Random Reflections: My Worthless Comics

Comic book collecting has always been more about the joys of ownership rather than the financial investment the hobby entails, but that’s not to say I still don’t daydream anytime a new issue of Amazing Spider-Man comes out , wondering if it will become the next big thing and eventually be worth hundreds, or thousands of dollars. That’s why I’ll scoff at the concept of a collectible polybagged “Death of Spider-Man” issue, yet still buy two copies – one for reading, and one to perpetually stay in the polybag where it will hopefully be worth my kid’s college tuition one day – and that’s why I was so excited about Amazing Spider-Man #400 as a teenager that I pre-ordered two copies of the issue. Granted, I still have no desire to sell any of the comics I own, but to have something that’s worth “real” money is as much about status as it is the hobby itself.

So I got a chuckle from a recent Bleeding Cool column from Nevs Coleman, a former retailer, on new comics as an investment. Coleman truthfully says “very few comic books published today command huge sums of money.”

If you want to buy these things out of curiosity, please do. If you’re buying them with an eye to holding onto them for a few years and then selling them for a huge sum, I’m afraid that isn’t going to happen. Neither Sotheby’s nor Christie’s is interested in your copy of Batman #676, so unless you’ve sold your copy within the week or so that this book was of interest on eBay, your best bet is going to selling it to a comic dealer. The going rate for 2nd hand comics in London is about half in exchange or a third for cash (If you can find a shop buying back issues in the 1st place, that is.) Current guide prices it about 6 quid, so if you’re lucky, you’ll make two quid out of a comic that cost 2:85 new. Losing 85p is not a good investment.

There are a few exceptions to the rule. The value of Amazing Spider-Man #300, the first appearance of Venom, still boggles my mind to this day. Here’s a “special edition” comic introducing a brand new villain during the meaty years of the comic book speculator boom, and yet ASM #300 seemingly defied the odds and became a collector’s item despite the hype. If it wasn’t for ASM #300, I probably would never buy multiple copies of “collectible” comics, but I can’t help myself. The fact that when I was a kid I bought ASM #300 when it first came, ruined it because I read it so much, and then had to buy another copy years later at the marked-up price, is one of those things that still haunts me. But as Coleman said, there’s a very little chance that history will repeat itself with another Spider-Man comic, as the financial success of ASM #300 will likely never be replicated by another comic released in my lifetime.

Now, that’s not to say every new comic is totally worthless either. Some variant cover issues can net you a nice chunk of change on eBay, but that’s driven by scarcity. If Marvel only prints one variant cover for every 100 issues with the regular cover, the content of the book itself is not driving the value. And when the content does seem to drive the value (i.e. a new costume, character or death), as Coleman noted, it’s usually only a short-term boost. Best recent example I can think of is ASM #583 which featured a short story about President Obama and was released shortly after his election. People went nuts for that issue and Marvel ended up doing at least five printings of that book, all with slightly different Obama covers. As a subscriber, I got the plain old John Romita Jr. non-Obama cover, but even that was selling for at least $50 on eBay. Just looking today and that first printing cover is worth less than $10.

On a related note, I recently got a phone call from my sister-in-law, who was given a couple of long boxes of comics for nothing and (awesome as she is) wanted to know if I was looking for any of the comics in the box either for my chase or just for fun. She started pulling issues out of the box, and it read like a graveyard of speculative boom-era comics:

“Here’s a Spider-Man comics that says issue No. 1. It has a silver cover.”

“Oh that’s just the McFarlane Spider-Man series. There are millions of those,” I said.

“Here’s something interesting. It’s a comic in a black bag with a red ‘S’ on it dripping with blood.”

“That’s just the Death of Superman issue. That’s only worth a few bucks,” I said.

And on and on like that. Point being, if my sister-in-law came across a box with all that stuff in it in 1994, it would have been like winning the lottery, but alas, less than 20 years later, and the collective value is negligible.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with that outcome, though the attitude I get from some non-collectors that something has to accrue exponentially in value in order for it to be worth collecting can be a bit frustrating to contend with, as are the questions about how much all of my comic books are “worth.” While the older issues certainly serve as a legitimate investment, that’s a miniscule fraction of the entire run of the comic books I’m chasing after. And again, even after I finish this part of my collection, I’m not looking to sell anything. So while the vast bulk of my collection probably won’t even return me the cover price I paid for it, these issues continue to provide sentimental value for me. Otherwise, I’d be totally bankrupt.



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