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What Makes Your Comics Valuable?

No, your books from the 90s aren't worth anything. I'm sorry to burst your bubble.

If you've been keeping up with the news, then you know the big repeating event of this year was people finding Golden Age books and selling them for hundreds of thousands of dollars and sometimes even millions. There's been a big scramble through grandma's attics across the country in hopes that people will find that single comic that will change their lives forever.
 
Recently, a man found a copy, in decent condition, of Detective Comics 27 lying around. This is the first appearance of Batman. The man bought the book for 10 cents, and now it is expected to sell for $400,000 in auction, according to the Seattle Times. Earlier this year, a couple copies of Action Comics #1 went for over a million dollars. 
 
I've worked at a local comic book store part-time for a couple years now, and it gave me a lot of prespective on what makes a comic worth money, an interest in the golden age of comic books, and the sociological impact of comics on American culture. All of this from telling people to stop buying Wolverine and pick up a hip independent book. But in all seriousness, what makes a comic valuable?  To break down what makes comics valuable, let's use a prime example of something people think is worth a bit of money, which, in reality, is barely worth the paper its printed on.
== TEASER ==

Retailer's Perspective

Look! It's Spawn! Believe it or not, the number one question I get, when it comes to what comics are worth, is "How much does Spawn #1 go for now-a-days?" And the #2 question, "How much does a signed copy of Spawn #1 go for?" I wish it were a joke, but "it weren't." According to ComicsPriceGuide, Spawn #1 goes for about $6 for the regular edition, depending on the condition of the book. That's what the book is flat-out worth, but many places sell it for less, and if you try and sell it to a comic book store, expect no more than $3 for your copy. (The retailer has to make some dough too you know)
 

Copies Printed

Todd McFarlane, creator of the book Spawn, has the record for highest selling book of all time: Spider-Man #1, which sold 2.5 million copies according to his website. He also holds the record for highest selling independent book of all time, selling 1.7 million copies, and that book is Spawn #1. It should be pretty obvious that Spawn #1 isn't worth that much simply because there is over a million copies floating around. The less amount of a comic that was printed, the rarer it becomes, and the rarer it becomes, the more it is worth. Many major books today can sell 100,000 copies monthly, but those are usually the summer blockbuster story lines.
 

Age

"The older the berry, the sweeter the juice." "Fine wine gets better with age." "Oldies but goodies." Yes, they're cliched sayings, but when it comes to the world of collecting, it's completely true. Golden Age books are going to be worth more than anything else simply because some of the books are almost 80 years old. Now, Spawn #1 is 18 years old, which many people may find "ancient," but in the world of comics, and real life, it's still a teenager. It's self-explanatory. New comics aren't worth a ton of money, unless it's a hot book, and you sell it during that short "hot period" before a second printing comes out.
 

Print Number

Sometimes, if a book is popular enough, it sells out. This didn't happen in the Golden Age, to the best of my knowledge. Now-a-days, you'll see major books get a 2nd, 3rd, or even a 4th printing. The earlier the printing you have, the more it has the potential to be worth. A 1st printing of Spawn is going to be worth more than a 3rd printing 3 months down the road, simply because the first one is sold out.
 

Condition

A no-brainer. The better condition your comic is in. Now, the older a comic is, the harder a comic is going to keep in stellar condition, hence why it can be worth more. I recently say an issue of Spawn #1 graded at a 10.0 sold for $810. I'm not going to post the link because I smell a ruse. Firstly, I've never seen ANY copy of ANY comic come out of the printer at a 10.0 grade. I've seen a 9.0, 9.4, and a 9.8 once or twice. Secondly, who in the heck is spending $810 on an issue of Spawn?  
 

Variants

You see more and more of this now-a-days. Popular comics get variant covers. What's so special about them? Well for every 25 copies of Super-Rad (not a real comic) that come out, 1 variant copy will come out. Sometimes, you'll see a 100:1 ratio, but most of the time it's either 1:10 or 1:15 ratio. It makes the comic rarer; hence, making the comic worth more money. Spawn #1 actually had a few variant copies, and one of them sells for $60, according to ComicsPriceGuide.
 

Collector's Market

If the market is up, meaning people have a lot of money to spend on random things to collect, you can maximize your revenue. If the market is down, like it is right now, you won't get nearly as much as you should for your books. You also have to look at what's hot. If a Captain America movie is coming out, get rid of your Captain America books right before, or the week of the release of the film simply because their is a high demand for the book. Don't wait until a month or two after, when the demand starts going back down. It's all about understanding what is popular amongst comic readers and non-comic readers. (Especially the non-comic readers) Also understand that a non-comic reader may pay more for a book, or closer to market value, because they may not realize that there are re-printings of the book, they don't know where to look, or they don't care about price. My advice is if you have a bunch of great Golden or Silver Age books, hit up a swanky auction. As for this point's connection to Spawn #1, well, no one wants to buy Spawn #1, so there's no need to sell it now. Any questions?
 
 
~Mat "inferiorego" Elfring is a comedian, teacher, comic book writer, comic store employee, and does not own Spawn #1, but he does own the Violator mini-series.
32 Comments
Posted by MuadDiab

But how much does Spawn number 2 go for? 
 
Really insightful. Cheers

Posted by Vance Astro

I touched them....

Moderator
Posted by ComicMan24

Interesting.

Posted by Om1kron

After the economy took a huge crap on itself comic book prices SKY DIVED to an all time low, I used to keep a inventory of what my books were worth based upon wizard world. And I had about 500 dollars worth of comics. Todd McFarlanes first spiderman appearance and the alternate cover included, and Jim Lee's X-Men number 1.  
 
Those books are worth cover value if not less.  
 
I even have one of those death of superman books in the white weather seal wrapper with the red bloody s on it un opened. (had to buy 2 obviously to read the book during the doomsday arc) not worth shit lol.  
 
My approach to collecting comics is the same with action figures, I don't buy them to hope they will turn me a coin. I purchased them because I was a kid and I loved the artwork and wanted that to be a career for me, so it was learning material imo.  
 
I still have all of them locked away. Haven't re-read anything I've bought besides Arcanum and some of those Wizard World one shots I used to get with my subscriptions.  
 
Anyway blows for the people who dedicate their lives to finding that next detective comics. 

Posted by inferiorego
@Om1kron:  I'm the same way with action figures and comics. I collect because I love reading and I love showing off my toy collection. I never think about how much their worth, but since I started working at the comic book store 4 years ago (shudders), I have a unique understanding on the retail market that I do enjoy sharing with the collectors who may not understand why their books aren't even worth cover price right now.
Staff
Posted by Mumbles

My mission now in life is to destroy 1,699,999 copies of Spawn #1. Only then, I will have a book worth millions....ha ha ha!
 
Good article.

Posted by inferiorego
@Mumbles said:
" My mission now in life is to destroy 1,699,999 copies of Spawn #1. Only then, I will have a book worth millions....ha ha ha!  Good article. "
lol.... I'll help you.
Staff
Posted by the_fallen11

this was cool.. thanks

Edited by strangeling

So, what you're telling me is: I need to go out and acquire all the issues of Spawn #1, and burn all but, say, 50 of them, and I'll be able to sell them for $$$! 
 
edit: 
@Mumbles 
Bah! You are my nemesis!

Posted by xkoenig

Very nice article. I have been discovering this stuff for myself in going back and trying to collect a set of 80's to 90's X-men comics. The only 'valuable' comics (i.e. more than 5 dollars) are first appearance issues (first appearance Jubilee, first appearance Gambit). I was surprised again the other day though by how cheap I managed to pick up some early 80's Daredevil comics. Thinking to myself, ooh, early Frank Miller, almost thirty years old, these have to be expensive, but no! $5 each and I could have got them cheaper online. Oh well, we will have to wait many years before these become remotely valuable! Or maybe they never will? The more of us who stash away nice copies of our favorite comics, the less they will all be worth! 

Posted by comicbikerscott

i love to collect but  what happens if they stop printing
Posted by countvontrey

I like reading some of the old stuff. I don't care as much about condition if I can still read it. I picked up some mid 100's of Uncanny X-Men at the last show I went to. Despite being about 30 years old, most I got for $1-$2 because the condition of the books wasn't all that great.  
 
I think I own two copies of Spawn #1. lol

Posted by N7_Normandy

interesting, but I could care less about the value of my comics.  I collect comics to read them,first and foremost.  I enjoy having them and certainly don't plan on selling them.  

Posted by pikahyper

From my 16+ years in comic book retail I've seen that most collectors these days realize their collections are worth next to nothing and they really don't care, the only ones that still care are the variant hoarders, CGC suckers, the occasional left over speculator, and the random non-collector that bought lots of copies of spawn #1 or the death of superman thinking it would put them through college or buy them a house.
 
At my stores it was more common to get people asking how much the death of superman went for instead of spawn #1, usually everyone just laughs. I fondly remember a guy coming in once with the first 25 issues of spawn demanding that we buy them and I told him I would give him a quarter if he got his damn comics out of my store and he took the quarter and stormed out :D

Moderator
Posted by inferiorego
@pikahyper said:
" At my stores it was more common to get people asking how much the death of superman went for instead of spawn #1, usually everyone just laughs. I fondly remember a guy coming in once with the first 25 issues of spawn demanding that we buy them and I told him I would give him a quarter if he got his damn comics out of my store and he took the quarter and stormed out :D "
lol.... I once told someone to burn their copy of Superman #75 and use it in their garden as fertilizer.
Staff
Posted by pikahyper
@inferiorego: lol, I've known people that have used early issues of spawn and rob liefeld Image comics for toilet paper, some were even retailers :P
Moderator
Posted by inferiorego
@pikahyper said:
" @inferiorego: lol, I've known people that have used early issues of spawn and rob liefeld Image comics for toilet paper, some were even retailers :P "
Not a week goes by that someone tries to sell that or X-Men #1. I don't see Superman #75 as much as I used to though.
Staff
Posted by Emperor Gonzo Noir

It's all simple economics really

Posted by danhimself

A friend of mine actually came to me the other day and said "I've got all of the Death of Superman issues and they're mint.  I bet they're worth a LOT!"....I just laughed at him

Edited by pikahyper
@inferiorego:  True it has died down, I do get it more often now outside of work when people find out I read, collect, or work at a store, it almost always comes up "oh hey did that death of superman thing ever become worth somethin", my brother even asked that a couple weeks ago randomly.
Moderator
Edited by Decept-O

Nice job on the article.    
 
Perhaps you can explain to peeps a comic book's  cover price will not  increase in value over time.  So many people who have comics and try to sell them later think they are automically going to increase in value.   It isn't true.
 
Posted by pikahyper
@Emperor Gonzo Noir said:
" It's all simple economics really "
It really is, I would also add that it has a lot to do with location, it is pretty common for things that are rare and expensive on one coast to be cheaper and more plentiful on the other coast and also older american comics can still be worth more in other countries especially europe, asia, and south america. I know from conversations I've had with retailers all over the US that historically buying trends change with geography sometimes drastically especially with books from the 80's and early 90's, one example I remember is comics published by Jademan you can't find them here on the west coast all that much but they are easy to find on the east coast, few years back a friend of mine in NY got a killer deal on one copy of every Jademan comic ever published all in one big lot for $50 and I was super jealous.
Moderator
Posted by woopapa

i wonder how much wolverine #1 & #2 are worth
Posted by pikahyper
@danhimself said:
" A friend of mine actually came to me the other day and said "I've got all of the Death of Superman issues and they're mint.  I bet they're worth a LOT!"....I just laughed at him "
I've always found it to be super sad when parents that bought a few copies when their kids were little and now they are ready to go to college and they want to sell them for tuition and I have to explain that they wouldn't make enough to pay for even one textbook.
Moderator
Posted by Darkmount1

I think this is a pretty good piece of advice. 
 
Say, I have a copy of DC Comics Presents #40 (1981) and Adventure Comics #479 (1980), and both are in decent condition.  How much do you think they might be worth?
Posted by jamesewelch

I think one of the big things in today's comic book value market is that it's easy to find comics via eBay and comic sites. In the early 90s, I paid like $25 for my Punisher #1 (#1of first series, not the 4 issue mini). Now it's worth like $5. It took me a while to save up for that issue... :/ but having that as a teenager was worth it :)
 
I think that's because anyone can go to eBay and buy it. The supply is much greater now, even with the same amount of comics printed. Back in the 80s, I had to find someone that had the issue so that limited me to my local area (and there weren't any comic book shops where I lived, so I had to go to the swap meet and maybe get lucky and find something there...). Now, I can buy comics from anyone in the world.  The "globalization" of the resale market expanded exponentially compared to the pre-Internet days.

Edited by jamesewelch
@Darkmount1 said:

" I think this is a pretty good piece of advice.  Say, I have a copy of DC Comics Presents #40 (1981) and Adventure Comics #479 (1980), and both are in decent condition.  How much do you think they might be worth? "

 
Check out  http://comicspriceguide.com/ 
 
It's free. You just need to register. You can look up any comic and save up to 50 (for free), then when you log in again, you'll see the new values for up to 50 on that free saved list. If you pay, then you can save up to 500 or 1,000 or something.
 
 DC Comics Presents #40 - $6 in mint condition, $3 for 8.0 (good)
 Adventure Comics #479 -   $6 in mint condition, $3 for 8.0 (good)
 
 @woopapa said:

    " i wonder how much wolverine #1 & #2 are worth "

Which volume/year?
 
The 1982 mini series #1 is about $40 mint ($20 for 8.0) and #2 about $30 mint ($15 for 8.0).
Posted by sharky64

correction the highest selling book of all time  is X-men#1 
Posted by N7_Normandy
@sharky64 said:
" correction the highest selling book of all time  is X-men#1  "
this is true
Posted by modmyth

Excellent post. When you think about the fact during the Golden Age, especially from 1939 through the early 40's, many titles where million sellers. This gives you a good idea of just how rare some tiltles are.
Posted by Aspenite

My most valuable comic book is about 70 bucks worth. But I don´t care. I want to read the books, so I don´t care about condition or else.

Posted by Screamolad

Sweet! I Need To get All the comices i can get then. i need $$