As 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.
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
I 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?
I 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.
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!