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

  • 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.

  • Boognish

    I think in most any collectors market that is accessible to the general public you will find that for every one thing of any value there are ten times as many with none. But this article sound bitter to me. Comics are an esoteric interest and nowadays because of online selling some key books (even from the 90′s) are selling for exorbitant prices compared to what one might sell for in a smaller market. New Mutants 98 is selling at twice what the current guide book value is, and even mid-grade books are going for around 100$. As far as what peoples overall collections are worth, I think they were silly to believe that the majority of their books would be valuable; especially back then when comics were dismissed by much of the main-stream. And, especially when trying to sell them off as a whole collection rather than piecing them out. Plus, if you bought it for twenty cents in the 70′s, even if its not in great shape there is probably a buyer somewhere, and they will probably not be expecting to buy it as cheap as the cover price. As far as current books go, their value is subjective like the rest; but are there really many people buying them as investments? Isn’t the fragile nature and volatile newsprint what gives condition based pricing it’s context? New comics are still floppy, but at least you can read them in the sun without hurting it’s value.
    I read comics as a kid, but I started collecting again (casually) at 26 when I quit smoking and could afford comics again. New issues I read for fun and don’t expect them to be profitable, but I’ve found lots of old books at garage sales or used book stores or what-have-you that can be flipped for good money, especially now with a bigger market.
    As far as comics dying? Doubtful, from what I can tell it may likely be a matter of the age in which people discover that comics are an interesting way of telling stories getting older. Rather than kids discovering them, it’s teenagers or young adults. They may die in their printed form, but I can’t see them disappearing all together. Super hero’s may become more passe after the current rise in popularity; In fact I kind of hope so, because there are a lot of people doing much more innovative stuff, but some of those old books will probably draw big money if we stop printing. Many will be worth little, but the ones of historic significance will likely maintain high value and we will preserve their posterity for the same reasons any obsolete item maintains collector value: nostalgia, and it’s fragile nature.
    Plus look at the quality of some older books… no wonder they aren’t worth much. If somebody thought that having every issue of “Conan The Barbarian” or “Web Of Spider-Man” comics would make them rich I would say they don’t have very discriminating tastes. P.S. Conan fans, don’t take it to heart. I know some runs are good. But even back then people must have known that books with such high print runs would be worth little.

  • Aaron

    There’s regular comic books and then there’s the CGC market. CGC books that are graded highly can increase the value of even run of the mill issues.

    But to test this article’s contention, I looked up a random silver age issue just to see, Daredevil #19. Published August 1966 – a pretty standard silver age representative. According to the price guide it’s worth $14.40 in VG/F condition. I see a 5.0 non-cgc copy of it sold on ebay on July 12, 2015 for $8.00. Half book value isn’t bad, far from “worthless.”

    In bulk, probably no one is going to pay you much for your long-boxes of comics, but the silver age issues in F or better condition will still sell, especially if they’re CGC graded, although at $20 a pop to grade them, have to wonder if it’s worth it.

  • Gary Hackenburg

    I thought the article was interesting, well written, but very inaccurate. I have a friend who sold his collection, and afterwards proclaimed that comics won’t be worth anything in a few years! The author here has cashed out and is now justifying not being in the hobby anymore by writing an article so he can feel better about himself. Misery loves company eh? The market is healthy. Good books sell, junk does not. Look, buy what you love and it doesn’t really matter. eBay and CGC gave the industry a much needed boost(The author was right about the 90′s) but the movie industry sent it over the top. I would not invest in current books (Although books like the Walking Dead sell in any condition) but Golden-age and silver (Along with some bronze) will always sell.

  • Mantis Toboggan

    This article is both right and wrong at the same time. Obviously not ALL comic collections are worthless, even though his was. He should have stated that 80 to 90% of the people who think they have ‘valuable’ collections don’t. That’s because the majority of modern comic books (1990 and up) are in fact basically worthless. I don’t want to get into the whole history of it, but essentially it’s because they were made in HUGE print runs, making the extremely common…hence not valuable. You and 9 million other people bought the death of Superman in the 90s and that’s why it has a value of $3 or less. BUT like others here have stated, 60s and 70s (even some 80s) comics definitely have value. I have the majority of the Marvel key books from that time frame in my collection, and most of them have a considerably higher value than what I paid for them even just 10 to 5 years ago. Everyone b*tching about their comics having no value is probably right, YOUR comics don’t have value because you haven’t invested in them and you haven’t bought the right ones. Am I saying you can retire on a comic collection? Of course not, but you also can’t expect to walk into a yard sale and buy some 90s comics for $5 and then have them be worth $5,000. It’s like anything collectible, if it’s valuable you usually have to pay a decent amount for it. Everyone is just mad because they haven’t been able to buy a 25 cent book off the shelf and have it turn into a pay day down the line. For instance my copy of Amazing Spiderman 129 is a graded 8.0 that I paid $500 for 3 years ago and that book sells for $800+ today on ebay. Most of my collection is like that because I took the time to find a good deal, bought them in good condition (a real key here). So in closing I’ll reiterate, yes most likely an average joe you come across with a comic collection will have a bunch of newer worthless stuff, but by no means is comic collecting dead and to say all comics are worthless is ridiculous.

  • James

    I’ve read this story before. I want to say that Barry Smith and Kevin Maroney sold their comic books to the wrong people. A comic book store and used book store will pay them a lot less than what they are worth. Comic book stores need to make a profit from comic books they buy from customers to pay for overhead – their clerk’s paychecks and the store’s rent. So the stores are going to pay customers a lot less for their comic book collection. This what a friend of mine who ran comic book store told me back in the 1990′s.

    If both men have silver age and bronze age key comic book issues such as early issues of X-Men, they should have sent their comics to be graded and slabbed by CBCS then auction it off on eBay with the starting bid price they are comfortable with. If the majority of the comic books are 1990′s dreks, sell it on eBay at $1 to $3 bucks per issue or sell it to a comic book store just to get rid of the comic books if you need to make room around your home.

  • Smerfman

    I don’t really care if they are worth anything,, I have comics from the 40,50, 60, 70, 80,, none of them super hero stuff, all science fiction and gangster books,, I have about 2000 books and I have read each one 3 or 4 times, and if I live long enough I will read them all a couple more times,, and every time I read them, its like the first time, bad memory I guess,, when I die, someone else can worry if they are worth anything!