The art of comic book collecting has been around for decades. Yet, with the recent success of comic book-inspired movies and television shows it seems that the hobby has become increasing more popular over the last few years.
Originally, comic books started out as illustrated novelties many with adult-orientated themes focusing on action, suspense, betrayal, fantasy and blonde bombshells. This era is often referred to as the Pulp Comic era of the early 20th century. However, in the late 1930s with the introduction of superheroes the comic book came to life. When Action Comics #1 hit stands in 1938 the world was introduced to Superman, the rest – as they say – is history.
Over the course of the next two decades the comic world would be flooded with a plethora of new super powered heroes and villains. The comic juggernaut at the time was of course DC Comics (formerly National Allied Publications), who’s writers helped introduce the world to characters like Superman, Batman, The Spectre, The Flash, Wonder Woman, and so many more. DC would continue to have a stranglehold on the industry up until 1961, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby formally introduced themselves.
Marvel Entertainment Group was present throughout the 40s and 50s, debuting Marvel #1 in 1939, but it wasn’t until the fantastic quartet appeared that Marvel began to seriously challenge DC. But in 1961 when Fantastic Four #1 debuted it not only changed the superhero landscape, but it was also the catalyst for the comic book industry today.
Fantastic Four #1 was the beginning of what is commonly known as the Marvel Universe. Since then the comic book industry has been dominated by the two heavyweight identities, DC and Marvel. Their rivalry has helped fuel the comic book industry. And together they’ve produced some of the greatest works of comic art and characters the world has ever seen.
COMIC AGES AND GRADING
Since the creation of the superhero the concept of collecting comics as valuable art forms has taken shape. The creation and appearances of new characters combined with the artwork of each comic help make them valuable, but how exactly are comics graded? What makes one comic worth more than the other?
For starters, like any collectable, the easiest way to decipher the worth of a comic is by starting with its age. Uniquely, comics are broken into ages, based on their of publication, to help catalogue them.
- Golden Age 1935 – 1956
- Silver Age 1956-1970
- Bronze Age 1970 -1985
- Modern (Copper) Age – 1985 – Present
Golden Age comics are considered to be extremely rare nowadays and majority of collectors, stores, and vendors will focus on Silver Age and Bronze Age classics.
Naturally, Golden Age comics are the most expensive, but the actual price of a comic varies depending on its specific grade. Grades are based on a 10.0 scale and comics are graded on their overall physical condition. Meaning torn cover pages, torn back cover pages, page creases, watermarks, ink and color fading, missing pages/covers, missing staples, all contribute to the overall shape of the comic and affect their possible grades. The most notable grading system is the Certified Guaranty Company (CGC) whose rating scale is as followed:
- 10 Gem/Mint
- 9.9 Mint
- 9.8 Near Mint/Mint
- 9.6 Near Mint +
- 9.4 Near Mint
- 9.2 Near Mint –
- 9.0 Very Fine/Near Mint
- 8.5 Very Fine +
- 8.0 Very Fine
- 7.5 Very Fine –
- 7.0 Fine/Very Fine
- 6.5 Fine +
- 6.0 Fine
- 5.5 Fine –
- 5.0 Very Good/Fine
- 4.5 Very Good +
- 4.0 Very Good
- 3.5 Very Good –
- 3.0 Good/Very Good
- 2.5 Good +
- 2.0 Good
- 1.8 Good –
- 1.5 Fair/Good
- 1.0 Fair
- .5 Poor
As most collectors and vendors will admit there are very few comics that will actually receive a 10.0 rating. A CGC grade of 9.8 is considered to be the highest realistic value considering even freshly distributed comics can have rips in their covers or the faintest creases that could diminish their values.
Both the comic’s specific age range and its condition will affect its market value. For example, a Golden Age comic like Batman #1 (1940) in fair condition (missing pages, torn cover, faded ink, etc.) will cost less than say a copy of X-Men #1 (1961) in mint condition due to the physical state of the comic book. However, if both are in mint condition (graded as a 9.8) than Batman #1 will be significantly more valuable due to the fact it is a much rarer commodity.
Granted some vendors/collectors do not agree with CGC or even the grading process.
“Most people will only believe the CGC,” says Tim, owner of Nodicor Hobby in Trafford, PA, “There’s other grading systems.”
While he is correct, other grading systems do exist especially online through independent sellers/graders, the CGC remains the dominant opinion in the world of comic grading and collecting.
Independent vendor and collector, Jeffery Bruce owner of Baby Boomer Rebellion in Cincinnati, Ohio, believes comics are “meant to be read.”
“(That) Whole grading system started in baseball cards and that’s fine because you could see baseball cards on either side and that’s all you need to see. But when you seal a book and say, well OK it is this grade and you can’t read it, but if you take it out you’ll have to get it graded again – that seems like a scam to me.”
Other collectors like, Joel Comstock of Western Pennsylvania, admits there are, “positive and negatives to make a fair evaluation. A graded comic certifies the condition not the value.”
Interestingly enough grading is still person-specific. One comic realistically could be graded by three different examiners and come out with three varying grades. Thus, with such variances there are a number of pro and anti-comic grading opinions. Regardless of what side of the fence you find yourself on there is no arguing that age is the first prerequisite for value (assuming the comic book is in good or above condition). If a comic is ungraded this tends to be the motivating factor for an established price between buyer and seller.
For more information on grading and values visit Certified Guaranty Company webpage.
COMIC COLLECTING CULTURE AND THE AFFECT OF FILM/TELEVISION
As mentioned the 10-point scale and specific comic ages help determine a comic’s overall perceived value, but prices and demand for a particular comic will change with the culture.
“Whenever a movie is announced, first appearances of a character skyrocket,” said Lauren Becker of Comic Pop Collectibles based out of Michigan.
Situations like this are ever increasing nowadays. Following the announcement of the upcoming 2016 movie, Deadpool, based off Marvel’s anti-hero Wade Wilson, a number of vendors agreed his comics have become the hot item right now.
“Hard to see a book go for $300 that was just in the 50¢, $1 bins a few years ago,” said Jacob Yuele owner of Jacob’s Comic Den.
Deadpool isn’t the only character that has witness an exponential growth in his comic sales. The cast of Marvel’s 2014 hit, Guardians Of The Galaxy, have all seen their comic prices explode.
Becker mentions how Incredible Hulk #271 (Rocket Racoon’s first appearance) used to be a 50¢ comic and now it is selling for over $200. Rocket Racoon’s counterpart and the unofficial leader of the Guardians, Starlord is also on the shortlist for popular titles among collectors right now.
However, titles like Spider-Man, Batman, and Superman still dominate the scene.
“You can never have too much Spider-Man or Batman,” admitted Yuele. Yuele continued to add that he believes the first appearance of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15 will likely be the first Marvel Comic to finally break the $1,000,000 threshold. The only current comics to sell for over a million dollars thus far have all been DC titles.
First appearances are also sought after comics especially when Golden Age characters make their Silver Age debuts. As noted in Figure 3, a number expensive Silver Age titles like Showcase #4 or The Brave and The Bold #28 are exceedingly valuable due to Golden Age characters making their first appearance in a new age of comics. In Showcase #4, Barry Allen makes his first Silver Age appearance and in The Brave and the Bold #28 the Justice League (a band of Golden Age characters) first comes together.
Consequently, with the success of comic book character inspired films and television shows particular characters and titles are becoming increasingly more popular.
There are also comic book series that draw a large amount of interest. Many of the series can be purchased as a collection or graphic novel. According to graphic novel-only seller, Mark Tamorski of Gem City Comics in Dayton, Ohio popular graphic novel titles are, “Marvel’s Civil War, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: The Killing Joke, Secret Wars, Infinite Crisis, and Infinity Gauntlet.”
As pop culture helps influence comic book collecting the actual culture itself is beginning to evolve. As Jeffery Bruce pointed out, “It is different than it was ten years ago. It isn’t just comics anymore – its everything.”
Bruce means that with the success of films not only are interest in comics increasing, but also the demand for memorabilia, toys, the ultra-popular Funko Pop collectables, and even Manga – Japanese comics/graphic novels.
“We’re all nerds here,” said manga-only dealer, George Macas of the Chicago-based, Comic Wreck. Macas is an adamant believer that pop culture has had a huge impact on nerd culture, shows like the Big Bang Theory have had a “positive impact” on nerd culture and the acceptance of it as a whole. Maca also admits that TV has had a large influence on his collection of manga. Popular anime shows in the United States, like Attack on Titan, Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Fairy Tale are not worth stocking because “they never stay on the shelves.” Instead, Macas finds it financially more beneficial to cater to hardcore anime and manga fans. Or as he calls it, “A niche inside a niche.”
The popularity of various titles and creative works has helped attract a new demographic to the nerdy world of comic book collecting – women. As Bruce previously recalls the only women he’d see at conventions were the wives of vendor; it was as he called it a “guys club for just us geeks.”
However, with so many options nowadays more and more people from all different backgrounds are beginning to surface. Like many others in the industry, Bruce believes the change is a good thing for both the collecting and comic book community as a whole.
WHERE TO LOOK AND BEGIN COLLECTING COMIC BOOKS
As a comic book collector myself, I strongly advocate the practice of reading and collecting comic books. As owner of the Virginia-based Jersey’s Comics and Comics, Bryan Salerno, puts it, “Nothing beats the tactile sensation of having a book in your hands.” Throw in the fact each of these comics is jam packed with action, intricate storytelling, and phenomenal artwork, what isn’t to like?
Yet, starting a collection can be cumbersome. For starters it is best to start with titles and characters you like and enjoy. From there you can expand onto series or trying to find first appearances of favorite characters.
“Look all over. You never know where or when you’re going to find it,” Joel Comstock, suggested. Despite being on the business side of things Comstock admits he has been trying to find a solid copy of Marvel Spotlight #5, the first appearance of his favorite character, Ghost Rider.
Other vendors and comic store owners admit that despite being the industry there are number of comics they wish to add to their own personal collection. Majority concur with Comstock’s theory of searching everywhere. One vendor, who chose to remain anonymous, admitted he found an Incredible Hulk #181 (Wolverine’s first appearance) at a yard sale.
Pleasant Hills native, George Geis, who started collecting after his mother left a number of mint-conditioned comics in their attic, had this to say about being a vendor, collector and a fan, “Its an interesting thing to do. Everybody seems to respects everyone’s opinion.”
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start collecting!