Original Kennedy and Superman comic book art 50 years later

Kennedy and Superman

It’s a strange coincidence that 50 years after the death of President John F. Kennedy a controversy has surfaced involving a Superman comic book, President Kennedy, and original comic book art.  The controversy involves the original artist, Heritage Auctions, and an agreement made just after Kennedy’s death.

Heritage Auctions had initially planned to auction 10 pages of original artwork from Superman Issue #170 today in conjunction with the anniversary of the President’s assassination (along with several Dave Gibbons original cover art pages for Watchmen).  The auction house agreed to pull the lot in light of a lawsuit brought by 91-year-old artist Al Plastino, who claims that the original art was to be gifted to Boston’s Kennedy Library by DC Comics decades ago.

original Superman Kennedy page as published

The Superman comic book, which featured the story “Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy” has its own interesting history.  Plastino was working on the Kennedy story art the day Kennedy died, and the project was halted until DC Comics got permission to issue the story to honor President Kennedy, authorized by President Lyndon Johnson himself.  The story involves Kennedy enlisting Superman in his initiative to get America’s youth physically fit.  It includes a full-page drawing of Superman waving to an image of Kennedy above the U.S. Capitol–the art that was to be sold at auction today.  The story was finally published in July 1964 with a note on its last page announcing the original art would be donated to the JFK Memorial Library at Harvard University.

original Superman Kennedy comic book art

Unfortunately, the lack of legal rights of artists and their original art in decades past and current property law will likely keep the museum from getting the art–unless a benefactor comes along to buy the art from the consigner directly for the museum.

Plastino and his original art posted on his Facebook page
Al Plastino and the original Kennedy artwork, at New York Comic Con 2013, posted on Plastino’s Facebook page.

The artwork originally sold to the current owner in a Sotheby’s auction in 1993, for $5,000.  It had an estimate by Heritage Auctions for today’s auction at $50,000, but was expected to fare better.  The Superman comic book featuring Al Plastino’s President Kennedy story is not a rare issue, available regularly on eBay for between $20-30.

C.J. Bunce

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