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The cover of Batman No. 1 (1940) (courtesy Heritage Auctions)

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Two record-setting sales on January 14 are the latest indication of the strength of the international market for comic books and comic art. At Artcurial in Paris, a rejected 1936 Tintin cover illustration by Belgian cartoonist Hergé sold for €3.2 million (~$3.8 million), setting a world auction record for the most expensive work of comic book art. Meanwhile, at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas, a copy of Batman No. 1 (1940) in excellent condition sold for $2.2 million, becoming the second most expensive comic book, and the most expensive Batman title, ever sold at auction.

Sold in the first session of Heritage Auctions’ Comics and Comic Art event, a four-day affair, Batman No. 1 easily broke the previous world auction record for a Batman comic, held by an issue of Detective Comics No. 27 (1939) that Heritage Auctions sold for $1.5 million this past November. Batman No. 1 is written by Bill Finger with illustrations by Bob Kane, including a punchy cover image that features Batman and Robin swinging in tandem through Gotham City’s skies. Its pages tell the legend behind Batman’s origin story and mark the initial appearances of the Joker and Catwoman (then called “the Cat”) before they would go on to be major characters in their own right and the subject of feature films.

Some of the chatter around the issue came from its pristine condition: it arrived at the auction block in a league of its own with a 9.4 grade by the Certified Guaranty Company, a third-party grading service that assesses comic book condition. The copy came with a sterling provenance, too. It belonged to Billy T. Giles, a comic book collector — and later, comic bookseller — who purchased it from Camelot, a famous Houston comic book shop, for $3,000 in cash. When Giles died in 2019, his son William, the consignor, inherited his comics collection.

“It was time for somebody else to have it,” he said in a statement. “Dad would have been glad his story is being told — ecstatic, really. What he did to get that book and how he took care of it. He always knew it was the finest and would have been so happy it has been recognized as the very best.”

Heritage Auctions Senior Vice President Ed Jaster expressed that the copy’s significance was clear from the get-go. “We knew when the book came in that it was beyond special, that it was a once-in-a-lifetime offering — from appearance, its blindingly bright cover to its white pages, to provenance,” he remarked in a statement. “We are not at all surprised that this has become a record-setting issue.”

Hergé, “Le Lotus Bleu” (1936) (courtesy of Artcurial; © Hergé Moulinsart 2020)

At Artcurial, a rare piece of Tintin cover art, the star lot in a sale of work by the Belgian illustrator Hergé (Georges Remi), swiftly surpassed its presale high estimate of €2.8 million (~$3.4 million) when a private collector purchased it for €3.18 million (~$3.8 million). Made with gouache, watercolor, and India ink, the image depicts the child hero Tintin and his dog Milou (“Snowy”) peeking out from a porcelain jar as they hide from a large dragon. Hergé, the inventor of Tintin, made the work to serve as the cover of Le lotus bleu (The Blue Lotus) (1936), the fifth comic book in the series, in which the pair heads to China.

In a video on the auction house’s website, Artcurial’s comic book specialist Eric Leroy explains that the work was ultimately refused as a cover image by the publisher Louis Casterman because it would have been too expensive to print in color using the four-color process. Hergé made a simpler version of the piece for the cover instead and gave the original version to Casterman’s seven-year-old son, Jean-Paul Casterman, one of the work’s consignors. It’s not the first time that Artcurial has set a record for Hergé’s work: the auction house holds eight of the top 10 auction prices for the artist, and its 2014 sale of a page of Tintin drawings for $3.6 million held the previous record for a work of comic book art.

In a statement released after the record sale of The Blue Lotus cover artwork, Leroy said: “Thanks to its unique characteristics, this masterpiece of the ninth art deserves this world record and confirms the excellent health of the comic strip market.”

Cassie Packard

Cassie Packard is an NYC-based writer and cultural critic with bylines at publications including Artforum, BOMB, frieze, and Los Angeles Review of Books. She is a regular contributor to Hyperallergic.