Your Comic Book Collection? Yeah, It’s Pretty Much Worthless.

Posted Monday, November 4th, 2013 09:00 am GMT -4 by

Comic Book collection

Longtime comic fans look back at the nineties and shake their heads at the “speculators boom”, a time when non-comic readers started buying up comics by the armful after news that vintage comics like ‘Action Comics’ #1 were selling in the thousands… even millions!  But true comic fans knew that the glow-in-the-dark issue of ‘Ghost Rider’ or any copies of ‘Blood Pack’ weren’t going to be worth toilet paper no matter how long you sat on them.

But now it seems that even those issues we thought were sure fire money in the bank aren’t worth nearly what we thought they would be.  I’m talking Golden and Silver Age goodies!

Rob Salkowitz, a business analyst and author of ‘Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture’ explains, “There are two markets for comic books. There’s the market for gold-plated issues with megawatt cultural significance, which sell for hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars. But that’s a very, very, very limited market. If a Saudi sheik decides he needs ‘Action Comics’ No. 1, there are only a few people out there who have a copy.”

But that’s ‘Action Comics’ #1.  Most other comics never sell for what owners think they will and most people don’t even break even on them.  “The entire back-issues market is essentially a Ponzi scheme,” Salkowitz says. “It’s been managed and run that way for 35 years.”

Barry T. Smith had collected comics since his childhood and had a collection of over 1,200 issues including a couple hundred early issues of ‘The Uncanny X-Men’ which according to what he read, grew in value every year.  But when he found himself unemployed, he was forced to sell what he thought was a sound investment.  The entire collection sold for $500.  “I’m not too proud to admit, I cried a bit,” he stated.

Smith isn’t alone.  Kevin J. Maroney, another lifelong collector, decided to sell 10,000 vintage comics on consignment at various comic shops in New York, and out of that number, less than 300 have sold for only roughly $800.  Maroney however wasn’t surprised.  “A lot of people my age, who grew up collecting comics, are trying to sell their collections now, but there just aren’t any buyers anymore.”

While milestone books, like first appearances of cross-pop cultural icons like Superman (the afore mentioned ‘Action Comics’ #1), Batman (‘Detective Comics’ #27) and Spider-Man (‘Amazing Fantasy’ #15) are still in high demand for big bucks, the bottom has essentially dropped out of the market.  Why is that?

Well, here are a few of my thoughts.

One basic explanation is the proliferation in recent times of reprints.  Nearly every major (and even some minor) comic series has been fully reprinted in some form or another, even if it was in black and white.  Those that grew up on comics don’t necessarily care to own old comics, they just want to read the stories.  And now those are more readily available than ever.  If I want to read a particular storyline, I’ll just pick up the trade rather than trying to find the original “floppies.”

But sadly, for another thing, I think we all realize comics are a dying art form.  Comics flourished at a time when they were cheap entertainment that cost less than a dollar and were easily accessible at grocery stores, gas stations, even airports.  But as prices rose, they slowly disappeared from all of those venues.  Nowadays, comics cost upwards of $2.99 and can only be found at stores that strictly sell comic books or the occasional chain book store.  While $2.99 may not seem like much, the average comic takes less than fifteen minutes to read.  While most people groan about the cost of movies, they’re still around $10 per ticket and entertain you for about two hours.

Even when you factor in graphic novels, those may cost roughly the same as a regular novel (but, sometimes far more), they take considerably less time to read.

And they’re not for kids anymore.  Part of this is kids just don’t care about them.  They have video games.  Who wants to spend ten minutes reading about Batman when you can actually BE Batman and play for hours?  But without a younger audience embracing the art form, what happens once the existing audience dies off?

In a way, the movies are the life raft for comic book properties.  In a decade or two, I think comic books will be a thing of the past like radio serials and pulp novels.  The same way Dynamite Comics revives pulp concepts like The Shadow today into modern comics, the movies will revive dormant comic book characters as feature films.

I used to collect comics.  I had six long-boxes worth.  Then I just stopped.  They accumulated, but a friend of mine was horrified and perplexed to learn I didn’t bag or board them.  Then I just got rid of them altogether. They were just too much trouble to keep in order and I move a lot, so lugging them from place to place was a hassle.  Some I sold for chump change to a used book store just to get rid of.  Then after that, I just started giving them away, either to friends or to charity.  Just before my last move, I actually threw a bunch away or ripped them apart to use for packing material.  I still have one long-box with some that I hold on to for sentimental reasons, but I don’t ever intend to sell them and I know they’re not anything that most collectors would want.  (Like the entire run of ‘The Super Friends’.)  Recently I switched to just reading comics on my iPad.  No more clutter!

Frank Santoro, of ‘The Comics Journal’ confesses that he had to break the news to someone who owned 3,000 comics, which he thought were worth at least $23,000 that “It was probably more like $500.  And a comic book store would probably only offer him $200.”

Sounds like ‘Pawn Stars: Comic Book Edition.’

Source BusinessWeek

  • Bill Kruse

    The time to sell was the early 90s. I didn’t because I valued mine too highly. I don’t any more though. I’ll sell them on Ebay for what I can get. I’ve got all the cruciual FFs and Thors but I don’t anticipate getting a lot for them. Still, it’s better than throwing them away. Once they’re gone, they’re gone and there’ll always be a demand for the originals. It’s a shame to deny posterity.

    • Justin Fenech

      Dude im telling you grading your comicing with CGC will help you make a lot more $$$ especially if you have them in good condition, go to comic con or whatever and get some autographs you can easily turn a 100$ book into a 1000$ book you just need to do the right thing with the right market…Iv sold comics that I legit bought on ebay or comic con for 100-300 more then what I payed for.

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  • SeventhZombie

    I’ve had several friends ask me if my collection was going to be worth something some day and I just have to smile. I realize my collection of five longboxes isn’t going to return on it’s value but what really does? I collect because I have that particular gene in my system that demands I have every bloody one in a series. It’s not about the return it’s about the love of the books, man!

    • JasonMBowles

      But they mean something to you, so that’s a value in itself. But there are people with, honestly amazing books that are historically significant and there isn’t a market for them anymore. As long as you’re not hurting financially and don’t anticipate selling off your collection, there’s really no effect.

      • SeventhZombie

        I feel for the people that want/need to sell off their comics for financial reasons. It’d be like having to sell off a hand or leg in some cases.

  • Marcus Landsberg

    Movies are the life raft for Comic Book properties. Totally true. The question is, do comics die and movies adopt the intellectual property, OR is there a way movies can subsidize the comics? Remember when Star Wars and Conan were the biggest selling comics by far?

    The right move is to find a way to make Comics $1.00 again. Never any more. EVEN if that means Disney has to make its money back through merchandising or movies or rides, BUT you get the kids to read them again. You get the uncles (who remember comics) buying the nephew with the broken arm a stack of twenty (for twenty bucks) to get him through the time in the cast, or whatever else.

    You create a fan, the fan becomes a reader, the reader then becomes a consumer (costumes, toys, rides, video games like you mentioned, movies!). At the same times on a monthly basis you’re producing stories upon stories, which ones capture the imagination? Which ones speak to the fans? The ones that do, those’re the ones that become movies and those’re the ones the kids take THEIR kids to line up outside to see. Which Iron Man movie was the least popular? The one that adapted the comics storyline that was least popular.

    The comic collection currently probably isn’t worth very much. but the properties won’t be worth ANYTHING in 10-20 years if comic companies don’t keep producing fans for them.

    • JasonMBowles

      That is a WONDERFUL idea, and I would love to see it become true. The price point and the lack of availability are what’s killing the industry, and the fact that they write to those that already read them, which are adults. There’s a lot of graphic violence and sexuality in today’s books. It’s fine for adults, but I wouldn’t give a lot of mainstream comics to any kid.

      But $1 comics that you can buy nearly anywhere would go a long way in reviving interest in the art form.

      • Marcus Landsberg

        If the comics were affordable for kids, (or parents to buy for kids) more kids would read them, meaning more could be written for them. Not the Star line, but when I was young, I could still handle Tony Stark being a homeless drunk. There’s a way to do adult stories kids can digest, and comics are a perfect place for them.

        Get someone to hire me!

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  • Joe it all

    Ive never read such uninformed garbage! The article is written by an outside observer with NO clue as to the culture or the significance of key issue collecting. Ive been a collector and trader for 20 years and it is 100% profitable!

    • jack it all

      So if you buy a comic for $3.99 and you resell it for $8, yeah it’s 100% profitable. Are you going to sell a recent #1 for $2000? Not any more.

      • Jeff Knox

        Wow, you’re stupid.

    • Matthew R Webb

      So you know this person doesn’t collect comics? Maybe older comics can still hold some minute value, but not what they used to be. Not only is it a shrinking market but modern day comics are so mass produced it destroys any potential value it may have had. Supply and demand. Most comics from the last 20 years I can find easily in dollar bins. I pay less then the cover price for them.
      That doesn’t stop me from collecting the key issues I love and think may have value if the market ever comes back, but unless you are collecting pre-90′s comics you won’t see any value in your collection. Already I can find most the modern day comics I paid cover price for in dollar bins for literally a third of what I paid. So my “investment” has devalued and I have lost money on the books.
      But that doesn’t prevent me from buying issues I love and think may be worth it if the market ever comes back.
      For example, Dead Pool Wedding issue should be a key issue to consider, but the market is so full of this one publication I am already seeing this issue in dollar bins as well as the fact that Deadpool is overexposed and destroys the value that way too.

  • Aaron

    I’m sorry but this feels so much like plagiarism of the original Business Week article linked at the bottom

  • Justin Fenech

    This guy is not accurate…I collect A LOT of Antman/Tales to astonish, Adam Warlock, Nova, Thanos, Silver Surfer, Hulk, Avengers, Namor, Dare Devil, Punisher……IM ALL OVER THE PLACE….and I have purchased some for 17$…..I have decent connections form going to Toronto Fan Expo for 4 years…gotta be smart….friend up the guys,,,visit his store, buy cheap…gain trust and big discounts… Plus I go to alot of garage sales and some old guys sell comcis for dirt cheap that are worth thousands……So I purchased a Tales To Astonish issue #35…..the return of Antman for 119$…….Got it evaluated and looked at, if I were to grade this comic (which it is a 8.4) I can sell at the lowest for 1-3 thousand dollars…especially with the movie coming out too gains more publicity! so look at that….Same with a Nova Issue #1 to #5 for 50$…….got them all appraised and graded for 8.1 (all of them) and the value increased SOOOO MUCH like I sold the 3rd issue so I can buy new hockey stick for 227$……….Its all about selling at the right time……NOVA is about to be introduced into the MCU so people are looking for him…….same with Thanos, Adam Warlock, Avengers comics are going nice.

    • Matthew R Webb

      Just because you pay that much for it doesn’t mean it is worth that much and doesn’t mean you will find a buyer. The buyers market isn’t what it used to be. I remember when I was a kid I collected all sorts of comics. Throughout the 90′s I watched prices rise, but then the comic bubble burst and now those comics I thought I would sell for 10-15 times their cover price are found in dollar bins all over.
      Maybe there might be a market for pre 90′s comics, but it is a small and shrinking market. Most modern day comics won’t be worth jack. Aside from the small market interested in buying up comics there is the issue of mass production. When you print millions of copies it destroys any value the comic could potentially have in the future. At this point I collect certain series for the love of having them, not for the potential value they may have in the future. It is true that most young people reading comics now don’t care about collecting them like I used to when I was a kid. They are perfectly happy buying the TPB collection of the series and reading that instead or just buying digital.
      Your statement that you paid X amount of dollars so they are worth that doesn’t hold true. As an example I paid 6,000 for a 60′s Beetle, to me it was worth it, but good luck finding a buyer who wants to pay that much for an old car that needs work. The shrinking market on people interested in it means I can say it is worth X amount of dollars but that is the value to me, not to the buyer.
      But…I still love my comics.

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  • Matthew R Webb

    I think it is true that comics just don’t have much value anymore. The market went bust a decade ago and has never recovered. I see some comic fans claiming this guy doesn’t know jack and he is full of it, and that is fine if you think that, but thinking your comic is worth something doesn’t give it monetary value, just sentimental value. Part of the reason isn’t just that there isn’t much of a buyers market anymore but comics printed now are so mass produced it is easy to find them often for less then cover price a year later. I can’t tell you how many modern day comics I find in dollar bins at book stores from within the last 15 years. The mass production of comics these days really devalues them. I still collect certain issues I feel may have value in the future. I have every Batman Year Zero plus the variant covers, but I feel like outside of sentimental value they will be worth nothing.