Welcome to the Blogger Dome! Here, bloggers will argue different topics involving the comic book market and industry. This will be a combination of the Big Bang Theory meets the WWE. Smack talk mixed with comic book debates. This week’s battle is the investment prospects of original art versus a high-grade copy of an issue. Tune in, get comfy, and let’s do this! This! Is! Blogger Dome!
Ding Ding! Now Entering the Ring…. PATRICK AND HARRY! Fight!
PATRICK: Like a middleweight boxer executing a jab-hook-uppercut combo to finish an opponent, I will end this debate early. My combo includes three incontrovertible reasons to purchase original art from a comic rather than a high-grade copy of the same.
HARRY: Welcome to Battle Dome Week 5, my friends. For everyone tuning in for the first time, howdy. To those that are returning, welcome back to another fight night. This week we’re discussing the benefits of buying a high-grade comic versus the original comicart. Kind of like comparing apples to very, very expensive oranges if you ask me. Patrick has fashioned himself as a middleweight, but I’m bringing the pain to Patrick Bain. Let’s get ’em.
Round #1 First Blood!
Patrick: Opening Bell Flurry
Reason 1 – The Jab. Most of us are running out of bookshelf space for our comics. But we can make space to hang original art on a wall by removing pictures of the in-laws. Reason 2 – the hook. Older fans often need reading glasses when they hit forty. Consider, original art is created 50 to 100% bigger than a typical comic. Thus, captions are much easier to read. Finally, Reason 3 – the uppercut. Black and white line art conveys a more aesthetically pleasing picture than a full-color comic–at least for the chromatically-challenged (i.e. color blind). Well, this first-round battle dome flurry finished a little weak!
Harry: Reading is Fundamental
Speculating and investing come with the territory when you collect comics. Oftentimes, many of us get caught up with these aspects of the hobby and lose sight of why we began collecting in the first place: reading comics is fun. This might sound obvious, but with the recent market frenzy, it seems we have forgotten the original purpose of these books. Comics, original comic art, sports cards, and other collectibles have all been breaking records regularly in the past year. How many of these speculative investors actually read what they’re buying? I think everyone should take a timeout to actually sit and read a comic book.
High-grade comics are multidimensional and come paired with reading material alongside art, which loses its meaning without its intended words. On any given day, I can flip through my Amazing Spider-Man #300 and get fuzzy, nostalgic feelings from childhood. Good luck trying to do that with a $600k piece of McFarlane art. Carefully reading an actual comic is a unique experience. Patrick somehow got lost and found himself on a comic collector website when he should be at Sotheby’s with an auction paddle.
Round #2: Second Swing…
Even though I’ve written two books called The Comic Art Trends Price Guide, I want to come clean. Sure, I spent literally hundreds of hours analyzing art, graphing data, and compiling simple statistics. Certainly, my fascination with original art helped me push through the tedious number crunching. But, I must admit that the anecdotal data supports the idea that buying a high-grade comic may be a better investment than purchasing the art. In some specific cases!
Now, I could illustrate my confession, but Harry doesn’t need any help to make his case for a very good reason. That reason is numbers. Not the sales figures or the price guide valuation numbers… Harry’s big advantage comes in the way of a huge difference in the number of comic book collectors compared to original art collectors. So GoCollect’s version of the “Thrilla in Manila” pits me as Joe Frazier to Harry as Muhammad Ali! And Harry has a lot of fans in his corner making him the prohibitive favorite.
Harry: Be Water, My Friend
I have admittedly dabbled a bit in comic-related collectibles such as original art, limited edition prints, and printing acetates. They were easy to sell when the time came. I’m joking; they were damn near impossible to unload when I wanted them out of my apartment. If there is a liquid market for buying and selling original comic art, I have yet to come across it.
I’m sure it is easy to move original comic art from Todd McFarlane or Jack Kirby, but what about all of the other countless artists? Are you willing to invest that $10k+ in a piece of original art knowing that if you need money quickly, you might have to sell at a loss or it might take months/years to recoup your initial investment? Do you need emergency money for a vet bill, to buy your kid a car or to take that bucket list trip to Italy? Too bad.
The high-grade comic book market, on the other hand, has valuable keys trading hands all day, every day. I’ll take the high-grade comic I can quickly sell with an eBay listing any day. Life happens, and I am your Average Joe collector. Patrick thinks he is Dan Bilzerian. Don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE to buy TONS of original art. I’d also like a mansion, two yachts, four condos, eight Rolexes, a pony and ten copies of Hulk #181. C’est la vie.
Round #3 Third Strike!
Patrick: Float Like a Butterfly
Superman vs. Muhammad Ali ranks among my all-time favorite comics. It also features my all-time favorite artist, Neal Adams. As a visual masterpiece, it’s hard to imagine purchasing a high-grade copy and immediately slabbing it for fear of dropping the grade. And that’s a big difference between a high-grade comic and a piece of original art.
While slabbed comics and art both fit in the category of “display only”, isn’t the beauty of a comic book READING IT? And a high-grade raw comic creates even more of a panic. At least with a slabbed comic, you KNOW you can’t read it! With a raw, there is always a temptation. So, instead of risking lowering the grade of your treasury-sized classic, buy the art instead. Remember, original art is one of a kind. The grade or value of art is NOT based on the condition of the paper, rather it depends on the content of the art. See my whimsical yet informational article on Grading Comic Art.
On the other hand, the definition of “high grade” for a comic keeps changing. In the 1970s, there was “Mint”, in 1990, it was “N-Mint”. Then Overstreet introduced the number system in 1992 making “NM9.4” the highest listed grade. Now, there’s NM- (9.2) as the highest list price in Overstreet. Couple that with concerns about differences in CBCS and CGC, that equals confusion about what is meant by high grade and how to appraise it. All the while, the “content” of each page of Neal Adams original art from Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali hasn’t changed since 1978!
Harry: Protect Ya’ Neck
I don’t have a masters in art history and I’m not a museum curator. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t know how to safely handle, store, or protect a piece of valuable art if my life depended on it. That sounds like an anxiety attack waiting to happen. With a high-grade comic, you can send it off to CGC to get encapsulated and ensure its safety. It’s pretty hard to trash a comic entombed in thick acrylic casing. To this day, I still don’t know how to open a slab. They are literally baby/idiot-proof. Last year, a video circulated on Instagram of someone struggling to smash open a CGC slab with a hockey stick against a brick wall. That is exactly the type of protection I like to see for extremely expensive paper.
I don’t think many of us are roping off the art or comics in our homes. Have you ever had one of your kids take a crayon to your stuff? Maybe a drunk uncle over for the holidays who had a habit of falling into your walls? It sounds ridiculous I know, but these things happen. When I was in college, I had a gig as a doorman during the summers in Sutton Place, a ritzy part of Manhattan. One tenant was an avid art collector with a collection consisting of Renoirs, Monets, Manets, and all that good stuff. Long story short, a drunk uncle trashed one of their paintings, which then had to be picked up for restoration. I can’t imagine how much money was spent or lost.
I’ll take a high grade slabbed comic, stocks, gold bars or anything else other than something as fragile as artwork if I want to make an investment. Maybe I worry too much, but even if it was an option for me, I simply wouldn’t trust tens of thousands of dollars on my wall. On that note, CGC, if you’re listening, maybe you should branch out into the art world a bit. Patrick would appreciate it after reading this.
Patrick: Sting Like a Bee
Speaking of the numbers, it’s time for the ten-count–the TKO. Both original art sales and slabbed comics sales have performed phenomenally during the global epidemic. In my article on the Silver Age Index, I illustrated the trend of comic art sales by focusing on ten of the most important artists of the era.
That index confirms what everyone understands about the strength of the original art market in the last twenty years. But, there is one number that is indisputable. That number is ONE! When purchasing a high-grade comic, one must always look over the shoulder for that contender waiting in the shadows. That contender MAY be a higher-grade comic that has simply not yet been slabbed. Or it could be another, and another, and another of the same grade all getting slabbed and reducing the rarity of your copy.
Harry: The Price is Right
I saved the best and most obvious reason for last: PRICE! High-grade comics can be pretty expensive, but their price tags pale in comparison to those of the actual original art. What is considered a high-grade comic? The Overstreet Guide to Collecting Comics tells us that a 9.0 or higher is considered near mint or high grade, so we’ll use that as our measure. Many keys in 9.0 have accessible entry prices for the average collector.
For instance, a 9.0 Hero For Hire #1, a John Romita Sr. classic, has a fair market value of $975. What do you think the price for the original art from the first African American superhero with his own title goes for? I honestly don’t know, but I’d bet my life it isn’t hovering around $1K. It’s probably somewhere in Jay-Z’s crib next to his Picasso. Patrick has written about foreign original art sold at a DISCOUNT for $8,963. Holy &$%#! Okay there money bags, I’ll go flip through my $1 True Believers while you swim in your pool full of gold coins.
A few years ago, I went to Terrificon at Mohegan Sun and chatted with Ron Lim a bit. He is a legend and a super cool guy who was nice enough to entertain my many questions while I flipped through the original art he was selling. His artwork from Deadpool Vs. Old Man Logan #1 caught my eye for obvious reasons. I mean c’mon it’s Wolverine versus Deadpool, you can’t go wrong there. If memory serves me right, he was selling it for $5k, a well-deserved price, but also way out of my budget. Instead of purchasing his art, I had him sign a near mint copy which came back from CGC a 9.8. For less than $100 dollars, I have a cool memory and a nice slab for my wall. Money saved is money earned.
There is a return on investment argument for buying art with some of the records broken in the last year. But as we have seen lately, high-grade comics and graded comics, in general, can provide excellent returns on investment. Many keys have increased in value threefold in the last six months. Also, smart investors diversify their portfolios. I’m assuming most reading this aren’t millionaires with hundreds of thousands of dollars to play with or invest.
If you have $10k that you want to invest in collectibles, your interests would be best served by buying ten $1k slabs as opposed to one piece of art you might not be able to get rid of in a pinch if you suddenly need the money. Keep in mind that a massive art investment is completely dependent on the artist you’re investing in. What happens to that investment when the world finds out he has been spewing hate speech all over the internet? Goodbye $10k. Goodbye college fund. Don’t let Patrick ruin your kid’s future.
Patrick: ENOUGH with the “rope-a-dope” strategy. One never has to worry about “census” with original art, because there is NO challenger. And since nothing fuels price explosion like rarity, THAT is why you should buy original art rather than one of many high-grade copies.
Harry: All jokes aside, I do think comic books and original art are two very different things. Original comic art is unique and often finds itself next to other fine art in homes or museums, where it should be. Either way, the end result, the comic book itself, is the truest art for me. While comics are primarily thought of as visual, they also require great writing, editing, inking, and lettering to bring the final product to life. The culmination of all of these mediums is what made these books so special in the first place. Collecting art is fun, but nothing can replace an actual comic book in your hands.