'Hours before the auction, I got a call from Robert Crumb - who claimed his pages had been stolen!'
David Tosh, Comics Cataloguer at Heritage, tells us about the day he almost incurred the wrath of a legendary American artist...
When Heritage Auction Galleries' David Tosh tells you that "Robert Crumb is one of the hottest, most collectible artists around today," then wise collectors should pay close attention.
Over decades, Robert Dennis Crumb (b. 1943, pictured top right) - often known as R Crumb - has built up legendary status through his distinctive, satirical and sometimes offensive illustrations and artworks.
His best-known works include the Keep on Truckin' comics, and his sexually satirical 1960s creation Fritz the Cat.
Crumb was also a founder of the United States' highly-influential underground comix movement - and is today regarded as its most prominent figure.
David Tosh - now in his sixth year as Comics Catoguer at Heritage Auction Galleries, on top of 30 years' experience as a toys and memorabilia dealer - is among Crumb's many admirers.
David has been at the forefront of the comics business during many of its recent blockbuster sales - including the recent auctioning of Detective Comics #27 (featuring the first-ever appearance of "the Bat-Man") for $1.075m.
Yet, when Paul Fraser Collectibles asked David to tell us about his most exciting experience during all his years in the business, Robert Crumb was the first name on David's lips...
"For me, the biggest thrill involved finding the original art from a 1969 "underground" comic by Robert Crumb - all 24 interior pages for the book, Big Ass Comics #1," he enthused.
According to David, the pages were found in the studio of another legendary underground comix artist who went by the name of Jaxon.
Jaxon - born Jack Jackson (1941-2006) - is considered by many to be the first underground comix artist. He also founded Rip Off Press, publishers of underground comics like Big Ass Comics.
"A couple of years after Jaxon died, his widow called me to come look through the artist's studio, as she was in need of money to send her son to college," said David.
"It was an eerie feeling, entering Jaxon's studio which had been closed off since his death. I knew Jaxon had been an associate of Crumb's, back in the '60s, and he had left a note about having some Crumb art.
"When I found the pages and realised what they were... well, my jaw hit the floor."
David took the pages straight back to Heritage's headquarters in Dallas and then emailed Crumb himself (who today lives in the South of France) about the find. He got no reply.
"I had met him [Crumb] a few years back and knew he was pretty reclusive, so I didn't want to call him," explained David. "I figured if my email got no response, Crumb didn't care.
"So we placed the pages in an auction."
The day of the auction eventually arrived, with Crumb's original artworks ready to go under the hammer and potentially sell for tens of thousands of dollars. Then David received a phone call...
"Hours before that auction was to begin, I got a call from Crumb - who claimed the pages had been stolen from him in 1969!"
It now looked like Heritage, one of the most prestigious auction houses in the world, had a cancelled auction on its hands... and a case of stolen property.
At this point, David had to think on his feet. Fortunately, after a number of phone calls, the situation was soon worked out to everyone's satisfaction.
"It took some quick thinking... but the auction went off as planned," David told us. It was agreed that Jaxon's family and Crumb would split the proceeds.
However, that still left the question of where Crumb's Big Ass Comics #1 pages had been since 1969, and how they got their in the first place.
"Crumb and I figured out that an old girlfriend of Jaxon must have taken the pages, left them behind when she split, and Jaxon was too embarrassed to tell Crumb he had them," reckoned David.
Nevertheless, the situation worked out fine. Especially when bids began to push the values of the R Crumb artworks far above their esimated values...
Eventually, a selection of pages from the first story of Big Ass Comics #1, "Eggs Ackley Among the Vulture Demonesses," sold for an incredible $21,510.
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Heritage's David Tosh tells us about the day Detective Comics #27 became the market's 'holy grail'
Images: Heritage and Christian Lessenich (artist's impression of Robert Crumb)