Last year’s Argo, directed by Ben Affleck, was the sort of story for which they invented the phrase “stranger than fiction.” Based on real events, Argo followed a 1979 CIA operation to rescue six U.S. diplomats from Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis. That has the makings of a rousing adventure flick in and of itself, but how they went about it was the real kicker: they created a fake science fiction movie and posed as filmmakers scouting Iran for potential locations. Now a key sliver of this odd corner of history is going up for auction this week: two pieces of concept art created by legendary comic artist Jack Kirby.
The two Kirby pieces — “Pavilions of Joy,” above, and “Planetary Control Room (Interior),” below — were actually created for an adaptation of Roger Zelazny’s novel Lord of Light. Producer Barry Geller hired Kirby to create some concept art for the film, as well as hiring makeup artist John Chambers. The project eventually fell apart, but when the CIA enlisted Chambers to help put together their fake science fiction movie, Chambers brought in the unused script and copies of Kirby’s artwork, which helped add a bit of verisimilitude to the CIA’s sanctioned skullduggery.
Geller put the images up for auction with Sotheby’s in 1993, and comics artist/current DC Entertainment co-publisher Jim Lee added them to his collection. At the time, neither Geller nor Lee knew anything about the artwork’s connection to the CIA’s “Canada Caper” — primarily because it was still classified. Both of them learned the truth when it came out in Wired’s article that became the basis for the movie Argo.
Lee told The Hollywood Reporter:
I’d been buying Kirby art, loose pages, single pages, here and there, but these particular pages, I thought they looked cool and would look impressive on the wall.When I bought them, I thought they were just cool pieces from a failed animation project from the 1970s. At the time, the whole Argo mission was still top secret.
Lee says he’s got four kids to put through college, so he decided to sell Kirby’s Argo artwork now that they have a much higher profile thanks to the movie. The two pieces of artwork are now up for sale through Heritage Auctions, and assuming you’ve got the cash, you can bid on them here and here. They’re currently going for $3,000 and $6,500, respectively, but Heritage thinks they might go for upwards of $10,000. The final sale will be part of a comics auction in Dallas tomorrow, August 2.
As for Geller, he’s a good sport about the whole thing, since in retrospect he probably could have got a lot more at auction if their secret history wasn’t still, well, secret. He told Wired, “I’m very, very happy, in fact, to see it in auction because anything that further brings notice and credit to Jack Kirby and his life is important to have. I’d love to have them now, but this is great.” Moral of the story: invest in obscure concept art. You never know if it might have been used in international espionage.
You can see more of Kirby’s Lord of Light concept art right here.