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Collecting comics isn’t just for kids – famous adult collectors include Nicolas Cage, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jonathan Ross.
In fact it’s so serious there is such a thing as The Certified Guaranty Company which grades comics according to their importance. This worldwide system is a reliable measure of quality and ensures traders get the right price. Publications are graded from 1–10. Even the slightest blemish results in a sub-10 grading, and older comics rated 10 are extremely rare.
Read on for how to become the ultimate comic collector yourself.
Generally, the older the item, the rarer it is and hence the more valuable.
For example, a 30 July 1938 first edition of The Beano (only 12 known copies remaining) sold for £12,100 in March 2004. The world’s most valuable comic is Action Comics #1 (June 1938), a copy of which sold for £3.2 million in November 2014.
The older the item, the fewer are likely to have survived. Also, in comics, many central characters are introduced in early editions, making them even more valuable.
The very first issue of The Fantastic Four was published in 1961. It introduced the key characters Mister Fantastic, Human Torch, Invisible Girl and The Thing. Fantastic Four and other comics have sold for between $130,000 and almost $300,000 at auction.
Print runs are another factor. Print runs are batches of copies printed of a certain title, and thus we get first editions, second editions, reprints, or reissues. Black Panther #23 (October 2000) is a fairly new modern comic, but due to its low print run, it’s extremely hard to find. This means its value is much higher than a comic that has had thousands of issues printed.
It’s surprising what sells. So don’t just chuck something out in your spring cleaning just because you think it’s rubbish.
Misprints, recalled editions, promotional issues, and special features are usually rare, and so are higher in value.
Comics need to be stored carefully in order to hold their value. Like most collectibles, the better the condition they are in, the more you can get for them. You should make sure your hands are always clean and dry when handling them or even wear gloves. Heat, moisture and sunlight can all be damaging.
Some collectors don’t store comics in cardboard boxes as they are a source of acid which can react with the paper and eventually destroy it. Use plastic bags to keep comics clean and safe, with a backing board to reduce stress on the spine and wear and tear on corners. Avoid cardboard and use special non-acidic backing boards.
Anything that’s likely to become rare in the future will make you more cash – it’s a no-brainer. But a word of warning: with mass production of comics nowadays, a ‘limited run’, ‘special edition’, or ‘extra features’ means pretty much nothing. Manufacturers are seeking to maximise profits right now, which means selling as many copies as they can.
It’s a good to find first editions, limited runs or ‘specials’, just on the off-chance. Reprints or re-issues have a value of their own. Second issues of comic books are often harder to find than first editions. This is because many people will buy the first edition of a new comic. But not everyone will remain interested, so less #2s are sold. This can make them even more valuable than #1s!
A tatty, well-thumbed comic will earn you just a few pounds, even if it’s very old, but you could make £300-500 for special editions or job lots.
A wander round large car boot sales and events like the London Super Comic Convention are useful when buying. If you’re looking to sell, then a comic book shop is probably not ideal as they have to make a profit so won’t be able to offer you the best price. Auction houses sell only the rarest comics, so an online auction or collectors’ site will give you a good audience and attract serious bidders.
Lee has been collecting comics for around 30 years and has amassed a collection of around 13,000 copies. His collection is growing at a rate of about 90 comics per month. “You’ll need a house with an extra room just for your comics,” once you’re hooked, he says.
Lee says you should be wary of the grading system for comics: “You can grade something at 9.8 out of 10 and say this is ‘worth’ £100 despite a cover price of £2.25, but that doesn’t mean anyone actually wants to buy it!”
Lee’s advice to anyone thinking about starting a collection is: “Don’t just hit your local shop and start buying shiny things and #1 issues – they often don’t have much value, despite having ‘collector’s item’ on the cover, and you are not going to sell them for £1,000 in six months or sixty years.” He also says that the market tends to be flooded by #1 issues, with far less #2s and #3s in circulation, so try to get your hands on these.
Although Lee has no intention of selling his collection (“once it’s bagged and boxed it’s here to stay!”) he estimates that if he sold each book separately online some would be worth upwards of £30 an issue – 15 times their original cost.
Simon has been collecting comics for more than 30 years and now has around 500 – but while he loves reading them, he’s also made money selling them on eBay.
Simon’s best sale was £120 for a complete set of the popular Preacher comics, although he recommends you focus on rare individual issues for making serious money.
Before the mid-1970s, there were no dedicated comic shops. Any comic books printed before then “had their time on the stands and then were gone” as Simon puts it. Plus, a comic wasn’t seen as something worth keeping because “there was no thought to its worth or value” at the time. Simon highly recommends comics from before this period.
While you might think you should aim purely for #1 issues, Simon also reckons it may be worth your while concentrating on #2s and #3s. “The number of readers levels off following the launch of a new title.” This means fewer of these were bought and kept, making them very rare.
Simon buys most of his books through OK Comics, an independent retailer with knowledgeable and passionate staff. He does his selling on eBay.