I received a note from an interested party yesterday concerning The Great MAD Art Sale (which officially ends on Monday, BTW… don’t delay, order now!) asking about original MAD cover artwork. He was looking to buy an original MAD cover, and wanted to know if I had any or if Mark Fredrickson has any originals available for sale?
My answers were: No, unfortunately I’ve never done a cover for MAD (well, two for MAD Kids and one for a MAD advertising insert… but they hardly count) and have no originals of cover art and, regarding Mark’s covers, I don’t believe any originals exist because he works 100% digitally these days. Fairness in conversation: I did the covers I just mentioned digitally as well.
Back in 2008 the last (an best) of the original cover art owned by MAD (or, more accurately the parent company of MAD: Time Warner) was sold at auction. Among them were 13 original covers done by the likes of Norman Mingo and Kelly Freas (and one chimpanzee named J. Fred Muggs), that were considered the “Soul of MAD” i.e covers that represented what MAD was all about. They sold for a combined $750,000.
Legendary movie poster artist Drew Struzan recently retired from doing movie posters. He worked in acrylic and mixed media doing original paintings for some of the most icon movies posters in film history. His originals routinely sell for $90,000-$150,000.
Despite that market, the days of seeing that kind of original art available for sale is rapidly coming to a close. The reason? Computers. Digital artwork is taking over the commercial art field and more and more work is being done on the computer leaving no originals to be bought, framed and admired on a wall somewhere.
Take MAD covers, for example. Mark took over as the principal MAD cover artist arguably in 2003, when 5 of the last 6 issues of the year had covers illustrated by him. Except for a handful of special covers that were cartoon characters, graphics, dual covers or by the VERY rare different artist, Mark has done every MAD cover since 2005. Mark long ago put away his airbrush and went 100% digital,so as far as I know there are no originals of any of his MAD covers. Maybe he has pencil sketches or a tight pencil drawing or something that is “original” in the sense that it was part of the process of creating the cover, but there is no piece of physical artwork that corresponds with the finished cover image with Mark.
That seems pretty sad. However it’s really a kind of return to the old days and old ways. Back in the early-mid 1900’s when magazines and periodicals ruled the world of entertainment content and advertising, commercial artwork was hardly considered “art”. Magazine covers and art for publications and ads were done with materials that gave no thought to archival quality or anything other than looking good long enough to get reproduced and then it was trash. Nobody thought of this stuff as having any secondary value. MAD publisher Bill Gaines saved every piece of art ever done for MAD as he owned it all (based on the work for hire agreement all MAD artists and writers worked under), but I doubt he had any idea that the cover art of MAD #30 would one day sell for $250,000. Commercial art was a means to an end, and once the end was achieved then that art was done being of value.
It wasn’t until the nostalgia factor took over that original commercial artwork became valuable in a secondary market. Highly visible stuff like magazine cover art, art for iconic ads and products and other commercial illustration started being collected by a new generation of adults that were weaned on things like comic books and publications and who connected with those images on a personal level and… and here’s the important thing… grew up to have both money and the attitude that they would rather hang the original artwork of a cover of Spider-Man on their wall than some modern art minimalist painting. Suddenly all that trash art from yesteryear became treasures to the pop-culture saavy new professionals of the day looking to decorate their dens. A lot of that artwork was destroyed or done with materials that plain old faded away (Dr. Martin Dyes, a popular medium of color for commercial art in the 60’s, were especially infamous for losing their color and intensity is short order) so there was also a scarcity in available originals. Even the market for original comic book art, which often was saved if only for reasons of possible future reproduction, didn’t become a real market until the kids of the 50’s and 60’s became the adults of the late 70’s and 80’s with money to spend.
The point is that the illustrators of decades ago didn’t give much of a thought about the art they did past it’s reproduction. Today’s digital artist has the same sort of mentality… an original is far less important that producing the work in a faster and more efficient manner that makes for the transition from concept to printed piece as quick and seamless as possible. So you see, it’s all a return to the past.
The sad part of that equation is all the walls bereft of original illustration art in the future.