CBSI Writer Wars Round 2 : No Worries: Fakes, Fraud and Forgeries by Hugh Jones

So you read the title and now have to wonder what the heck is this guy talking about. Well sit right back and I will tell a tale, a tale of a fateful trip……wait that was the Minnow, miss you Gilligan. What I’m really going to do is tell you how I have become obsessed with comic art forgeries and more importantly try and tell you a few things I’ve learned over the last 6 months of utter and complete futility trying to do something simple (well should be simple) like get an art forger removed from Ebay.

Cue weird music and Flashback time. 6 months ago Im sitting in my Secret Sanctum, The Jones Lair of awesome when an alert came in….. ok I was in the bathroom reading random facebook posts hiding from the kids, and one of my favorite artists, Frank Cho, posted a photo of a piece of art that was on Ebay and asked everyone to report it to get it removed because it was fake.

So like good little Facebookers we all jumped on the bandwagon and reported it and it disappeared. Yay us, a win for truth justice and online shopping way……not so fast. It didn’t disappear the seller cancelled the auction because of the heat from fanboys writing him calling him a big dunderhead (it probably was a little worse than that but children and all), waited two weeks and started posting fakes again.

This is when my weird obsession started. It could be because I was genuinely concerned about my fellow Ebayers but in reality it has become more about being curious what it would take to get this guy shut down… and I really hate to lose…..ever. Don’t play monopoly with me. I’ll shank you over some free parking money. Anyway, he would post fakes I would call and he would post more fakes and I would call some more.

I’ve called so much I’m sure I made a secret Ebay list of people account specialist hate and pass off to the “new guy” with laughter and glee. The one consistent thing they all said though was  “no worries. People like you make our online marketplace safe” and then they would do nothing.

What? Nothing you say. Don’t they have an obligation to keep their site safe? The answer to that is well….kinda. I’ll explain shortly. The rest of this story of my calls to Ebay land could take up several pages and trigger some PTSD so I’m going to just skip ahead and tell you that over the course of the last 5 to 6 months I’ve reported over 25 fake pieces of art with the proof of where it was traced from and the seller is still on with both his IDs selling forgeries this very minute with me only hours from being told that something will be done but “it’s confidential”.

This is for one seller and I’ve reported several others sellers. Not one single auction has been stopped and not one seller banned. It seems that Ebay, and any online  site for a seller to put their goods up, is considered a platform and not an actual auctioneer or business selling the item. Thus they are not responsible for fakes and forged items if they take steps to prevent it in a nominal way.

Ask Tiffany and Company about this as they had their suit tossed over it. You have to prove that they,the online platform, knew or should have known that an item was a forgery and didn’t make and effort to prevent it. You see Ebay, created what’s called the vero (verified rights owner) program and that puts the responsibility back on the rights owner of the item being sold to say rather its fake or not.

This totally removes them from the equation.If you don’t participate in the program as a rights owner that’s on you. That also means they get to ignore me and other callers. I was flat told that if I didn’t own the rights to the character or was the artist then my opinion of its validity didn’t matter no matter what I had as proof and that I should encourage the artist to call in and fill out a vero form. I’m like yeah I’ll just go call John Byrne now because we are all like homies and he’s in my Fortnite group.

Now  with something like a Rolex watch Rolex fills out the vero info and once approved they can look at an auction and have it removed at will if they deem it a counterfeit. This is great for an actual physical object made on an assembly line like a watch where the rights are controlled by a corporation but it leaves the art world in murky waters as whose to say the hand drawn Jack Kirby Signed Silver Surfer sketch is fake when Kirby’s dead, God rest his beautiful story telling soul.

The copyright for original art is owned by the artist (talking about sketches and not the whole original panels of comic art or work for hire pieces).  Technically you can buy a work of art and not own the image. You can so draw a character and not own the rights but copyright law is a hole we won’t venture down today except to say you can see why online art forgery flourishes with that one very simplistic loophole as who is person to claim vero rights and if an artist is dead who can say its fake?

It takes two seconds to find hosts of comic artists, living and dead, on ebay and other online sites having their work stolen just like the fine art world where this has been a rampant problem for awhile. The artist, the companies, the sites like Ebay all know its a problem but all seem to take a less than proactive approach to dealing with it. Whose really being hurt?

Not really affecting the collective them or us?  Is it? Well yeah in reality it does affect the company, the artist and in turn us that buy, sell or collect comic related memorabilia

I collect comics. I sell antiques to afford comics. In the antique and collectible world we have watched fakes and forgeries destroy demand for numerous hot collectibles and drive money out of the hobby. Take the  sports collectibles market. It was said for a while that the online thing rarer than a Babe Ruth signed vintage baseball was a vintage baseball without Babe Ruth’s signature on it.

The art pottery and ceramic market was destroyed by Chinese fakes that were so well done and prevalent that you had to become an antique expert to buy a tea cup. The point is fakes drove money away from the market after the collectors got burned and devalued the real items honest sellers had. This is going to become a problem for us in the comic world worse than it already is if collectively something isn’t done to stop it.

So until steps are taken the best thing to do is educate when new people come into the hobby and try to teach them what to look out for. You may be thinking that is counter productive to you and your ability to find and buy at a good price but you will make more money than you will ever lose sharing wisdom than by keeping people in the hobby and keeping them uneducated.

This brings me to my list. It is just the basics and if you know anything else to look out for feel free to ad it in the comment section. While watching and trolling Ebay for fakes  I started to observe certain similarities in what to look for in an auction to tell if it has a good probability of being a scam. More experienced buyers of comics and  comic art will probably be screaming I know that already but I’m not looking to educate the guy who pays Jim Lee 10 grand for a drawing or is out buying Alex Ross paintings This is more for the guy who has been buying some comics online and is wanting to look at adding some art of his favorite artist work to his collection or the relative that wants to buy something for a collectors birthday.

So here we go and in no particular order:

1) Feedback and private bidders: Feedback is the first thing you are told to check and can be a report card on your seller. If you click the feedback button and a previous buyer is like “ he sells forgeries” good for you. But good feedback isn’t necessarily accurate or real.

One guy i’ve been trying to take down has a 100 percent perfect feedback rating. These buyers, the ones that are real and not shill bidders he used to pump his rating, won’t know they have fakes till they try to sell it later down the road, if they ever will. Now what can you learn from the feedback profile besides….well feedback.

You can see first off if his art sales are private listings or not. Why is this a concern? Because you can’t click and track who is bidding on the auction if the bidders are hidden. It allows shill bidders to hide and it allows thieves to be their thieving self. If you are not buying something that you would not want your other half or kids to see then a private listing is a sure sign that something is incredibly horribly wrong and you should run.

No one needs their privacy protected for a comic art auction in a semi anonymous setting anyway. This is as dangerous as the auctioneer at a live auction who keeps pointing at the ceiling pulling bids down from the light fixtures. If you can’t see and judge who your competition is, run. Even though Ebay hides ids it does show the ids  bidding history over a certain amount of time, how many cancelled bids he has and how much of his bidding is with this seller. You can also find this info out by looking at….

2)  Already closed auctions: Hit the completed auctions button and look at his other closed auctions. You see any similarities. Pieces of art supposedly made throughout decades by different artists but they are all on the same kind of art paper with the same mediums used. Lots of items relisted even though they already sold (because the shill bidder won or the buyer figured out it was faked and backed out).

Yeah you got a problem seller. A lot of comic forgers are targeting the same artists right now too. You will see a lot of Art Adams, Bruce Timm. Gary Frank, Mignola , Risso,Adam Hughes and Neal Adams black and white ink fakes. The reason is there is not a lot of detail in their inking specifically of convention sketches or head sketches. With lots of open white and Big blocks of black they are a lot easier to fake than very meticulous work with a million lines or fully colored work.

There are exceptions as one guy I’m tracking takes part of drawings from comic books, photo shops them together and creates his own con sketches in “heroic poses” . So if you see every drawing the guy sells all say for example 9×12 or close, all black ink or similar medium and all very simplistic in nature really start paying attention the fake probability meter is rising.

3) Google is your friend: this is probably the most important part of this. All these fakes are coming from somewhere. Like the signature forger that can write Mickey Mantle’s auto perfect every time you will not be able to totally protect yourself from the artist who practices so he can manually copy Kirby’s style and signature but you can get to tell the fakes from these guys that make up a majority of the dumpster fire black and white forgeries.

You can find their source material online for the most part. Just google and compare the images. They look till they find something online they feel they can print out and copy and since they found it you can too. Realize the forger may change small things like a hand or a foot or may take only the head out of a full body piece and put a different one on it.

They also love to flip the image thinking this will throw people like me off I guess. I find 90 percent of the real images of the fakes I identify by googling the artist and the character and just scrolling. Its simple. It works.

Below are two examples.

One is a photo of a forged Art Adams Hulk that was being sold on ebay. On the left of the photo you can see the original pencil art that was the basis for the forgery. The pencils on the left are by Art Adams and were done for a Toy Biz design. The other is a Bruce Timm Spiderman forgery with the copy marked fake. Both of these are examples of the style the forgers love to copy.

4) Follow the artists online media: Mike Mignola, for example, is fantastic. I’ve posted several drawings on his Facebook page over the last few months and either him or his people immediately get on and say weather its fake or not and have provided me with the original source for the forgery. I’ve also seen a lot of artist who will also tell you when they see real works of art for sale or when they are selling some. If possible always buy from the artist so the provenance starts with you anyway if you can.

5) Common sense: Look we all want a bargain but think about it. If a real drawing of this artist you want is for sale would you be able to buy it for that price. . Like a Gary Frank classic Superman sketch for 80 bucks, really?. Bisley Judge Dredd scenes for 50 dollars? Think about it. If the deals too good there’s probably a reason. I learned something in the antiques business.

Every thing is fake till it proves itself otherwise. I get called in to look at World War 2 uniforms or documents I start from the premise of its guilty to proven innocent. Everything, including its history, has to fit. Nothing is assumed and everything is questioned. That’s the way you have to look at comic art too. You can not check your common sense at the door when you log on and hit search.

6) COAs: Don’t matter… really completely doesn’t matter. COAs can be forged and I can make you one that says you bought the Mona Lisa. They really mean nothing just ignore it for the purpose of deciding if its real or not. That’s pretty much the end of my opinion of COAs.

7) By the two letter word of doom: I’m selling a drawing. It’s the aforementioned Jack Kirby Silver Surfer. I list it Silver Surfer. Signed Jack Kirby. Hand drawn original art. By leaving out that by what have I said. I said it’s an original drawing signed Jack Kirby. I haven’t said its by Jack Kirby the Marvel artist and I’ve made no claims other than it has the name Jack Kirby on the bottom.

It could be Jack Kirby the milkman. These kind of auctions usually have “ I know nothing about this piece and its sold as is where is.” somewhere in the listing. They are counting on you to fill in the blanks, get greedy and hang yourself.

So at lucky number 7 I’m going to wrap this up for the day. If I haven’t scared you off of buying comic art online just remember that overall you can find nice pieces of art to ad to your collection but you can also lose a lot of money. So Don’t ever spend what you can’t afford to loose and inspect before, during and after you buy the work of art.

Even if you see a real drawing listed you can have a forged one shipped to you. Be careful out there  but if you think before you bid then in end you will really have……. no worries. (What? It was either end with the title or a dad joke and trust me they are really bad… OK… I’ll go wash my keyboard out with soap. goodnight everybody. Thanks for reading. )

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