Alternate Cover: Collecting Comics

James offers his tips on how to make money out of collecting comics - basically, "you don't"...

Last week I told you all about my First Ever Comic. Well, the thing about comics is that once you’ve bought one, you have to keep buying them. You want to see where the stories are going, what’s up with the characters – it’s like a drug, albeit one whose main side effect appears to be that it makes you largely undesirable to the opposite sex.

Since that first fateful day over 10 years ago, I’ve amassed a huge number of comics. Nothing compared to some, but your average man (or woman) on the street would be fairly bemused to learn that I had well over a thousand comics boxed up in my wardrobe. And under the bed. And beside the bed, because there’s no more space anywhere else. (thankfully, I also have a very understanding girlfriend.)

Despite having enough comics to open a small comics-based museum (a largely Marvel-based museum of mediocre interest to the general population, yes, but a museum nonetheless) if anyone asks whether I collect comics, I always tell them that no, I am not a comics collector. I am a comics reader.

I do that deliberately to try and distance myself from the idea of comics collecting. To “collect” comics, in my mind, means to desire them as an artifact, solely for their monetary value. There’s an odd belief in the public consciousness that if you hang onto a comic, it’s automatically going to be worth something one day. This is no doubt motivated by insane tales of Action Comics #1 and Amazing Fantasy #15 fetching thousands of dollars at auction. “Hang onto that issue #1!” they’ll say, “Might be worth something!”

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Well, here’s a hint: Most comics are almost entirely worthless. Literally two or three weeks after you’ve bought a comic, you will find that it’s barely worth the paper it’s printed on. If you can make back half of what you paid for it, that’s a damn good price and you should be pleased to take it. After 5 years or so, perhaps you can get away with cover price, if it’s in good condition. Beyond that, you might just be able to pull an extra quid out of the right buyer, if they can find you. Any comics buyer must learn to resolve in themselves the idea that once you’ve invested in a comic, that money is pretty much never coming back.

Comics occasionally become valuable for the same reason anything does: Demand exceeds supply in a disproportionate amount. Demand is spiked by one of two things – rarity or importance. The only time you make a moderately pricey comic become insanely valuable is when you hit the magic combination of both of those criteria – the first appearances of Superman and Spider-Man spring to mind, being huge cultural icons whose first appearances are decades old.

Now, think back to a comic you might have bought in the last 10, or even 20 years. How many characters does it contain that might get as recognisable as Superman. Is it a made by a creator that’ll turn out to be as big as Stan Lee or Jack Kirby? And most importantly – are you the only person who managed to notice this at the time you bought it? X-Force #1 in the mid-90s sold an obscene number of copies. Everyone knew it was going to be huge. As a result, there are millions of copies out there, and to this day they can be bought for a pittance.

If you get into comics thinking that you’re collecting yourself up a retirement fund, then good luck. You’ll need it. Chances are you’re doomed to be one of those fools sat on top of a stack of copies of X-Force #1 that you can’t give away. However – if you buy the comics that you love, if you read them and look after them and go back, week after week and year after year, reading them again, then whichever way you look at it – they’re definitely worth something.

James Hunt will be back with another column next week; in the meantime, read his last column here.