NEW YORK — Disney is the very definition of a household name, represented by theme parks and movies as well as a merchandising empire that spans toys, books, costumes and home decor. One of its most collectible genres harkens back to the company’s roots in animation: original Disney art, comic strips and comic books are perennially popular, and demand in recent years has been high.
Each collector has certain boxes they tick when building a collection, but in general, favorite Disney artists and characters always entice buyers. Mickey Mouse arguably comes first, but there is a pecking order that helps determine demand and value. “In the world of Disney Ducks, Carl Barks is by far the most sought after [illustrator], be it comics or original art,” said Alex Winter, president of Hake’s Auctions in York, Pennsylvania. “Other Duck illustrators who are also very popular include Al Taliaferro and Don Rosa. For Mickey, one name really stands out — Floyd Gottfredson.” Hake’s has auctioned several fine early comic strip original artworks by Gottfredson; the top seller is a February 4, 1931 daily strip that earned $52,313 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2021.
“Personal preference always plays a role in what we collect, and that’s great, because there’s never a wrong answer when you are deciding whose work you like the best,” said J.C. Vaughn, vice-president of publishing for Gemstone Publishing, which is home to The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. “Barks tops this list, of course, but Don Rosa has tremendous appeal to many fans and there are many other significant Disney artists. Gottfredson’s decades-long run on the Mickey Mouse newspaper strip started in mid-1930, and his work on the character is remarkably influential and highly sought-after. Likewise, Al Taliaferro’s run on the Donald Duck comic strip produced many classics beginning in the late 1930s. Original comic strip art from these periods of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck always commands attention.”
Gottfredson drew Mickey Mouse for 45 years and pioneered the mouse’s pie-eyed look. Some early strips having a different look for Mickey attract collectors for their rarity, such as a daily comic strip syndicated by King Features and dated January 4, 1938, showing a bespectacled Mickey hiding King Michael in a hay wagon. The strip realized $11,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021 at Heritage Auctions.
When it comes to newspaper comic strips by Disney, the 1930s is the penultimate decade for importance and value. “While the strips continued to run for many decades after this, it all goes back to the 1930s and all of those classic Mickey strips,” Winter said. “As for comics, Disney really embraced that medium in the 1940s, so some of the most valuable comics come from that decade, into the early 1950s when Scrooge made his solo-story comics debut.”
Disney is the house of the mouse, but its ducks — Donald, Uncle Scrooge and the trio of Huey, Dewey and Louie — are collectible in their own right. A four-color Donald Duck #4 comic book, published by Dell in 1940, made $18,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Heritage Auctions in April 2021. Taliaferro contributed art to this issue, which is featured in Overstreet’s Top 100 Golden Age comics list.
Banks modeled the rich and miserly Uncle Scrooge McDuck after Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge’s first appearance was in Four Color Comics #178 issue in a story titled Christmas on Bear Mountain, published in December 1947. An Uncle Scrooge #1 comic book (Four Color Comics #386, March 1952), sold for $7,975 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2018 at Hake’s Auctions.
It was not Mickey Mouse but Donald Duck who starred in the first Disney comic book, Donald Duck #1, published by K.K. Publications/Whitman in 1938, a copy of which earned $7,150 plus the buyer’s premium at Hake’s Auctions. The front cover features the character with a bubble pipe in his beak and the back cover depicts him as an angel.
Most experts agree the market for original comic art has only grown stronger. These works are one-of-a-kind, and modern auction prices reflect their unique nature. “Early Disney strips are very rare and do not come up for auction often. As for comics, prices have been robust for years and show no signs of slowing down. The key issues will always be in demand, and the higher the grade, the higher the value,” Winter said.
Vaughn concurred, noting that while timing affects when items are brought to market, there is a robust demand for high-grade vintage Disney items. “All markets have ebbs and flows, but the Disney brand has performed for so many decades and the company actively cultivates their fanbase,” he said.
The appeal of Disney comics and original art is simple. “When you have something so ubiquitous, it is no surprise that anything related to the ‘Wonderful World Of Disney’ is collected and coveted,” Winter said. “In terms of Disney comics, children and adults around the world have for so long been touched by the magical stories of characters that make you laugh and escape reality. The unforgettable stories and colorful cover images get embedded in our memories, and when you start to collect comics, it is natural to gravitate towards the familiar. Collectors more often than not go towards their memories of youth, and Disney was always there for that.”
Vaughn added that collectors are, first and foremost, seeking the comfort and pleasure that comes with nostalgia: “Yes, value is absolutely a consideration, and for many there’s a happiness that comes from completing a collection, but that first impulse generally comes from something that makes them happy.”