I wrote an article 6 months ago titled “Collecting During Covid” where I warned of an impending speculative bubble in the comic book market. Since then, the market hasn’t imploded and, if anything, fair market values have skyrocketed. Many of you know I remain a naysayer when it comes to the recent explosive growth. The specter of a bubble is still looming in my mind, but it’s a fair question to ask if was I wrong in my predictions. I don’t think so, since I still haven’t heard a single argument that supports issues maintaining these prices. Read along and let me share my thoughts on where this recent craziness is all headed.
The Streets are Talking
The comic and collectibles market, on the whole, has been on a wild ride in the last year and thrives despite the hardship many are experiencing. Since I wrote my article last November, many, if not most, key comic book issues from all eras have seen 300% to as much as 1000% increases in fair market value. Cryptocurrencies are shattering records and retail investors have gotten rich from stocks like GameStop. Pokemon cards are crushing previous sales and even Marvel Cards are inexplicably hot right now.
Many are wondering how is this possible and why is this happening? I have asked friends, fellow GoCollect writers, GoCollect readers, employees at comic shops, buyers on selling platforms, investment bankers, and really anyone that will entertain me picking their brains. Let me share some of the arguments I have heard in favor of this upward momentum before I tell you why they all fall flat.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe
The prevalent theory I hear argued as an explanation for the exponential growth in the last 6 months? The Marvel Cinematic Universe. Many seem to think the MCU is some unstoppable force that will drive fair market value upward for every comic forever and ever. This argument simply doesn’t make sense. One, the MCU has been here for over a decade now. Avengers: Endgame is the highest-grossing movie of all time. Deadpool 2 was the highest-rated R-rated film of all time until it was surpassed by The Joker.
If recent trends are because of the MCU, wouldn’t they have started in 2008 with Iron Man, or at the very least, years later with several of the highest-grossing movies of all time? Deadpool’s first appearance in New Mutants #98 was $850 dollars last year in a 9.8 and now it’s north of 3k, even though there are hundreds of thousands of copies in existence. The fair market value of Deadpool’s debut remained steady and relatively accessible, even with the release of two massively successful feature films. While these weren’t technically MCU films, screen time is screen time. He has been one of the most recognizable characters in the world for years now, but only recently did his first appearance quadruple in price.
This argument that the MCU is the engine for all of this momentum also fails because most keys on the upswing have absolutely nothing to do with it. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1 was $250 dollars last September in a 9.8 until there was a speculative alert. It quickly shot up to $2500 dollars only to drop back to $800 dollars a few weeks ago. An omen of what’s to come if I’ve ever seen one. The Dark Knight Returns #1 has jumped from $750 to $2500. White Rabbit’s first appearance in Marvel Team-Up #131 shot up past $1000 dollars without any screen time in her future. Who is White Rabbit? Exactly. The list of comics that have shot up without good cause is too long to name. You get the point.
The Wealthy and Foreign Buyers
The other main argument that I’ve heard is that there is a sudden influx of wealthy buyers into the collectibles market. Some have claimed that a bunch of millennials are now crypto-rich and balling out on comics. Others have said Japanese and Chinese buyers are now scooping up comics as investments. Last time I checked, wealthy people and foreign buyers have been around for a long time, along with the MCU. Are there really that many 20-somethings rich from crypto, buying Copper and Modern Age comics? I’m pretty sure the wealthy buy property and stocks and have their money managed for them. If they are buying collectibles, it sure isn’t an overprinted comic book from the 1990s. Sorry, I’m not buying these arguments either.
I have argued that stimulus checks, as well as money saved from lockdowns and lack of travel, are instead some of the main catalysts for these gains. Stimulus checks are meant to stimulate the economy, pure and simple. Many people experienced no loss in income, saved thousands by staying home, and got multiple checks for each child they have. For the first time in their lives, some people suddenly had an extra 10k to blow on whatever they wanted. Why not blow an extra $1000 on Wolverine #1? Who really cares about overpaying when you’re playing with the house’s money?
If you’re a seller as well as a buyer, you know this truth to be self-evident. Stimulus checks started landing and everyone’s eBay and Mercari accounts went nuts. For those who only collect, trust me when I tell you those stimulus checks were stimulating.
When talking about the comic market, let me be clear, I am talking about the average collector and the average book sold on the market. The vast majority of the market is not high-end, expensive, Golden and Silver Age keys. Those books, even if they experience a dip, which assuredly recover in the long run. They have recently broken records. Understandably and deservedly so. What I am discussing is the average comic book, which makes up the vast majority of volume trading hands. Think Spider-Man #1 versus Action Comics #1. These comics, overlooked for decades, have undergone unprecedented growth during the pandemic and will soon come crashing down.
Reality Bites: What Goes Up, Must Come Down
If you’re still with me, thanks for hanging in there. I know that talking about your comics losing a chunk of their value isn’t any fun. It’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of exponential growth, but I thought our beloved hobby needed a reality check. I hate to be the party pooper and I hope that I’m wrong. Everyone reading can feel free to point the finger and rub this in my face in six months if that’s the case.
On the surface, it seems like I may have gotten it completely wrong in my Covid article six months ago when it’s quite the opposite. I think that a crash delayed by stimulus has only made the bubble that much bigger. Instead of a few dozen keys experiencing inflation, it’s now a majority of them. So why do I think most comics are going to precipitously drop?
Well, my first reason is simple- what goes up must come down. There simply has to be a ceiling to these unprecedented fair market values, especially since there isn’t a concrete reason for the growth in the first place. Markets dependent solely on speculation are destined to fail.
The driving force in the market is not the MCU or the wealthy. The general public did not suddenly decide comic books were amazing investments that could outpace the stock market because of movies. In reality, free money and rampant speculation have turned markets into casinos. Don’t believe me? In my first article, I pointed to crypto and the stock market as examples. A few months later, speculators bankrupted hedge funds armed with nothing but “stimmy checks”, memes and message boards. Eager retail investors were buying Gamestop at $300 a share saying it was going to hit $10k a share. It has since lost 66% of its value. This is the definition of a pump and dump scheme.
Members of the Reddit board WallstreetBets are now under federal investigation. This is the world we live in now, a world where Reddit, 4chan, memes, and YouTube can make people rich or poor depending on the day. I’m not psychic, I’m just paying attention.
Everyone has access to CGC census and GoCollect data now. These tools have undoubtedly changed the comic market. These days, it’s not very hard for collectors to find comics with a low FMV and low CGC population, then turn around and promote them. What we’re seeing right now literally appears like dominoes, speculators juice one book and then move on to the next. Web of Spiderman #1 has shot up from $150 to $450 dollars recently. Is that the MCU as well? I think not. Oh wait, it’s because of Venom. Give me a break.
The question everyone should be asking right now is who stands to benefit from constantly overly juicing the market? Do we really know what the larger voices in the comic community are holding in their stash? Speculation is a healthy and fun part of the hobby, there is no doubt about that. That being said, people are getting paid for promoting out-of-control speculation whether it is through advertising dollars or subscriptions.
There may not be an outright agreement between members of the social media echo chamber to pump a book, but when enough voices start chiming in, the dogpile can’t be ignored. There is definitely a silent agreement if you’re watching closely. The people calling anyone who says the market is going to correct amateur analysts are the same people plagiarizing the work of those amateur analysts. The irony is not lost on me.
The Straw That Will Break The Camel’s Back
Any booming market based on speculation is at risk. What makes most of the comic market particularly vulnerable is supply and demand in addition to the speculation. There is one looming variable that many are choosing to ignore- raw comics getting graded and coming to market. Many of the key issues taking flight right now are not remotely rare. For many of the keys right now breaking into 4 digit territory, there is a massive supply of raw books just waiting to be graded and people seem to have forgotten about that.
The only reason CGC census numbers are as low as they are for many Bronze and Copper Age comics is because there was no motivation for collectors to get these issues slabbed unless they loved them. There was no financial incentive. That dynamic changes quite a bit when a book that was $300 in a 9.8 is suddenly worth $1500. Let’s see how many of the 400k copies make it to market.
Currently, CGC’s backlog of orders is so extensive that their turnaround time has quadrupled. They have also upped their fees, in spite of the high volume, because they want more of the pie they are creating with grading. Josh Avery from Avery Pressing is so inundated with submissions that he is turning them away. Coincidence? I think not.
In 6 months, when the stimulus checks have dried up, and all the graded books have come back from CGC and professional pressers, where will we be? Winter is coming. Think of the social media echo chambers right now as the king of the white walkers. They are leading an army of graded comics to market that you can do absolutely nothing about. To quote my favorite Marvel villain “They are inevitable”.
Does that mean the whole market is going to give out? The good news is I don’t think so. What I do expect is for the bottom to fall out and for all of this newfound money to trickle upwards. For many low-level dealers, this is a once and a lifetime opportunity. The name of the game is trading up, and I expect that many people will be taking their money from Bronze, Copper, and Modern sales to reinvest into Silver Age grails they have always wanted.
Unlike other comic ages, there is not an overwhelming supply of Silver Age books, especially in high grade. In 6 months, when winter is literally at our doorstep and the CGC census goes through the roof for many comics, people will be jumping ship and selling off those newer keys. If you have ever witnessed panic selling in the stock market, you have a good idea of what’s coming. If you haven’t, go watch the end of Trading Places. When the dust settles, I expect most of the Silver and Early Bronze Age books breaking records to maintain most of their fair market values, even if they have to rebound a bit.
Conclusion- Food for Thought
You don’t have to agree with my predictions. I might be completely wrong. My thoughts are if you buy a comic right now at historically high prices, there’s a solid chance you lose 50% of your investment. If you hold out, do you really think that grail you’ve been waiting on will increase another 400% in value? I doubt it. Don’t let FOMO get the best of you. The question I leave you with is this- is speculation alone enough to keep this market afloat? Until this market straightens itself out, I’ll continue to play devil’s advocate. Someone has to be the villain! I hope I have at least given you something to chew on.
Feel free to leave a comment and/or flame me below. Thanks for reading.’
Have you visited GoCollect’s one-of-a-kind Concert Poster Price Guide yet?