Of all the books in my comic collection, my silver medal favorite that I own came because of a relationship with Jason Stum and his online store, Certified Comic Shop (certifiedcomic.shop). Here’s some insight into how he got to where he is today, and what inspired him to make it there.
Nothing will ever top my Daredevil #1, of course, but Jason helped me locate a specific book I had been hunting for some time; one that has been heating up lately.
I noticed about a year ago that Amazing Spider-Man #5 seemed to be significantly trailing in value for all other books in the first ten issues of that iconic run. Spider-Man comes face to face with Dr. Doom in this issue, and I guess because it is one of only two in the first 10 that doesn’t introduce a new villain, the price seemed to be depressed. I hunted for a long time before being pointed to a special collection of graded comics managed by Jason. Not long after, a deal emerged and I am the proud owner of ASM #5 in a CGC 4.5
But Jason is about much more than helping collectors collect the comics they love (which just happens to be his site’s slogan). He is one of the most entertaining and passionate comic collectors and content creators I have met and his story is one that is inspiring for anyone looking to get into the comic business. Here is my interview with Jason.
You’re well-known for asking people what their “origin story” is with comics, so let’s turn the tables. What is yours?
So there I am lying on the couch in misery…6 years old, sick as a pup, home from school, and nothing on TV except All My Children and Phil Donahue. If you don’t know what either of those shows are, then congratulations for being of a younger generation (you didn’t miss much). But if you do know what those shows are, then you won’t be surprised to know that this is circa 1980. There is no Internet. There is no cable tv. No handheld video game system. All there is is a static-filled tv screen with poor reception and hour after hour of television shows that no six-year-old, sick or otherwise, should ever have to endure.
As my illness stretched into day two, it was my Dad who rescued me from sheer boredom when he came home from work with a brown paper bag in hand. No, not that kind of brown paper bag. The kind that you got from the newsstand. The kind that was just big enough to hold a stack of comics. He came up to me, sat down next to me on the couch, and said “here son, these might make you feel better”.
I slid the stack of comics out of that paper bag and was holding in my hand my very first comic books. When I’d reflect on that moment as I got older, I always thought my Dad was just doing what dads are supposed to do — take care of their sons and make them feel better when they’re down. But then when I got even older and had kids of my own, I realized the real reason he bought me those comics. He was probably so sick of hearing me whine and complain about being sick and there being nothing on television, that he resorted to buying me off with a stack of comics just so he could maybe, maybe, get an hour or so of peace and quiet.
Well played, Dr. Stum…well played.
Either way, it was my Dad who turned me on to comic books, and they’ve been with me pretty much ever since.
How did that story lead you to start a successful Certified Comic Shop, podcast, Youtube channel, etc.?
Where did you hear that the Certified Comic Shop was successful? I think you need to check your sources, sir :p but I digress…
So as I became a teenager and started to think about what I wanted to be when I “grew up”, it was a tie between three total logical career choices: Professional Baseball Player, Rock N’ Roll Star Extraordinaire, or Comic Shop Owner.
Now not to get all braggy but I was an above-average baseball player and a decent bassist too. It only made perfect sense that one of those career paths would be the one I’d take. The irony is of course, that owning a Comic Shop was always the most logical and likely choice. However, it seemed so less possible than the other two. So fast forward to 2017. I’m 43 years old, and more than likely having a mid-life crisis. At that time I just felt so certain that if I was ever going to build something out of nothing and embrace that entrepreneurial spirit, I had to act now. I couldn’t wait any longer. So with the blessing of my wife and family, I started the Certified Comic Shop with a mission to help comic book collectors collect the comics they love.
You talk a lot about what it takes to be a “comic-preneur.” What are some valuable lessons you have learned along the way to those that are thinking about jumping into this world?
I’ve learned so many lessons during this nearly five-year journey of comic-preneurship. But the single biggest one, and the one I think most people will appreciate, is that there never will be the “perfect time” to start. The longer you wait, the less time you have to grow. So if you’re serious about bringing your vision to life, don’t sit there and wait until the stars are all aligned, because they never will be. Just start doing it, and find your way as you go. But do it responsibly!
Your site focuses almost exclusively on graded comics. Why did you make that decision?
When I started the shop, I set three rules in place to ensure I was being responsible. The first rule was that family came first. I have a wife and four kids (three at the time), and ensuring all their needs are met is my number one job. Rule two is that my day job comes second. I wasn’t about to do something silly like quit my day job and go all-in on some kind of wild bender of irresponsibility. And then the third rule is that I wouldn’t go into debt to start this venture.
So based on the fact that I’d be limited to working evenings, early mornings, and whatever time I could find on the weekends, I zeroed in on graded comics as the place to focus my efforts. Dealing only on the graded side of things comes with a lot of built-in efficiencies from a buying and selling standpoint, with what I feel is a more predictable ROI. Selling weekly new comics or raw back issues is just a whole other level of complexity, and ultimately a time sink that just wouldn’t work for my situation when I started.
Over the past 2-3 years, there has been a huge boom in popularity for graded comics. To what do you attribute that?
The most visited pages on my website are the blog posts I published that explain everything there is to know about having your comics graded. To me, that shows that comic collectors, enthusiasts, and would-be sellers are all curious about having comics graded for one reason or another.
If I had to go out on a limb and guess why, I’ll say it might have to do with the perceived profitability of selling graded over raw. I mean, about four years before I started the Certified Comic Shop, I realized that there was potential to play the speculation market as it related to movies and television shows that were coming out non-stop.
For instance, in 2013 the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was getting ready to come out, and it just so happened that I needed to sell some comics from my personal collection as my wife and I just had our second child, and the bills were piling up. I happened to have Guardians of the Galaxy #1 – #25 from the 2008 series written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, and with the movie coming out featuring this team of Guardians, I figured I could make a few bucks on the lot. So I put them up for auction on eBay hoping to get $50 for them, and they ended up selling for $400! That was my first eye-opener into what comic books movies were doing to the market.
With my curiosity piqued, I started doing some research on this trend of comic book movies bringing buyers to the market and then seeing prices go up accordingly. It didn’t take long to discover that there is a multiplier in value for high-grade comics that have been graded by CGC over those same comics in a raw format. So four years before I ever started the Certified Comic Shop, I was convinced that there was a dead-simple business model of acquiring raw key issues and first appearances, having them graded, and then waiting until the market conditions were perfect to make them available for sale to maximize the profit for each sale.
While at the time I thought I was a genius with an idea that no one was thinking about, I later realized that a lot of people had that same idea. And while it all may not be speculation-related, or movie-related, I think the huge spike in popularity for graded comics has a lot to do with the dollars and cents side of things.
Where do you see the comic market headed in the short- to medium-term? Do you buy the argument that this is a bubble that’s headed for a crash?
Well, we’re already trending down from where we were over the summer. In April, May, and June of 2021, I had back to back to back record-breaking months in terms of number of sales and gross profit. It was absolutely crazy.
There were a lot of factors driving that kind of business. Between the money that the government was handing out and tax return season, I feel like a lot of comic collectors used that money to buy comics at the shop. Add in everything that the pandemic brought upon us, sprinkle in a little bit of nostalgic feels, and you had a recipe for crazy prices being paid and people scooping up key issues left and right.
Well here we are now, and the free money has all been spent, things have opened up a little bit more, and in-person comic cons have made a glorious comeback with the overall results being values falling back closer to where they were before that crazy three-month crush late spring and early summer.
For now, while values have certainly decreased, I think the market is healthy and doing just fine.
That said, I do think there is the potential for a crash down the road as both CGC and CBCS work through their extensive grading queues. The flipside to that buying frenzy coin is the grading submission coin. Both CGC and CBCS were slammed by an unexpected volume of submissions, so much so that it’s taking them upwards of 4-6 months just to grade a modern comic. So there’s a very real potential here come the holidays that the market will be absolutely flooded with these freshly graded books, and not enough buyers who want them, which could lead to an industry-wide fire sale just to move the inventory. Please note, that’s just me freestyling here, but I could certainly see it going down that way.
How do you balance the needs of running an e-commerce site versus producing content like podcasts, videos, and blogs?
Well back when I started the shop it was pretty easy. I didn’t have a whole lot to sell, so I spent the majority of my time writing blogs, creating YouTube videos, and then later starting a podcast. Overall my time was spent very unbalanced toward the content side of things.
Today, the scales are flipped, and now I’m totally unbalanced on the sales side of the biz. The shop is so busy, there just isn’t time to create content anywhere near the scale that I was able to back in 2017. Now, I’m not complaining. However, I do love writing, producing, and creating content. So to not be able to flex those creative muscles on a more regular basis is something that I really miss.
What about a personal collection? What are you collecting, reading, or hunting right now?
One of the other things I did when I started the shop was I somehow managed to flip this mental switch in my head where I went from Jason, Comic Collector to Jason, Comic Seller. So I stopped buying new comics and focused just on doing the things that I needed to do that would produce a positive outcome for the shop.
That said, I still love to read comics, and I do pay for both a Marvel Unlimited & Comixology Subscription. For more recent, the first 20 or so issues of Immortal Hulk enthralled me. The last couple of story arcs of Moon Knight leading up to issue #200 were bonkers. Ice Cream Man is a freaky, fun ride. The Department of Truth is legit. But really, my favorite thing to do is just to take a random dive into Marvel Unlimited and read a bronze age issue of Defenders or whatever catches my eye.
As far as collecting and hunting goes, I knew myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t be able to stop collecting completely, and I had to give myself some kind of an outlet. So I am actively trying to put together a full run of Avengers (Vol. 1) #1 – #402. I’m also trying to collect the direct and newsstand editions of the Marvel 25th Anniversary Border Cover comics that came out in 1986. I’ve made some really good progress on both, but have slowed down considerably since the pandemic. I prefer to track down the needed issues in person as opposed to buying online. Hopefully, I’ll be able to resume the hunt soon!
Visit Certified Comic Shop!
Thank you to Jason for his time and willingness to open up the curtain a bit and let us peek into the world of someone who has become a successful comicpreneur.
If you haven’t had a chance, check out certifiedcomic.shop and browse the vast collection on his site. I would also recommend you check out the Private Collection, which has a list of elite graded books at some of the best prices you will find in the marketplace.
Have questions or comments for Jason or about Certified Comic Shop? Feel free to drop a note below!
*The views in this blog are those of blogger Ryan Kirksey. This blog is not sponsored by Certified Comic Shop, nor is Certified Comic Shop endorsed directly by GoCollect