During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.
What you see: Original hand-colored art for a Sunday strip for Calvin & Hobbes, inscribed by artist-writer Bill Watterson. Heritage Auctions sold it in 2012 for $203,150, a record for an original Calvin & Hobbes strip.
The expert: Todd Hignite, vice president of comics and comic art at Heritage Auctions.
How often does original artwork for Calvin & Hobbes come to auction? They’re very rare. I think within the last 17 or 18 years, there have been about 15 to come to public auction, and we’ve sold all of those. There were possibly one or two in Europe before that, but they’re extremely rare. In terms of comic art in general and in terms of scarcity, it’s the first.
Even more so than original artwork for The Far Side? Yeah. Yeah. The reason for the scarcity of Calvin & Hobbes–Bill Watterson never sold the art. He donated–I don’t know the exact terms, maybe it’s a long-term loan–his originals to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University.
The date on this original Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strip is 10-19-1986, which is early in its run. Do collectors have a clear preference for earlier or later Calvin & Hobbes art, or does that not apply here? With Calvin & Hobbes, it doesn’t matter. The strip ran for a relatively short period. It came out of the gate fully formed, and it did not decline. It was great from beginning to end. There are no periods that are less desirable.
Is this the only original Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strip to come to auction? It is. It’s the only Sunday strip that has a public auction record. The majority that have come up have been black-and-white dailys. The only ones that ever come out–He’d occasionally trade artwork for other artwork, or would give artwork to people associated with the syndicate or the production of the strip. The vast majority of originals have been dedicated to someone specific, someone he had some relationship with.
How did Watterson meet and know Brian Basset? Do we know when he gave the strip to him? I think it falls in the category we just talked about–it was a professional association. We don’t know the date when he gave him it, but it was definitely during the run of the strip.
How good an example is it of an original Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strip? Does it have everything a collector would want? Or does it not matter, because collectors can’t afford to be picky? I think it’s both. If you’re paying hundreds of thousands for it, you want Calvin and Hobbes on it. The bonus is that Watterson hand-colored it. When he handed it to the syndicate, it was black and white. It’s pretty special by any measure, a very strong example.
So he didn’t typically color the Sunday strips himself? Correct. Sundays were like dailys–99 percent were not colored. He only would have done this because he was giving it to somebody. They were all black and white unless he chose to color it for a specific reason.
Does the inscription on the original Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strip add value? I would say it did not add any monetary value, but it’s also not irrelevant. It’s part of its history and collectors love that. They love to know the situation, especially with Watterson. How did it come out? He gave it to this person.
And it went from Watterson to Basset to you? Exactly right. Basically every example that has come to market has been in that situation.
What condition was it in? It was in great condition. There were no condition issues. What you may see in comic art is a condition problem–the paper has toned to yellow, it’s sunstruck because it was in a frame, the watercolors have faded–this had none of that. It’s as nice as you could hope for.
What was its estimate? In our comic and comic art auctions, we don’t have public estimates, but we do put internal estimates on things. The estimate on this was $100,000 to $150,000.
What was it like in person? It’s considered larger than what was printed, but Watterson didn’t draw that much larger than the printed dimensions. It was definitely larger, but not twice as large. There was not that big a discrepancy.
What was your role in the 2012 auction? Were you on the phone with a bidder? Yeah, I’m always on the phone, helping bidders in some way. I don’t recall if I was on the phone with the winning bidder.
And this was not just an instant record for an original Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strip, it was a record for any original Calvin & Hobbes strip? Yes, it was a world auction record for any Watterson art. The number under that is a Calvin & Hobbes watercolor for a calendar cover that we sold earlier that year for $107,000. The calendar art was definitely a benchmark for the Sunday strip.
What do you think it would sell for if it was consigned to you today? It’s hard. I definitely think it would be more than the person paid for it, but it was a huge price. It sold for a really, really strong price then. I think it would sell for a really, really strong price now, but I don’t know how much.
How long do you think this record will stand? What could beat it? If another Sunday strip came out. It would have to be another really good one, like this one. We do a lot of business in Europe and Asia. The market is a lot bigger now than it was then. If another came out, it would beat it. I don’t think this one will be back to market. He [the winning bidder] was very happy to get it.
Not coming back to market? Not even when the current owner dies? Probably, but he’s a young guy. [Laughs]
Why will this piece stick in your memory? Watterson, in my mind, was the most important comic strip artist after Schulz. It was a thrill to sell this. It was kind of a perfect storm with his art–someone at the very top of his art form, and his art basically doesn’t exist on the market. It was special for us to be able to handle it.
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And in case you missed it above, check out the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University. Also, here are links to a daily Calvin & Hobbes strip and a truly legendary Sunday strip. You can follow the museum on Twitter and you can donate funds to it as well.
Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.
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