The popular appeal of comic books spans many generations. Those magazines capable of fueling childhood imaginations are also popular collector’s items for adults. Collecting comics is an enjoyable hobby that can lead to financial gain if the amassed comics increase in value. Many comic books appreciate in value based upon multiple factors, including availability of an issue, the physical condition of the book and the popularity of the series.
Today’s comic books are as diverse as the collectors themselves. Topics found within the pages of comics include not only the thrilling adventures of superheroes like Batman and Wonder Woman, but also comedy, fantasy, horror, drama, mystery, crime and science-fiction. There are comic books targeted at both adults and youngsters.
Popular comic book characters
Here are some of the most beloved characters in comic books: Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Incredible Hulk, Captain America, X-Men, Hellboy, Wolverine, Iron Man, and Flash
Where to buy comic books
Collectors can choose from among many sources when looking to buy comic books. Newly released comics are sold at local comic book shops, book stores, convenience stores and even large department store chains. Older comics and vintage comics are available at online sites like eBay and Amazon, at local comic book shops and online comic book stores. Collectors can also search online for vintage comics at sites like craigslist, or attend comic book conventions, peruse the ads in their local newspapers or try their luck searching at garage sales and yard sales.
Examining vintage comic books
Collectors wishing to buy vintage comic books should watch for flaws that can lower the grade and value of the books. Experts suggest examining the cover and individual pages for wrinkles, rips, water spots or other imperfections.
Look at the color of the pages. The extent of yellowing decreases the comics’ value. The staples in the spine should be present and in good condition. The spine should ideally be free of flaws and stress marks. Check the inside cover for publication information, including year, issue and volume. The comic book is a first edition if the inside cover does not state that it is a reprint.
Be wary when checking out vintage comics. Some unscrupulous sellers will replace covers or try to sell less valuable reprints as first editions. Use caution when buying a vintage comic online from a private seller. Ask the seller to scan an image of the comic book so that you can study the condition. Obtain a guarantee of the comic book’s physical condition before paying.
When to sell comic books
Collectors should keep updated about the ups and downs of the comic book market to gauge the best time to sell a collection or even just a magazine or two. Collectors should know what was paid for each comic in their collection and what each is currently valued at on the market. Collectors can choose from a variety of options when selling part or all of a collection. Local comic book shops will buy collections, but they will not pay full value because the shop owners want to reap a profit from their acquisitions. Some shops will pay only half of what a comic is worth. Thus online auction sites might prove to be a better alternative for the aficionado who wants to sell.
Collectors should keep abreast of trends in the comic book market to help gauge what magazines will make the best investment and eventually rise in value. Keep on the lookout for new comics by popular artists and writers. Or watch for early creations by artists and writers who eventually became famous. Take note of debuting series that might prove popular and jump in value. Vintage titles in popular series like Batman, Spider-Man and Superman are good bets for appreciating in value. Publishers sometimes release titles with alternative or variant covers, which frequently lead to higher values in the speculator market. First issues in a series typically become hot sellers, provided the publisher did not saturate the market with too many copies. Other comics that might be expected to grow in value include first appearances by new characters and so-called crossover issues with special appearances by characters from other comics.
How much a comic book gains in value over the years will vary greatly and will depend on many factors. The increase could be small or staggering. The first appearance of Superman is valued at approximately $500,000.
Grading comic books
Grading is a vital step in buying or selling comics. Grading comics means judging their physical condition. Higher prices are paid for comics in good physical condition and with higher grades.
Collectors can choose to have a company like the CGC, grade a comic. Or collectors may opt to grade their own comics rather than pay a company to do it. Honesty is needed in grading so that the resulting grade accurately mirrors the comic book’s physical quality.
There are two main grading systems used for comic books. The grading system utilized by the CGC, uses a scale of numbers ranging from one to ten.
The other main grading system uses the top grade of mint for comics. This is followed by near mint, very fine, fine, very good, good, fair and poor.
Periods of comic books
The publication of comic books is divided into descriptive “ages.” These are:
- Victorian Age, from approximately 1828 to 1899.
- Platinum Age, from approximately 1897 to 1937.
- Golden Age, from approximately 1938 to 1955.
- Atom Age, from approximately 1946 to 1956.
- Silver Age from, approximately 1956 to 1969.
- Bronze Age, from approximately 1970 to 1979.
- Modern Age, from approximately 1980 to today.
Definitions of comic book terms
Adzine – A magazine focusing on advertising comics and collectibles.
Big Two – A slang referral to the two giants in the comic book publishing industry, DC Comics and Marvel Comics.
Brittleness – A type of paper deterioration causing paper to flake.
Colorist – An artist who paints the color guides for comics books. Computer technology is often used by colorists.
Comic book bag – A specially designed plastic bag used for preserving comics.
Comic book board – A cardboard rectangle used to keep a comic from bending. It is a popular method used in preserving the quality of comic books.
Con – A shortened form of convention. Conventions are popular events attended by collectors, merchants and comic book professionals.
Costumed hero – A costumed crime fighter who has human powers but no super powers.
Eye appeal – The overall visual impression of a comic book when held at roughly an arm’s length.
Fanboy – A staunch and sometimes obsessive collector of a particular comic book or comic book character.
First appearance – The debut or first appearance of a character in a comic book.
Inker – An artist who performs the inking for comic books.
Marvel Zombie – A fan who is extremely devoted to Marvel Comics. Marvel Comics is a giant in the comic book publishing industry.
Pedigree – A comic book is said to have a pedigree if it comes from a famous collection of typically high-end comics.
Penciler – The artist who draws or “pencils” a comic book. Comics are typically drawn in pencil, although other methods are also used to draw them.
Retcon – The controversial practice where a new writer changes the “history” of an existing comic book to accommodate a new story line.
Super villain – A costumed criminal exerting powers greater than those of human beings.
Swipe – A comic book panel, sequence or story copied from a previously published comic.
Variant – A comic book with alternative covers. The cover of a comic book is sometimes changed with later editions. Variant covers can also be used as a promotional gimmick by publishers to let them sell more copies of the same issue to collectors.
Comic book collectors are a diverse group who can be motivated by appreciation of the art form or motivated by the possibility of financial gain. But whether spurred by love or profit, a savvy comic book collector buys carefully, takes precautions to protect the collection, keeps up-to-date on trends in the speculator market and knows when to sell to earn the highest profit.