'Flash Gordon' Comic Strip Auction to Test Collectors Interest During Coronavirus Crisis

Flash Gordon art, Invisible Man poster - Publicity - Split - H 2020
Profiles in History; Heritage Auctions
The pencil and ink art by Alex Raymond is expected to sell in the range of $400,000 to $600,000. Will its historical significance push it higher or will the coronavirus pandemic dampen collector enthusiasm?

The extent to which the novel coronavirus pandemic has hit the popular arts auction houses will be tested next week when a key piece of comic strip history goes on sale.

Profiles in History is putting up for sale the original art for the very first appearance of Flash Gordon, the 1930s science fiction hero that launched movie and radio serials and even influenced the creation of Star Wars.

The pencil and ink art by Alex Raymond, the creator of the strip, is expected to sell in the range of $400,000 to $600,000 but its historical significance could push it higher.

Or at least it could have. With America now in the throes of the pandemic, auction houses don’t know how collectors are feeling.

“I could have seen this go for a million but now I don’ t know,” says Profiles CEO Joe Maddalena. “In the last 30 days the world has changed. We’re truly in uncharted territory.”

There is some sign for optimism. Last week, Heritage Auctions saw a rare 1933 poster for Universal Pictures' The Invisible Man sell for $182,000, with spirited bidding that exceeded the initial estimates of $125,000.

“Even in these troubled economic and uncertain times, this was a big success,” Heritage’s director of posters, Grey Smith, said in a statement.

The Flash Gordon piece's historical significance could overcome any feelings of hesitation. Flash was created by Raymond in 1933 as his newspaper syndicate’s answer to Buck Rogers and comes from a period that saw the creation of enduring pop culture heroes such as Batman and Superman. The strip, launched in January 1934, soon surpassed that popular comic and launched movie and radio serials, TV shows and other media adaptations. Raymond went on to influence many artists, including Marvel Comics co-creator Jack Kirby, while filmmaker George Lucas used Flash as model for his own franchise, Star Wars, the space opera he created after failing to acquire the movie rights to the strip.

“I still think that [the pandemic] is not going to change people’s collecting habits,” said Maddalena. “It may change their enthusiasm in the moment but not collecting.”

He added: “In times of economic or social distress, ‘A’ material will do well. It’s the ‘B’ or ‘C’ material, stuff that tends to be under $10,000, that doesn’t. And this, this is a piece that belongs in a museum.”