Issue #5 of 35   INDEX

Joel Grineau
by: Joel V. Grineau
Comic Book Collecting: Why Speculation Does Not Pay

When asked why he/she collects comicbooks, the typical collector will respond with any number of answers: Because they love them, they like the art, because of the stories, because they'll be worth something someday. It is this last aspect which I wish to debunk.

Don't get me wrong: If you collect for a different reason, then you someday sell them because you are no longer interested in them and you make a profit, then great! You got an added bonus! But to collect, purely for eventual monetary gain is speculation; and this is Evil.

To put it simply and directly, speculation is a terrible reason to collect comicbooks. Why? Well here's a few interconnected reasons.

First off, ancillary costs are high. Over 99% of all comic books produced before 1990 were printed on newsprint, which is cheap, as it's not meant to last, but to be thrown away [and recycled]. So, most comicbooks are fragile, they do not age well. Yes, you can take steps to preserve them, like acid free bags, backing boards and boxes; which all cost money. Most experts recommend that boards, bags and boxes should be changed every year or two. [I myself have over 10,000 comic books, and am loath to buy, use, and throw away 10,000 bags, boards and 50 odd boxes every year or two.]

Optimally, comicbooks should be stored in a cool, dark, and dry place, which means you'll need to invest in a dehumidifier for your basement/crawlspace. And yes, oxygen does increase the decay process, so for truly valuable books, a specialist will remove the oxygen from the bag, place another gas in it, and vacuum seal it for you; which is of course, not cheap.

Secondly, the majority of truly valuable comic books are by definition also scarce. Sure, a mint condition issue of "Action Comics" #1 is worth over $100,000. And yes, since it cost only 10 cents when it first came out, this is a spectacular increase in value over the last 60 years. But there are only about 4 in existence. So, how realistic is it to believe that you could find someone willing to sell it? Although this is an extreme case, most golden age, and many key silver age comic books are tightly held by true collectors who love them and don't want to sell them. They actually become heirlooms.

Thirdly, the market works against them, as out of the thousands of comics produced every year, few contain material noteworthy for the speculator. For example, the first appearance of a hero or villain in post silver age comic books has often been known to cause a dramatic rise in prices. The first appearance of the Punisher (Amazing Spider-Man #129), Venom (Amazing Spider-Man #298/9/300) or Wolverine (Incredible Hulk #180/1) are worth a lot of money. But what about the first appearances of the not so luminous Vibro (Iron Man #186), Air Stryke (Hawkman, vol 3, #3) or Oblivion (Ice Man #1-4)? To further push this point, the keen observer will note that Incredible Hulk #180-1 are worth more than issues 100-179, and 182-200, combined. So, it's rather a hit and miss game.

These three factors: ancillary costs, scarcity and sheer guess work, hamper the speculator. Despite these reason, some people have made a lot of money selling comic books. But there are more reasons which make this even more difficult, and they will be explored next week.

Joel Grineau is a former Writer/Contributing Editor for "Chaos" Magazine. "Iron Man" 146 (purchased in the spring of 1981) was his first comic book, and time has not worn down his enjoyment of them. Joel holds a BA from the University of Guelph and an MA from the University of Saskatchewan. He is currently an officer with the Canadian Forces.

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Text © Joel V. Grineau, 1997,1998.
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