Notes on Collecting Comics (Pt. II)

by Blaise Tassone

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In my last post I was looking at the various factors that make comics desirable and valuable to collectors. This post picks up from where I left off. This time I want to turn attention to the difference between fads, or short-term impulse buys, versus desirable collectibles or items that can hold long term value that may even increase incrementally over the years. I also want to explore what factors make some of the latter collectibles more desirable than others.

In the comic book world, as with many other goods and services, supply and demand play a pronounced role in fixing prices. In the case of comic books, however, we are more frequently dealing with what can be called ‘a buyer’s market’; much more so than for various other products. The reasons for this are complex and can largely be traced back to how the distribution of comics was initially organized. From early on in their history, comics held the status of low-end, mass produced, disposable goods. This insured that they were widely distributed, but rarely preserved.

Nonetheless, their wide availability made them easily accessible and recognizable creating a demand, and in a buyer’s market demand is far more important than supply.

Accepting all the above, it still follows that sustaining demand is not exactly a simple or straightforward process.

Sometimes making a product desirable can be facilitated by effective marketing campaigns as, for example, the ‘Walt Disney Company’ has been able to do since the 1950s. Disney has been masterful at eliciting desirability for its brand name and associated products (which includes comics). Disney-related comics today, however, although they can be valuable, all pale in their market value compared to the desirability and profitability of select other comic titles/genres. For example, as compared to Archie Comics.

Premiering in Pep Comics #22 (from December 1941), a 7.0 certified copy of Archie’s first appearance sold at a Heritage auction for $143, 400.00 in 2011. This price makes Pep #22 much more valuable than the most expensive, and arguably most desirable, equivalent Disney comic:

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Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #1 (October 1940),  published around the same time as Pep #22, Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #1 in 7.0 certified condition, sold for only $7, 675.75 on August 31st, 2013 (in an eBay sale). The even more historically significant, first American appearance of Mickey Mouse in comics, Mickey Mouse Magazine Vo1. 1 #1 (from 1934), fares even worse. In 7.0 certified grade, a copy of Mickey Mouse’s first American comic sold in 2017 for just over $600.00, more than seven times less than WDC&S.

Thus, while Disney comics are valuable, they are –apparently- not in the same league as Pep #22.

However, even Pep #22 is less valuable than comparable super-hero titles.

This becomes clear if we compare Archies’ first appearance to a valuable super-hero first issue, such as Batman #1.

The first self-titled Bat book, once again in certified 7.0 grade, sold for $107,550.00 in 2012.

What’s that, you say, these numbers are not as good as those generated by Archie around the same time?

True, but remember Pep #22 is, first of all, much more scarce (only 22 certified CGC copies, versus Batman #1’s 253 copies), and Pep #22 is also the very first appearance of Archie, Betty, Jughead, etc., so the proper super-hero and ‘Batman’ related equivalence would not be Batman #1, but Detective Comics #27

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Here, as the available data easily confirms, there’s really no comparison.

In 7.0 grade, and during the same period, Detective Comics #27, the very first appearance of Batman, sold for $492, 937.50, about four times as much as Pep #22.

What all the above comics have in common, however, other than their brand name recognition- is that they are all relatively scarce and hard to find in high grade. Furthermore, all are desired by collectors and, in the case of the super-hero titles, can fetch extraordinarily high prices because collectors today are willing to pay a premium for super-heroes.

This may, however, change in the future. If history is any indication, super-hero comics have strengthened and weakened in desirability throughout the decades. Although they were highly popular in the 1940s there was a dramatic decline in sales of super-hero comics in the mid-1940s to early 1950s, and then interest shot back up in the early 1960s to stay more or less steady since then.

So what drives desirability in some genres in certain periods and others at different times? Will today’s interest in all things super-hero eventually decline? These will have to be questions answered in another post.

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