Frank Miller's cover introducing his Batman and Robin leaps into Heritage's November Comics Event
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Frank Miller's cover introducing his Batman and Robin leaps into Heritage's November Comics Event
Frank Miller David Anthony Kraft's Comics Interview #31 Dark Knight Cover Original Art (David Anthony Kraft, 1986).

DALLAS, TX.- One of the most famous images from Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns never actually appeared in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

The Dark Knight Returns had yet to debut when issue No. 31 of Comics Interview hit in 1986, bearing Miller’s early look at his hardboiled makeover of the Dynamic Duo. For most, the magazine cover was the first they’d ever seen of Miller’s hulking Batman and his new Robin, Carrie Kelly, who leaped off the cover in a mirror-universe homage to Batman No. 1.

The artwork accompanied an interview Miller gave to the magazine while he was wrapping up the title that, along with his pal Alan Moore’s Watchmen, came to redefine the genre and reshape the industry. In that Q&A, Miller made his intentions clear: “Batman only really works if the world is essentially a malevolent, frightening place.” Gotham City had never been more frightening than in Miller’s four-parter, nor Batman — bulked up, beat up — more menacing.

This heroic image of Batman and Robin swinging into action would again surface elsewhere, most notably as a full-page splash accompanying Elvis Mitchell’s introduction to The Comics Journal Library’s essential collection of Miller’s interviews. It soars again as a centerpiece in Heritage’s Nov. 16-19 Comics & Comic Art Signature® Auction. The creator and the estate of publisher David Anthony Kraft offer Miller’s original illustration.

Another iconic image of another Golden Age icon also appears in this event — but perhaps you’ve already seen it, as this original work has already received its fair share of media attention: Rob Liefeld’s 1996 rendering of the thousand-barrel-chested Captain America for Marvel Comics’ “Heroes Reborn” event. “Infamous,” Comic Books Resources wrote of the illustration a few days ago; Screen Rant went with “infamously awful” when describing the promotional piece. Even Deadpool creator Liefeld, who for years defended the work, is now in on the joke all these years later. Say what you will of the piece, which has been memed and mocked to oblivion, it most decidedly stands out in this auction — its breasts, anyway.

The incredible thing about Liefeld’s super-swole Super Soldier: He never appeared in a single issue of the creator’s (abbreviated six-issue) run on Captain America, which Marvel relaunched alongside other flagging titles to spark sales. It was only meant as a promo piece, the first look at the comic-book company’s reunion with Liefeld and Jim Lee, who left Marvel with Todd McFarlane in 1992 to form Image Comics. Triple-D-Cup Cap isn’t without his defenders and explainers, but in the end, he became the teaser who was forever teased.

Speaking of the aberrant, there are 27 works in this auction by Robert Crumb, a legend in underground comix circles well before director Terry Zwigoff’s award-winning 1995 documentary Crumb made the cartoonist a household name. Among the offerings are numerous covers and pages of significance, including the cover art for 1985’s Weirdo No. 13 featuring “Psychopathia Sexualis,” 20 vignette-portraits of “deviant” individuals as documented in 1886 by German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing. It’s one of the most Crumb things you’ll ever see, a sort of sexual self-portrait rendered in deadpan jokes about fetishists, masochists and sadists.

Here, too, is the cover of The Comics Journal No. 121, for which editor Gary Groth interviewed the cartoonist. The interview was among the most revelatory Crumb had given to that point: “It took me eight years to figure out how to deal with celebrity and the money thing and all that stuff and get my feet back on the ground,” Crumb told Groth. But the cartoonist imagined it as a droning, dull chitchat that put the editor to sleep.

And then there is the life-sized Vulture Goddess (Vulture Demoness).

This sculpture, made by Crumb around 1990, is well-traveled and well-documented in exhibitions and literature, including The R. Crumb Handbook. It stands — or sits — about 54 inches tall, and to stand beside the piece feels like having been drawn into a Crumb comic, specifically 1969’s Big Ass Comics, in which the Vulture Demonesses made their debut. It’s made of clay, cured epoxy molecular-binding adhesive resin, wood and enamel — and, most of all, Crumb’s sexual fantasies commingled with some acid, which is always a healthy mix.

In 2005, when he was promoting his Handbook, Crumb told Fresh Air host Terry Gross that over two months in the late 1960s, “when my ego was completely, like, fragmented by that bad LSD,” he created Mr. Natural, Flakey Foont, Angelfood McSpade, the Snoids and “the Vulture Goddesses, the Vulture Demonesses, whatever you want to call them.” The Vulture Demonesses, he said, were created out of his sexual turn-ons — which is to say, “I got off drawing those things,” Crumb told Gross.

“When feminists complain, say, ‘These aren’t real women, these are Crumb’s fantasies,’ they’re absolutely right,” he told the NPR host. So, of course, he wound up making one life-sized. And years later, he’d also create a Devil Girl sculpture in an even more contorted pose.

Every one of the Crumbs here is striking and essential, with some — like this 1962 cover of the fanzine Arcade, which pays homage to the early MADs– so extraordinarily rare, it’s likely collectors weren’t even aware they’d survived.

“This is the most impressive group of artwork by Crumb to come to market since Heritage offered the famed Eric Sack Collection in 2016,” says Executive Vice President Todd Hignite. “This stellar selection by the greatest underground cartoonist of all time — and possibly the greatest artist to ever work in the comics medium — was meticulously assembled over decades by a seasoned art world veteran with an eye for excellent examples from virtually all periods of Crumb’s work.”

Heritage is again honored to present an original Calvin and Hobbes work from the estate of Lee Salem, for 40 years the editor or president at Universal Press Syndicate and the man who discovered Bill Watterson. Except this is not simply a Watterson strip: This auction features that beloved 6-year-old boy and his talking (stuffed) tiger tucked into bed and wide awake, Calvin armed with a baseball bat while Hobbes pulls the covers over his mouth. Watterson, who personalized the piece, titled it “10 pm MONSTER VIGIL,” and it has never been offered — or seen publicly — since its creation.

One of the most coveted works in this auction is a cover of a comic every kid had in 1978: Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott’s make-mine-meta What If? No. 11, which imagined what might have happened if the Marvel Bullpen had become the Fantastic Four. Here, for the first and only time, was Stan Lee as Mr. Fantastic, King Kirby as the Thing, Flo Steinberg as the Invisible Girl and Sol Brodsky — an inside joke that was “both off-the-charts weird and absolutely wonderful,” writer J.M. DeMatteis once said.

This event has no shortage of historic comics, beginning with this copy of 1939’s Marvel Comics No. 1 graded Restored Good+ 2.5 by CBCS. Already one of the most sought-after comics in the hobby, the version with an October cover date rather than November is even more prized, as only a small portion — by some accounts, 10 percent or fewer — of the existing copies are from this first printing. Here, too, is a Batman No. 1 graded CBCS Very Good+ 4.5, which is every bit as pretty as copies of Batman No. 1 in the 6.0 range.

Heritage is especially thrilled to present the oldest copy ever to be certified an almost-impossible 9.9 by Certified Guaranty Company: This copy of 1940’s Zip Comics No. 7, which boasts the coveted Edgar Church/Mile High pedigree. There aren’t many issues around in any grade: Per CGC, only 20 unrestored copies have ever been submitted for grading — and the average grade of the entire lot is 5.69. The next-oldest comic to receive a 9.9 is a copy of 1942’s Thrilling Comics No. 30, which boasts a bondage cover.

Long story short: CGC has certified 212,658 comics from the 1940s, and only four have been certified 9.9.

Heritage has never offered a copy of Zip No. 7 graded higher than a Very Fine- 7.5.

And make no mistake: The book is significant regardless of the grade. Published by Archie Comics precursor MLJ, it features cover art by Charles Biro, who rendered Steel Sterling — the first comic hero labeled the “Man of Steel.” It features art by Golden Age legend Mort Meskin and Irv Novick, whose career spanned decades and included a historic run on The Flash and Batman in the 1970s, paving the way for Frank Miller’s Dark Knight. And now the circle is complete.

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