The last few years have been a wild ride for the comic book market as even the most minor of keys experienced exponential growth. Have we reached an inflection point? All signs point to yes. So what gives? Let’s take a look at TMNT Adventures #1, a Copper Age favorite, and see if we can learn something about speculation and the health of the broader comic book market in general.
Some of the first comics to irrationally take off were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle books. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1 has been the biggest roller coaster of all.
Turtles in Time
Just to be clear, I am not writing about this comic to bash it. I absolutely love TMNT Adventures #1. I’m an 80s baby and it was the first comic book series I ever collected. I still have my full run of the mini-series and then 1-30 of the main title. I will never, ever sell them. That being said, loving a book and thinking it wise to impatiently spend over $2,000 dollars on a 9.8 are two very different things.
Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird released the first print of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 in 1984, causing an independent comic book boom. This gold rush atmosphere in comic book collecting led to a myriad of publishers entering the market and obscure comics most of us have never heard of started selling for hundreds of dollars, a small fortune in the 1980s.
As always, this speculative frenzy was quickly followed by a bubble. Many independent comics quickly found themselves in dollar bins by 1987 and most of the new publishers ceased to exist. The point is: Ninja Turtles are no strangers to causing speculation; history repeats itself.
Unfortunately, it seems like, once again, the turtles are at the center of another Copper crash. I know that sounds dramatic, but let’s take a look at TMNT adventures and what the turtles have generally been doing since the start of Covid.
Off the Radar
The start of the Pandemic is foggy for a lot of people. Many of us thought the world was ending and the streets of Manhattan looked like a scene from I Am Legend. People were suddenly out of work and parents unexpectedly had kids at home all day to take care of. The resultant uncertainty and newfound need for cash were reflected in both the stock market and the comic market. Major keys flooded eBay and were readily available for well below fair market value. It was a great time to buy if you had cash on hand.
When Covid began, you could pick up a 9.8 copy of TMNT Adventures #1 for $150. I specifically remember seeing an Instagram post at that time where someone was selling two NM+ copies for $20 combined. Raw copies were readily available all over the internet for next to nothing.
This has always been one of those books I keep my eye on simply because of nostalgia. At that point, I was pretty much alone in my appreciation. Let’s be honest, no one cared about TMNT Adventures until very recently. There were so many other Ninja Turtle keys to focus on and it was a children’s comic produced by Archie. So what happened?
The Perfect Storm
Many of us were stuck inside during 2020 and looking for sources of entertainment. After the initial shock and fear from Covid subsided a bit, people began spending the stimulus checks that started landing. Amazon and Nike stock soared from frivolous purchases. An incredible one in ten stimulus checks went straight into cryptocurrency. I would love to know how many of them went to comics.
My birthday is in September, and at that time I thought I might treat myself to a 9.8. It was relatively cheap and I had noticed in GoCollect’s database there were only a few hundred 9.8s on the census, which I thought was shockingly low. I love books with a low census. Low census numbers do not necessarily mean a book is rare, however. It often means people just don’t care enough to get a book graded because it simply isn’t that desirable and therefore isn’t worth that much money. Just because there aren’t hundreds of thousands of Darkhawk #1s on the census doesn’t mean there aren’t a ton of high grade raw copies out there in the wild.
I decided to pass on grabbing a 9.8. They were simply not that many available online and I decided to grab something else. I immediately regretted it. The Last Ronin #1 dropped in October of 2020 and, in my opinion, it is largely responsible for the comic market explosion we’ve seen since then. Many credit it with keeping comic book stores afloat and with bringing renewed attention from Millenials to collectibles. With the release of The Last Ronin, we saw TMNT 1, 2, 3, and 4 all shatter records along with Raphael #1. Once again, the Ninja Turtles were in the middle of a speculative explosion.
This is where things get a little weird for TMNT Adventures #1, and the market in general. TMNT Adventures made it to a hotlist as an honorable mention stating it was going to be the next big comic. A few 9.8s hit the market and the book jumped from $250 to $600 and then $900, a 400% increase, or a four-bagger if we’re using investment slang. Amazing! What a great come-up if you had one. The rest of the comic market quickly followed. Third cover appearances, first team-ups, and comics with 10k graded copies somehow started going for at least triple their historical prices.
For most of 2020, you were lucky to have one copy of TMNT Adventures pop up on eBay in a month. Suddenly there were 12 graded 9.8s. The book dropped a bit after hitting this new ceiling, then one very public post later and we were back to the races. Next thing you know, by early 2021, TMNT Adventures #1 hit $2250 dollars. That’s right, $2250 dollars. That is more than a 1000% increase in FMV in just a few months. Several sales followed in the proceeding months for about the same price.
Let’s break down what a 1000% increase in FMV means. Hypothetically, if you had ten 9.8s worth 2k, you now had 20k worth of slabs. You suddenly had a down payment on a house. When TMNT Adventures #1 hit 2k, the first appearance of Miles Morales in Ultimate Fallout #4 was still hovering around 1k, doubling its FMV. The first appearance of the Punisher in Amazing Spider-Man #129 in 7.5 was about 1k when TMNT Adventures #1 hit 2k. I should also mention that a newsstand copy of TMNT #1 sold for an even 6k on 1/29/21. SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS! If this all sounds ridiculous to you, it should. How did this happen? Did everyone suddenly wake up and care about the first appearance of colored bandanas? Please.
From Pump to Dump
So what has happened to TMNT Adventures #1 since its 1000% increase in FMV? It isn’t pretty. After selling for around $1,500 dollars for months after that initial record was set, prices quickly declined. In October of 2021, a 9.8 white pages copy sold for $660. That is more than a 66% decline in FMV in a matter of months. I would also like to point out that Raphael #1, which had an FMV of $2,800 in a 9.6, recently had a sale of $1000.
A 9.6 of the third print of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, which had an FMV of 3k, recently sold for $1500 dollars at auction. It is no coincidence that the first books to be pumped on social media during the pandemic were also the first to crash and burn. Watching these exploding FMVs is what motivated me to write multiple articles suggesting caution when collecting during Covid.
What’s the Why?
So why the drop in price? There are a lot of factors. One, the stimulus checks have dried up. The price of eggs and avocados are not the only things that were affected by printing trillions of dollars. I don’t think anyone is willing to spend 2K on such a minor key when it’s coming out of pocket.
Two, this isn’t a remotely rare book. The CGC census of 9.8s has doubled to 425 in a year. As expected, the first books sent to CGC to cash in on a booming speculation market are coming back and landing on eBay. The law of supply and demand applies to comics as well.
For the record, I reached out to John Jackson Miller of Comichron.com to do some print-run research. He informed me that there were an estimated 280,000 copies sold of TMNT Adventures #1. That is a very, very large print run. Keep in mind that by 1988 the Ninja Turles were already a massive success with 5 prints of the original first issue, multiple graphic novels, cartoons, toys, and a movie in the works, so it makes sense so many of these were sold. The question remains: how many more of these will end up getting graded?
Lastly, the social media echo chambers and eBay market manipulators moved on to other books after making their money. Unseasoned speculators who bought copies to make a quick buck were left to catch a falling knife, reminiscent of a Ponzi scheme. If you’ve been on YouTube lately, you’ve probably seen everyone making the Home Alone face in their videos, feigning shock that prices have dropped so drastically not just for TMNT Adventures, but a solid half of the books that exploded during quarantine.
Are these people really surprised? I don’t think anyone posing in front of a 100k comic collection was blindsided by this decline in FMV. If anything, this is probably how they were able to afford that collection, pumping books they own or just thoughtlessly creating content out of necessity. You’ll often see them discuss hotlists and books to buy, but you’ll rarely see them comment when they miss or when a book dives.
I just want to say, I am not pointing the finger at any particular outlet or person. We all speculate and make hot lists and there is nothing inherently wrong with them. What I will say though is that some people take advantage of them and then manipulate the market knowing they can make a quick buck at the expense of buyers with raging FOMO. If you watched eBay in the last year, you might have noticed how rampant the manipulation was. Keep in mind there is no SEC monitoring collectibles and manipulating bids is extremely easy.
I hate to see people lose money, and losing more than 50% on an investment in less than 6 months is horrible. It is also terrible for the comic collecting community on the whole and a sure-fire way to quickly turn people away that might just be returning after a decades-long absence. That being said, let’s take a look a what a “crash” actually is and some telltale signs of eBay manipulation.
What Is a Correction, a Bear Market, and a Crash?
When I wrote about a potential crash last year, I suggested investing in blue chip Silver and Bronze Age comic books instead of the high print run comics of the Copper and Modern Ages such as TMNT Adventures. The blue chips have continued to break records at the time of my writing this blog entry, while the newer stuff has taken a beating to put it lightly. I have seen some outlets call this a “correction”. If we’re going to use financial terminology in reference to comic books, we should use it honestly and properly.
A correction occurs when there is a 10% decrease in value in an asset. You officially enter a Bear Market when there is between a 10% to 20% decrease. When you are well north of a 20% decrease in value, and it happens quickly, you have yourself a crash. So where does that leave us with TMNT Adventures, TMNT keys in general, and many Copper and Modern Age keys? Well according to this terminology, a lot of these comics are crashing and crashing hard.
You may have recently observed comic listings piling up on eBay with prices from last year. See those buy-it-now prices that no one is falling for? Everyone is scared to go to auction because they know the end result will be ugly. The good news is you only lose money when you sell, so you might just want to hold on until they go back up in price in the years to come.
Signs of Market Manipulation
There is a reason there are countless books on the psychology behind trading stocks. Staying focused despite experiencing FOMO is crucial in making educated decisions for trades. The same applies to buying and selling comic books and collectibles in general. A lot of sellers know this and took advantage of people being glued to screens with free money by whipping up some FOMO with their friends. How is this done? It isn’t very complicated.
You may notice sometimes after a book hits a hot list, someone will post it for quadruple its FMV, attempting to set a new ceiling for its price. Then you”ll see an auction go up, they’ll have their friend bid it up for them, causing everyone watching to experience FOMO. The next thing you know you have a new record. This is reminiscent of whales in the stock market coordinating to jump on a stock or cryptocurrency, causing upward momentum, which then leads to more buyers jumping on to pump up the price even further, at which point the whales sell. This is very illegal with good reason. It always leaves the little guy holding the bag.
An easy way to tell when this is happening is when an auction surpasses an existing buy-it-now price. With TMNT Adventures #1, there was a listing with a buy it now of $800, but inexplicably an auction went to $1500. Why would someone bid a book up to $1500 when they could buy one for $800? They wouldn’t. The purpose of that auction was to make someone buy the book at $800 thinking they got a deal. Rinse, wash, repeat, next thing you know you have sales hitting 2k.
The craziest example of this type of pump and dump scheme was Hulk #345. We all have access to CGC census data now and everyone in the last few years has started mining it while stuck at home. Hulk #345 has a 9.8 population of 79. It seems like these quasi-low populations are the perfect targets for market manipulation in the hype madness that’s been Covid comic collecting.
You can’t corner a market if there are only a dozen, and you definitely can’t if there are thousands. A couple of hundred is just right. I love anything McFarlane, so I always watch this book. It had a FMV of around $300 for years. Covid came along, and then the next thing you know it was listed for $10,000 and sold. Guess what? The auction that was ongoing went for a couple of thousand after that 10k posting. It now has a 1 year average of $900 after multiple sales above 1k. And you know what else? That book that was listed and sold for 10k was bought for $300 just a few months early. Those CGC serial numbers are a dead giveaway in these situations.
So I hope the takeaway here is to do your due diligence and to question the louder voices in the comic book community when they promote certain comics. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1 is only one of many books to have a rough ride in the last year or two. At the end of the day, people need to create content for subscription fees and monetized YouTube channels.
There is no fiduciary duty in collecting comics and you are ultimately responsible for doing your own research on whether a comic is a smart investment, experiencing market manipulation, has a small or large print run or CGC census etc. If a comic has landed on a hot list, you should probably stay away if you don’t have it already. Check eBay auctions and sale histories and keep your head on a swivel.
I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts on TMNT Adventures #1 and other books you may have noticed getting the same treatment in the last two years. Drop a comment below. Shout out to John for helping me pin down those numbers. Thanks for reading!
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