Grail Pages – Original Comic Book Art and The Collectors
by Steven Alan Payne
Some people refuse to keep anything they haven’t used in a year, while others can’t dispose of a gum wrapper. I fall somewhere in between — tools and music and sound effects and puzzles clutter my life, and I sympathize with the Comic Book Art collectors in Grail Pages. They found the task of collecting the entire X-Men series in neatly organized plastic bags too tame, and tackled the bigger challenge of assembling all the original art for a single issue. While the original art was never highly regarded, it lurks out there and with time, money, and luck, you can take a shot at a complete Daredevil #53 or an Astonishing X-Men #34.
Grail Pages interviews a few dozen collectors, and this graphic novel-sized book shows the B&W art that these fanatics seek along with their individual stories. Mixed with effusive praise for the sketchers and inkers, the book settles into its rhythm by chapter three. The stories are nearly all the same: “I loved the books when I was a kid, I bought a sheet for chump change at a convention years ago, and now I’m hooked and spend all my spare cash on it.” The graphics are amazing, even if they do tend to run to men with their underwear outside their pants and the impossibly pneumatic female victims. There’s a lurid quality to comic art, particularly the classic DC and Marvel stuff of the ’70s to ’90s, and getting clean print of them to examine is part of the charm of this book. The downside of Grail Pages is the repetitious stories about needing to network to get the really good stuff and the secretive business of cost coupled with constant mention of what this or that piece might bring at auction. When you have nothing else to brag about, there’s always money and the great deal you got back in 1978.
I came away from this with mixed feelings. I do understand the collecting bug, and while comic art isn’t my thing, the sketches are wonderfully detailed, wonderfully absurd illustrations of a fantasy world. The interviews with inkers and artists offer insight into a cutthroat business that produced what might turn out to be the enduring art of the 20th century. But the collector stories pretty much sound the same after a while, and unlike collecting coins or military memorabilia, I don’t get a sense that this collectible leads to a greater understanding of history or cultural aspects of the era that produced the Golden and Silver age of comics. Buy this book for the pictures, and skim the text. Here, each picture tells much more than 1,000 words of Grail Pages’ text.