Heritage Auctions said Wednesday that the artwork drawn by Herb Trimpe 40 years ago for "The Incredible Hulk" No. 180 was long thought lost until the person he gave it to back in 1983 contacted them about selling it.
Todd Hignite, Heritage's vice president, said he was astounded to see the full-page art in such pristine condition.
"I went out and met with the owner and it wasn't until I was there and actually saw it that I fully believed it. It's a pretty amazing thing."
The owner, who asked not to be identified, received the art as a gift from Trimpe after he and his family had visited. A comic collector, he brought some issues drawn by Trimpe, hoping for an autograph. Trimpe obliged. As they left, the artist told him to wait.
"He ran back upstairs to his studio and he came with this page of artwork in his hands," Hignite said of ink, graphite and blue drawing. On it was inscribed "Ben—Best Wishes Herb Trimpe."
As Wolverine's appeal and popularity grew—first in Marvel Entertainment's comics, then on animated TV shows and, finally, as played by Hugh Jackman in the ongoing X-Men film franchise—issues featuring the character jumped in value.
"He's aware that the market for comic art has gone up to such an incredible amount," Hignite said of the piece. "He was just kind of nervous having the artwork."
Original art for other significant characters like Superman and Spider-Man have commanded prices well into six figures.
The issue, written by Len Wein and called "And the Wind Howls Wendigo" is valued at $400 in near-mint condition while issue 181, which is the first, full Wolverine story, is valued at $1,800 in near-mint condition, per the 43rd Overstreet Comic Price Guide.
The sale May 16 will benefit the Hero Initiative with a majority of the after-tax proceeds going to the nonprofit.
The group has given more than $500,000 to more than 50 comic book creators since its founding in 2000 to help them with medical bills, housing and more.
"I'm overjoyed to know that it still exists—and even happier that its sale will in part benefit the comics industry's own charity, Hero Initiative, on whose disbursement board I've sat since its founding," said Roy Thomas, who was editor-in-chief at Marvel when Wolverine was created and the issue came out.
"Wolverine was never a do-gooder... but this time he's going to do some good in spite of himself. Take that, Logan!"
Moore reported from Philadelphia. Follow him at http://www.twitter.com/mattmooreap