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Comic Art Collecting Frequently Asked Questions

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As with most things in this hobby we owe a debt of gratitude to those collectors and comic art enthusiasts who came before us. Much of what follows in this Original Comic Art FAQ was started by collectors in the late 1990's - on sites like,,, and - who wanted to help others understand the hobby better. Credit is given where possible. This FAQ will continue to evolve and has been edited to be more in line with this website and today's collecting trends. If you'd like to contribute please let us know.

What is Original Comic Art?

Definition of Original Comic Art

It is not easy, and probably not very worthwhile, to fully characterize the nature of original comic art. We'd rather not pretend that we can explain the nature of sequential art. If you're interested in that, check out Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner or Understanding Comics; The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud. This FAQ article speaks more to what members of collect.

To start with a simple description, comic art consists of the original art that is created in the process of developing a comic book, made available to collectors in the form of the pages that were reproduced to create the book. Traditionally, comic art is created in a multi-step process that consists primarily of a penciller and an inker, although a letterer and a colorist may also contribute. By far, the penciller is considered to have the greatest creative input -- they are the one that starts with the blank page. The inker can make or break a page, but their contribution is creative in a different way. This is why original comic art pages are always listed with the penciller's name first.

We then extend our definition of original comic art to include other pieces of art that are created by comic art creators. That is, an artist that is drawing for a certain comic book could be commissioned to do a sketch or a more detailed drawing that is never published such as a commission. Or, a comic artist could be hired to paint the cover of a science fiction book.

We'll continue to extend our definition to include comic strip art. This is a little backwards, of course, as comic strips preceded comic books. In fact, many original comic book artists were greatly influenced by comic strip artists and many aspired to be comic strip artists.

And that's not the end of it, either -- not by a long shot. There's a tremendous amount of widely varied artwork out there that can be contained under the comic art umbrella. When you find some, bring it to the our attention and we'll do our best to include it here.

Types of Comic Art

The following categories are not meant to attempt to classify or bound comic art is any way. Instead, this is an attempt to familiarize the new collector with some of the common characterizations of comic art.

Comic Book Art

The following descriptions are intended to apply to art from all types of published comics.

Covers (examples)

Many comic book publishers believe that the cover of a comic needs to be very compelling in order to attract the eye of the casual buyer. As a result of this, artists tend to spend more time with the design and creation of the cover than with any other single image in the book. As a result of that, the original art for the cover of a comic tends to be highly sought after in comic collecting circles. And, finally, as a result of that, covers tend to be more expensive than the other pages of a comic book. Covers may have logos or not, depending on a number of factors -- see Paste-ups below.

Title Pages (examples)

A title page is the page of a comic book that introduces the reader with the title of the story, along with the creators involved in the writing, artwork, and editing that go into a given comic book. You will typically see the indicia for the publisher listed at the bottom of the page in some form of paste-up. While typically the first page of a comic book, it can sometimes be found elsewhere in a comic. Chapter sections with titles of their own can be considered title pages.

Splash Pages (examples)

Publishers take the "cover theory" described above one step further -- once you've gotten the casual buyer to pick up the comic book because of its compelling cover, a compelling splash page will seal the sale. In general, the single panel page where the title of the story and the credits are displayed is the splash page. After the cover, this is the second most sought after page in a comic (for similar reasons).

Other than the splash page described above, a comic may have other single panel pages (used especially for dramatic effect). There is some difference of opinion on the list as to what to call these pages. Some say that they are splash pages, while others insist that a comic can only have one true splash page. Another term that is used is "interior splash." To take this even further, an interior page with a single large panel and a number of smaller ones is sometimes called a "3/4 splash" or a "1/2 splash."

Usage varies, so it's wise to keep an open mind when reading a description of a comic art page.

Double Page Splash (examples)

A double page splash is created when an artist treats two side-by-side pages of a comic as if it were a single page. There will be a single image spread across the two pages that make use of the pages in more of a "widescreen" fashion.

Double Page Spread (examples)

A double page spread is created when an artist treats two side-by-side pages of a comic as if it were a single page. There will be multiple images that make use of the pages.

Interior Panel Pages (examples)

After the covers, splash pages and double page spreads, you're left with the interior panel pages. These are the pages that consist of more than one panel. Panel pages vary widely in their implementation: the most typical design is the "standard" nine or six panel grid with all panels being the same size, separated by a common border. However, panels can also be divided at unusual angles, they can be rounded, they may or may not have borders, etc.

Panel pages may contain the story's protagonists and/or antagonists, or they may contain only secondary characters. In the latter case, the pages are also referred to as character pages.

Potential Elements of a Comic Art Page


Up until the middle 90s, most logos (the title and other info such as the month and issue number), indica (the copyright notice) and many captions, sound effects and word balloons were added to the original comic art by glue or paste after the images were completed. The logos and the indica were usually Photostats of a master copy; the captions, sound effects and word balloons were hand-lettered on separate paper before being attached to the page. For those pieces that originally had attached items, these items may, or may not, still be attached to the artwork when it is (re-)sold.

On the other hand, it was also common for artists to incorporate the captions, sound effects and word balloons (and sometimes even the logo) into the penciled art, so no pasting was necessary.

With the advancement of computer technology in the middle 90s, a number of companies switched to doing lettering on a computer and most art from this time does not have any text on it at all. Occasionally, you'll see overlays with only the text sold with a piece of art but that's more the exception rather than the rule.


The absence of lettering on most modern art (due to computer lettering) has been a hot topic for years. You will hand lettering done directly in the page in older pages of comic art, and sometimes it will be done on balloons that have been cut and pasted to the page.


Occasionally, a piece of art will be described as being on Vellum. In response to a posting, list member Dave Morris wrote:

Vellum is essentially transparent paper that is placed over the pencils and then inked on. So the person who has the McFarlane Spider-man page doesn't have to worry, it's on regular comic bristol and wasn't traced on vellum. Now the other thing to consider is the inkers (such as Kirby's last inker) who lightbox the pencils onto another piece of bristol board and ink there, so there are no original pencils under the inks. A lightbox is any type of a projecting lamp that can cast an image from one surface onto another surface. Again, original ink work, but not original pencil work.

Twice-up vs. Standard Size Art Board

Prior to (about) November 1967, most comic artists worked on art board that was between 12" x 18" and 14" x 21" in size (with a 1/2" to 3" outer border). For economic reasons having to do with the process of how comics are made, publishers then switched to an 11" x 17" board, with an image size of approximately 9.75"x15". The old size (which is still used by some artists on rare occasions) is referred to as a twice-up page, a name which derives from the fact that this size is approximately twice the width and height of a standard comic book page. The current size is referred to as standard size and is approximately 1.5 times the width and height of a standard comic book page. (Contribution by Tom Horvitz)

Other Types of a Original Comic Art

Comic Strip Art (examples)

Comic Strip Art is the original art that is used to make the daily comic strips that appear in newspapers. There are two types of comic strip art - dailys and sundays (both usually falling into the "panel page" category):

Daily strips (approx. 5" x 15") generally consist of three or four panels, usually the same size.
Sunday strips are larger in size (approx. 8" x 16"), which allows for more experimentation and can result in some unique variations on the "panel page." These strips usually have a larger first panel for the logo (which may be incorporated into the art or which may a stat which is glued on) and then six to ten uniformly sized panels.

The following book is recommended by collectors for those who would like to learn more about this part of the hobby:

"Collecting Original Comic Strip Art" by Jeffrey M. Ellinport

Convention Sketches (examples)

A sketch is a piece of comic art that is not "finished" in the same sense that a published piece is. There are a number of things about sketches that collectors appreciate: you commonly get to watch the artist do the piece, it has a level of energy that a finished piece doesn't have, it's probably cheaper than a finished piece, etc. Many collectors of sketches keep their pieces in sketchbooks.

There are a couple of different kinds of sketches:

Head sketch - This is most often found along and artist's (or writer) signature. When asking for an autograph, many artists have a "set doodle" of one of their characters and will draw it when signing an item. It may not be as desirable as original artwork but it can be a nice bonus when only asking for an autograph.

Convention sketch - At conventions, some artists will do sketches of a character of your choice. Of the artist that will do a sketch at a con, some do them for free, some for charity and some for profit. The price can depend on the type of sketch you'd like (marker, pencil only, inked, color) or what the artist is doing that day. Some artists will draw your sketch for you and you can take it after paying, while others have a list and will try to fit you in (try to get on your favorite creator's list early!). Sometimes the artist will mail your piece to you days/weeks/months/years after the convention.

Sketch Cards (examples)

A sketch card can go by many names, such as an ATC (Artist Trading Card), an ACEO (Art Cards, Editions, Originals), or an Art Card, and is the same size as a standard trading card: 2.5 x 3.5 inches. A sketch card has not been printed for publication as a trading card.

Sketch Covers (examples)

Sketch covers have grown in popularity over the past several years. A sketch cover contains the actual printed interior of the comic book, but instead of having the normal printed cover attached to it, a heavy card stock typically with the comic's logo printed on it is attached. This allows an artist to create an original drawing on the cover, thus creating quite a unique collectible. Oftentimes these sketch covers are graded and certified by companies like CGC or CBCS.

Trading Card Art (examples)

Trading card art can come in many flavors from pencil to ink to painted originals or any size. At the end of the day the original artwork was used in the production of a printed trading card for a game or set of themed trading cards.

Commissions (examples)

A commission is a piece of comic art that you pay an artist to do for you. It may be as simple as a sketch, but it's usually more detailed, more "finished" and more expensive. Some collectors provide elaborate detail as to what they'd like a commission to look like; others prefer to let the creator draw something that he's interested in drawing.

Commissions are usually arranged with an artist or with an agent or representative of the artist. A total amount of money is decided upon and a portion of it is typically paid up front. Some artists will provide preliminary art to insure that the piece is what the buyer has in mind; others will just deliver the finished piece. Most of the time, an artist is fitting in commissions around an already busy schedule, so a commission can take a long time. And, of course, there are some artists that don't take commissions.

Prelims (examples)

A prelim is typically a rough drawing or painting done to get approval of a layout for a cover or interior page, and can be used as a guideline for the artist to work on the finished piece of artwork.

Recreations (examples)

When a particular piece is unavailable or too expensive, collectors sometimes commission an artist to recreate it. This recreation might be literal (looks identical to the original) or it might be interpreted (done in the style of the recreator). Many collectors believe that a literal recreation should only be done by the original penciller while others think that it's OK for the original inker to do a recreation. Fewer collectors believe that a creator who was uninvolved with the original work should do a literal recreation; instead, an interpreted recreation should be done in this case. It is common for an artist doing a recreation to note somewhere on the art the piece is in fact a recreation.

One should request a recreation from a creator in a similar way that one would request a commission-only keep in mind that even fewer artists are interested in doing recreations.


Historically, paintings as comic art have most often been used for covers. In the 90's, there has been a trend to use paintings for interior pages, also. The size of the piece, the subject and the materials used will vary, depending on the artist and the project.

Not Exactly Comic Art

Even given the liberal definition above, there are some things that collectors consider to be not strictly original comic art.

Color Guides (examples)

One of the most controversial comic art forms is the color guide. As described by Magnus Ramstrom, a color guide is "A copy of the inked art, reduced to comic book size, that is hand colored by the colorist. Thereafter a color separator uses it as a guide for the real print originals."

The controversy doesn't really center around whether it takes skill to do a color guide, or even whether color guides are collectible (everything is collectible to someone). The controversy is whether a color guide is original comic art. Some say yes; more say no. As with most items that are discussed on the list, it's "to each his own."

Color Separations

A color separation is a four-color overlay used in the comic production process. It is not original art in any way; however, it is a neat, colorful item that helps a collector better understand comic production process.

Color Originals

Some publishers print the comic straight from the colorist's art, which gives a nicer result than color separation and gives the colorist a reason to produce detailed art. (Magnus Ramstrom)

Blue Lines

For Inking: Blue lines - while not common - are most used today to ink directly onto when the original pencilled artwork is not available. The original pencil art is scanned and reproduced onto heavy stock paper in non- reproduction blue lines, hence the name. The inker then inks directly on the blueline pages. It is very common when purchasing original artwork to receive both the pencilled and inked blue line artwork.

One word of caution is that sometimes blue line inked artwork that is sold can be misrepresented as not being blue line, so you must be careful as sometimes the original pencils are not part of the artwork you are buying. This is pretty important if you are buying the artwork because of the penciller, and it can effect the value of the artwork.

For Coloring: Bluelines are a method of coloring black and white art for production. The original black and white line art is photographed by the printer and reproduced onto heavy stock paper in non- reproduction blue lines, hence the name. The color artist then produces a fully rendered painting on the blueline pages. The color portion of the art is shot directly from the bluelines and overlaid during the printing process with the black line art. This process is not frequently used. The original Mage series from Comico was colored in this format.

Spencer Beck submitted the following description of a blue line:

Blueline is a process used to print most painted, full color comics in which the black and white art is transferred to a separate board and printed in light blue, while a clear acetate overlay carries the black line art. This is done so that the black linework is not "pixilated" during the color separation process, which would then cause the blacks to become what is know as "four color blacks ", thereby causing a lack of clarity in the blacks, especially the lettering.

By using the blueline process, the publisher is able to get the "best of both worlds" so to speak, allowing them to print painted full color artwork without sacrificing the clarity of the Black and White artwork.

Since the comic is printed directly using the painted artwork, you will not find white out, loose or unerased pencil lines or non photo blue editorial directions. The art will look as clean as it does on the printed page ( with the sole exception of some white out in word balloons and between panels, along with possible overspray from the airbrush outside the boarders of the page).

Because the black line art has been isolated on the overlay, the physical appearance of the blueline is almost identical to an animation cel. The colors will also be more brilliant on the original, because very often they will be painted in several transparent "glazes" giving the art a translucent, almost glowing quality. The image area is also larger than the printed page.

Animation Cels and Related Artwork (examples)

There are a number of comic art collectors who are also collectors of animation artwork. Animation Art can include many original art elements created in the development and production of an animated film. These can include paintings on celluloid sheets (cels) as well as background paintings, both of which are seen when viewing a film or cartoon. Many additional original art works are produced by Studio artists in the making of an animated film or cartoon, including loose animation drawings (from which cels were inked and painted); story panel drawings, character and model drawing sheets, etc.

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