What is the true first appearance of a character? After all, in comic book collecting the first time a character appears is a key issue. They are the lifeblood of both collectors and speculators everywhere. We all want key comics to make money, to fill our collection, or both. How to decide the first appearance of a character? Is it when you first see the character revealed to any degree, or when you find out the name of a stunning new villain or hero? How do you know what to buy? In modern books, Marvel has been pretty devious about drawing out a first full appearance. The latest introduction of the super-villain Red Goblin; kept us guessing. Was he going to appear in ASM #797, or in #798, or the big issue Amazing Spider-Man #800? How can you know what to buy? This is like the Gordian Knot for collectors; how do we solve the puzzle of a first appearance?
After many years of toil and trouble in the corporate world, I came back to comics. One of my first mistakes was purchasing the wrong appearance of a favorite character. That comic was the Punisher #1 (limited series) what I thought at the time was the first appearance of The Punisher. The sales clerk in an Iron Man t-shirt, quickly corrected me “No, absolutely not the first appearance of the Punisher. To own that you need to buy Amazing Spider-Man #129.” Thus began a lifelong head scratching; how to define the key first appearance for super-heroes?
The first cameo appearance is essential in a character’s background but not the most expensive. The cameo is the character appearing on only a few panels or even just one panel in the interior pages. Basically, the cameo is a very limited intro of the character, a teaser. Every cameo is usually cheaper than the full appearance, running about 50-75% less. A good example of a cameo is the Incredible Hulk #180 in a grade (5.0) it has a value of $375. In contrast, Incredible Hulk #181 is the first full appearance and has value three times the cameo price, around $1500.
First Full Appearance
Defining the first full appearance is tough, some apps help. Essentially, the first full appearance is a full story on the character with that character appearing in multiple panels and multiple pages. Think of Amazing Fantasy #15 as the first full appearance of Spider-Man. While Amazing Spider-Man #1 in his first series issue #1 or his first self-titled series. The price on these two is outrageous but let’s compare one grade for both comics: Amazing Spider-Man #1 with a grade (5.0) has an FMV of $10,500. In comparison, the Amazing Fantasy #15 has an FMV price of $30,000, three times the price of the first titled series!
How about returns? That Amazing Spider-Man #1 has pretty good returns of 15.7%. However, the first full appearance of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15 is not as profitable with only a 12% return same time span and same grade. This is why speculation is so exciting; it isn’t just about inflation of prices alone. Also, the expectation of market purchase power, and the tempo of sales. Basically, more people can afford the cheaper comic of the first series #1 at $10,000 vs. first full appearance at three times that price. The bigger the market; the greater the returns, all things being equal. Think of this as the Big Tent approach.
Ultimately, the first full appearance is what everyone is scrambling for. The best way to get this is from a current issue of the Overstreet Guide. However, the book might be too new, or not reflected in the guide. If that is the case, try looking up the cover of a CGC sale. Every CGC slab will choose issue notes, allowing you to verify, does it say “first full appearance” or “cameo?”
This seems like a crazy undertaking, chasing the first appearance in comic books. But sometimes the action is enough of a draw for speculators. Remember the old Spider-Man TV theme song from the 1970’s, “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, friendly neighborhood, Spider-Man. Wealth and fame, he ignores, the action is his reward. Look out here comes the Spider-Man!”