An Open Letter To The General Public Regarding Comics As An Investment.
I fully expect this column to have no effect for one reason. People don’t see what’s in front of them if it contradicts what they want:
A couple or so years ago, I was working at a comic shop when the news broke that Captain America 25 (shipping into the country that day.) would feature the death of, well, Captain America. When I say ‘news’, I mean the proper BBC/Metro/USA Today/etc news. By late Wed afternoon, I’d fielded about 30 calls on the subject, all answered with ‘It’s out tomorrow, I’m not allowed to sell it to you yet.’ Or ‘You’ll have to read it to see.’ This was not helped by the fact that Marvel hadn’t actually told the comics retail community that:
A) Cap was going to be killed
B) That they were going to tell the news networks that this was going to happen.
C) Marvel hadn’t had the foresight to overprint enough copies so that retailers all over the world would be able to supply their customers, thus ensuing the only people would make money out of the deal would be dealers who happily gouge people who weren’t around for the two and a half hours that the comic was available for cover price.
So we couldn’t order any more copies in advance. Which is how they make their money on comics in the 1st place.Why wouldn’t you tell your customers that your product is going to be more desirable so you can make more money from it? Beats me. Ask Marvel.They maintain that they wanted to keep the death a surprise from the comics community until the last minute. Fair enough, except DC told us months in advance that Superman was going to die in issue 75 of his comic, and it turned into the best-selling comic of 1993.Sure, Cap 25 was the best-selling comic of 2007, but there’s a literal difference of hundreds of thousands of copies sold between Cap and Supes.
Even with limiting the purchases to 2 per customer, in order to make sure dealers wouldn’t come in to buy all of our stock and then sell them for 25 quid at the next comic mart, we sold out of our entire order by 12 o’clock and we were going to be open ‘til 7:30. Soon as we’d sold out, I put up a huge sign in the space where Cap should have been saying we’d sold out and 2nd printings would be available next week. By 3, still being asked, I’d put another, larger sign on the shopfront. By 5 I was answering the phone with the question ‘XXXXXXX Comics, we are sold out of Captain America #25, is there anything else I can help you with?’ By 7, I’d made a 3rd sign, which I stapled to my T-Shirt and people were STILL asking, managing to ignore the phone response and the two signs. I took the rest of the week off.
For the curious, Captain America #25 sells for about a fiver on eBay today.
A formula has established itself over the last few years, ladies and gents, and it’s a pretty simple one.It works like this. Marvel or DC start a story up that will lead to something shocking that will lead to a new costume, somebody dying or in one amazing instance, one of their characters being a lesbian. As we approach the release date of the comic featuring costume change/death/lesbian, the publisher will approach the press and if it’s a slow news day, the papers and newsfeeds will feature headlines along the lines of ‘BATMAN TO DIE! HUMAN TORCH TO DIE! SPIDER-MAN TO GET NEW COSTUME! BAT-WOMAN LIKES WOMEN!’ etc, etc.
And naturally, you, Joe and Jenny Public come in to see what the fuss is all about. Has Cap really popped his clogs? Has Spidey honestly swapped his strides? How graphic IS this Bat-Woman comic? Memories of Superman #75 come flooding back. Comic shops filled to capacity, opening early and closing late. That issue of Supes trading for silly money soon after. Huge sums, right?
Well zip with me to 2011, folks, and we’ll have another look at eBay and how much that historical artifact sells for…the top price being asked is 40 quid. That’s with 0 bids. On the other end of the spectrum, with a few more bids are copies going for 2 or 3 pounds. Where as something like Amazing Spider-Man #122 (The Death Of Gwen Stacey, Spidey’s girlfriend of the time.) still trades for hundreds of pounds a copy, Superman #75 is a curio for nostalgia nuts for a simple reason. Clark isn’t dead anymore and Gwen is.
That’s the thing to bear in mind with all these big news comics. Will this senses-shattering, soul-staggering event still be true a little while down the line? I can think of five or six different Spidey costumes, but he’s wearing the red and blue in this week’s issue. Captain America’s looking pretty darn spiry for a guy who was shot to death a few years back. So’s Batman, for that matter. Batwoman’s still a lesbian, but that copy of 52#11 is still for sale in many cheap bins across the land.
The fact is, very few comics published in the last 30 years command huge sums of money. Maybe two, three hundred, tops. That’s normally down to some kind of mishap such as the crate full of the new issue of 2000AD that was dropped in a puddle and not reprinted, or the publisher deciding to pulp the entire run for content reasons.
Oddly, it’s actually the comics that introduce new characters that are more likely to both go up and retain an amount more than their cover price. Examples include NYX #3 (the 1st appearance of X-23.), Sandman #8 (Death pops in for a chat.) Amazing Spider-Man #300 (the debut of Venom) and to a lesser extent, New Mutants #98 (we are introduced to the unbound hilarity that is Deadpool.) Even that isn’t a guarantee, though. For every Carnage or Hitman that pops up out of nowhere, there’s likely to be a few dozen Battling Bantams, Arguses, Gunfires, or even Adam-X’s. You’ve got better odds on trying to predict who’s going to be the Women’s WWE Diva’s champion this time next year than working out which new hero is going to click with the fans.
If you want to buy these things out of curiosity, please do. If you’re buying them with an eye to holding onto them for a few years and then selling them for a huge sum, I’m afraid that isn’t going to happen. Neither Sotheby’s nor Christie’s is interested in your copy of Batman #676, so unless you’ve sold your copy within the week or so that this book was of interest on eBay, your best bet is going to selling it to a comic dealer. The going rate for 2nd hand comics in London is about half in exchange or a third for cash (If you can find a shop buying back issues in the 1st place, that is.) Current guide prices it about 6 quid, so if you’re lucky, you’ll make two quid out of a comic that cost 2:85 new. Losing 85p is not a good investment..
In summation, there are, relatively, no rare comics published in the last few decades. Those that are already commanding large sums of money and they’re usually down to the creator and the publisher not being able to come to an agreement (Zenith, Marvelman.) or the conservative values of an editor feeling the need to destroy a print run to safeguard our easily warped minds or something (All-Star Batman #10, Elseworlds 80 Page Giant, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #5)
The next time you see the news story suggesting that Thor or Supergirl is going to be killed and stay dead, contemplate this: What’s the likelihood of The Rolling Stones announcing that, at their next gig, they’re going to shoot Mick Jagger in the head and never play another show, or McDonalds changing that big yellow ‘M’ forever?
Save your money folks. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.