Do You Have to Buy Key Comics?

by Norman Robinson III

051921D-300x157 Do You Have to Buy Key Comics?There is a question a lot of collectors and investors ask. Do you have to buy key comics? It can be easy to answer ‘yes’ very quickly, but seasoned collectors pursue non-keys. Why?

Comic book collectors are a weird bunch, kind of like assorted sour skittles. You never know when they might make you pucker up or even outright grimace. However, in my experience, there is a level of serious collector below the surface of the day-to-day speculative frenzy. This silent group mines away at a future value like dwarves in the Mines of Moria, not caring one-wit who they disturb.

This group, I choose to call them pinnacle collectors, simply avoid the limelight and hoopla of big keys and pursue value and, more importantly, quality above all else.  They often have large personal collections. These collections have made them some of the most knowledgeable investors in ephemera.

Pinnacle collectors have taken our current comic craze to a comic obsession. Why do these knowledgeable collectors pursue non-keys? What are the traits of a non-key book they might absorb into their collection? Are “their” lessons to be learned by the wider comic book investment community?

SOM-unveils-Indonesian-skyscraper-that-will-harness-wind-power-_dezeen_2 Do You Have to Buy Key Comics?What is the Pinnacle Collector?

These types of collectors are often decades in the making. They tend to have a true love for comics and dabble in speculation more out of the fun than any serious need for wealth. Many that I have run across have large collections that allow them a whimsical attitude about the market. That said, there are characteristics common to these “pinnacle collectors” that might help us determine their motivation and learn from their success. First, there are three attributes that they all possess: the keenest of eyes for detail, an appreciation for quality art, and a horizon for investing that would make Warren Buffet pause.

superhero-movies-boost-comicbook-sales Do You Have to Buy Key Comics?What exactly are they buying?

Put simply, these audacious collectors are buying everything you are not! Yep, now the next question out of your trembling speculative lips can only be, “Why?” The answer is multifaceted and as varied as the people collecting. However, there are elements that we as normal collectors, investors, and speculators can learn from. All of these pinnacle people purchase profoundly profitable printed comics. Whew! That alliteration would have given Stan Lee a run for his money. But seriously, what are uber-collectors buying? Further, what criteria do they use?

Confucius Do You Have to Buy Key Comics?Pinnacle Practices or “If I fight; I win.”

  1.  They buy comic books with masterful comic art, the iconic stuff that is almost timeless. For instance, like Mike Kaluta’s Shadow from the 70s’ (see below).
  2. Quality over keys- This group of collectors buys extremely high-quality comics. This is usually around 9.4 grade or better and raw.
  3. They often buy entire runs; say all of Web of Spider-Man. This gives them access to untold large runs of comics that are relatively untouched as key hunters jump past them in the bins. Hence they all tend to be in the near-mint range as no one wants them.
  4. These collectors are very long-term investors. They move collections over decades and even through generational wealth transfer.
  5. When they do play the “key game” they play to win, or in the words of Confucious, “If I fight; I win.”
  6. Pinnacles only play on the key books years in advance. When you mow through your LCS dollar bin, they are the silent ones, quietly picking up discards.
  7. Finally, they truly enjoy what they are doing and can often be found working at the intersection of our little hobbies in full-time careers inside the comic book community.

eyJidWNrZXQiOiJnb2NvbGxlY3QuaW1hZ2VzLnB1YiIsImtleSI6ImU4NjI1ZmQ5LWNhYzItNDc1Zi05MjQyLWIyZmU0ODg1OTYzYS5qcGciLCJlZGl0cyI6W119 Do You Have to Buy Key Comics?Batman #253

I picked this comic as a perfect example of a solid Bronze Age non-key that could definitely be a book in a sophisticated collectors vault. Now some might argue that this is a Mike Kaluta cover and therefore already a key. But that aside, this book will provide the criteria we need to understand why these pinnacle folks pick these books up years in advance.

Batman #253 has elements we can use to understand a pinnacle perspective. First, the book has zero defects, is in very high grade, and here is the best part; even today it sells for about $25 raw on eBay in a higher grade. Let’s take a look at the results of three high grades and the values that accompany them.

Title Grade Last Sale CGC Census Return
Batman #253 9.8 $1020 7 31.7%
9.4 $260 50 47.1%
9.2 $205 34 29.8%

3840394521_babc945b8c_b Do You Have to Buy Key Comics?Conclusion

The results truly speak for themselves. Our pinnacle collectors would have made a small-time killing on these books. Paying even $50 for near mint to mint in raw then getting it CGC’d and selling it for $950 profit.

In addition, take a look at the CGC Census. Only 7 comic books in 9.8; yeah, that is rare in my book. The same goes for the other grades; the pinnacle collectors are literally cornering the future market. Two things stand out here: one, the profit potential is huge, and two, the loss potential is almost negligible. Do you remember my earlier skittle analogy? Now is time to pucker up and learn from this pinnacle of success! Do you have to buy key comics? I think the answer is pretty clear.

What do you think? Do you have to buy key comics? Tell us in the comments!

CheckOutTheComicPriceGuide_Footer Do You Have to Buy Key Comics?

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12 comments

Emmett May 19, 2021 - 10:15 pm

Thanks for this, an overdue article. But of course I would say that, as a collector of some 50 years now. The Batman 253 was an excellent choice, as well as being a comic I bought off the stands at the time and was in awe of then. I upgraded my copy a mere 30 years ago. Quality always reveals itself eventually. I’ve always simply bought books by the artists I love, in the knowledge that the world will always eventually catch up. Keys only interest me when they feature the work of great artists.

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Norman Robinson III May 19, 2021 - 10:52 pm

Many of the collectors I know feel the way you do Emmett. I appreciate the kudos. Nam

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octoberland May 20, 2021 - 1:28 pm

Nice write up. I think my best answer to your main premise would be a resounding no. Always buy what you like regardless underlying motivation 🙂

My only quibble is that I am not certain they are comparable at the end of the day. They _can_ be, but the mindset of an investor versus a collector IMHO are wildly different. To me, a collector will buy what they want / like and if it goes up then bully for them! An investor makes decisions with the requirement it _will_ go up, and if not that’s lost capital. I think that’s why collectors buy non-keys. It not financial motivation. They can afford to not care if the market ever catches up.

Personally, I walk both paths plus the speculator approach. There are books I own just because I love them. There are others that I bought 100% because I believe they will go up. There are books I own because they are strong long term blue chips. I do not think one is right or wrong. However, I do believe it’s important to understand the difference in approaches and choose your stance on a per book/run basis.

Not for nothing, but Batman 253 is a low key key itself beyond the beautiful Kaluta art. There’s strong argument it’s also the Shadow’s first BA appearance. Same release month as Shadow 1.

Thank you again for the time pulling this together!

– Craig Coffman

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Norman Robinson III May 21, 2021 - 5:46 am

Thank you for the kudos, and info on Batman 235. I have always loved that cover. I believe there are many folks who collect, invest and speculate. Though many fall primarily into one of the three categories. Thanks for reading. Nam

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Ruben May 20, 2021 - 3:40 pm

Nice article. My only complaint is that whether in video blog form or written form, many of the “you can still buy this book on Ebay for…” prices are almost always way off. I don’t see any NM copies of BM253 for $50 raw. A NM (9.4) copy on ebay is going for $405. And your is but one example. I’ve noticed that some vloggers have taken to actually looking at Ebay prices live. That’s helpful. Anyway. Great stuff otherwise.

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Norman Robinson III May 21, 2021 - 5:49 am

Thanks. I think you will find my prices closer to eBay with the understanding that I am talking pure raw. Many times I have found undervalued near mint online for prices previously mentioned. Often the seller seriously under-grades them. Thanks for reading. Nam

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Patrick May 20, 2021 - 4:23 pm

Very poignant article – I remember putting my DD and Star Wars runs together in the mid 90s and dealers would often laugh at what I was buying – since multiple issues cost almost nothing – but then voila! Now both are ‘hot’ – I also buy a lot of horror books – now that said, if you want a run of Spidey – u need the keys but still, love the topic.

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Norman Robinson III May 21, 2021 - 5:51 am

It is insane how things change over a decade or two. From 2008 until about 2015 Star Wars #1 could be picked up for about $9.99 at my LCS in varying grades. Thanks for the kudos. Nam

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joey May 20, 2021 - 4:37 pm

why does batman #253 value at 5X the shadow #1 at cgc 9.8 grade? it came out the same month and same year, 11/1973. and both have Kaluta covers, but the latter also has Kaluta interior art and it’s a #1 in the silverage age title with its namespake. Would you say the latter is way undervalued then because it also meets every criteria of being a key ?

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Norman Robinson III May 21, 2021 - 5:57 am

I have personally seen so many copies of the Shadow #1’s. That beloved character is just not as interesting as it was 30-40 years ago. It is undervalued. However, one thing you have to consider; will this character ever dominate the media marketplace? I think it is a long shot. You would be better off simply collecting high-grade Kaluta’s across genres. When Batman is on the cover with such an esteemed artist watch out, prices rise. Nam

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Nick May 23, 2021 - 2:28 am

Batman 253 is a great book for your example. It’s value has nothing to do with media speculation. It is simply a good mid-run book with good writing, good art, good cover, some historical significance (first Batman-Shadow teamup), and long term appeal to fans of the medium (Batman and Shadow are decades old properties with pulp media connections).

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Norman Robinson III May 23, 2021 - 6:32 am

good, I thought it was a solid pick. Nam

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