1. Please tell us a little about yourself.
I am 59 years old and work at a Child Care Resource and Referral Agency that serves about a third of Wisconsin. I have always worked at non-profit programs and have spent over 40 years developing grassroots education programs, alternative schools, programs to combat adult illiteracy and now child care/early childhood education. As a result my income has often been modest at times (like when my daughter was born slightly above the poverty line-though better today). My life shows that if you work at it you can accumulate a nice collection of art over time without having a lot of money to spend. Currently there are about 1600 pieces of art in the collection not counting the silent animation work.
Working in non-profits I needed sidelines to fall back on and various types of freelance work provided the safety net. For almost 30 years I have been doing the background research for Max Allan Collins’ award winning historical mysteries- the Nate Heller series, the Eliot Ness mysteries, the disaster mysteries (featuring major mystery novelists who happened to be linked to major disasters like the Titanic) and what may be of most interest to CAF members the Jack Starr series “A Killing in Comics and “Strip for Murder”. The last two, as opposed to the rest, are totally fictional mysteries but if you know anything about the history of comics you will recognize who and what events inspired these stories. His most famous work, Road to Perdition, was the one I did virtually no work on, though I did help with research on its two sequel novels. I am currently doing the preliminary work on the last two Nate Heller mysteries. I help with the research drawing on my extensive collection of Chicago and crime history material. For every book I read or suggest, Max reads two or three. It is nice however to contribute in my small way to some of the best mysteries series of the last quarter century. I have also assisted with several of his movies including the bio of Alley Oop creator V.T. Hamlin.
While I did some writing for Creepy and Cracked while still a teenager growing up on the south side of Chicago, a lot of my writing as an adult stems from my relationship with Max as we co-authored “A History of Mystery’, and the award winning “Men’s Adventure”, as well as the gangster section of the notorious True Crime trading cards. We also collaborated on the Chicago Mobs War and Pocket Pin up set for Kitchen Sink. I still have a few extra copies of the various crime sets if anyone is curious about this aspect of my life.
Other writing on my part includes portions of DC’s “The Big Book of Little Criminals” and “The Big Book of Hoaxes” as well as most of the background articles in Alan Moore's last book in the From Hell series. I did part of Taschen’s new book on “True Crime” magazines. Other research contracts included some work for Playboy especially on James Peterson’s “Playboy’s Century of Sex”, various help to Craig Yoe on the Arf series and various jobs for other mystery novelists. I do monthly pieces for Comic Buyer's Guide on original art collecting and really obscure comic related subjects. Somewhere on the CAF site are about 70 longer pieces on original art, part of a handbook on collecting original art that I had 85% completed right before Kitchen Sink went under.
My non-profit work has included over the years especially in Chicago a lot of media work ranging from appearing on programs ranging from Svenghoulie’s Creature Features to Oprah! I have also volunteered in various capacities for my local township government. I am married to my wife of 39 years Mary Ellen who is also a part time portrait painter and winner of several state and local awards for her art. My daughter is finishing this year a doctorate in neuroscience. In my spare time I raise a portion of my own food on our five acres and keep one hive of bees.
2. Which is your favorite piece in your gallery and why?
The gallery is still growing and a lot of my favorite pieces are not even up yet. I am over 600 pieces now and about 250 are from the various collections- but there are about 1600 pieces here not counting the Hettinger Silent Animation art so there is a long way to go before even a good overview exists on CAF. Since a lot of the better pieces are framed, the gallery is more geared towards some of the second string pieces. About 300 of the pieces are not from the collection but are pieces for sale usually on consignment from various friends.
This is a difficult question to answer also because I don’t view my art as one collection but rather several collections with different focuses.
A) Comic Book and Strip art: while much of this is from series and artists I enjoy, the broader scope is a history of the medium from the 1890s to about 1980 though I have some examples by especially artists who are friends or acquaintances from after that. I enjoy the raw power of early comic book art, love 1950s genre art of all types including EC and am fascinated by the ways comic art has been used by various minority cultures and women to tell their stories. Most major strips are represented and many comic book artists usually in single examples. Multiple examples exist of Joe Kubert, Lou Cameron, Bob Powell. Matt Baker, Chester Gould and a few others.
B) Mystery related art: My work with Max Allan Collins and the book History of the Mystery reflects my interest in the history and themes of the mystery novel. The illustration portion of this collection is up in the CAF gallery under the Mystery Art cyber tour. Most of the strip and comic book art has yet to be posted.
C) Genre Fiction Illustration: Science fiction and adventure (with a few westerns) art from stories or artists who I have enjoyed. Some of these relate to specific books- others to artists like Virgil Finlay. Kelly Freas, Robert Maguire, Doug Beekman, Roy G. Krenkel etc. I have a fondness for pulp magazine covers and was fortunate to be able to amass about a dozen or so before the market went crazy.
D) Chicago and True Crime History: Growing up in Chicago and with family members who were active in Chicago politics I became interested in Chicago history and especially the interaction of politics and crime. That led to collecting art related to editorial cartoonists from the city and aspects of the city’s history. This includes things like an editorial cartoon from the day Al Capone went to prison, two paintings Chicago artist Wallace Smith made while he covered Pancho Villa for the Chicago press and similar pieces with ties to the city.
So while I could narrow down each of these collections to a favorite piece or two getting it down to one is difficult. Probably the logical choice would be the George Rozen Shadow cover with the Shadow firing over the diamond polisher at the criminals. It links the mystery, genre illustration and superhero collections. The Shadow is one of my favorite characters and the piece (while not my first pulp painting) was my first acquisition that was really a reach financially though I have never regretted it and still enjoy it daily after 25 years.
Possibly the most unique part of the collection is the art from the Stolen Dream and Restless night – the last 2 remaining examples of the Chicago School of Animation that flourished from about 1914-1917. One gallery is dedicated to the story behind this art and I would love to see both films restored since the art exists to do it.
3. How long have you been collecting comic art and what prompted you to start?
I have been collecting art since I was about 16 (that was 43 or so years ago). I entered the first Jerry Bails data contest which became what is now the Great Comics Database. Jerry basically had prizes for people who submitted the most data about comics he didn’t have. You sent summaries in on 3x5 cards. Fortunately my interest lay in older obscure Golden Age heroes like Airboy for which he had almost no data. I think my total was over 100 cards. I came in high enough to win a piece of art – an incredibly dull page by Bob Fujitani from Doctor Solar #4 (I gave it to a friend to start his collection and it was returned to me years later and is still here). Never having seen a piece of original art, I was fascinated by it and how it linked to the creative process of visually telling stories. Art was scarce in the Midwest. Comic book artists all were in the New York area. Our token artist at that time was Russ Heath. So Jerry Bails got me into this.
That Christmas my younger brother wrote to Chester Gould and got a small drawing from him inscribed to me (smart kid, his Christmas present cost him 10 cents and was possibly the best thing I got that year). Pieces slowly came in after that as various collectors in the Chicago Comics Club (which met in basements on the north side and parks when the parents tossed us out; I lived far south but had had letters published in Marvel Comics and was contacted by the North side group) made it to New York and brought back art.
Chicago fandom was essentially organized in those early around people who scouted and hung out around a number of used bookstores on Chicago’s various skid rows (they were on the north, south and west side of the loop though the north was the main bookstore area). We would step over drunks to enter stores filled with old magazines comics and books. The first monthly show was at the YMCA hotel on the south side skid row. It operated until a pair of junkies literally held it up one Sunday but that is another story.
Initially I collected anything I could afford mainly because there just was not that much available in Chicago.(also things like the Matt Baker Vooda pages cost me about $3 a page back then- a lot of money but affordable) It was fascinating to see the different approaches there were to creating a comic page. I could not afford to subscribe to adzines so my sources were all local or contacts I made in various ways. Max Allan Collins started out as a fellow art collector I traded with before I started working for him on research.
Things changed a lot as cons developed in Chicago. When a group of friends started the Chicago Comicon, Mike Gold (another art collector) suggested that we do a charity auction as part of the show since I worked at the Alternative School Network at that time. We did it for them and I coordinated the auction and the artist room set up for the length of the con and into the first Wizard convention- it was over 20 auctions. I also helped set up the benefit art auction at the Minnesota convention. About the same time the CFA APA began and I became a member with contributions in most issues since #2 though I have been trading off the original zines for art in order to make space in the single room where most of the collections are stored.
As more art became available I became more focused and the collection took on the subcategories that exist today.
A lot of the art relates to comic books, strips or novels that I have read and enjoyed. Oddly the art can be divided between art that relates to material I like to read and art that I enjoy as art but relates to material I no longer read. An example of the latter is a lot of the Golden Age art I own. The images are iconic but stories especially in series like Planet Comics no longer hold my interest. Thus I would rather a have a nice piece of art than a stack of expensive Golden Age comics. Some areas of the collect like animation I have almost dropped entirely (outside of the Hettinger material I am down to a Fox and Crow cel with background, a McCay Gertie, a 1930s Popeye poster prelim and a Fantasia storyboard). Other areas like American Illustration grew as I found myself working with Literacy Volunteers of America out of Syracuse and travelling every four months through New York which exposed me to Illustration House and other outlets. The scope of the collection is described in the preceding section.
One of the best aspects of collecting this stuff are the many friendships that have developed between myself and other collectors. There was a different spirit in the early days when art was less an investment and more a mystery to be explored and understood. Less flipping and more collecting – more conviviality and less competition. I have known a lot of people for over 25 years during which we have spent hours learning from each other. Sadly increasingly today, I am helping widows of old friends sell off their collections.
4. How do you display/store your collection at home?
About 300 pieces are framed and hanging on the walls, mostly in used frames found at garage sales or cheap and with archival mattes I cut myself. I have even less of a budget for framing than I have had for acquiring art. I will try to take same photos and create a gallery of shots of some of the areas where most of the art is hanging.
The rest of the collection is in either large artists’ portfolios or in mylar sleeves inside standard zippered portfolios, though the silent animation art is still within the original wooden liquor crates where Andy Hettinger stored them in 1916. The Fred Voges premium art from the 1930s and 1940s is primarily in a series of metal strong boxes.
I would like to obtain a couple of large fireproof and waterproof safes to store the art and some of the other paper material in. The office where I work burned down last August and it has made me incredibly aware of how everything can be destroyed in a matter of minutes. Global climate change has brought more violent storms also and I worry about these one of a kind items disappearing in a tornado or other violent storm like a number of my friend’s houses. Over a year ago we had some seepage after a particularly heavy storm and my Winsor McCay Rarebit Fiend, leaning against the wall after being returned from a university exhibit, got damaged as a result; we have since installed a state of the art drainage and pump system. In addition to affording the safes, one headache is getting them down to the basement library room which I try to keep at close to archival conditions.
5. What are your top five most wanted original pages or commissions?
Most of these I will probably never own due to their current prices.
1) I own a prelim to a Carl Barks comic book cover but would love to own a nice 1950s interior page by him (ideally from the Terry and the Fermies, Pygmy Indians or selling furnaces in Indo-China stories) as he is a far better storyteller than cover artist.
2) I own several pieces from very early superhero comic books that I owned as a child. I would really love to own a page from the first “Inside Earth” comic in Brave and Bold by Bruno Premiani if any of it should exist. Still have my well-read copy of that book.
3) A Detective Dime Novel Cover- Nick Carter, Old Sleuth or the Bradys; this oddly while scarce is probably very affordable.
4) A R.F. Outcault Buster Brown, Little Buddy Tucker, or Yellow Kid original. Oddly again the Buster Brown or Buddy Tucker may be affordable. I own a Buster Brown but it is by Winsor McCay.
5) While I own Kirby art (mainly monsters and crime) I own nothing by him from Captain America or Fantastic Four (my only superhero page is a Human Torch from Strange Tales). Likewise I would love to again own a Ditko Spider-Man page (mine was sacrificed years ago for our lower meadow acreage). At today’s price I doubt I will ever get any of these as there is so much more interesting material available for less money.
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