Al Plastino Discovers His Art From Superman And J.F.K. Story, Believed To Be Donated, On Sale
One of the best parts of any comic convention is going through bins and art folders, looking for that back issue you’ve been missing for years, or a piece of art to add to your collection. Even if you’re only “window shopping,” it’s usually a good time.
But that wasn’t the case for Al Plastino at this year’s New York Comic Con. The renowned Silver Age artist, writer and editor, best known for his contributions to Superman in the 1950s, discovered that his art from the commemorative edition of Superman’s Mission For President Kennedy — printed soon after the president’s assassination — was in the possession of an exhibitor at the show, and was about to be auctioned off. The only problem? For the last 50 years, Plastino believed the art to be in the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library, where he was told it had been donated.
According to the New York Post, Plastino, 91, was told by his long since-departed supervisors at DC Comics that the art would be sent to the library and museum, but a representative for the library, located on Columbia Point in Boston, says it never received the 10 pages from the iconic story. Now they’re in the possession of the Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, where they were to be auctioned off — at a starting bid of $200,000 — next month, on the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination. The announcement of the auction received negative publicity, however, leading Heritage to delay its plans.
Calling the seminal work his “pride and joy,” Plastino told the Post that, upon discovering the actual location of the pages, “I almost started crying. The guy tells me, ‘We got your work,’ and I said, ‘What? How the hell did you get it?’ He wouldn’t tell me where he got it. I was thinking about my grandchildren. When I pass on, I want them to be able to see it — of course!”
Heritage Auctions tells the New York Post that the art had been in the possession of an anonymous private collector for 20 years, who purchased the pages at a Sotheby’s auction in 1993, for $5,000. And now he wants to sell them.
Given Plastino’s discovery, it’s up for debate as to who the art actually belongs to, with comic artists advocates believing that, as the pages were never donated as promised, the art rightfully belongs to Plastino. Debates on rights and ownership of original art are not new, of course. Many would argue that work for hire agreements in the time Plastino was active cover the rights to an artist’s work, but not the work itself, a position that publishers have vehemently argued against for decades. Kris Adams Stone, the daughter of artist Neal Adams, says that legal papers are being prepared to put a permanent halt on the auction.
Plastino illustrated Superman’s Mission For President Kennedy in a collaboration with both DC Comics and the Kennedy Administration, as a promotion for the president’s national physical fitness program. The story was initially meant to be published in the pages of Superman #168 in November, 1963, but those plans were halted immediately following Kennedy’s death. Weeks later, the administration for President Johnson asked that DC Comics release the story. The publisher complied, adding a commemorative title page to honor President Kennedy:
President Johnson’s desire to see the comic released is certainly understandable. Comics like this represent the very best of Superman’s potential. Having him appear in a story alongside one of our nation’s most revered political figures, so soon after his passing, feels both poignant and completely natural, which largely speaks to the character’s standing as one of the more significant and inspirational figures in American culture. President Kennedy and Superman are both icons, and Plastino’s role in bringing the two together for this tale would, and should, be a tremendous source of pride. The idea that these pages would be in someone’s private collection, instead of a museum, represents culture hoarding at its worst.
MaryAnn Plastino Charles, Plastino’s daughter, told the Post her father was “devastated,” adding: “He is 91, he has prostate cancer, and this is not helping him at all.
“He started drawing Superman when he was 17 years old. Every time he talked about what he had done in the past, he would mention this project. Many, many times he has spoken about how proud he was of this art.”
When reached, DC Comics had no comment.