Mickey Mouse. Bugs Bunny. Spiderman. Snow White. All of these characters are legends of pop-culture with billions of people recognizing them across the globe. Every year, Bugs Bunny cartoons are aired globally, Disney makes several million dollars, and eons of kids–and even some adults–dress up like Spiderman on Halloween. Despite the incredible impact that these beloved characters have had on society, the animated art form is one which is still looked down upon to a certain degree–often regarded as less worthy than “fine art” pieces such as classic oil paintings and abstract expressionism. Choice Collectibles is a company that aims to promote animation and cartoon art and, thereby, legitimize it as a fine form of art.
“Choice Collectibles is essentially a fine art dealer,” CEO and founder Ari Goldman stated in a recent interview. “We deal in iconic cartoons and comics but the art we sell is authentic and absolutely should be accepted as fine art alongside our paintings and limited edition prints.” The price tags definitely support Ari’s opinion; some of the items in the Choice Collectibles roster sell in excess of $75,000 dollars!
Ari has always been fascinated with the idea of owning original artwork and he views each piece as a part of history that actually made it into classic films like “Snow White” and “Bambi.” In the mid-1990s, when he learned that he could buy cels (industry for celluloid, the translucent medium upon which original animation was created) –aka original animation art–he found out where the dealers lived and started collecting courtesy of a modest $6,000 loan from his parents. “When I first started out I soon realized that Comic Conventions were the best place to meet collectors and make contacts,” Ari explained. Over the next few years he attended dozens of conventions and collected as much original artwork as he could.
As Ari built up his company’s inventory, Choice Collectibles became known as a go-to venue for both original art and lithographs. Today, the company has something for everyone regardless of their budget; they also appear annually at several comic cons noting that a lot of animation art is based on comic books. “Marvel and DC characters sell well,” Ari said. “Villains from the Batman series are especially popular since they tend to be wholly fleshed out characters with interesting backstories. As far as heroes go, Spiderman is consistently a top-seller.”
Yet the true founders of animations were companies such as Walt Disney, Warner Brothers and Hanna Barbera. Interestingly, despite the iconic characters that these companies introduced to the world, animation art was generally looked down on as a “low” art form by many studios. In fact, in the 1930s Warner Brothers Studios banished their skilled animations to a wooden termite-infested shack known as “termite terrace” and it was inside this unlikely and unpleasant location that some of the most famous cartoon characters were born. According to Ari: “Warner Brothers animation is actually worth more than most other studios because so much of the original artwork didn’t survive. When the studio needed more space in storage they actually burned a lot of the original drawings and cells! So, original Warner Brothers animation is pretty rare.”
Choice Collectibles sells their work to both galleries and private collectors and also deals in pop-art, entertainment industry collectibles and sports memorabilia. In the world of animation art, certain characters certainly shine. For example, the Evil Queen from Snow White is the most popular Disney villain while Poison Ivy and Catwoman are extremely desirable amongst DC fans. Among heroes, Spiderman and Bugs Bunny still reign supreme with Disney heroines also earning a top-spot. When asked about his own personal favorites, Ari admitted that he is partial to Bugs Bunny, Baloo (the bear from Disney’s “Jungle Book”) and Ironman. “The cool thing about Ironman and Batman is that they don’t actually have any superpowers, they have super gear,” he stated. “Spiderman and Superman actually have powers that don’t come from their costumes. I think a lot of people like the idea that an average guy can save the world as long as he’s got the right equipment.”
Yet while Choice Collectibles turns a profit on well-known characters and brands, they also have an array of rarer–and even historical–pieces. For instance, they are in possession of original cells from “The Flintstones” and “The Jetsons.” They also have imagery from “Merry Melodies” and “Silly Symphonies” which were amongst the earliest cartoon reels that primarily played before movies in the 1920s and 1930s.
“The visual gags in the older films make for some of the best animation art in the world,” said Ari. “We have original artwork from Loony Tunes classics ‘What’s Up Doc?’ and ‘The Rabbit of Seville’ that show Bugs sitting on top of Elmer Fudd’s head or holding his hands up as Elmer points a gun at him and those iconic scenes really appeal to collectors.”
Rarer characters like Looney Tunes’ Marvin the Martian and Gossamer (also known as “The Big Red Monster”) are available as are several other obscure creations by Chuck Jones. “Animation connects people and when you buy a piece of animation art you are purchasing something that is desirable to certain museums; cartoon characters are even featured in the works of serious artists like Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. Damien Hirst has even included Mickey Mouse in his work which has sold in excess of 20 million dollars! Animation is a part of society and it deserves to be respected by the fine arts community.”
When asked about upcoming events, Ari instantly mentioned the forthcoming “Star Wars” movie: “Those films have such cool characters and storylines that they have amassed a huge fan following. We sell a lot of Star Wars artwork because we try to make the line accessible to everyone. Collectors can spend in excess of $10,000 for a piece of original Star Wars art but people can also buy quality prints and lithographs for under $50. We want our merchandise to be available to everyone and we try to accommodate our prices to reflect that without detracting from the value of the actual pieces.”
When questioned about the direction of the company in the near future, Ari expressed an interest in branching out into other mediums. “Right now most of our artwork is from movies, TV shows or comics,” he explained. “We would like to extend to other mediums such as art based on popular books and video games. So many awesome characters have been born from games; if we can license some of those original characters we’ll have an opportunity to substantially expand our fan base. We’re actually working with Gamestop to get that underway and expand on our already massively popular Marvel Fine Art program”
While plans to license game characters is still penning, Choice Collectibles is already acting on the book art. They have signed a contract with Erica James–author of the “50 Shades of Grey” series–to create and market art based on scenes from the steamy novels alongside DC Comics Fine Art licensee Clampett Studios. “When we publish the images we’ll also set up public events like signings with the author,” Ari explained. “That will help raise public awareness and hopefully get other authors interested. We’d love to feature other popular series like Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, and so on.”
Considering the company’s past achievements and future goals, it is clear that they have no intention of slowing down any time soon. It was also very clear that Ari loves what he does: “The most rewarding part of my job is meeting other people who are just as passionate about animation art as I am. I love the team I work with and the art I deal with so I never feel like I’m working.”
At its core, the mission of Choice Collectibles is to make pop art accessible to the masses while maintaining an inventory of special pieces for the most committed of collectors. “Animation art is among the most impressionistic art in the world,” Ari opinioned. “After all, billions of people can look at a photo of Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse and immediately recognize them and smile; that’s something very special.”
To learn more about Choice Collectibles visit the official website, Facebook and Twitter.