Welcome back! In Part 1 of this series, we took a look at the history of newsstand comics and the arrival of the direct market. When we got to Part 2, we analyzed the rarity and survivability of newsstand comics. In this final chapter, we’ll study some comics that are exceptions to many of the newsstand vs. direct assumptions, the factor that condition plays in the valuation of newsstand comics, and what we can extrapolate from the census of graded newsstand comics vs. direct comics.
Exceptions to the Rules
Last time, we established some percentages regarding the relative rarity and survivability of newsstand Marvel comics as opposed to direct comics. Admittedly, these numbers are based primarily on anecdotal data, which will have to suffice until we have more concrete data.
However, as with most rules in life, there are almost always exceptions. And the big exception, at least early in the direct market, is that collectors often went to sources other than comic book shops for comics.
One of the most important things to keep in mind about newsstand comics in the 1980s is that they were released for sale one week after comics in the direct market. Besides the fact that at least a percentage of collectors (as opposed to readers) were still purchasing comic books in the newsstand market due primarily to the lack of a local comic shop, collectors were also purchasing newsstand copies if their local comic shop sold out of a particular issue.
We see this most predominantly in issues of Uncanny X-Men from 1979 to roughly the end of 1983, Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil – particularly Daredevil #168, Walt Simonson’s first two issues on Thor – Thor #337 and Thor #338, and even into 1984 with the release of Amazing Spider-Man #252. To a lesser extent, this included early issues in John Byrne’s run on Fantastic Four (beginning with Fantastic Four #232), Amazing Spider-Man #238, New Mutants #18 (the first Bill Sienkiewicz issue), and the Claremont/Miller Wolverine Limited Series from 1982, among others.
In short, if it was popular at the time of publication, collectors sought out newsstand copies.
Condition of Newsstand Comics
Until recently, the direct distributed version of a comic book was more sought after. The primary reason for this was the expectation of a higher grade. Comic books were distributed to the direct market with more thought to the condition of the comic and collectors, who increasingly shopped predominantly in the direct market, were more likely to care for their comics as a valued collectible than were the comic book readers who dominated newsstand purchases.
This isn’t to say that there weren’t collectors who shopped at newsstands, some regularly until a comic shop came to their town. However, collectors were switching from newsstands to comic shops at an exponential rate that makes surviving high grades increasingly rarer the farther away from 1979 we get.
We would have no high grades of newsstand comics, or even high grades of any books from pre-1979 if there weren’t collectors out there who cared about the condition of comics. However, the vast majority of newsstand comics didn’t survive and those that did are less likely to be in high grade.
Graded Newsstand Comics
The first problem you’ll likely encounter when looking at the CGC census for a newsstand edition of a particular comic issue is that there is no census. The same is often true of the CBCS-graded books. It wasn’t until 2017 that CBCS started noting on their labels that a comic was a newsstand edition or a direct edition, and CGC didn’t follow suit until 2020.
So, there are likely a number of universal graded CGC copies of books that are newsstand but are listed on the census as non-newsstand; prior to 2020, CGC didn’t differentiate. Fortunately, GoCollect has recorded sales data for both editions. Let’s take a look at some aforementioned comics to see what we can glean from that data.
There are 794 recorded sales of the direct edition of Thor #337 in a 9.6 grade (the most common grade) in the GoCollect database. Recorded sales of the newsstand edition of this same book in a 9.6 grade come to 183 total copies. So, the newsstand sales represent 18.7% of the total sales.
Knowing that this is an October 1983 cover-dated comic, it fits fairly well into our curve in the last article that estimated survivability of newsstand editions at 30.8% for books from 1982 and 10% for books from 1986.
Let’s take a look at Amazing Spider-Man #252, cover dated May 1984. There are 1,359 sales of direct editions of the most common grade, a 9.6, in the CGC database. Newsstand sales are 215 and equal a percentage of sales of 13.7%, again fitting nicely into the curve.
Admittedly, these are just two data points, and the data is imperfect. However, these also represent two comics that collectors purposely sought out in the newsstand market.
Exceptions abound that don’t fit neatly into the curve, Daredevil #168 (cover-dated December 1980) being a perfect example, where sales of 9.4 graded newsstands only represent 2.7% of the total. However, in the vast majority of exceptions, the percentage of sales is lower than we would expect from the estimated survivability curve.
It is rare to find a comic that has sales of graded newsstand copies that are higher than the percentage we would find in the estimated survivability curve. One other thing you will find when perusing the sales data is that often the most common grade for sales numbers of a newsstand edition is a grade point lower than the most common grade for a direct edition.
While the data is incomplete, based on these inferences from anecdotal data, we are able to come to some conclusions.
First, surviving newsstand editions, particularly in high grade, are much rarer than direct editions beginning at some point between 1979 and 1982.
Second, they become increasingly scarcer throughout the 1980s as newsstand distribution dwindles and direct distribution rapidly increases.
Third, many – if not most – sellers have caught on to the relative rarity of newsstand editions and are charging – and getting – higher prices as a result. It’s up to you as the buyer to decide if it’s worth paying a higher price for that relative rarity.