealer or buying through a respected auction house are important first steps but may not be enough to avoid a claim of defective title against art that has been innocently purchased."

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  25. It's a tar-baby, for sure. I don't think many artists whose work was withheld, prior to the initiation of art returns in the eighties are still living. Most, though, have heirs who may soon start asserting their rights. Six- and seven-figure prices realized in public sales will likely make lawyers take notice and start looking for those heirs.

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  26. Great story. Ethics schmethics. As if you wouldn't buy the art for X-Men #1 for $400 if you were in Brad's shoes? I know I would. And if I were standing in the store I'd go into a bidding war right there and then.

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  27. There are also some who buy car radios from junkies for $20 a pop. They alsp think ethics are just something to rhyme with shcmethics. Out of curiosity, do you think muggers are also people one should deal with, or just second-story men are?

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  28. A bit of insight into Steve Ditko and his views on original art -

    Ditko was my first big comics art influence.

    In the late '70s, I found an original page from an early issue of Ditko's The Creeper for sale at a NYC convention - for $25. Back then, $25 was a big chunk of my weekly food budget but I really wanted a Ditko original! I bought it.

    During the late '80s, while I was a line editor at Marvel, Ditko would occasionally stop by the offices and visit some of the editors. He liked to talk, especially about his objectivist philosophy and politics. It was usually a one-way "conversation" since he was a true believer and his dogma seemed impervious to any doubt or questioning.

    Even though I'd heard he didn't give autographs, I told Steve about my cherished Creeper original and I asked him if he'd sign it for me during his next visit to the offices.

    He told me that none of his Creeper originals had been returned to him - the pages on the market were stolen from DC's offices. I felt horrible about this and decided I'd give the page to him.

    I brought the original page in to the offices and kept in my flat files. The next time Ditko stopped by my office, he began one of his long philosophical and political spiels. As he spoke, I rose from my desk, walked over to the flat files, removed the Creeper original and handed it to him. Without skipping a beat in his one-way conversation, he took the page, slipped it into his portfolio and carried on talking. He in no way acknowledged the exchange of the original art - not even a nod of his head.

    This didn't bother me. I knew, according to Ditko's POV, an honorable person had no choice but to return the original once he/she was aware it was stolen and you don't thank someone for doing the expected and honorable thing.

    Ditko has very strong views that he feels are consistent and logical but may appear otherwise to many of us. Trying to guess what his reaction would be if approached by someone who had possession of his Spider-Man originals may be harder than we imagine.

    That said, ideally, anyone in possession of original art that was not put on the market by the artist(s) directly or indirectly (through trade, or gifting), should offer the art back to the artist or heirs. At the very least, offer to make a generous donation to the artist or his/her favorite cause.

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    1. Thanks for sharing that incredible story, Carl. Do you happen to know what Steve DItko's favorite charity might be?

      I think your reaction to Ditko's response to your art return displays a great bit of understanding on your part--to overlook behavioral norms like a simple thank you--and to respect his way of dealing with this situation. Well done!

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    2. From what I understand about Objectivism, altruism of any sort is to be avoided. So, it's hard for me to imagine any typical charity that Ditko would want to support! However, he may have his own interpretation of what altruism and charity mean.

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  29. Have just encountered your page and I guess you should be complimented for this piece. More power to you!

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