Are you a recent returnee to the hobby of collecting comic books? Did you use to buy comics when you were a kid, cast it off as a child’s pursuit, and now are sheepishly admitting you miss the thrill of opening a new issue of Spider-Man? A growing number of people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, are returning to the hobby after a hiatus of possibly decades. I used to be in your shoes, and I returned to collecting after 30 years; let me bring you up to date to the hobby in 2020!
Comic Book Royalty
Marvel and DC Comics are still at the top of the pyramid when it comes to comic book publishers. Of the two, Marvel, driven by the outrageous success of their movie franchises, has a firmer grasp on the market, but DC still produces powerhouse titles like Batman and Superman that sell in huge numbers. If you’re a fan of the movies, then you’ll find something you like in your local comic book shop (LCS).
Back when I started collecting, there was no authority to grade comics. A book was assigned a grade by its apparent condition. It was either “mint” or “an unread” copy, or at the other end of the spectrum potentially a “reader.” But people’s opinions could vary depending on their interpretation of those conditions.
Now we have companies like Certified Guaranty Company (CGC), and Beckett’s Comic Book Certification Service (CBCS) that will assign an unbiased number grade, from 0.5 (incomplete) to 10 (Gem Mint), and a variety of categories in between. 9.8 is considered the best rating that most books can achieve.
You’re either going to love the variety or hate having too many choices when it comes to variant covers. Publishers, for some titles, will release multiple editions of the same comic, but with different artwork on the cover. So for Wonder Woman #750, a significant milestone, there are 48 different covers identified by GoCollect! The same story, just different covers.
Oh, and when it comes to different covers, there’s also the fact that “virgin” covers exist now. A comic with all the text removed from the cover, including the logo (this lettering is called “trade dress”), is called a “virgin” variant. DC tends to do “minimal trade dress” variants, where there’s just a tiny bit of wording, usually at the bottom or top of the book.
There are also things called “incentive variants.” These are comics that a publisher will allow a retailer (your local comic book shop) to buy once they’ve purchased a certain number of regular versions of a book. So a 1:25 variant is a special edition that only can be purchased once you’ve bought 25 “standard” copies. These ratios can go up to 1:500, and the higher the number, the more rare the version will be.
A great example of a ratio book is Spider-Gwen #16’s 1:50 ratio book with a cover by Dave Johnson (see the photo at the top of this article). This book is hard to find and goes for $350 for a 9.8 copy. The “standard” version of this issue can be found still for nearly list price. That’s an excellent bump for the variant.
Issue Numbers Can Differ
Marvel and DC have a habit of changing the numbering schemes for certain titles in order to have a new “Issue #1”, but then they’ll change back to the original numbering schemes for big milestones like issue 750 or 100. Marvel has gotten so bad that their books have a little box with “LGY” for legacy, and what the issue number would be if they stopped monkeying with things. Chronochron has a great guide on numbering continuity.
Online Comic Shops Are a Thing
Comic book buying has gone online. There are dozens of retailers that cater to shoppers on the Internet. These online shops will sometimes sell variants that are only available to their customers. These will be a mix of options, some with trade dress, some without. Warning: some of these exclusive variants will sell out within minutes. The Wonder Woman #750 shown here is a store variant exclusive to The Comic Mint.
My recommendation for variants is not to get too caught up in the hype. Buy the covers you like, don’t worry about resale value or speculating, at least at first. My experience is many “exclusive” variants end up selling for much less a few months down the road. Be patient; you’ll usually get an opportunity at some point to pick up something you may have missed.
Social Media and Comics
Unlike back in the 80s and 90s social media plays a large part in the comic collector hobby today. Instagram and Facebook are great places to learn about new comics coming out, as well as sources of buying and selling rare and exclusive books. Some of the online comic shops I mentioned previously announce the sale of a new book on social media first.
Welcome Back to Comic Book Collecting in 2020. An important last note: don’t get too hung up with graded books at first. If you’re coming back to the hobby with an existing collection, you might get excited by the high prices you may see on websites and auction houses. Don’t make a mistake thinking that just because you have an Amazing Spider-Man #300, it’s automatically worth the $2,000 that a 9.8 commands. Take your time and learn how to estimate a grade accurately. It will save you heartbreak, and potentially make you money.
Comic book collecting has seriously matured since those days of my youth. It’s a fun and vibrant hobby, full of excitement and a sense of ownership I think you’ll enjoy. Welcome back! We’ve been waiting for you!