The Amazing Power of Comic Book Collections

Can you turn 10 cents into $3 million?

The short answer is yes, but you need to be very patient and extremely lucky. Comic books are one asset that you can buy on the cheap and could potentially increase in value over time. But like any collection, treating it like an investment takes time, money and extreme care.

I still remember buying my first comic book in 1974 when I was 10: Amazing Spider-Man #139 which introduced us to The Grizzly. Unfortunately, he was not a big hit with readers, and I don’t think he ever made another appearance. Despite that, if the book is still in decent shape (more on grading in a moment), it might fetch you $30 on eBay or from a dealer who makes their living buying and selling comic books.

If only I had started buying comics 10 months earlier (comics only cost 20 cents at the time), I probably would have picked up Amazing Spider-Man #129, where a new character, The Punisher, made his debut. Unlike The Grizzly, The Punisher was well received by fans — so much so that he eventually got his own comic, several spin-offs and five movies. If you held on to that particular issue and took good care of it, the “raw” (ungraded) value could run anywhere from $1,500 to $3,750. If you have it professionally graded, a mint/near mint copy might sell for as much as $40,000.

Grading comic books

There are several comic book grading companies, with Certified Guaranty Company (CGC) being the most highly regarded. These graders will assess the condition of any comic you submit to them. Grading runs on a scale of 1 to 10 – not surprisingly, the higher the number, the more that particular comic is worth. They are very thorough when it comes to grading. Even the slightest crease, minor tear, discoloring, etc. can turn what would otherwise be a 9.0 or 8.0 into something more like a 6.0 or 7.0, which of course means the book is less valuable.

After CGC grades your comic, they put it in an acrylic case to maintain the condition of the book. They also put the grade on the case along with a certification that says they did the grading, which carries a lot of weight to a potential seller or buyer, given CGC’s reputation in the business.

Taking care of your collection

By the time I was 14, I had amassed a collection of roughly 400 books. I was about to enter high school and reading comics seemed childish to me at the time. So I just left my books stacked, one piled on top of another. I thought to myself I’d hold onto them for 50 years and then see if they’re worth anything. I was already thinking about long-term time horizons at a young age — I guess I chose the right profession.

I went through a second phase of collecting while I was working full time and pursuing my MBA at night. That combination didn’t leave me a lot of free time, so the comics became my go-to for a quick break from studying. I was using a mail-order service out of Denver (pre-internet days). And since I now had more disposable income than when I was 10, I not only bought current issues but also some books from the 1950’s and 60’s, key issues that I thought might appreciate even if they weren’t in the best shape. In addition, based on recommendations from the mail-order service, I would buy two copies of a particular issue, one to read and one to store away (almost) untouched by human hands in the hope that it would remain in near mint condition.

That leads me to the proper storage of your collection. You need three things:

  1. A clear, polyurethane bag
  2. An acid-free cardboard backing to protect against folds, tears and other things that might devalue the worth of your books
  3. A “long box,” which stores roughly 300 comics

In addition to the above, keep the books in a dry, cool place. You’ll want to avoid extreme temperatures, as they can affect the color of the books, which would lead to a lower grade.

Buying and selling collector comics

The mail-order service out of Denver, Mile High Comics, is still around and now online. They have comic books for sale going back to 1933. I had a great customer experience with them during Phase II of building my collection, especially when I splurged on buying something older. I thought their prices were fair and appropriate, given the condition grading of the comic in question.

There are other options to buy and sell. Comic book conventions (comic-cons) are a great place to start as multiple dealers set up booths where you can compare and contrast prices, if you’re interested in buying. Some may offer a quick assessment of the value of a comic you’re thinking of selling. I went to a comic-con in Providence, R.I., a couple of years ago. I spoke with a handful of dealers, but I was most impressed with Dark star Comics in the Providence area.

A Google search on “comic book dealers” will turn up many options across the country, which is great if you prefer to see the comics firsthand as opposed to just viewing pictures on the internet. Another site that looks very interesting is Sell My Comic Books. If you compile a list of what you own, they will review and give you a free appraisal. If both parties agree upon a price, the seller ships the comics to SMCB. Along with payment for your collection, they will also reimburse you for the shipping cost. And of course, there’s eBay and other online sites to check out as well.

The bottom line is there are many reputable dealers out there, but be sure to do your own research on prices first so that you know if you’re getting a good offer. For starters, check out this list of the Top Ten Comic Book Auction Websites.

Back to the original question

Earlier this year, Action Comics #1 (first appearance of Superman) sold for a record $3.25 million. It graded at an 8.5, the third-highest grading for this particular issue. Talk about supply and demand — the original run was 202,000 copies, and experts believe there are only 10 still in existence.

Not surprisingly, the first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics #27 is pretty valuable as well. There are only seven copies that have made it from 1939 to 2021, and one sold at the end of last year for $1.5 million, despite a grade of only 7.0.

And just last month, a near mint copy (9.6) of Spider-Man’s first appearance sold for $3.6 million, surpassing the record that had just been set with Action Comics #1.

Entertainment or investment?

I recently started cataloguing my collection in anticipation of the day when I finally decide to sell. I can guarantee you that my 12 long boxes will not be joining me when my wife and I decide to downsize at some point.

I found an app, Comics Price Guide, that allows you to enter the name and number of any comic book, and it will give you an estimated value based on the 1-10 grading scale. I have to admit I was a little disappointed to discover the majority of my books hadn’t appreciated much beyond the original cover price, although there were a handful of pleasant surprises in there. And while I wasn’t lucky enough to pay 20 cents for ASM #129, I did buy it in 1991 for $105, so still a pretty decent return on investment if I can get $2,000 to $3,000 for it.

My final piece of advice: Buy comics for the enjoyment of reading them and not for the expectation of a big score down the line. As you have probably gleaned at this point, it’s next to impossible to identify a book today that could command big money 20 or 30 years from now. When it comes to comic books, think “entertainment,” not “investment.”