In his own Fortress of Solitude, a comic fan amasses an art collection.
BRYN MAWR, Pa. — Batman has the Batcave. Superman has the Fortress of Solitude. Michael F. Finn has two upstairs rooms in the house he shares with his family in Bryn Mawr.
One room, where Finn reads and relaxes, is a paradise of rarities. On a wall is the cover, drawn by Fred Ray, of the 1941 Superman No. 12, a surviving piece of art from the industry’s earliest days, when original pages were destroyed, used to sop up ink or given away. Finn bought this pencil-and-ink cover at auction last year for $77,675. He also owns the 1980 cover of Captain America No. 250, by John Byrne, which shows a campaign button with the slogan: “He’s the people’s choice. Captain America for President!”
The other room, an office, is primarily adorned with numbered, limited-edition mini-busts of Marvel characters by Bowen Designs. They vary in size, depending on costume, pose, wingspan or octopuslike appendages.
Like many superheroes, Finn has a dual identity. He is a lawyer and a fan. His roles intersect in his “One Minute Later” commissions. These begin with published comic-book covers and illustrate what happens next. The result is a portfolio of stunning images by a who’s who of elite comic talent. He pays for them with his legal services.
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Finn’s next project is a 75-page comic he wrote about heroes of the Golden Age who have lapsed into the public domain. Here are edited excerpts from a conversation about his collection.
A: I read my first comic when I was about 6. My cousin had a collection: romance, Archie, Sad Sack, some Mad magazines and just a couple of superheroes. They blew me away. Sometime around 2001 or 2002, I had gotten every Silver Age to current Marvel comic. So what do I do now? This can’t be the end! I started buying some art, and collectors told me, “You’re going to end up selling all your comics.” I scoffed, but sure enough, I started selling comic books to buy artwork.
That “Giant-Sized Invaders” with Captain America cover by Frank Robbins and John Romita cost me my first Spider-Man and my first Fantastic Four comics.
A: The art is one of a kind. It appeals to the collector’s mentality — to own the first page of the first superhero comic I ever read. I had a friend whose brother owned 30 comics. We must have read them 1,000 times. I now own one of the covers. It is just seared in my mind. Every time I see it, I smile.
A: Art can be expensive, so I had some artists draw re-creations, and it didn’t feel original. It was a one-of-a-kind imitation. I came up with the “One Minute Later” concept. It reminds me of the original, but it’s not the original. I try to have good dialogue with the artist and pick a cover that will get them excited. I like to see the hero from the front, and I tell them I don’t want modern gore or nudity. I want it to look like a comic book that could have been sold at the bookstore or pharmacy in the 1970s.
A: Many of the heroes of the ’40s were very strange. There were three homeless superheroes: the Fighting Hobo, who was in Marvel Comics; there was the Vagabond who was secretly, I think, a police officer but he dressed up as a vagabond; and there was Driftwood Dave.
A: There was a comic published in Philadelphia called All Negro Comics, of which there was one issue. I wanted to use one of the African-American characters from that in our book. There’s a whole backstory to what happened. The founder was a fairly prominent journalist. The way I understand the story, he published the comic and wasn’t able to publish issue No. 2 because no one would sell him ink. It’s not clear if they were racist or didn’t want the competition.