Time and time again, we see just how much value nostalgia can give to the price of an item. Artwork connected to a childhood property can drive auction bids through the roof, whether they be storybooks, TV shows, or comic books. While it’s no surprise that well-preserved comics can go for astronomical prices among collectors, individual pieces of comic art can fetch much the same. And just this past week, a piece of art from “The Blue Lotus”, an issue of the beloved Belgian comic Tintin, has just shattered the auction record for an individual piece of comic-book art.
The piece in question ended up going for €2.6 million ($3.1 million USD), and was originally intended to serve as the cover for volume five of The Adventures of Tintin, “The Blue Lotus”. Serialized from 1934 to 1935 the story-arc follows Tintin’s exploits in China amidst a Japanese invasion and a drug-smuggling ring. The draft cover for the volume depicts a red dragon coiling across a wall, leering over the protagonist as he and his faithful dog hide inside of a vase. However, this particular piece was never attached to any releases of the comic. While bearing a wealth of similarities to the design that was ultimately chosen for “The Blue Lotus”, this original piece – done in India inks, gouache, and watercolours – was deemed too difficult and pricey to reproduce en masse and was eventually tabled.
Created by Belgian artist Hergé, The Adventures of Tintin ran from 1929 to 1976, following the adventures of the titular adventuring reporter and his dog Snowy as they travel the world. Massively popular across the globe, the character of Tintin and the series’ simplistic, clean art style are instantly recognizable. Unsurprisingly, its art has seen similar prices at auctions before.
Comparatively, a previous record-setter for individual comic-book art was in 2018 with Frank Frazetta’s cover art for the 1996 comic Death Dealer #2, selling for $1.79 million USD. The highest selling full comic of all time was an issue of Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman, which sold in 2014 for $3.2 million USD, trailed a fair amount by an issue of Batman #1 that went for $2.22 million USD. Both physical grade and historical significance – both being turning points in the medium of comics – are obvious contributors to the prices these once mass manufactured issues fetched; the complete uniqueness and admirable artistry of Hergé seemingly the biggest factors for “The Blue Lotus”.
It is more than obvious by now that comics have been accepted in much of the same umbrella as high art. Certainly, there is no shortage of artistic merit and thoughtfulness contained in the pages of modern graphic novels, and there has always been value in the medium to stir the hearts and minds of audiences. The sale price of “The Blue Lotus” is in no way shocking- when you combine the completely individual nature of the page, the skill of Hergé’s work in the medium, and the intense fondness the world holds for their lifetime comic companions, you have a surefire hot item.