Matthew and I are planning on doing a series of relatively short posts celebrating some of the artists we enjoy. I have gone down the original art rabbit hole and now admire artists whose comic books I may never have even read. That is a tale for a different time. Still it is my interest in original art, reading biographies and articles on creators and seeing certain pages out for sale in public have made me wonder about the legal ownership of some art.
To explore this point I am picking one single page. I choose Amazing Spider-Man #27, the splash page as it sold on Heritage Auctions for $239,000 in 2016. Steve Ditko died in 2018. I have read he never sold any of the art that Marvel returned to him. Furthermore, it is well known that Marvel never returned all of his artwork. It is also widely known that at least one artist stole art from Marvel to sell for his own gain (supposedly to make up for what he felt was too low of a page rate for his work).
So, who owned the art? Did Marvel own it or is it now considered rightfully Ditko’s property. Is the agreement that Ditko signed to get his art waive all his rights to any art not returned? If yes, then did Marvel own the art? Who originally had the art and sold it?
My point is that if the art was “stolen” by an employee of Marvel or someone else and they sold it, then all the sales from the beginning are null and void – right? I mean if a Leonardo Da Vinci piece of art is lifted from a museum – no matter who buys it – they do not own it legally.
Does that mean Ditko’s heirs, Kirby’s heirs and all the rest of the artist who have heirs – all have a legal case to get the art back??? I mean there is a lot of original comic art from certain eras that I believe have legitimate ownership issues. Recently I bought a couple of Murphy Anderson pages from a 1971 sci-fi story he drew, and it was part of the Murphy Anderson Collection, so hopefully sold by the family.
I keep thinking this would blow up the original art world like no one’s business because the high rollers and often myself are sometimes buying art with no clear ownership trail. This mainly applies to Golden and Silver Age art for the most part, but that is where there are big bucks involved. Happily, I have purchased most of my art from the artist or their agents.
Update - This blogger did a detailed post outlining the whole thing - Still think there is a lawsuit this as the price of the art makes it more and more likely someone will sue.