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.
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Retailer's PerspectiveLook! 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 PrintedTodd 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 NumberSometimes, 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.
ConditionA 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?
VariantsYou 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 MarketIf 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.