Great Collections: June 2018

Great Collections: June 2018

Winter Soldier Originals: Collecting Steve Epting’s Captain America Art
An Interview with Two Key Collectors by J.C. Vaughn

In many ways, Nick Katradis and Jason Versaggi are as different as could be. Katradis, a successful mortgage broker, husband, and father of three, switches between English and Greek instantaneously (even if the listener doesn’t speak Greek) throughout conversations. Versaggi, the younger of the duo, is married with twin daughters, and is a marketing and public relations professional who speaks thoughtfully and deliberately. Katradis loves vintage comic art, while Versaggi’s preference ranges from the 1990s through the present.

Among the many things they agree on, however, is the work of comic book artist Steve Epting. Known for his run on Captain America and for co-creating the character of The Winter Soldier – seen in the feature film Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Epting’s work is characterized by superior storytelling and a dynamic realism. The value has appreciated considerably over the years, though it’s sometimes hard to track as the artist’s work because it rarely comes on the market once it is in private collections. A top cover from the first 25 issues of his Captain America run could bring as high as $30,000-$40,000, and an interior page could range from the high hundreds to $2,000. While
not quite as pricey, the artist’s work on other titles including Avengers, also doesn’t change hands frequently.

OVERSTREET: What was the first Captain America art to grab your imagination?
Nick Katradis (NK): I am a lifelong Captain America fan. The first Captain America comic I ever read off the newsstand just happened to be Captain America #153. The original cover date was September 1972 and in this issue began the historic storyline, “Captain America-Hero Or Hoax?” written by Steve Englehart, which reintroduced the 1950s Cap and Bucky in the current Captain America timeline! It was drawn by my favorite artist Sal Buscema.

The first Captain America art to grab my imagination was back in 2003 when I saw the splash to Cap #153, my first Cap comic, at auction on the Heritage Auctions website. I was heartbroken when I was outbid that day and missed out on owning the splash from my first Captain America comic. So I went on a holy quest to find any and all Sal Buscema Captain America art, and to acquire them.

Jason Versaggi (JV): As a kid and an avid comic collector I remember the Mike Zeck covers and one of the first covers that captivated me was after that, #309 with Madcap. I don’t know why I just thought he was a cool villain. The first issue I ever bought was #332 when Steve Rogers became Cap … no more. But as I grew as a collector it was the old Silver Age covers and even more so, the Timely Alex Schomburg covers that really fostered my deep appreciation of the character. That and the awful TV show with Reb Brown where Cap had the see through shield. When I got away from collecting it was the work of John Cassaday on Cap that brought me back to reading the comics and of course led me to the Steve Epting and Ed Brubaker run which is without question one of the greatest and most important in the history of the medium both for the character and comics in general.

OVERSTREET: What do you look for when you’re buying a cover?
NK: When I buy a cover I want to see action, and the superhero in a positive light. If the hero is in full frontal view and there is ample background art, that is also important to me. The other consideration is the cover artist. If the cover artist also drew the interior story, that is a big positive. Also, you prefer that the cover is from the main title of the character instead of a secondary title he is in.

JV: I actually like to look for iconic covers more than story specific. I steer away from covers that are too busy and I think about whether or not I’d want to frame it and hang it on my wall to look at it again and again.

OVERSTREET: How did you first become aware of Steve Epting’s work?
NK: I got back into comics in 1989 after a long 13-year hiatus. I saw a news report that Superman got engaged to Lois in Superman #50 and I ran out that day and found a copy in a local newsstand. That kindled my passion once again and soon after I began to read comics once again. One of my favorite titles which I started to read again in the early 1990s was The Avengers. I remember how much I liked Steve Epting’s art when I first saw it in Avengers. It was different and it peaked my interest right away. I read his whole Avengers run, which was inked by the legendary Tom Palmer. Steve’s drawing
talent was evident even back then as he honed it for what was to come years later.

JV: I remember reading the Ragnarok story at the end of Thor’s run where Marvel killed him off for a while and Steve did the covers to the last six issues (#80-85) and I was
really impressed. When I saw him on Captain America #1 I was hoping he’d stick because I loved his style for Captain America. Now, I rate him as the best artist to ever illustrate Cap. He ties all the eras together with a nostalgic look melded with 21st century grittiness all thanks to his marvelous ink wash.

OVERSTREET: Jason, Nick already answered this, but what was your first impression of Epting’s art?
JV: I loved his work instantly. That tonal wash he does is fantastic. He is the evolution of the Marvel bullpen house style that we grew up on yet he’s so innovative. I told him I really think he is the modern John Buscema.

OVERSTREET: How did you acquire your first Epting Cap cover?
NK: The first Steve Epting Captain America cover I acquired was back in 2005, which is when I started reading comics again after giving them up in 1996. I remembered I had walked into a comic shop, Best Comics, owned by Tom Maletta. The manager at the time, who knew I was a Captain America fan, told me about a great new series that had just hit the stand. It was the Brubaker-Epting run of Captain America. I think it was issue #4 that I first picked up. I loved the art so much I grabbed the back issues and I was hooked to comics once again. A few days later, I contacted Steve Epting’s agent and agreed to purchase three of his Cap covers. Steve’s art was incredibly striking as he
captured Captain America like nobody had in decades; his wash tone technique, which he perfected over the years, also added texture and depth to the art. I came back a month later, and purchased all the interior pages the agent had, which totaled over 130 pages. What I wanted to do was complete the stories to the first eight issues.

They included three complete stories, to issues #8, #11, and #21. Steve at the time split his art between two dealers. I was able to work out a deal to purchase another 30 pages from the other dealer. I am still missing a lot of pages which I am sure are buried deep in private collections so I have all but given up on completing the stories.

In December 2005, I contacted Steve Epting directly and I was able to purchase eight more covers to complete my collections. I was content to stop at that point. My Captain America art from the Brubaker-Epting run is among my most prized and coveted in my collection.

JV: I immediately researched his original art after I put down issue #1 and found out who his art rep was. When I saw the solicits for Captain America #5 I would not be denied that cover because it had The Invaders! More specifically Marvel’s all time big three. It was not long after that Epting’s work became impossible to get. There was a full page splash with the Invaders that jumped up to $5,000 and I was crestfallen. I couldn’t believe the prices jumped so much. I’m not a deep-pocketed collector. I have to really wait for a piece I cherish because I try to fund my hobby with my hobby so these new prices nearly derailed my new found passion for his art. It took me five years of begging Steve before he parted with the Omnibus cover, which I later found out from Ed Brubaker was the first art Steve created for Captain America and that it was designated to be used as promotional art announcing the series but was pulled back because they didn’t want to reveal Bucky. It’s actually one of the only covers to feature Bucky.

OVERSTREET: You both each have some really key pieces, particularly in light of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Has this led to offers to purchase the covers or just admiration?
NK: I purchased my Steve Epting Cap covers and interior panel pages, mostly all in 2005. It was because I always loved the character and I was stunned by the quality of the art as well as the storyline. Captain America was not a big property back then and Marvel was busy with Iron Man, which was the first Marvel produced movie. Captain America was probably not even in discussion at Marvel back then in terms of making a movie. The Winter Soldier? Nobody outside of fandom even knew who he was. But after reading those early Cap issues with Ed Brubaker’s glorious writing, I was hooked. I usually seek out art that I can remember reading the story and/or liking the art. And the Brubaker-Epting run in 2005 is the sole reason I started to read comics again. That is why owning this art was so important to me and why I set out to obtain it.

JV: You know surprisingly few people have harassed me like I harass collectors and artists when I want a piece. I have gotten more outreach in the past week to sell my Epting art, but I know my buddy and fellow comrade in Epting collecting, Nick, gets offers for his amazing collection non-stop. I think he’s had to hire an assistant just to field his calls from collectors … and many of those calls are from me.

OVERSTREET: Anything else you’d like to add?
JV: I don’t think collectors realize how scarce this artwork is for such a hugely significant run. I rank it as one of the last great comics Marvel did before this dearth of quality the last 7-8 years and one of the best series Marvel has ever done. But consider this: there was a recent private transaction for one. It was the first Epting cover sale we know of in 3.5 years. The one before that was just a cover already in market changing hands at auction. There have been no new Epting Captain America covers out there in seven years.

Images courtesy of Nick Katradis and Jason Versaggi, respectively.

Great Collections: June 2018