Predicting Demand for Marvel Characters from Total Comic Appearances

by Blaise Tassone

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In this post I’m looking at data about Marvel characters collocated from an electronic database. The goal of this exercise is to list the Marvel characters with the most appearances and compare the number of appearances with the corresponding prices of their key comics.

The purpose of the exercise: introduce yet another tool to help predict demand. Since, getting ahead of the curve is the best way to find books that will bring strong returns, and buying a book before it becomes the next Hulk #181 is the best strategy for insuring that your book will appreciate in value and bring the strongest returns. You don’t want to randomly buy comics however, since most printed comics (especially today with individual issues so expensive), will lose value.

Another way to view this perspective is as follows: when you’re looking for valuable books, unless you collect simply for the sake of owning books you like (which is fine), many people want books that will appreciate in value.

The books that are guaranteed to appreciate are basically those in high demand. In the past I tried to connect demand to CGC data (see my Predicting Demand Using CGC Data).

This time, I’m looking at comic book character data and the correlation between appearances of selected characters over the years with prices on their key books.
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Intuitively there should be a connection between the number of appearances a character makes (the more appearances, the higher their popularity; therefore usually the higher the demand) and the prices on their key comics.

The general trend I’ve noted is that increased demand drives prices up in relation to supply. A very strong demand and a low supply will – all other things being equal- amount to a very high price for a given book.

The opposite conditions generally result in bargain prices.

The data set I’m using spans the following years, Sept. 1939- Sept. 2014 and takes into consideration over 2000 Marvel characters. The data set can be found here: https://github.com/fivethirtyeight/data/tree/master/comic-characters

This info, I’m assuming, was scrapped from the Marvel online database.

I’ve parsed the data and come up with the following list: With Columns listing Character, First Appearance and Total Number of Appearances represented.

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Okay so, now let’s look at the prices of the related books and their 2014 values:

The values will be based on sales numbers for 9.0 graded copies, since many of these are older books and there isn’t enough 9.8 sales data to make a fair comparison possible.

Amazing Fantasy #15 sold in certified 9.0 grade for $191, 200.00 (one sale: Heritage 02/20/2014).

Fantastic Four #1 sold in 9.0 for a FMV of $145, 450.00 (one sale recorded: 12/05/2012).

Captain America Comics #1 in 9.0 = $96, 686.25 (from one Heritage Sale 01/19/2006).

Hulk #1 was selling in 9.0 for the range of $74, 000.00 (one sale recorded, ComicConnect on 03/24/2011).

Journey Into Mystery #83 sold in 9.0 for average FMV of = $37, 763.66 (average of 3 sales between May and Sept, 2013).

X-Men #1, selling in 9.0 for average $24, 890.00 (after 2 sales between May and Dec. 2013, Heritage/ComicConnect).

Tales of Suspense #39 sold in 9.0 for average of $18, 447.00 (2 sales $11, 950.00 Heritage, 11/16/2006 and $24, 944.00 ComicConnect 09/27/2013).

Hulk #181 in 9.0 sold for = circa $2, 119.70 (FMV average derived from 10 sales between June and Sept, 2014).

What’s the conclusion?

There seems to be only a very loose overlap and pattern between number of appearances and sales data, although a case could be made that it’s more than just random, we have to also acknowledge that there are glaring aberrations present.

How to make sense of these? If we lump Mr. Fantastic, the Thing and Johnny Storm together that can make sense of their second place showing, since they have (between them) 6, 261 appearances [more than Spidey]. Captain America then rightly comes third. But the outliers are Cyclops, Wolverine and Hulk.

The Wolverine at 3061 has many more appearances than any other single character except Spider-man, yet his major key comes last in terms of price. The Hulk, by contrast, is low on the appearances (at 2017, about half of what Spider-man has and about 1000 less than Wolverine) but his first appearance is 4th place.
Obviously the correlation is not 1:1. Other factors= movies, scarcity of comic [Hulk with its dark purple cover showing creases is harder to find in high grade than JIM #83; Hulk #181 is a Bronze Age book with larger supply), etc.

However, interestingly: for Spider-man, Captain America and Thor the correlation seems more or less right. Also, the low price on a strongly represented character (Wolverine) could be read as an indication that there’s high growth potential- which actually seems probable.

So, this might be a useful additional way to predict demand. Also, we should pay attention to what this might signify about, e.g. characters like Nova, who with a combination of only 373 appearances between 1949 and 2014, might signal that the potential highs on prices for his comic could see falls after a movie appearance.

That, unfortunately, will have to be a topic for a future post. Also, next time: DC heroes and appearance frequency versus price on keys.

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