Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Are Your Comics Really Worth a Million Bucks?

Last week a copy of Action Comics #1, rated at an 8.0 by the CGC, had sold for an even million dollars at an auction. Action Comics #1, of course, is the first appearance of Superman.
Well, it seems that Batman has beaten Superman. According to a report from the AP, a copy of Detective Comics #27, also rated an 8.0 by the CGC, sold for $1,000,075. Detective #27 marked the first appearance of Batman and like Action #1 is a watershed event in the history of comic books.

Batman’s first appearance beat Superman’s by seventy five dollars.

As Casey Stengel once said “you could look it up!”

Two comic books that originally sold for a dime have now cleared a cool million bucks a piece. It’s enough to send collectors, non-collectors and garage sale hawks into a feeding frenzy! I can just picture all of the above and more rummaging through their old (and tattered) comics in search of gold.

Well before you quit your job and make plans to live off the killing you make selling off your old copies of Howard the Duck take a VERY deep breath. The simple fact of the matter is that your old comic books are probably not worth much more than you paid for them and, in fact, may be worth quite a bit LESS. If your collection dates back to within the last 25 years, you may be in for a disappointment if it is resale value you seek. While there are books published since 1985 that have appreciated in value, the vast majority have gone in the opposite direction. For every Dark Knight Returns #1 at around $50 in mint condition, there are thousands of Mutant Space Beavers or hologrammed Spiderman cover variants with little to no resale value.

Still there is no denying that SOME comic books attain great value. The question is simple…why?

The answer is a little bit more complicated. There are several factors that go into making any collectible increase in value. The single most important thing to keep in mind is that comic books have NO intrinsic value. Whether it is an Action #1 or the most recent issue of Avengers, a comic book is only worth what someone else is prepared to pay for it. Because comics have no intrinsic value like gold or gems, it is entirely possible that the copy of Action #1 that just sold for a million bucks could someday sell for a THOUSAND….OR TWO Million. It is entirely up to the marketplace at the time of sale. Having said that there ARE factors that help a comic book increase in value.

The first is rarity. Simply put, if the demand outstrips the supply the value tends to rise. One of the reasons that Golden Age comic books are so valuable is that they are relatively rare. First they were printed on low quality paper that tended to degrade over time. In addition the Golden Age of comics was during our involvement in the Second World War and millions of comics were destroyed in paper drives, which added to their rarity. Finally in both the Golden and Silver Ages comic books were not considered collectibles, so they tended to be thrown away when the collector outgrew the hobby.

Another factor that may cause a comic book to increase in value is a first appearance or a #1 issue. By that I mean a TRUE #1 or first appearance and not the renumbering of an ongoing series or a reboot. Reboots and renumbering have not shown any consistency in increased resale value. So while Avengers #4 which was the first appearance in the Silver Age of Captain America is highly valuable (well over $1,000 in high grade), the Heroes Reborn Cap in the late 90’s is barely worth cover price.

There are several reasons why modern comic books do not generally go up in value.
First is the quality of the product. Current comics are printed on heavy stock, glossy paper and tend to resist the creasing and tearing common with books made on newsprint. If reasonably handled a modern comic tends to stay in, at least VF condition.
Next is the practice of multiple printings of a popular title or issue. In the past there was only ONE printing of a new comic. Today seven or eight printings are not unheard of. Hence there are plenty of copies for anyone who may want them. While a first printing MAY be more prized among collectors it is not an indicator of increased value.

There is also the fairly new practice of collecting recent runs in trade paperback, or hard cover editions. This pours still more copies of the books into circulation. In fact many collectors now wait for the collected editions to come out as they are less expensive in that form than as single issues.

Comic retailers, like CBJ are thinking like retailers and not like collectors. Which is entirely the way they SHOULD think. Back in the early 90’s too many retailers (along with the major publishers) were thinking like collectors and speculators and artificially inflating the prices of comics by hoarding copies for later resale. Not only is that bad for collectors, it damned near ran the hobby out of business! Today retailers are much smarter (lead by our own dynamic duo of Socko and Tiger!!) They see shelf space as a value in and of itself. Customer service has replaced speculation and price gouging. Hence more and more comic retailers are actually marking DOWN recent back issues, which is a great value for collectors but hardly increases the value of a back issue past cover price.

Finally the current cost of a comic book averages between $2.99 and $3.99. If the average collector buys only ten books a week his/her monthly expense can be nearly $200. Serious collectors can go for quite a bit more than that in new books in a given month. Add to that bags, boards, boxes, the occasional figurine or related magazine and there simply is not a lot of money left over for back issues. So the demand goes down and, accordingly the value of the back issue.
So now we have discussed why newer comics tend not to go up in value. What about your Golden And Silver Age comics? Should you collect them? Should you speculate on them? Yes and No. Yes, as an avid Golden And Silver Age collector I can tell you that it is a very rewarding hobby. It is a lot of fun to track down that rare old book or run of books. BUT as a collector I advise against collecting with an eye towards making a profit reselling them later on. Unless you are a dealer yourself, the chances are that you would be selling your collection TO a dealer. He/she MUST pay substantially less than guide value in order to make a profit so you would be selling at as much as 70% off of guide value. So if you paid a dealer $100 for a copy of Fantastic Four #48 in VG, you can’t expect to sell it to a dealer for anywhere near that much. The same holds true if you sell on an online auction site like Ebay. Comics typically sell for far less than guide value, so there is no guarantee that you will even break even, much less turn a profit. (there ARE ways to make Ebay work for you as a Golden Age /Silver Age collector but I will address that in a future column). Bottom line …collect for love. If you want to speculate and you have extra money, buy gold. It always comes back.

While we are on the subject of the value of your collection I DO highly recommend that you do the following:

Keep a running inventory of your collection. You never know when a gem MAY appear and knowing what you won will help you avoid repurchasing a boom you already have! Plus it’s just plain fun to rummage through your collection isn’t it?

Bag , board, and box your books. The expense is really worth the effort. Comics WILL degrade over time if they are not properly stored.

GRADE your books using the Overstreet Guidelines. Again, it’s just plain fun and it will give you an idea of the overall value of your collection. You MAY decide to sell one day, and while you won’t get full value, the more you know about your collection the more you will be able to make on it, especially if you decide to be your own reseller on Ebay.

Read the trades! Comic Shop News, Previews Catalogue, Back Issues Magazine, and any of the thousands of websites devoted to the hobby all help you keep your finger on the pulse of the hobby. Comic book collecting is a hobby that is fun and engaging even when you are not READING your comics.

And That’s 30!



Anonymous said...

Actually the Detective #27 sold for 175,000 dollars more than the Action #1 which was not held at a public auction. The Detective #27 was an 8.0 grade and is a verified sale as opposed to the Action Comics #1. Hence one heck of a week for collectors. Please correct the amount in your site. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

My question is with a lot of the comics out there being available on line to read do you think the market for these comic books is going to take another dive ? Are people are still going to be willing to collect them any more if you can get all the issues on line for a monthly fee ?

unsit polek said...

It’s amazing in support of me to truly have a web site that is valuable meant for my knowledge. Marvel Reading Order