Foreclosure auctions of the rich and famous (comics edition) [Updated]

As many of us grapple with the recession, layoffs and a looming tax deadline, it may be difficult to muster much sympathy for the problems of millionaires, but we can try.

A historic 19th-century mansion owned by Diamond Comic Distributors CEO Steve Geppi will be sold today for $7.7 million at a foreclosure auction at the Baltimore County (Maryland) Courthouse. Cliffeholme -- yes, it has a name! -- has an outstanding mortgage debt of $3.25 million.

Geppi and wife Melinda paid $4.8 million in 2004 for the eight-bedroom, 13,000-square-foot mansion and nine-acre estate. The home features nine fireplaces, a 65-foot grand hall and a master bedroom suite with a gym. The couple moved to another home in the area before putting Cliffeholme on the market in January 2008.

As the Baltimore Sun notes, it's not been a good year or so for Geppi: He's been sued over investment properties and printing debts; his Gemstone Publishing closed its offices in White Plains, Missouri, laid off five employees, and failed to renew the Disney comics license; and Geppi's Entertainment Museum has struggled to pay its bills. Diamond, meanwhile, has experienced its share of difficulties.

Sun financial columnist Jay Hancock attempts to link Geppi's woes to the challenges the comics industry faces from the recession and the Internet but, frankly, does a terrible job of it -- probably because there doesn't appear to be much of a connection. I'll go along with Hancock as far as some of the belt-tightening at Diamond (those that are recession-induced, anyway), but to make his case he has to ignore Geppi's debts that have nothing to do with the comics distributor: namely, those investment properties and his pop-culture museum, the latter of which has operated in the red from the get-go.

From Green Spring Valley, Maryland, we travel cross-country to Bel-Air, Los Angeles, where the Tudor mansion of Ghost Rider and Kick-Ass star Nicolas Cage failed to find a buyer Wednesday at a foreclosure auction.

Cage, who faces $6 million in tax liens and has traded lawsuits with his former business manager, earlier had tried to sell the 11,816-square-foot mansion for $35 million. Wednesday's auction opened at $10.4 million, but still ... no interest.

But why? Built in 1940, the house's former owners include Dean Martin and Tom Jones. It boasts six bedrooms, nine baths, a 35-seat home theater and an Olympic-size pool. So why no takers, even at that low, low price.

Real estate agent Bret Parsons thinks he knows: It comes down to Cage's "fascinating and bizarre" tastes in interior design.

"The design was 'frat house bordello,' " Parsons told the LA Times. "There must have been 300 comic book covers elaborately framed and hanging on the walls."

P.M. Update: Like Cage's mansion, Geppi's has failed to draw a buyer. The mortgage lender has taken back the property.

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