A Picture’s Worth #118: “Phony Art and Phony Sellers—An Offer Of Help”
All contents ©2013 Mike Pascale. Visual content ©2013 their respective owner(s).
Last week, I found out a friend of mine purchased a phony Frazetta ink drawing. (I won’t display the image here because I’ve not asked for permission and don’t want to single it or the buyer out; this is about the process, not the piece.)
For those not in the know, we’re talking a retail value of four or up to five figures—hardly a pittance for most. He put an image up on a site and asked opinions of an online collectors group (which is also populated with artists and dealers). I didn’t read all the responses, but of the nearly two dozen I saw, all were in agreement that the art was phony—another artist had copied or aped Frazetta and he/she (or someone else) signed Frank’s name to it.
Worse yet—and this is what sealed the deal on its being a forgery—my friend was having a major struggle getting his money back. The seller said the piece had been “verified” by a major auction house but offered no names or contact info. He said it was verified by Frank and his late wife Ellie, but offered no proof. And when the buyer sent the piece back—conveniently to a P.O. Box—the seller let it sit for the requisite 15 days unclaimed so that it was shipped back to my friend. This made me sick.
I don’t know if the seller willfully misled the buyer, but regardless, the way the system works is that if you buy something that’s later revealed as a fake, YOU REFUND THE MONEY. That’s what ethical dealers do, and it’s what ethical people do. No exceptions. The dealers I’ve bought from have a standing guarantee that doesn’t expire. To avoid this, the seller MUST describe the item honestly, such as, “I have no idea who drew this; it looks like Frazetta and is signed by him but I can’t make any guarantees.” Big difference than arguing it’s been “verified” without proof. Even if there’s a 20 percent chance it may not be by who you think it is, you MUST point that out.
As for the Frazetta in question, it’s easier to spot a fake when someone asks “Is this a fake?” I don’t know how many would have pegged it as such if just casually posted in their Comicartfans.com gallery or on a Heritage . But even though I’m not an expert, I’ve been a fan and disciple of Frazetta (and the other artists I grew up with) for over 30 years. I’ve tried copying his style, studied it, dissected it, and even tested my knowledge. How? For kicks, my friend Dean Armstrong (cover artist extraordinaire mentioned here a couple weeks ago) and I used to quiz each other—we’d show a single figure, or just parts of them, and try to guess the artist. (You’d be surprised how easy it is to recognize a Kane pose, Colan lighting, a Frazetta butt, a Kirby hand, a Byrne leg, a Kubert arm, a Starlin bicep, etcetera.) I also used to quiz myself just for fun–”fun” being a relative term, of course.
I don’t know why my friend didn’t ask me or others about the piece before purchasing it, but I’m sure he had valid reasons. I do know other collectors don’t for various whys; they worry about someone else buying the piece from under them, word getting out about the deal, revealing personal info about buying power, not wanting to appear less than knowledgeable, and myriad others.
I’m writing this to let all of YOU out there now that if you doubt the provenance of a piece or have any questions about something you plan on buying, I want you to feel free to ask me. (My specialty is Silver Age artists and certain cartoonists/old time illustrators, but if you give me a comparison between a known legitimate piece and the one you’re not sure of, I’m pretty good at discerning styles.)
Doesn’t matter if we’re friends, acquaintances or complete strangers—I don’t want to see anyone burned. Click “contact” link above and Craig will forward it to me, or email me directly at email@example.com. You have my sworn word of honor I will not tell a soul about your pending purchase or anything else about the piece. If I can’t answer your query I’ll try to find and direct you to someone who can (it will be your choice if you want to contact them yourself or let me send the image—I’ll always ask first).
And if you’ve been burned by a less-than-forthright seller, please join the gang at the Yahoo! group, Comicart-L. It’s a four-figure-size community of like-minded folks willing to help and who stick together to weed out the baddies from the hobby.
As they used to say on the TV show Hill Street Blues, “Be careful out there!”