NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - George Tsacnaris was a sophomore at Rutgers University when he plunked down $40 on a piece of original comic book art from issue No. 126 of X-Men.
He realized four decades later what a great investment he made when he sold the framed piece of comic book art for $30,000.
Like Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm and the other members of the Marvel mutant team, Tsacnaris (Rutgers ’82) is a bit of a superhero himself.
He has donated the proceeds of the sale of the piece of art to the Rutgers Rodkin Academic Success Center and the Scarlet Promise Grants initiative, the latter in response to President Jonathan Holloway’s call to raise $10 million for the grants.
“This gift is pretty amazing,” said Rutgers University Foundation President Nevin Kessler. “I love the fact that George is willing to connect his passion for collecting with his passion for helping our students. He’s been just a great friend to Rutgers over the years, and in so many ways.”
Tsacnaris had never bought a piece of comic book art until he attended a comic convention and came across this piece penciled by John Byrne and inked by Terry Austin.
“And I thought, you know what? It was $40, and (Austin) signed it,” he said. “I just picked the one that was most appealing to me.”
As his collection continued to grow, Tsacnaris began to index his purchases.
“One Saturday night I was doing my cataloguing – I keep a spreadsheet – and saw this picture in a frame,” he said. “I thought maybe it was worth 500 bucks. Then I did some research and thought maybe it was worth more.”
Much more. It turns out that the artist team of Byrne and Austin drew 35 issues of the X-Men comic book at the peak of the title’s popularity.
There’s an assembly line type of process to making comic books, and it begins with pencilers such as Byrne. The artist draws the characters and the backgrounds in each panel. The artist’s work is enhanced by an inker, such as Austin. The inker adds bold lines to the penciler’s work. The word balloons and colors are added separately from the origial piece of comic book art.
For decades, no one thought to keep the original pages, Tsacnaris said. It wasn’t until artists realized fans would pay for the pages that they began selling them at conventions.
Tsacnaris, who majored in computer science, and holds many records, streaks and firsts. He has the record for the most Rutgers athletic events attended in person during any academic year. He owns, and appears in the background of, Michael Jordan’s rookie basketball card. For years he went to every New Jersey Nets game—including in the Nets’ early years, when the team played at the RAC. And he was the very first philanthropic investor in the Rutgers Future Scholars program.
He was hired by Bell Laboratories upon his Rutgers graduation and has remained with the company ever since, even as it grew, splintered and changed its name. Among his accomplishments is a patent on the technology that enables porting telephone numbers from one service provider to another.
He has extended his professional achievements to Rutgers students as well, hiring several of them over the years. He is particularly proud of his work with Rutgers Future Scholars, the program that offers hundreds of academically promising New Jersey middle school students from New Brunswick, Piscataway, Newark, Camden and Rahway the opportunity for a college education through mentoring and, if successful, full tuition scholarships.
“I started to take advantage of the pipeline,” he said. I got to see another side of Rutgers – got involved in different things. One of the towns that benefits is Piscataway, where I live. That’s important.”
Tsacnaris’ philanthropy is long-running and broad, totaling more than $1 million, and he has included Rutgers as the primary beneficiary of his estate plan.
Frequently his giving has focused on access to higher education for talented students. He has created the George M. Tsacnaris Endowment for Rutgers Future Scholars and the George Tsacnaris Annual Field Hockey Scholarship, and he most recently threw his support behind Scarlet Promise Grants.
His passion for Rutgers athletics also led him to support a raft of additional athletics efforts, including the Gary and Barbara Rodkin Academic Success Center, in which he has named the women’s soccer program head coaches office. He credits foundation staff Drew Kaiden and Maggie Long with helping him shape his philanthropy to the impact he wants to create at Rutgers.
He said that although he’s no superhero, he has no regrets about selling the original comic book art..
“I’m glad I did it,” Tscnaris said. “I feel really good about it.”