Comic Collecting During Covid-19

by Harry Stone III

668136_e040006170b05f2f57948f152feb94d27f5f0a79-195x300 Comic Collecting During Covid-19As I write this article, Covid-19 is overwhelming our hospitals and the United States is breaking death records on a daily basis. Unemployment is high and one in eight Americans are not getting enough to eat. Despite this, the stock market is at an all-time high and collectibles are breaking records weekly. I have seen many articles touch on this throughout the year while discussing specific comics. Is right now a good time to invest with these record-shattering sales? In this column, I hope to provide a broader, more in-depth answer to this question while giving my opinion on the overall health of the comic market.

Internet Overlap

 While it is counter-intuitive considering the pandemic and the current state of our economy, numerous markets and sectors have seen record-breaking participation, sales, and growth this year. The DOW Jones recently broke its all-time record, climbing north of 30,000. Bitcoin reached new heights this week while marching towards $20,000. Day trading is experiencing previously unseen activity during the pandemic. Wall Street investors are participating in unprecedented baseball card sales despite a shrinking GDP, reminiscent of their part in the comic book crash of 1993. Sneaker “hypebeasts” are gobbling up product with their “cookware”, bots that guarantee purchases of sneakers to be flipped later for high profits. Online gambling is thriving and cryptocurrency fans are buying blockchain art with the hopes of striking it rich. When the tragedy that is the pandemic is said and done, a large percentage of comic shops and small businesses will permanently close while Instagram sellers thrive, despite the hardships of their brick and mortar counterparts.

When looking at the current state of comic collecting, one has to acknowledge it is a microcosm of an interconnected, internet-fueled sales market that has been growing in recent years and peaking with the pandemic. A quick glance at social media shows us the overlap of these various markets in 2020. Day traders frequently boast of acquiring blockchain art, sneaker fanatics discuss comic speculation and stock picks, and comic fans are playing poker while splitting expensive baseball packs with friends hoping to get a rare card. The newfound isolation has seemingly caused people to dabble in a little bit of everything. Everyone is out for a fast flip.

Speculation on Steroids

125303_c98bc044883a258764a1708b690c222ce06b9fe1-201x300 Comic Collecting During Covid-19I have read many articles trying to decipher the inexplicable comic sales this year. Numerous Copper and Modern Age books, notorious for their high print runs and large high-grade populations, have tripled or even quadrupled in price this year. While some were due for minor corrections, these books historically had low prices and with good reason. There are too many to list, but some that come to mind are Amazing Spider-Man #361, Ultimate Fallout #4, Darkhawk #1, and Venom #3. Many have approached or beaten the prices of rarer, high-grade copies of Bronze Age keys such as Amazing Spider-Man #129. One theory suggests there is a wave of nostalgic 30-somethings growing up and reaching for previously unachievable grails. Others claim stimulus checks or money saved from stay-at-home orders and skipped vacations caused this uptick. Some allege that Golden and Silver Age collectors moved their money into newer comics. Movies have inarguably brought renewed attention to comic books and organic growth to the industry. The question remains- are these factors, if true, enough to explain and more importantly sustain some of the prices we have seen this year? Doubtful.

I believe existing collectors are not solely responsible for the explosive sales of 2020, but instead, an influx of new investors and speculators are creating artificial growth and exorbitant pricing. These new participants are not the typical enthusiasts that invest in comic books they have loved since childhood, but rather scalpers that will buy an entire shelf on new comic book day to sell copies at a premium that same week. While comic speculation is not new, there has definitely been a boom this year that is starting to feel like times past. Speculators will surf comic hotlists and YouTube channels looking for the next books to jump on as if they were a pair of Jordans. Many find themselves inundated with alerts and checking comic prices like stock tickers so they can pump and dump on social media. Just today, I viewed an Instagram post that boasted of buying multiple copies of Daredevil #25 on NCBD after seeing it on a hotlist. Another user commented about short-term comic book speculation paying for a recent vacation. In a year where everyone is glued to their phones, YouTubers, phone applications, and social media echo chambers, along with a day trading atmosphere created by those jumping into collecting during lockdowns, have undoubtedly caused inflated prices.

Comic Price Correction?

431831_hulk-annual-1-jpg-214x300 Comic Collecting During Covid-19I am not going to touch on the merits of short-term speculation in this article. For investment purposes, I will say it has a deleterious effect on the market.  Many have predicted that a comic book crash is imminent, even before Covid-19 and the extreme price gouging that came with it. While I do not believe this will be the case, I do think there will be a sizeable price correction in the near future. It is often said that Wall Street is not representative of Main Street. While we are seeing record sales this year, we have a dark winter ahead of us. Unfortunately, I expect people to start reluctantly selling cherished, high-priced comics to pay their bills in the coming months, creating more supply and lowering prices. Those taking advantage of the collectibles market for quick profits will inevitably leave once we are no longer isolated with our phones and they have made their money. Instead of comic book shops being stuck with a surplus of cheap books as they were in the 90s, this time around it will be short-term speculative collectors. It is not coincidental that the books speculated on prior to the comic bust are the same ones being pumped right now and breaking records.

Conclusion

There are plenty of comic book investment opportunities currently. I simply urge caution and recommend doing due diligence by deep diving into GoCollect sales data. Reading notifications does not constitute research and what we have seen with Copper and Modern Age sales since March is suspicious at best. I am reluctant to purchase comics when outsiders trying to make a quick buck are driving their sales. Personally, I would generally invest in blue-chip Silver and Bronze Age comics in the coming year. They have a history of performing well, rarely lose much value, and many have great entry prices right now while newer, high-volume comics are soaring. I do want to say while current sales may reflect some inflated prices from speculation, it is great to see former collectors back with renewed interest as well as curious newcomers entering the market. Whatever the future holds, I hope the dialogue continues regarding the current state of comic books. Feel free to comment below.

Thank you to any and all essential workers reading this. Everyone stay safe and mask up. Support your local comic shop!

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15 comments

Fred December 16, 2020 - 2:34 pm

My local lcs/toy store is doing so well they just opened a second store. There seem to be a lot of late twenty to late 30 new collectors. Nice to see. I think since toys r us went under and with eBay sales this model seems to be working in my area.

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Bill December 16, 2020 - 8:34 pm

An excellent article. How these Moderns can skyrocket almost overnight and sometimes even surpass high grade key silver and bronze has made no sense to me. This article provides a well thought out theory as to this recent phenomenon and I think you’re on to something.

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Harry Stone III December 21, 2020 - 1:51 pm

Thanks Bill. A Darkhawk 1 newsstand trying to get a higher price than a first appearance Punisher is pretty outrageous. We’ve pretty much seen increases in prices across the board in all of these overly printed books everyone stayed away from for decades. Fishy at the very least.

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megan December 17, 2020 - 6:55 am

Comic speculation and collecting is fun. Us have a desire to collect material things and there is a lot of FOMO amongst us the collectors and speccies. Our hobby takes up time and takes us away from more labourious things. Just maybe this is the time where probably due to movie overdosing on superheroes has created an awareness of said superheroes and a desire to get away from cyber space for a bit and have a physical product in your hands.Comic pricing has become crazy but is fun to watch and will level out at some point but people are still buying. Movie studios have concentrated on new diverse characters and when they concentrate more on existing characters, Shazam etc bronze and silver will again rise followed by moderns rising. In my opinion i do not think a crash will come, a possible levelling then it will increase again. Maybe comics are to cheap and the new collectors/speccies have cottoned on to this. Old skool collectors/hoarders are completely seperate entities to new skool speculators. Most do it to make money as do oldies but if they admitted it it is fun. A harmless hobby at the end of the day. Collect, dont take it seriously, do research and build a collection long term. Enjoy our hobby, meet people, travel ( when covid has gone). buy in comic shops as well as internet.
Also to all key workers around the world during this horrendous COVID this is the only way i can tell you all, nurses, doctors etc.you are the true heroes and we love you and appreciate you all always…Thank you.

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Harry Stone III December 21, 2020 - 2:12 pm

Don’t get me wrong. I love speculating, its a part of the hobby. But there is a difference between actual comic fans speculating versus people jumping in to just make a buck, and I think that’s where we are at. I don’t necessarily see a bust coming, but I do feel bad for people who are buying modern age keys for over 1k. There will be a price correction and they are going to lose money if you ask me. Do we really think that the first appearance of Gorr or Knull are going to hold more value than Silver and Bronze age keys? I doubt it. I also don’t think some keys with print runs of half a million plus should be seeing the prices they are this year. Speculating is fun, seeing a 1200 investment drop back down to 300 is not. For instance, I have been watching Ninja Turtles Adventures 1 all year. It was consistently priced at 250 dollars in a 9.8, it appeared on some speculation lists, hit 1200 or more, and is now back to 700, which is a big loss and quickly. The print run was over 100k, so we’ll be seeing more copies pop up in the census and prices dropping even more. The turtles are a great example of the problem with buying copper and modern books this year.

Also, and I hate to say this because I love the MCU, I think the market is getting a little saturated with super-hero movies and television shows. Disney needs to pump the breaks a bit.

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David December 17, 2020 - 9:39 am

My problem is that I buy the golden/silver/bronze/copper books I love whenever I can get a good deal, but then they go up in value and I just can’t part with them… Oh well I guess my son will inherit a nice comic collection some day.

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Harry Stone III December 21, 2020 - 1:52 pm

Your son is lucky!

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george December 17, 2020 - 9:49 am

It’s always wise to urge caution, but we may be missing a big transition that is occurring within our economy that may indicate this is not a bubble but rather a long range trend. All hard assets are appreciating – whether its gold/silver or art or land. This represents an expectation that the dollar and our financial system is heading toward “interesting” times. If it is a bubble there is going to be a widespread asset collapse everywhere not just in comics. However, if its not a bubble and rather a reflection of what people see as a devaluation of the dollar along with tremendous ‘easy money’ flooding the system from the fed and the government (both of which feed each other), then this may just be the start of a long boom cycle. As with all booms, it will run itself out but while its going there is a lot of money to be made and the people who stay out of it due to caution miss out.

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Harry Stone III December 21, 2020 - 1:55 pm

I think we are looking at a bubble in a lot of different areas, whether it be the stock market or comic books. It just makes no sense for things to be booming during a financial crisis, especially with comics that have such a high supply. I can’t rationalize modern books with their high print runs breaking records during these times. There may be new collectors, but I think there are more speculators and shady sellers causing it than anything.

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Josh Muskat December 17, 2020 - 11:16 am

Keep in mind that from a supply/demand perspective, there is a lot more of the Silver/Bronze/Copper books out there when compared to the newer Modern books (last 15-20 yrs) – we’re talking print runs in the mid 5 figures for the modern books compared to these older books that routinely had 100-250k print runs. Granted the higher grades for these older books is less, but the volume is so much higher for these older books.
One could make the argument that the lack of supply in of itself is what generates the higher demand – people see low print books with an interesting twist/new first appearance, etc. and BOOM! we’re talking $20+ on NCBD. It’s not necessarily the interesting twist/new appearance, rather its the low print run that’s driving the interest.

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Harry Stone III December 21, 2020 - 2:01 pm

In my opinion its lower print runs combined with rampant speculation. Lets be honest, a comic pops up on an app and everyone tries to flip a book for triple the price that day. For example, anything Cates touches is pumped and then dumped. But the print runs caught up, anyone who is holding ten copies of Virus’s first appearance can vouch for that.

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Matt Noble December 17, 2020 - 1:36 pm

This was very informative, thank you!

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Harry Stone III December 21, 2020 - 2:19 pm

Thanks for reading!

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Brandon December 18, 2020 - 9:14 pm

The spike in the value of bronze and copper age books has led me to sell and wait for a market correction. Unless it’s a blue chip character, I’m selling!

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Harry Stone III December 21, 2020 - 2:26 pm

Exactly. Great time to sell those Copper age books! Best time in years really. So many Copper keys have seen at least a 50% increase across the board just this year. The newsstand trend has also exploded with outrageous prices. Great time to sell Copper keys but a horrible time to buy them that being said. BUT so many silver and bronze age keys are being overlooked right now, its a great time to pick those up. They may not randomly skyrocket in price, but you definitely wont have a 50% decrease in value in a few months either.

Thanks for reading!

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