In posh rooms of Christie's, a genteel clamor for comic books

August 05, 1994|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,London Bureau of The Sun

London -- Pow! Zap! Zowee! Take that Batman!!!

Superman creamed Batman yesterday in a clash of superheroes at the first-ever sale of comic books in the auction rooms at Christie's here.

"Action Comics No. 1," the hallowed text that carried Superman's debut in June 1938, brought a "new European record" for an auction of comic books: $21,521.50, including Christie's sales fee.

"Detective Comics No. 27," May 1939, with The Bat-Man's first appearance, went unsold when it failed to make its reserve price, even though the bidding went to $30,000.

"Batman would have won except his owner was a bit greedy," says an anonymous admirer of the caped crusader.

John Carr, a 37-year-old electronics engineer from Surrey, bought the Superman comic for his beaming son, Sam, age 8. But not to read.

"I think it'll go straight into a bank vault," Mr. Carr says. "It's his inheritance. It's the most important comic ever produced."

Sam allows as how he admires Superman, mostly for his X-ray eyes.

"But I like X-Men better," he says

X-Men, need it be explained, are very, very popular mutants "who have banded together to protect humanity even though humanity hates them."

Mr. Carr is a real collector. His Superman bid was the most he's ever paid for a comic book. Here at Christie's, he also bought Spiderman's 1962 introductory spin in an Amazing Fantasy comic book for $3,900. You baby boomers know: "Though the world may mock Peter Parker, the timid teenager . . . it will soon marvel at the awesome might of Spider-Man."

Three years ago, Mr. Carr paid about $13,500 for a copy of the Batman that didn't sell here Friday.

So he's got the big three of comic book superheroes, not to mention first editions of X-Men, which Sam thinks is super.

And Mr. Carr was pleased with the price he paid.

"I thought it was very cheap actually," he says. "I was willing to go up to 25,000 pounds [$37,625]. There's only about a hundred of these in existence."

He may well have gotten a bargain. A fine, nearly mint, "Action Comics No. 1" went for $190,000 recently in the United States.

Mr. Carr's copy has had some restoration and will need some more. The cover was torn slightly during a viewing before the auction. Nobody knows who did it. But Mr. Carr says it didn't affect his bidding.

"It's a good investment," he says. He's been a fan since he was about Sam's age. "I'd still have a collection even if they weren't a good investment."

Sam was bouncing up and down in his seat while his father was vying for Superman, mostly with a bidder on the telephone.

"I got quite nervous," Sam says. He gave his father a big pat on the back when auctioneer James Collingridge knocked the Superman down to them.

This was Christie's first comic book sale in London and the first such big sale at any auction house here. But Mr. Collingridge proceeded briskly with unruffled elan, selling Silver Surfer, Fantastic Four and The Incredible Hulk as suavely as he sells Rubens, Degas or Picasso.

Comic book connoisseurs noted a certain inexperience with grading and estimates. Many lots went for less than their estimates, including Mr. Carr's Superman, which Christie's thought might go for from $22,575 to $30,000, without its 10 percent fee.

"These are really encouraging results for our first sale of comics," says Aubrey Green, a Christie's representative.

Sam Carr couldn't have been happier.

"I think we were lucky because I found a four-leaf clover," he says.

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