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There are two tracks to being a comic collector. The first is to be a comics reader: someone who likes the stories and buys the books to read and enjoy them, and just happens to accumulate them over time. The other is to take that love for comics, have a look at the media landscape, and make a little money on the side.
There has always been some money in comics collecting. Ever since comics started being a specialty item and not something kids grabbed for a dime off of a newsstand, people have been pricing potential resale value into their comics purchases. The biggest difference now, from when comics specialty shops first started, is how dominant superhero stories are in our culture: all it takes is a leaked audition video that might involve a particular hero or villain in an upcoming movie or TV series for that character’s early appearances to skyrocket in value. That’s one of the reasons why comic back issues are some of the hottest collectibles on the market. But if you’re going to jump in now, there are a few things you should know before you start.
The first thing to understand is how the comics industry has changed since superheroes became so dominant. Up through the 1990s, print runs were routinely ten times the size they are today. “The production numbers right now are so low,” says Gus Poulakas, owner of Silver Age Comics in Astoria, NY. “When I’m ordering [new] books, my goal is to sell through.”
These days, the best-selling books will sell approximately 150,000 copies in a good month. Contrast that with something like West Coast Avengers #45, the first appearance of “white Vision” (later seen in Wandavision). “I don’t know if it was millions [of copies], but it was definitely in the several hundreds of thousands,” Poulakas says. This impacts pricing. “The first appearance of America Chavez [in 2011’s Vengeance #1] is a lot harder to get than the first appearance of Beta Ray Bill [who debuted in 1983’s Thor #337].” Vengeance #1 is currently selling for over $200, while Thor #337 is going for, on average, about a third of that. In this case, “older” doesn’t necessarily equate to “better” or “more valuable.”
The next thing to know is what you’re looking for. Collectors tend to fall into two categories, says Ryan Higgins of Comics Conspiracy in Sunnyvale, California. “We’re seeing so many people looking for complete runs,” he says. “A surprising amount of people are looking to fill in random issues.” Key issues – first appearances, major life events for the characters, new creative teams – are a prime focus for the second group. But how the characters sort in those two groups is interesting: big characters like Superman, Captain America, or Batman find their prices remarkably stable. “Batman is impossible,” he says. “Every Batman book is priced correctly.” It’s the secondary and tertiary characters where the most movement happens and where the best values can be found. If you get to it in time.
“If they’ve announced the character [for a movie or television appearance], it’s already too late,” says Higgins. “The needle has already moved.”
A character making the jump to the big screen drives prices on collectible books in a huge way. That doesn’t preclude you from buying their key issues, but it might price them out of reach. And the rush to get ahead of the various cinematic universes is causing people to make leaps that don’t necessarily make sense.
“Seemingly overnight, 1991’s Darkhawk #1, who has no real rumor of being in a movie, went from a $5 book to a $200 book,” Higgins says. That’s why it’s important if you’re serious about this, and at least somewhat frugal, to keep an eye on the solicitations for new books, both to spot key issues as they’re released, and to try and divine hints from what Marvel and DC are deciding to reprint.
“[Marvel] did all these Kid Loki and Lady Loki trade paperbacks leading up to the show,” he points out. “Making money is more important than spoilers.” If they’re reprinting something that looks random, chances are it’s to get ahead of something about to happen.
The good thing about the comics market right now is that these price jumps seem like they’re holding up. “A book would be $2, and then a character appears on Loki, and then it spikes to $40 or $50,” explains Poulakas. “And then it cools off and the price comes back down. But in my experience, the price will never go back to $2.”
Higgins agrees, especially on key issues. “The first appearance of Captain Marvel is not going to drop,” he says. So while there are bad times to get in on a book, there aren’t necessarily bad ones to get out.
Ultimately, one of the best ways to get into the comics collecting game is to get into the comics reading game. Because of the low print runs common with modern comics, it’s much easier to grab a key issue as it comes out than it is to try and hunt it down on a secondary market. This has the added benefit of exposing you to some really great comics that you’ll enjoy over time, regardless of any potential price increases. “When I was collecting in the ‘70s and ‘80s, you know what we looked for? We looked for Steranko. We looked for Kirby. We looked for Neal Adams,” Poulakas says. “People still look for those. Good books stand the test of time.”
Hot Comics To Watch!
HAWKEYE (2017) #1 (Marvel Comics)
Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye is one of the more underexplored characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the upcoming Disney+ TV show bearing his name is extremely likely to be a breakout moment for Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop, the Hawkeye who got her start on the Young Avengers. With the MCU pointing towards an inevitable Young Avengers movie or show, now’s the time to pick up some Kate books, and her 2017 solo series is the most affordable place to jump on, with copies of Hawkeye #1 going for $10-20.
NAOMI #1 (DC Comics)
This Brian Michael Bendis/David Walker/Jamal Campbell creation is heating up because of her cross-media appeal. This debut issue isn’t a steal right now – duplicate printings are moving for double digits, with the first printing of the first issue topping $40. But it might be undervalued: she’s got a CW show in development and is getting a push in the pages of Justice League. Don’t be surprised if this keeps going up.
DETECTIVE COMICS #359 (DC Comics)
This is the only Silver Age book you’ll see on this list, but Higgins was adamant. “The first appearance of Batgirl, you can get copies much cheaper than you think that book should be,” he says. And he’s right: the first appearance of Batgirl should really be going for more than $700. That’s a lot of money, but if you’re looking to invest in a comic, you could probably do worse than to jump on a clean copy of Batgirl’s debut before her movie starts picking up steam.
Savage She-Hulk #1 (Marvel Comics)
Jennifer Walters might be the exception to the “if it’s been announced, it’s too late” rule. Savage She-Hulk, the Stan Lee/John Buscema book from 1980 that introduced Hulk’s cousin and is likely serving as a significant foundation for her upcoming Disney+ show, is available for under $60 if you really hunt. Key issues with an MCU connection tend to get substantial price bumps, so don’t be surprised if this goes up by a lot as we get closer to the show, and doesn’t really come back down.
Injustice: Gods Among Us Year Three #7 (DC Comics)
A dream issue of the third year of a video game tie-in comic set on a parallel Earth to the main DC Universe is a very weird inclusion on this list, except it proves the point of other media driving comic price increases. The first appearance of Lara Lane-Kent, the Supergirl likely to appear in 2022’s The Flash movie, is moving on eBay for north of $25. Lara is the daughter that Superman dreams of when he’s trapped by the Black Mercy, the parasitic psychic plant from “For the Man Who Has Everything.” It’s hard to believe, but this might go even higher once more story details from the movie are announced.
Iron Man #225 (Marvel Comics)
Armor Wars is an interesting pick for an MCU adaptation, and it will become a series on Disney+ soon enough. The story follows Tony Stark as he hunts down tech stolen from him and sold to supervillains. It’s also grossly underpriced, with copies as low as $20. However, it makes a bit of sense: it’s from an era of much higher print runs, and this is maybe the furthest out MCU project that we know of.
Far Sector #1 (DC Comics)
N.K. Jemisin and Jamal Campbell’s story is one of the best Green Lantern books of all time. And from a purely speculative standpoint, it’s a huge deal right now. As of this writing, Jo Mullein, the new GL introduced in this book, hasn’t been announced as a character in the HBOMax show coming next year. But she is one of the stars of Geoffrey Thorne’s new run on the main book, and her profile is only going to rise between now and the second season of the show. It’s only a matter of time before these $10-20 first issues skyrocket.
JSA (1999) #1 (DC Comics)
With the Justice Society of America confirmed to appear in Black Adam, it’s only fitting that the book that started a renaissance for the entire JSA family, one that persists today for Teth-Adam, see a spike. This book, by David Goyer, James Robinson, Geoff Johns, and Stephen Sadowski, is legitimately one of the best comics of its era, so you can’t go wrong grabbing it either for speculation or because you want a good, meaty run of high-quality superhero stories to read. And a full run is much more appealing when the first issue can be grabbed for as little as $5. Some of the Black Adam movie’s storyline appears to be influenced by later issues in this run, as well.
Thunderbolts (1997) #1 / Dark Avengers #1
Marvel is clearly setting up something more than just Young Avengers in this current wave of MCU shows. Valentina Allegra de Fontaine has already gathered a Captain America and a Black Widow, and who knows who else she’s pulling together. That uncertainty says, to a lot of collectors, that they’re going one of two ways: the Thunderbolts, a group of reformed villains led by Baron Zemo, who fake being heroes long enough that they eventually become them; or the Dark Avengers, Norman Osborn’s knockoff Avengers group populated exclusively by some of the worst villains in the MCU. “It’s going one of the two ways, but speculators aren’t agreeing,” says Higgins. “I think you’re going to get some sort of mix of the two.” Fortunately, you can hedge a little bit: neither book’s first issue is selling for much more than $30-$4/
Amazing Spider-Man #544
It’s a pretty bold move, basing the plot of Spider-Man: No Way Home on one of the worst Spidey stories of all time, but if you’re a collector, this is a boon. “One More Day” saw Peter make a trade with Mephisto: his marriage in exchange for healing Aunt May from a gunshot. It’s terrible. Beautiful art, but the concept and execution were really rough. That might explain why the first issue of that story, Amazing Spider-Man #544, is still available for under $10.
Magnificent Ms. Marvel #1
Kamala Khan is going to be a very big deal. She was a big deal when she was introduced in the comics as the new Ms. Marvel, and I can guarantee her Disney+ show is going to be a blockbuster. That’s why her first appearance (in All-New Marvel Now .1 in 2014) is very expensive, and the start of her first solo book, Ms. Marvel #1, is pricey and moving. But her most recent series, Magnificent Ms. Marvel, is priced very reasonably and should see some bump when the show hits.
Marvel Boy (2000) #1
With the next Captain Marvel movie being titled The Marvels, it’s worth going through everyone who might be there to see if deals can be had. Carol’s key issues are all very pricey, as are Kamala’s. One Marvel selling for very reasonable prices is Grant Morrison and JG Jones’ Marvel Boy. And Noh-Varr has an added benefit to appearing in this movie: he became a quintessential member of the Young Avengers and dated Kate Bishop for a little while. Full sets of this comic are available for less than $15. Get in now.
Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 (Sega Dreamcast)
There’s a very real chance that the big bad of Marvel’s What If? is Shuma Gorath, the betentacled eye from a Chthonic parallel Earth. And if it is him, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for comics collectors. The bad news is nobody cares about Shuma Gorath comics. The good news is Shuma Gorath is popular because he was an awesome character in the greatest fighting game series of all time. Sure, $100 might seem like a lot for a game on a system you can’t buy anymore, but you can probably score a Dreamcast for very cheap, and it’s worth it. It’s the best fighting game of all time.