The announcement last week of the sale of two classic comic books for $1 million or more was bad news for most comic book collectors.
I've been reading and collecting comic books for more than 35 years. At first I bought and read the new comics that appeared on the spinner racks of my neighborhood drug store. It wasn't long before I began tracking down back issues, digging for them at yard sales, in used book stores, occasionally ordering from the dealers --- a new phenomenon at the time --- who advertised in the comics. My father drove me to the first comic book stores I ever went to. One was a dusty shop in a dingy Hartford neighborhood. Comics were not its chief business; it also carried used books and magazines. I distinctly recall asking the owner for his back issues of The X-Men. He reached up onto a shelf and brought down a big stack of comics. On top was the earliest issue --- in the single digits --- with newer issues deeper in the pile. The prices, maybe $5 or $10 for the oldest, were penciled on the first page. No plastic bags or boards to protect the fragile comics.
The other shop was more upscale, in a suburb; it was the first store I'd ever seen solely devoted to comics. All the stock was bagged and boarded, the comics stored upright in special boxes. They had comics that I couldnít find at my local drug store, undergrounds and the emerging ďground levelĒ comics. That's where I bought my issue of Marvel Spotlight #1, the first appearance of Werewolf By Night. I probably paid $5 for it.
In the past decade, the availability of old comics has exploded, thanks mainly to eBay. It's possible to find almost any comic ever published, and for the collector who is also a reader, and not so fussy about condition, it's a goldmine. ďReadingĒ copies of even highly desired issues can often be had at a reasonable price. I've managed to stay within a budget, and get some key comics for my collection; I think the most I've paid was about $40 for a decent condition copy of House of Secrets #92, the first appearance of Swamp Thing.
EBay and the Internet in general has done a couple of things for comics: itís flooded the market with lots of low-grade, inexpensive comics, and itís increased the value of high-grade comics, thanks to third-party professional graders.
So why is the sale of Action #1 for $1 million and Detective #27 for $1,075,000 bad news?
It's not, if you happen to own either issue. Both can rightly claim to be the ďHoly GrailĒ of comic book collecting, as dealers have pointed out in news stories about the sales, if, that is, you collect Superman or Batman comics. Action #1, dated June 1938, was the first appearance of the Man of Steel. Detective #27, dated a year later, featured the Dark Knight for the first time. There may be only 100 copies of each in existence, and few in high grades. Donít expect to find one at a yard sale anytime soon, although that does still happen (a Detective #27 was discovered in an attic in 2007 in excellent condition).
The reason thatís bad news is that now everybody with a comic thatís more than a decade old will think itís valuable, when the truth is that most comics less than 30 years old arenít worth much at all. There are exceptions, of course, but generally anything published since 1980 or so wonít sell for more than a few bucks. Youíre not going to retire off your copies of the Death of Superman or Spawn #1.
I advertise to buy old comics, and most of the calls I receive are from folks with a stack of old Archies, Richie Rich, Donald Duck or other fairly common titles. Even if they date from the 1960s or 1950s, unless they are in excellent condition --- like new, really --- those titles arenít worth anything. Iíve got piles of those types of comics that I took off peopleís hands, sometimes just to get to one copy of something I really wanted. Iíve given most of them to my son, who so far is only interested in the copies of Scooby-Doo.
But the people who call with these comics think they should be worth something because theyíre old. They sound disappointed when I tell them Iím not interested or offer a few dollars, which I only do if there are some more desirable comics mixed in. Theyíve heard the news about old comics getting big money, but they miss the nuances --- the scarcity, desirability and high grade of the ones that get the big bucks.
Donít get me wrong. I still want to hear from people with old comics. Iíve found some great books that way. Superheroes from the Ď50s and Ď60s, horror comics, science-fiction books. My best score to date was a copy of Superman #6. Since I donít collect Superman, I sold it and used the money to buy comics I wanted to read or needed for my collection. For me, thatís the bottom line. Not investment or resale value. I enjoy reading comics, and I want comics I enjoy in my collection.
But I wonít turn down Action #1 or Detective #27, if youíve got one in the attic.
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