Comic book collecting

From Academic Kids

Comic book collecting is the result of an interest in antiquity, and nostalgia, as is all collecting by its very nature. The comic book was brought into the pop culture arena by, most notably, Superman and Batman. Since the introduction of Superman there has been a surge in comic characters, books and companies entering into the industry. The industry is dominated by top competitors Marvel Comics (producers of Spider-Man, X-Men, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, The Avengers, and the Hulk) and DC Comics (producers of Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, The Flash and The Sandman).

Comic book collecting is like all other collecting; while most collectors do so for personal interest in the enormous capabilities of the medium and the vast casts of characters, a few also collect exclusively for profit. Partly to cater for this market, but also in response to the collectors’ drive to protect and preserve their collections (such as for insurance purposes), price guides began to be published, notably Overstreet and The Comics Buyer's Guide, which further developed the sense of a comics value by assigning a grading to the comics condition and adjusting the price accordingly, as well as serving to track the credits of individual creators. Ancillary products have also developed, for example: storage bags, storage boxes, lamination services, (known as slabbing), and backing boards.

Numerous conventions and festivals are held around the world, the largest U.S. convention being the San Diego Comic Con, held annually in July or August and boasting an attendance of some 80,000 fans over a four day period.

In the late nineties, the boom in personal computers and the growth of the internet has also seen the development of databases, notably ComicBase and the web–based Grand Comics Database, allowing further tracking of creators and their individual credits as well as special character appearances and storylines.

Classically, comic books tend to be like serialized television dramas or soap operas, in that they have a flowing and continual plotline with numerous dynamic characters. They sell mostly to a younger audience, from grade school students through adults; although the medium at one point catered primarily to children, in the last several decades the market has contracted to the point that the majority of readers are adults in their twenties. These readers follow the periodic exploits of numerous characters as depicted by numerous creators. A new issue of any given series is typically produced on a monthly basis, though popularity dictates that the most popular characters appear more frequently. Those who read comic books in their youth but who stopped at some point and did not keep these books often want them back in their adulthood, largely for nostalgia's sake, and are willing to pay a comic book specialty dealer.


The speculator bubble

The period of time from roughly 1985 through 1993 is seen as the point where comic book speculation reached its peak. This boom period is variously attributed to the publication of revolutionary titles like The Dark Knight Returns and The Man of Steel and the beginning of the "summer crossover epics" like Crisis on Infinite Earths and Secret Wars. Mainstream attention came to the industry in 1989-1991 with the success of the first two Batman movies and the much-hyped "Death of Superman". Once aware of this niche market, the mainstream press focused on what made it notable to the public: its potential for making almost anybody money. Articles appeared in newspapers, magazines and television newsmagazines pointing out how rare, high-demand comics such as Action Comics #1 or Incredible Hulk #181 could be sold for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. (Example: At one point after this boom period ended, director Kevin Smith purchased a copy of Superman #1 for $1,000,000--a sum he later admitted was more than it was worth.) Comic book publishers began producing a high number of comic books designed especially for the collectors' market. Many speculators would buy multiple copies of every comic from the major publishers, anticipating that demand would allow them to sell all of their comics for a substantial profit at some nebulous point in the future. There was also a corresponding expansion in price guide publications, with the launch of monthly publications, most notably Wizard Magazine, which helped to track price changes at a more frequent interval, and by extension, helped to further fuel the boom.

Veteran comic book fans pointed out an important fact about the high value of classic comic books that was largely overlooked by the speculators: original comic books of the Golden Age of Comic Books were genuinely rare. Most of the original comic books had not survived to the present era, having been thrown out in the trash or discarded as worthless children's waste by parents (stories of uncaring parents throwing out their kids' comic book collections are well known to the Baby Boom generation). As a result, a comic book of interest to fans or collectors from the 1940s through the 1960s, such as an original issue of Superman, Captain America, Challengers of the Unknown, or Vault of Horror, was often extremely difficult to find and thus highly prized by collectors, in a manner similar to coin collectors seeking copies of the 1955 double die penny.


As the speculator market expanded into stores that specialized in trading cards and other collectibles, gimmicks targeted toward collectors became more and more frequent. Multiple comics had variant covers; anywhere from two to ten versions of a given comic might exist, all exactly the same except for the front cover. Hologram- and foil- embossed covers likewise became commonplace. Many "hot" comics would be hyped as "limited releases"--that is, only a certain number of that issue, or of that version of that issue, would be produced. (Ironically, many of these "limited releases" were produced in numbers greater than their usual sales levels.) At the height of the boom, every series' first issue would have at least one gimmicked variant cover, one or more of which would be a "limited release". These gimmicks almost never extended to the actual content of the comics, though a few infamous examples of "variant interiors" were produced—comics that shipped multiple variants where several pages were different in each version.

Ironically, the speculators who made a profit or at least broke even on their comic book "investments" did so only by selling to other speculators. In truth, almost none of the comics produced in this time period have retained any value in the current market; with hundreds of thousands (or, as in several prominent cases, over ten million) copies produced of each issue of a comic book that is today sought out by somewhere between one and fifty thousand fans at most, the value of these comics all but disappeared. "Hot" comics like X-Men #1 and Youngblood #1 can today be found selling for under a dollar apiece.


The comic book speculator market reached a saturation point in the early 1990s and finally collapsed between 1993 and 1995. Two-thirds of all comic book specialty stores closed in this time period, and numerous publishers were driven out of business. The miniseries Deathmate—a crossover between Image Comics and Valiant Comics—is generally agreed to have been the final nail in the speculation market's coffin; although heavily hyped and highly anticipated when initially solicited, the series shipped so many months late that reader interest disappeared by the time the series finally materialized, leaving some retailers holding literally hundreds of unsellable copies of the various Deathmate crossovers.

Post-bubble speculation

Although the collapse of this market ended most of the associated gimmickry, the associated comic book price guides remain, and on occasion a comic will still ship with multiple alternate covers. (In fact, comic companies like Avatar seem bent on reviving this tradition single-handedly via such titles as Lady Death or Stargate SG-1, each of which has at least 5 variant covers of the same issue.) Currently, most of the hype generated around the major companies' comics involves changes to the characters, well-known creators writing or illustrating a title, and buzz surrounding an adaptation to another media, such as film or television. The one remaining bastion for comic speculation remains in online auction sites such as eBay; but even there, comic books remain a buyer's market, not a seller's market.

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