As many of you surely know, in 1971 the Italian comic book publisher Editoriale Corno decided to publish I Fantastici Quattro, the Italian edition of Marvel Comics' The Fantastic Four.
At the time there was no digital formats for printing, and Marvel was sending to foreign publishers directly the CMYK printing plates or even the original drawings by mail. It is also because of this unfortunate business practice that many original drawings by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and other great comic artists have been lost forever.
For many years the American collectors have wondered why the various reprints of the historical Fantastic Four #1 were different from the original:
In the reprinted version (on the right), apart from the recoloring, the police officer and two other characters are missing, and there are other minor but noticeable differences.
The explanation is very simple, and has long been known to insiders and collectors: the original cover and the printing plates of the original FF #1 were lost (or so it was believed). So Marvel Comics, as already done for other books, commissioned to an artist an "almost exact copy" that could be used in reprints. The copy would not be exact, so as not to generate speculative phenomena, unfortunately common in the field of comics.
What the American collectors do not know is that the cover in question got lost in 1971, while on its way to Italy where Editoriale Corno was just moving its first steps as a publisher in the field of superheroes. The details have never been officially revealed by the Italian publisher, but it is a fact that the cover used for the first issue of I Fantastici Quattro was not the original one but a different one. At the very last moment the inked original cover and the color printing plates, which should have been used for the first issue, disappeared from the desk of Luciano Secchi, the director of Editoriale Corno, who had to hurriedly find a replacement cover. There was absolutely no time to wait another month for a replacement cover because that would mean delaying the debut of the comic book.
Luckily, in the large box sent to Italy from the New York publisher, together with the original cover now misteriously missing, there was also some promotional material, including a T-shirt with a logo that, thanks to the graphic editors of Editoriale Corno, would become the new cover.
Since then, nothing more has been heard about the original cover drawn by Jack Kirby for the epoch making Fantastic Four #1.
By the end of the '70s in Italy superheroes were out of fashion among kids, and sales dropped. In 1984, Editoriale Corno closed down its offices and filed for bankruptcy. All the material still in its warehouse and archive was sold at auction to settle the debts, but raised little money. Most lots were sold as scrap paper while a few boxes went to some thrift and second hand stores.
Recently at a flea market in Cesano Boscone, near Milano, a comic book collector (who wishes to remain anonymous) bought for a few Euros a box stamped "Editoriale Corno" coming from that auction. Imagine his surprise when he opened the box: next to worthless material he found the original penciled and inked cover of The Fantastic Four #1. He almost fainted.
The economic crises hit hard here in Italy as in the rest of the world so the cover will likely go on auction at Heritage Auctions in a few months and the lucky collector, who recently lost his job, is confident to raise at least $300.000, but this needs to be confirmed.
Well aware of the historical importance of the discovery in the world of comics, the collector released an image of his treasure. It is interesting to notice that all text balloons are missing: they have been evidently pasted over in Marvel's offices just before going to press (a common practice at Marvel) and later have been lost when the glue lost its adhesive power. We can now admire Kirby's original drawing.
Got a spare $300.000?