Sal Buscema: creating dynamic comics

NEW YORK – Marvel comics are arguably the gold standard of comics and one of the company’s most talented and prolific artists has been Sal Buscema.

The younger half of a dynamic duo, to rip a phrase right from comics, Sal can credit his older brother, John, for giving him his start in creating original artwork for Marvel, where he was already working as an artist. Sal’s own talent, first as an inker and then as a penciller, cemented his legacy in the comicsphere and his original illustrations, comic panels and comic book covers have been eagerly sought after by collectors.

A key Bronze Age Marvel comic is this ‘Defenders #1’ from August 1972 with cover by Sal Buscema, Jim Mooney and Sam Rosen. This issue marked the first appearance of Necrodamus and made $1,711 + the buyer’s premium in November 2019 at Hake’s Auctions. Photo courtesy of Hake’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Born in 1936 in Brooklyn, N.Y., Sal grew up reading comics like Prince Valiant, which he credits as being an influence on his artistic style. After graduating high school, he did some commercial art work and served in the military before joining his brother at Marvel in 1968.

“Sal Buscema is one of the old-school Marvel artists whose work really dominated in the 1970s,” said Todd Sheffer, production manager at Hake’s Auctions in York, Pa. “He worked on numerous Marvel titles and there aren’t many that he didn’t touch at some point. Well known for his Defenders run, Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man, his work is eagerly scooped up by collectors when it comes to market.”

The title splash page of ‘Defenders #11’ featuring Sal Buscema and Frank Bolle artwork brought $15,000 + the buyer’s premium in March 2015 at Heritage Auctions. ‘A Dark and Stormy Knight,’ was the final chapter in the Defenders vs. Avengers story arc. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“He is definitely a fan favorite when it comes to collecting,” said Travis Landry, specialist and auctioneer at Bruneau & Co Auctioneers in Cranston, R.I. “He has done a lot of iconic covers and important story lines. His career has been since the early Silver Age [of comics] before there was even Marvel Comics.” Both Sal and John’s art was a fixture at Marvel from the Silver Age through the Bronze Age.

A 1992 comic panel by Sal Buscema, ‘The Spectacular Spider-Man – The Valley,’ sold for €1,300 + the buyer’s premium at Urania Casa d’Aste in June 2020. Photo courtesy of
Urania Casa d’Aste and LiveAuctioneers

One of his most iconic covers is Silver Surfer #4, which features a great battle scene between Thor and the Silver Surfer on the bridge in Asgard, says Landry. From the X-Men to the Defenders and the Avengers, all of whom have crossed over to the small and big screen, Buscema has worked on many iconic characters and important storylines.

“He is always going to be a top five, top 10 name in Marvel because he has touched every important character,” he said.

Buscema’s art “has a crisp line with attention to anatomy and proportion and he has been a penciller and inker, both of which help define his classic work,” Sheffer said. “Some of his covers have brought tens of thousands of dollars over the past several years and he’s even hit the $100,000 mark with a cover [a cover for Submariner #35 from 1971]. Pages can bring upward of $10,000 for key characters, but there are more modern pages that can be had in the $300 range, thanks to the large volume of work he produced. So, for his many fans, it’s still possible to have an original page for a reasonable price, even for the newer art collector.”

Introducing the Grandmaster into the Marvel universe, Sal Buscema and Sam Grainger created this circa 1969 artwork for ‘Avengers #69.’ It earned $3,750 + the buyer’s premium in April 2018 at Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers. Photo courtesy of Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

For collectors, while individual tastes will vary, there are certain types of original art that generally have an order of values. Desirability of comics is often dependent on the artist, the character depicted and content. When looking at particular pages created for a comic book, pages with auction scenes, especially battle scenes by characters in costume, will rate higher than static posed characters, not in costume. Covers tend to bring the highest prices followed by double-page splashes, splashes and panel pages.

This signed Sal Buscema original comic art with storyboard for ‘Marvel Two-in-One Presents’ ‘The Thing and Ghost Rider,’ published March 1975, realized $1,600 + the buyer’s premium in October 2017 at Quinn’s Auction Galleries. Photo courtesy of Quinn’s Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

A title splash page of Defenders #11, featuring Sal Buscema and Frank Bolle artwork, brought $15,000 + the buyer’s premium in March 2015 at Heritage Auctions. Titled “A Dark and Stormy Knight,” this story was the final chapter in the Defenders vs. Avengers story arc and this page features iconic characters like Iron Man and Captain America as well as the Hulk, Hawkeye, Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer and Valkyrie.

Buscema’s original art overall continues to appreciate in value. Citing Avengers #69 as an example, which Bruneau & Co. auctioned off in April 2018 for $3,750 + the buyer’s premium, this comic book would likely sell for double that figure today, Landry said. “The comic market is on an upward trajectory for any good Marvel property and even DC Comics, which have been softer over the past decade, but they definitely are still appreciating in value.”