Authored by K. Thor Jensen in Comics and Literature
Published on 09-18-2009
There’s no denying that comic books are big business right now – with the legion of motion pictures based on four-color funnies hitting the big screen, graphic literature is enjoying a resurgence in popularity that it hasn’t seen since the speculator craze of the 1990s. But does that mean that there’s money to be made by collecting and reselling comic books? In this article, I’ll examine the market forces that drive comic book collecting and determine whether it’s a wise investment.
The general principle behind comic book investing is the same as any other collectible market – as consumer products age, more and more of them are destroyed or disposed of in some way, making the copies that remain more valuable. In addition, certain books have additional value as they mark the first appearances of popular characters or other important storyline moments. These books sell on a collector’s market of specialty stores, as well as at auction and eBay.
However, this market became seriously destabilized in the early 1990s as media attention to the hobby caused a flood of speculators to enter the market looking to make a quick buck. Comic publishers capitalized on the influx of new money by printing hundreds of “collectible” comics with all sorts of gimmicks. However, these books were printed in the millions and snatched up by speculators, who then found themselves unable to resell them at a profit… because everybody already had them. The industry profited in the short term but the collector’s market rapidly collapsed under its own weight.
However, the back issue market for books from 1970 and earlier has remained fairly stable – the scarcity of these books has not changed, and most of the significant events in comic book history happened back then. When movies come out, there is also often a spike in interest in the character or teams featured, leading to favorable conditions for the seller. Most comic book investors right now work on that short market, trying to predict spikes in public interest and using them to unload their inventory.
Comic book investing is a labor of love for most of the community, with the books treated more as art objects or heirlooms than objects of monetary value.
There are many methods used to preserve the physical condition of the books, including Mylar bags and a process known as CGC slabbing, which preserves the comic book in a box of Lucite. Needless to say, actually reading the books is the worst thing you can do for their value, as any visible signs of wear – including creasing, spine wear or fingerprints – can knock it down a grade and possibly even make it unsaleable.
In closing, using comic books as an investment property is a fairly risky proposition – they offer an extremely limited return on your initial cash investment, and significant external market forces can negatively impact their value. Unless you are financially capable of investing in books that already have demonstrated collector value, you’re better off putting your money in something a little bit less fun.