Wednesday, March 28, 2018

valuing comics

After my mother died I was faced with the prospect of cleaning out the house I grew up in. Among other things there were boxes and boxes (and unboxed piles) of comic books. I loved comics. I still love comics. But not all of what I bought back in the 70s and 80s are worth rereading. I did throw out a lot of stuff, including videogame magazines, but I brought all the comics back to Berkeley, except David’s, which I shipped to Seattle. David had more than I did. I don’t remember how many boxes I shipped his way. Several. When I sorted out what I’d brought back to Berkeley I found more of David’s comics to ship. 

When my brother and I were first buying comics back in the early/mid-70s there was no way a kid could get his hands on back issues to read all the stories. And you wanted to! You wanted to read the story that introduced the Vision to the Avengers. You wanted to read the stories where the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were still working for Magneto in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants! When comics were twenty cents, a back issue costing a couple dollars would break the bank. And those old comics have continued to go up in value. 

The era from which most of David’s and my purchases date — when we had the biggest comics buying budgets — was the era when comics were being marketed to adults via comics shops. The comics I wanted as a kid were comics that were being marketed to kids through supermarket wire racks and newsstands. Those comics got beat up. The comics being bought by adults in the 80s were being slipped into comics-tailored plastic bags backed with cardboard to prevent creases and stored in multiples. There weren’t many good condition copies of those old comics to be had and the people who wanted them paid what they had to to get them. The comics of the 80s were much more expensive up front but as collectibles they were missing something. They weren’t scarce. They were too well tended and stowed for that. These days you can buy most of the comics of the 80s and 90s for less than cover price. 

A recent book about the decades-long competition by the major comics publishers, DC and Marvel, reminded me about going through my comics and wondering what I was going to do with them. Nobody else wanted them either! Not enough anyway, not enough to make selling them anything more than a hassle that wasn’t going to repay the effort. 

Reed Tucker writes here about the comics speculation bubble from shortly after I’d stopped buying superhero comics:

[H]ordes of speculators … were buying up product in hopes of paying for their kids’ braces down the road. … New faces, fueled by media hype, were showing up at comic shops across the country to buy a case of Superman or X-Men comics. … The idea that comic books were collectibles that would increase in value dated back to at least the 1960s when Newsweek wrote an influential article on comic fandom and noted, to the author’s shock, that a copy of Superman’s first appearance in Action Comics #1 was selling for an astronomical $100. (A copy went for $3.2 million in 2014.) … DC editor Len Wein in the early 1980s used to keep boxes containing one hundred copies each of The New Teen Titans #1 and #2 under his desk, claiming they would be his retirement account. A few years later, when he left the company, he didn’t bother taking the boxes.

Yes, I still have many comics, but when I made a cull and filled shopping bags with comics I didn’t really need to see again I asked around until I found a coworker at the library who would take them off my hands. I wanted to give them to someone who would tell me they wanted them; that was enough payment for me. My coworker promised not to tell me if she ended up using them for art projects. 

How much, by the way, would it cost you to buy a like-new copy of The New Teen Titans #1, the back issue that Len Wein abandoned when he left DC? According to you can get a copy for from forty to sixty dollars. If the copy is signed by the writer and artist you can get it for about $350. That is, if you — or anybody else — wants to pay that price. One of the tricky things about collectibles is that in order for them to be worth anything they have to have multiple purchasers vying for ownership. Which is why scarcity helps with value. When there are a million copies of the exact same thing and only a thousand people interested in having one, there won’t be any competitive bidding. If you have the million copies it might be cheaper to throw them out than pay to store them until you find a buyer. 

In the last year or so I reread my collection of The New Teen Titans. I did not have the first few issues. So I bought access to them by buying reprint paperbacks. That was another thing that wasn’t available to me as a kid. They weren’t reprinting the old unavailable comics in trade paperback editions back then. I didn’t have to pay collector’s prices to get my hands on The New Teen Titans. I did buy two or three single issues from late in the series run from My Comic Shop, but I paid less for them (not counting shipping) than I would have paid had I bought those issues back in the 80s. That was a shock! They didn’t even keep up with inflation. 

I wrote about this subject in more diary-like form two different times on my LoveSettlement blog, once in 2003, and again in 2005: change mind and collecting comics

source: Slugfest: inside the epic 50-year battle between Marvel and DC by Reed Tucker


J. L. Bell said...

No, thank you, I already have a like-new copy of The New Teen Titans, #1.

Plus that vitally important Dazzler debut.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I bought a couple copies of the first issue of She-Hulk, but that was pretty much the start and end of my career as a comics speculator.

richard lopez said...

i was crazy insane for comics too when i was a wee lad. i preferred marvel to dc. my heroes were spiderman, ghost rider, powerman & ironfist, and blackpanther. but i read nearly every marvel comic i could get my hands on, including the avengers, the defenders, x-men, the fantastic four and some off-shoots like the female superhero duo called nightwing.

those books were made for reading and read them i did until they were in tatters. i have managed to pick up the odd book over the years, including favorite starlord book from the late 1970s.

but yes, i agree, these books are worth only what buyers are willing to pay. which means, these comics are not worth so much. every antique boutique and shop have boxes and boxes of comic books for sale.

however, for the kids who grew up reading these books they remain both ordinary and priceless. i wish i had kept my collection. i'd be a dollar-inare!

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I don't remember a Marvel Nightwing. Over at DC Robin renamed himself Nightwing. I tried a quick Google for Nightwing and only got the DC character.

I have plenty of well-read copies so I doubt my collection, even counting the relatively rare ones, would bring much money to my heirs.

I plan to reread everything I've kept, then get rid of everything that doesn't hold up. This plan will play out over the next several years.

David Lee Ingersoll said...

Those boxes of comics are currently residing under our bed. They haven't been opened since we received them. I did my culling in a frenzy at Mom's house and part of me doesn't want to know what I got rid of.

Nightwing might be Misty Knight/Colleen Wing AKA The Daughters of the Dragon. They spun off of Powerman/Iron Fist.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Thanks for the Nightwing-(K)nightWing theory! I don’t remember that wrinkle. Clearly.

I hope what you have you want or at least don’t miss anything you don’t have.

David Lee Ingersoll said...

If I never open the boxes I'll never know :)

Shrodinger's Comics!