Long-lost Flash Gordon comic art breaks records at auction

The Flash Gordon art, which features the classic sci-fi comic book character’s first appearance, has now sold at auction for $480,000. According to auction house Profiles in History, this is a new world record for comic book art. Read on for our original story on the auction, as well as a look at the ultra-rare and now ultra-expensive art. In the grand -world of pop culture memorabilia banknotes, there are rare items and then there are unearthed treasures that make collectors panting. One such piece is about to go up for auction: the original artwork of Flash Gordon’s very first appearance in the 1930s.

One of the most significant original works of art from the Golden Age of comics to surface in the modern age, the 87-year-old work will be auctioned on March 31 by Profiles in History. The pencil and ink artwork by creator Alex Raymond was released on January 7, 1934, the day the strip debuted. It features the first appearance of Flash and his love interest Dale Arden, and the start of their space adventures. Pre-auction estimates suggest it could sell for over $500,000.

“This is perhaps the single most important piece of Golden Age comics that exists,” notes Brian Chanes, Head of Submissions and Auctions for Profiles in History. “This is the first appearance. You cannot overstate its importance.

The first appearance of Flash Gordon and his love interest Dale Arden, first published January 7, 1934. (Credit: Profiles in History)

Original art from this period is incredibly rare. This was when the art of comic books and comics was considered an afterthought; most of the pages would be destroyed or thrown in the trash. The fact that the original art for an iconic character’s debut has survived only adds to the uniqueness of the piece.

For comparison, the oldest cover of the grandfather of comic book heroes – Superman – is believed to be the cover of Action Comics #15. There is a known Marvel Comics #1 art page for to have survived. For art collectors, finding the very first art of Flash Gordon is the comic book equivalent of digging up the Ark of the Covenant. It’s a big problem.

It’s also “fresh on the market”, which is how collectors refer to pieces that have been buried in private collections and have never surfaced publicly. It belonged to a collector who was not active in the art collecting community. His wife contacted the auction house and mentioned that she had artwork by Flash Gordon. “She sent pictures and my jaw just hit the ground,” Chanes explains.The King Features Syndicate tape, dated 1933, helps confirm the authenticity of the piece.

The King Features Syndicate tape, dated 1933, helps confirm the authenticity of the piece. (Credit: Profiles in History)

Some revealing details confirmed the authenticity of the art. For one thing, the oversized illustration board the art is drawn on is true to the era, starting in the 1930s. “Also, at the end of the last panel, you see the [strip] King Features Syndicate, dated 1933, because that’s when it was drawn, not published,” notes Chanes. “There are colored pencil marks. And the tone of the art board matched the age.Note the colored pencil marks, which also confirm the authenticity of the art.

Note the colored pencil marks, which also help confirm the authenticity of the art. (Credit: Profiles in History)

The same collector also owned the original art of the very first Jungle Jim strip that served as the “topper” for the Flash Gordon adventure. A topper was the name given to a smaller comic that topped a higher-profile Sunday comic.

Flash Gordon, the character has fallen off the mainstream radar in recent years, aside from a short-lived television revival on the SYFY Network and the ongoing comic book series from Dynamite Comics. But his impact on pop culture is immeasurable. Raymond’s creation influenced everyone from Superman to George Lucas, who at one point wanted to use his American Graffiti-acquired filmmaking talent to adapt the Flash Gordon film series of the 1940s. When that stalled, he moved on to creating a certain franchise called Star Wars. Even DC Comics’ Hawkman costume is said to have been inspired by the character design of Hawkmen from the Flash Gordon tape.Original art of the very first strip of Jungle Jim who served as the 'topper' of the Flash Gordon adventure.  (Credit: Profiles in History)

Original art of the very first strip of Jungle Jim who served as the ‘topper’ of the Flash Gordon adventure. (Credit: Profiles in History)

You’d be excused if, reading this, you were inspired to quote Indiana Jones and proclaim, “This belongs in a museum!”

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art won the auction for this? It would be rather poetic for Flash Gordon’s work to end up in a museum created by the guy whose storied sci-fi franchise owes the space hero so much.

Even for the auction house that once sold Mary Poppins’ carpet bag and last year auctioned Bernie Wrightson’s legendary Frankenstein illustration for $1.2 million, the discovery of the first Flash Gordon’s work was a big deal. “The only other time I got this excited was when the Captain’s Seat from the original Star Trek series showed up,” says Chanes. “But this one takes the cake.”

For more information on the Flash Gordon Tape and other auctions, go to Profiles in History.

Daniel K. Denny