It’s the age of the geek, baby!”
Fans of the television drama Leverage will recognize hacker Alec Hardison’s catchphrase — and he’s not wrong. Nerd culture has become so popular that “Nerd!” is no longer the schoolyard insult it once was.
A prime example: the massive fandom surrounding various superhero properties. The big two — DC Comics and Marvel — generate billions of dollars in revenue annually between movie releases, television series, licensing deals, merchandising, etc.
In April, Avengers: Endgame — the conclusion of a 22-movie run that began with 2008’s Iron Man — racked up $1.2 billion opening worldwide, smashing multiple box office records. Records that had been set the previous year by Avengers: Infinity War.
And some of these profits are trickling down from the box office to the auction block…
In the last decade or so, comic books are turning up more and more in the hallowed halls once reserved for more traditional art investments — fine art, sculpture, photographs and the like.
You may not find any lots at the big auction houses, Christie’s or Sotheby’s — yet. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see one in an upcoming auction.
Just last year, Heritage Auctions, the world’s largest collectibles auctioneer, set a record for the most valuable sale of vintage comic books and original comic art at $12.2 million. Individual items sold for $51,000… $173,000… $223,000… and the top lot — original cover art by Frank Frazetta — brought the hammer down at $1.79 million.
And the cultural fervor at least doesn’t show any signs of slowing down…
In late May, DC Comics announced who would be taking over the role of Batman, igniting the internet message boards, while Marvel Studios recently unveiled its Phase Four — 10 projects spanning film and television through 2021.
With a constant stream of media injecting interest into the market, comics as collectibles are here to stay. So let’s take a look at just how profitable comic books can be as an investment — and what makes some comics worth more than others.
In Brightest Day, in Blackest Night…
To date, only three issues have broken the million-dollar threshold…
- A very fine copy of Detective Comics #27 — which featured the first appearance of Batman — sold for $1.07 million in 2010
- In 2011, a near mint plus copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 — with Spider-Man’s first appearance — went for $1.1 million
- The most expensive comic book ever sold is a near-mint condition copy of Action Comics #1 — the first comic to feature Superman — sold on eBay for $3.2 million in 2014.
From this list, one thing is clear: There is a huge demand for comics that feature first appearances of iconic heroes. The same is true of comics that debut infamous villains as well as first editions, significant storylines and seminal issues.
Rarity and scarcity also play a part — but not the way you’d think.
There are only seven certified copies of New Funnies #69 (1942) in the entire world, but the record sale is a measly $275. You’d pay just as much (or more) for The New Mutants #98 — which features the first appearance of Deadpool — despite the fact that there are more than 11,000 graded copies in the marketplace.
Speaking of grades… Collectible comics are graded on the 10-point CGC scale. CGC (Certified Guaranty Co.) is a third-party grading service based in Sarasota, Florida. Obviously, the higher the grade, the better the condition the comic book is in and the more valuable it probably is.
But grading comic books is a tough gig — there’s more to it than meets the eye. Tiny, almost imperceptible details can affect an issue’s score. It’s best to leave it to the experts — CGC or CBCS (Comic Book Certification Service).
After giving it a grade, you can have the company put your comic book into a plastic case called a slab to protect it and ensure it maintains its condition. Note: If you open the slab, the grade is invalidated. (Also note: Slabbing costs about $25 per comic, plus shipping.)
If you’re sitting on a questionable stack of comics, start by listing everything you know about each issue, including…
- Title and issue number — The official title and issue number can be found in the indicia, a block of text typically found on the bottom of the first page. Don’t simply copy the words off the cover, as the official title might vary slightly
- Publication date, print edition and cover price — The publication date and cover price put the comic in historical context (see chart below)
- Condition — Note the grade if you’ve had your comics certified. Take photos of the front and back covers — and the inside if it’s not slabbed
- Writer and artist names — Some comics are worth more because of who wrote the story or inked the cover (especially if they autographed it)
- Anything notable — Is it a key issue? Is it historically significant? Does it feature the first appearance of a hero or villain?
Once you’ve jotted down this information, start checking prices to get an idea of value. The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide (available on Amazon) is a good resource. Online, you can check out ComicLink, Sell My Comic Books and, of course, good old eBay.
Now, I’m not recommending you run out and start investing in comic books. But if you’ve got a carton of comics in the attic or a closet somewhere — or if you happen upon a box at a garage sale — going through them to check for any hidden gems isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon. At the very least, it’s a nice trip down memory lane.
With so many new projects in the works between DC and Marvel alone, the popularity of superheroes will only continue to go up, up and away — taking comic books along for the ride.
Age of the geek, indeed.
Lucille St. John
Managing editor, Unconventional Wealth
P.S. Did you collect comics growing up? Do you still collect them today? Did your mom throw out thousands of potential dollars in old issues when you left the house? Tell us all about your former and future collections at firstname.lastname@example.org — or log into JustCollecting and start a conversation with other collectors.
Lucille St. John
Lucille St. John is the managing editor of Unconventional Wealth. A gentlewoman and a scholar, Lucille never received much in the way of a financial education. But what she lacks in fiscal knowledge she makes up for in taste.
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