The Team Cul de Sac auction ended last night, raising a total of $47,107, including the auction house's 19.5% buyers' premiums, which, by my never-reliable calculations nets out to about $38,000 going to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Not surprisingly, the portrait of Petey by Bill Watterson was the top item, leaping at the end to $13,145 after sitting at eight grand through the last few days. It was Watterson's first piece of public art since he stopped doing "Calvin and Hobbes" in 1995, and the only other time anybody has really heard from him was when he emerged from his Salingeresque isolation to write the introduction to Richard Thompson's first Cul de Sac collection.
Which makes it hard to praise the strip and expect to have any real impact. Oh, yeah, Cul de Sac. Isn't that the comic that Bill Watterson likes? Yeah, I like it, too.
But his praise may shed a little extra light on why so many artists rallied around Chris Sparks' brainstorm of creating this project.
The bid totals were interesting. Taking out Watterson's exceptional piece, there were 147 pieces of art sold for an average of about $231, which means that bidding, while generous, remained within sensible bounds for pieces of original art, and there were far more pieces that were underbid than pieces going for more than anyone expected.
On the other hand, I'm willing to bet there was a little behind-the-scenes story involved in the Number Two top-priced piece, which was by Stephan Pastis and fetched $2,868; I'd believe it if someone said that he put in some effort to gin up a little extra bidding for it.
But, then again, it's the best stand-alone cartoon strip in the auction, by which I mean, he could have run it as a normal "Pearls Before Swine" with no other intention and it would have qualified as a good PBS strip.
And I think that was part of how the bidding broke down: Like Kickstarter, it's not enough to have a good idea -- you also have to have the right sort of following to go with the good idea. And, also as with Kickstarter, you need both. And when I say "the right sort of following," what I mean is a following that is not only substantial but that is also attuned to the project itself.
The ideal would be someone like Patrick McDonnell, who had two pieces in the auction that were the Number 4 and 5 fundraisers and totalled a little over $3,700. One piece featured his own Mutts characters teamed with the Cul de Sac gang, the other was a Cul de Sac/Little Nemo mashup, which not only ties in with Petey's "Little Neuro" obsession (a connection made by a couple of artists) but successfully incorporates the personalities of the Cul de Sac and Mutts characters within the portrayal.
Which is to say that one played off his own success with Mutts and the other played off a fundamental understanding of Cul de Sac.
That McDonnell is deeply respected for his old-school, fastidious approach to cartooning was another factor which elevated the profile of his contributions, and the resulting combination was of a well-known comic strip artist, revered for the quality of his work, contributing genuinely solid pieces.
Richard's own work, the cover illustration, grabbed the Number Three slot at $2,031.50, which seems appropriate, though again suggests that Pastis contrived to pump up his own fundraising with a little clever networking, since the expectation would be for Thompson to have finished just behind the untouchable Watterson. (Pastis, it should be noted, cultivates the image of an insensitive boor but is among a small group of cartoonists who periodically show up at field hospitals drawing doodles for wounded GIs.)
The surprise to me was a piece by R Sikoryak, who is a comic book, not comic strip, artist and thus might be considered not "out of his league" by any means but out of his element.
But his piece -- a parody of Picasso's "Three Musicians" starring Petey, Alice and Dill, was the other piece fetching four-figures ($1,314.50), and, while it is indeed a wonderful piece with stand-alone value, my suspicion is that his considerable reputation among people who really understand this stuff allowed him to venture into comic-strip territory without losing any cred in the transition.
These headliners aside, there were some terrific pieces by artists both well-known and up-and-coming, and this was a nice chance to get something that would not only be a fun piece of original art but a piece of a special moment, like ticket stubs to the Beatles' Shea Stadium concert, only more narrowly focused.
For my part, I did a lot of fundraising at the last minute by bidding on the work of a number of artists, each of which pieces I wanted but mostly resulting in forcing other bidders to go closer to their maximum bids, and then ending up at the close of the evening with a very nice piece that I liked anyway (You can't look at it. It's mine!) by a Friend of the Blog who I like anyway and whose regular strip appears here fairly frequently, Sandra Bell Lundy.
It was very much a win-win all around.
And I didn't want that Watterson piece anyway.
Besides, I'll see it in the book.