Grail Pages by Steven Alan Payne (book review).

‘Grail Pages’ are not biblical comicbook pages but they are certainly as rare as them. As the sub-title ‘Original Comic Book Art And The Collectors’ should give a broader hint, this book is about the one thing from a comicbook that is literally a one-off, the original pages that the artist and inker with a few placed words from the letterer put together that are shrunk and coloured and mass produced. There is, however, only one original page and for many years, no one really collected them. Some surfaced in the UK from time to time and, although in those non-inflation days, they were more expensive than a several rare comicbooks, some of us bought pages from favoured comicbooks when we could find them although extremely nervous about how to carry them around a comicmart in case we damaged them. It was seen as a pinnacle goal for a few of us to own a little of the original art.


Nearly thirty years back when I was collecting, I accumulated a few Werner Roth, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne and one early John Romita Jr ‘X-Men’ original pages on a reasonably low budget. Reading this book, so did these American collectors although theirs were more the Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Gene Colan and John Romita selection. There’s a scattering of John Romita, Neal Adams and Gil Kane pages as well. Oddly, there’s more Marvel than DC pages simply because the latter didn’t return the originals and often had them destroyed.

These people have kept collecting, often swopping some pages for those that they really want when prices started to escalate. In the past few decades, other people have realised the rarity of many of these pages and their value has got up a thousand-fold and now you have to be fairly rich to get pages from the Silver Age, especially when they feature key characters and events. I dread to think how much mine are worth but then I tend to see myself as a custodian to preserve such art so have some sympathy with the kind of collecting addiction these buyers have. If you get the bug from reading this book, the best lesson to learn is go for what you can afford and what you like than as an investment. Saying that, you can’t deny that these days, some comicbook pages have shot up in price that makes jewellery look cheap. Mind you, even these collectors point out today’s prices could still flatten out.

There is a lot to be learnt from this book. The collectors themselves don’t really brag about what they own but focus more on the relationships they developed with the comicbook artists and some stories about that. After all, it’s cheaper to buy direct than off a dealer. Hearing John Buscema never had a title that was directly attributed to him until he eventually bagged ‘Conan The Barbarian’ and, well, who don’t really think of anyone else associated with the title anymore. Reading the late Gene Colan’s interview about his preference for mood and the various inkers who pencilled him is also an eye-opener, especially when the original double-size Bristol board went down to a size and a half to cut costs. Dick Giordano also throws some insight into the inker building up the work of the penciller, especially when he worked over John Buscema’s layouts. I wasn’t too surprised on that because some inkers have their own following as well or even combination pairing.

Some things haven’t changed. In case you don’t know, in order of expense, its front covers, first page splash and then regular pages. What governs cost after that is the use of lead characters and their popularity and then probably a significant event. I know I puzzled Chris Claremont when I bought a page from X-Men # 118 off him when he thought a different page had better art and then I said, ‘Well, I’m buying this one because this is where you wrote Wolverine can read Japanese.’ Then again, I got a very much under-priced page from # 96 simply because although it featured no X-Men, no one had spotted this was the first time the school address was seen in print. You really do need to know why you’re buying as well as what. Reading these collectors own stories reveals collecting comicbook art pages is given providence by such tales. You can see how memories were stirred by reading this book.

If you were thinking of buying comicbook pages, you will learn something about who and what is out there. If you own some like me, then you’ll see how things have developed in this end of the collecting market. There is a massive sampling of original art pages here to ogle at as well so even if you’ll never be able to own them, you’ll be able to see them in their uncoloured glory and a reminder of how skilled these artists and inkers were and are. A great book.

GF Willmetts

February 2015

(pub: TwoMorrows Publishing. 143 page illustrated softcover. Price: $15.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-60549-015-1. Direct from them, you can get it for $20.98 (US))

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