July 29, 2013 12:40pm PT by Graeme McMillan
Jack Kirby's 'Argo' Concept Art Up for Auction
A piece of genuine American political and pop cultural history is about to be up for grabs, as the concept art for Argo -- the nonexistent science-fiction movie created as a cover story for a CIA operation in the 1970s, made famous by the recent Ben Affleck movie of the same name -- is to be auctioned off at the end of this week.
Two pieces of art created in 1978 by comic book great Jack Kirby for an aborted big-screen adaptation of Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light, but ultimately used as fake concept art for the CIA's fictitious Argo project, are being auctioned off by another comic book great -- DC Comics co-publisher (and current Superman Unchained artist) Jim Lee.
As original artist on titles such as The Fantastic Four, Avengers, X-Men, Hulk and Captain America, Kirby was co-creator (or, in some cases, sole creator) of any number of superheroes, villains and other characters who have gone on to appear in comic books, cartoons and movies throughout the last five decades. The Lord of Light/Argo work was created at a time when he was working outside of the comics industry, concentrating on animation concept art and storyboards.
Lee bought the pieces in 1993, completely unaware of their history. "I'd been buying Kirby art, loose pages, single pages, here and there, but these particular pages, I thought they looked cool and would look impressive on the wall," he explained. "When I bought them, I thought they were just cool pieces from a failed animation project from the 1970s. At the time, the whole Argo mission was still top secret."
It wasn't until a 2007 Wired magazine story revealed the truth about CIA operative Tony Mendez' mission to smuggle Americans out of Iran that Lee realized just what he had in his possession. Now, however, financial realities mean he'll have to say goodbye to what he calls "a cool bit of Americana."
(Fittingly, Wired broke this story as well.)
"I have four kids going to college," he said. "It’s time to balance needs and my love for the art." Hence the two auctions currently being held online by Heritage Auctions, both of which culminate in live auctions Aug. 2. As of writing, prices for each piece aren't cheap, but aren't unreasonable. Anyone tempted to get involved in the bidding, now might be the time to do so, if only so that you can say you were a contender before prices inevitably soar into the stratosphere later this week.