Artwork made in 1988 to celebrate the history of the DC Comics universe is one of the most extraordinary illustrations in the medium’s history – 53 iconic heroes rendered by 54 influential artists spanning generations. And for the very first time, the original art for this landmark History of the DC Universe jam session is heading to market as a centerpiece of Heritage Auctions’ April 1-4 Comics and Comic Art Signature Auction event, all thanks to the man who made it happen.
It’s quite possible you’ve seen this family reunion before, a post-Crisis on Infinite Earths keepsake that brought together DC’s legends for a group portrait that became so treasured it was made into a mural that once decorated the publisher’s New York City offices. No surprise there: Surrounding DC’s Trinity – Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman – are the capes, cowls, masks and unadorned faces of the Justice Society of America’s founders, some New Gods, Captains Marvel and Atom, a few space cops and soldiers and a one-man army, cowboys and aliens, magicians and metal men and swamp things, a Deadman and a Watchman.
And all were drawn by some of the greatest to ever put pen and pencil to paper in the service of storytelling and myth-making, among them: Bob Kane, Joe Kubert, Joe Orlando, Murphy Anderson, Curt Swan, Gil Kane, Jim Steranko, Neal Adams, Michael Kaluta, Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo, Bill Sienkiewicz, Matt Wagner, Howard Chaykin, Dave Gibbons, even Love and Rockets’ creators Jaime and Beto Hernandez.
There, too, is the greatest of them all: Jack Kirby, the King himself, who brought to the party his immortal creation Darkseid, soon to make his long-awaited bow in Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max.
This art, initially designed by the legendary Joe Kubert, was created as part of a deluxe hardcover edition of Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s History of the DC Universe published by DC in conjunction with Graphitti Designs. Initially it was included as a gatefold pullout in the book; then it became a limited-edition poster; then, finally, that DC office mural that, sadly, no longer exists.
But now for the first – and likely the only – time, one extraordinarily fortunate collector can own the original artwork for this landmark showcase, courtesy Graphitti’s Bob Chapman, who, like all great collectors, is eager to finally let someone else spend time with one of the greatest pieces in the history of the DC universe or, for that matter, any other.
It was Chapman alone who came up with the idea for the gatefold.
“And it really was a dream come true,” he says. “I pulled it off. I am really proud of the piece. It was – and is – something very, very special.”
Chapman made every call to every artist involved. He coordinated every FedEx pick-up and drop-off. He even visited some of the artists himself, among them Batman’s Bob Kane – who insisted on drawing both the Dark Knight and his Boy Wonder for the work. Chapman remembers Kane telling him at the time he hadn’t drawn Batman in more than 25 years.
There were some artists he’d lined up whose pens never touched the page – some who said yes but didn’t live long enough to work on the jam session, among them Superman’s Wayne Boring; and some, like Steve Ditko and Frank Frazetta, who politely declined for various reasons. But most everyone he asked said yes, absolutely, of course, even those not necessarily linked to particular characters.
That included Jim Steranko, who illustrated Zatara, because the teller of Marvel’s famously psychedelic strange tales, too, “is a magician,” Chapman says. And Bill Sienkiewicz, who’s as flexible as the Plastic Man he brought to the party.
And some, like Watchmen illustrator Dave Gibbons, asked to be included after the initial set-ups had been completed, which is why his Rorschach stands <image006.jpg>slightly apart from the crowd in the original art.
“It was a really fun exercise coordinating the efforts,” Chapman says. “And there were a lot of good phone conversations, because back then, of course, there was no email or Twitter.”
The piece was divided into three boards to expedite the process, since, after all, comics artists are known to occasionally blow past deadlines, and Chapman wanted to keep things moving. And even then, the process took about nine months from blank canvas to finished product. But Chapman also wanted to hedge his bets in case something got lost in the mail, so he photographed and copied every panel multiple times over that span. Thankfully, it went as well as he could have hoped.
“It’s fun being the boss, because I didn’t have to answer to anybody,” Chapman says. “This wasn’t done by committee. It was more like, ‘Who do I want to do this?’ I had the liberty. And I had the luxury. That’s how it became the crème de la crème of comic book artists.”