After attending the Motor City Comic Con, (“MCE”) I am reminded of the lyrics of the classic Buffalo Springfield song… “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” The currents of the comic book market have changed for both buyers and sellers. Vendors and collectors stayed true to some classic patterns but a cosmic shift was observed at MC3. These changes were attributed to both the world economy as well as the comic book world itself.
The retailers chosen for the article did not pay to be included in this report. They were selected because of their reputation in the comic book marketplace. These vendors say it like it is rather than slant their reports to give a positive result.
Buyers were also interviewed for this report. GoCollect has some of the best data on what is selling, but asking participants why those sales are occurring is just as important. The sands are shifting for buyers. Retailers who do not realize this will pay a very hefty price for their ignorance.
Retailer #1: Keith Daggett of Daggett’s Comics
Keith Daggett has a long history of selling Copper Age to current books. Buyers who have a hole in their collection or missed out on an issue at the local comic book store seek out his booth. His knowledge of the consumer market has even allowed him to modify his booth to provide curb appeal to that market segment.
Keith reported very good sales, but they were in the $50-500 range. People were buying what they liked and most of those purchases were because of the covers. Hip Hop Variants were in great demand over the weekend; he completely sold out of almost all he had. The exception was one book priced at $800. The subject matter of the Hip Hop Variant did not matter. The buyer’s only concern was the price.
Keith did indicate that even his wall books were selling well, but again below $500. First appearances were always on buyers’ lists.
A mother and her son said they were looking for all variants, but only at $100 and below. Another fan of Eminem was at the show strictly looking for his hip-hop variant. Buyers were attracted to this booth because of the wide selection of variants. Many indicated that their local comic book stores were not keeping up with the current issues, thus forcing them to look for them here. The Spider-Man #7 Ramos Variant was still on the buyers’ radar.
Retailer #2: Lauren Becker of Comic Pop Collectibles
Lauren is an established seller of higher-end books. His wall books are on many collector’s must-have lists. Golden Age to modern, if the book is sought after by collectors it is a safe bet that Lauren has it. He also has books that target the entry-level customer. This makes his booth a must-see for all collectors.
Lauren had indicated that he had a lot of interest in his wall books, but nothing above $500. Fans asked to see books but balked at his asking price. The irony was that his prices were not high. Sales were very good but, again, this was achieved by volume and not one major sale. That was sad because his wall was littered with rare Golden Age books that one rarely sees for sale.
Finally, Lauren had a great reveal that seemed to permeate through the convention… DC Comics were in more demand than Marvel! Fans were looking for DC Comic keys much more intensely than Marvel.
One fan who asked to see a wall book indicated that they were waiting for prices to fall on even Golden Age books. He indicated that the economy is going down and that should spread to even higher-end books. A familiar attendee also visited this booth without making a purchase. He liked the books available but wanted to take a wait-and-see approach.
Normally he would be a buyer but today, he was not. His thought process was that the credit card fees would require there to either be a great deal or for the book to have a guarantee to rise in value to offset the card’s interest rate.
Retailer #3: Matt Laskowski of Mid Michigan Comics
Matt carries a wide range of comic books that appeal to a myriad of collectors. He has a wide range of repeat customers that range from heavy hitters to lower-end book buyers. His booth location was strategically placed to make him a must-see for all buyers. Matt is also always seeking to buy books, so this draws both buyers and sellers to his location.
Matt continued the trend of indicating that there were no major sales to report. He indicated that Golden Age books were in demand. Pre-code horror, war, crime, romance, and even funny books were disappearing from his inventory at the show. He then said DC Comics were outselling Marvel. He wished he had brought more DC Comics. He did sell a nice run of Tales of Suspense comics from a collection he recently purchased, but DC Comics still were in greater demand.
He revealed a short box of Justice League of America comics where EVERY pre #100 issue sold out. Multiple buyers got in on this feeding frenzy. These books had been available before and yet it was only now they were moving. TMNT and Star Wars comics always sell, but Matt indicated greater interest in variant comics than in previous years.
One familiar buyer came to target 50s and 60s DC war comics. This is a segment that is often ignored by vendors, but not at this booth. The buyer also indicated that they were looking for EC issues as well as Golden Age Batman comics. The buyer indicated that MC3 did not produce any great deals but did have books available that were difficult to find elsewhere.
Another buyer stated that the wall books were nice but that household expenses were eating into his discretionary income. He could not be a buyer unless those major keys fell in price.
Retailer #4: Timothy Hershberger of Lantern Comics
Timothy is a comic book historian. If there is something significant about an issue, there is a good chance that he knows it. This allows him to see into sales to try to determine why buyers are interested in books. He also has a wide range of books that are priced reasonably. This generated some great foot traffic.
Timothy said a lot of the shoppers were looking to complete runs of books. Shows like this provided an opportunity to finish collections. He also indicated that DC Comics were in vogue and doing comparable sales to Marvel. Dell Green Hornets to the first Silver Age Two-Face were available, but another book was attracting the eyes of a few patrons. Friday Foster #1 is a book that one dealer did not even realize was a book of note.
Friday Foster was one of the first comic strips featuring an African American woman that was later made into a comic book by Dell. This book is mostly unknown to comic book fans, but not Tim.
Buyers were interested in the books on Lantern’s wall. Hot books and some very obscure books littered the boards. One buyer indicated that while he would want to buy those books, the opportunity to buy some lower-grade key books in the boxes was more cost-effective. One fan wanted to complete a run of books and found them here.
Buyers were willing to settle for quantity over quality with one saying if a few of his books hit he would be in heaven. This type of shotgun investing approach permeated the con.
Retailer #5 Peter and the Guys from State of Comics
This is a booth that had a wide variety of books geared to the attendees because these guys are veterans of the comic con circuit. They also have a brick-and-mortar store that aids their pool of comic book knowledge. When Astronomicon needs a heavy-hitting retailer to serve as an anchor vendor they look to these guys to fill that need.
Toys. Toys. Toys. These guys had a ton of comics with varying price points and yet toys were the big seller here. Toys may have brought them in, but comics were still moving. Marvel Silver Age was king at this booth. Buyers were not picky with titles or characters. This was the second booth that also had several buyers looking for the Marvel 25-year borders. Peter said they bought a whole collection only because one of the harder-to-find borders was among the books.
He indicated that the three hardest-to-find books, in order, are the Muppet Babies #10, Ewoks #10, and Heathcliff #12 covers. Collectors are looking to add these books and yet very few investors are targeting these books.
One buyer said that this was a mini store that had it all. They were looking for harder-to-find stuff that seemed to be at this booth. One buyer saw a book rarely seen in the wild. Archie’s Madhouse #22 sat right there on the wall for all to see but drew very little interest. He assumed it would be out of his reach so he did not even bother to ask the price. Instead, it was more than fairly priced. Another buyer said DC Silver Age keys were on his target list, but at only a reasonably reduced price.
Finger in the wind
The comic book marketplace trade winds are a’changin’. Marvel was still in demand, but DC Comics are starting to outpace Marvel sales. The failure of the MCU in producing what buyers expect has put a pause on investing blindly in the MCU. First appearances of She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Echo, and other featured characters were fairly priced but drew no interest on the walls. Only those issues well below the FMV were moving. That did not mean other comics were not in play.
Pop Culture Appeal
The hottest thing at this show was Hip Hop Variants. These books appeal to both the comic book and pop culture hunger of buyers. These books flew off the shelves to the point that vendors wished they had brought more for sale.
Some variants are always hit or miss, but not one vendor had a hip-hop variant that was not in demand. The exception was those books that were priced above $500. That price point though appears to be the most important nugget of knowledge gleaned from watching both buyers and sellers at MC3.
Where did they go?
The global economy is impacting buyers’ habits. MC3 is a show that has its fair share of heavy hitters. This journalist recognizes a few of these individuals and always asks what their targets are at the show. Those buyers revealed that the economy has tightened their purse strings.
Collectors that would once drop several thousand on an issue instead were only window shopping if they bothered to show up at all. Spending restrictions have also trickled down the economic chain. Buyers would only go into wallets if there was a deal or rare book BELOW $500. This is a very important distinction.
Black Clouds ahead
Most readers say that comic cons sales are not important. That is a major miscalculation investors and collectors make. Comic con attendees are invested and motivated buyers. Unlike comic stores or online buyers, these individuals have to make a sizeable expenditure up front by purchasing event passes and parking fees.
They are willing to pay for buying opportunities. Many of these individuals only come to buy books and product. The fact that these buyers were still not inclined to make major purchases is a telling tale. This trend has already appeared in other parts of the economy, so it was only a matter of time before it appeared in comics.
A Tale of Two Buyers
Big ticket buyers still exist. They are going to buy because they have the resources to do so. Where the market appears to be changing are the segments that exist below that tier. Buyers seem less likely to extend themselves to buy books beyond their reach by financing with credit cards.
Collectors and investors hit with these types of fees are realizing the true price of their books. Books that should be selling are not because buyers are not seeing a deal. Interest in these books is diminishing unless the issue is a mega key or ultra rare. Even rabid collectors are holding back.
So What Do I Do?
Buyers should stay within their budgets. There is a fear that those prices obtained in 2021 will reappear shortly, so holding out is essential. That is now the case. Comic books are collectibles that are subject to conditions caused by the world economy. When the price of gas, rent, raw materials, and other costs go up, retailers believe so too should the price of goods. That may be true with food and other essentials, but not comics.
Discretionary purchases are where spending is curtailed. Comic book buyers are refining their targets by focusing on DC Comics and variants that are modestly priced. These books offer value that is not perceived with MCU tiles.
The tides are changing. Comic book hobbyists can either catch the wave or be left out of the fun. MC3 offered great insight into where the market is going. If James Gunn produces anything close to Guardians of the Galaxy for DC Comics film division could only increase this evolving divide. Now may be the best time to look to DC Comic keys that were all but ignored a few years ago.