Comics Collecting for Fun and/or Profit

BobComics

In the last 6 months since stories about my collection have been circulating around the internet I get contacted by some different press/media outlet every couple of weeks that want to ask about my collection.  I’m fascinated by the emphasis on monetary value, it’s a question that always comes up in one form or another, usually focusing on the total value of the collection or the single most valuable comic in the collection.

In an e-mail I got today from a correspondent with the Economic Times, I got some questions that were new to me:

  • Could you tell us the economics of collecting comic books over the years?
  • How many dollars have you spent on them?

Perfectly valid questions, particularly considering the outlet they were coming from, but they’re not questions I like to answer.  I  collect comics for fun.

FUN

I personally de-emphasize the dollar values associated with collecting comics.  I collect because I love the books/characters/stories.  I don’t focus on the value of the books other than the non-monetary value of the enjoyment that can be derived from reading/collecting comics.  There are lots of ways to collect and I’m not going to cast stones at how anyone derives their enjoyment from collecting.  I have a thread on the forum about various types of comic collectors.  There are so many different ways to collect and there’s not one “right” way, as long as you’re enjoying yourself.

FUN & PROFIT

I know a number of people who love the $ value aspect of collecting.  There is the concept of trying to pick out what the next “hot” book is (usually something that will be made into a movie or TV show and has grabbed public interest) and buying up a bunch of them to re-sell.  Or finding extremely high-grade books that have not yet been professionally graded/preserved and getting them evaluated (hopefully as a 9.8 or higher on a 10 point scale).  The Certified Guaranty Company (CGC) is the preeminent company that does the grading and encapsulation of comics (which most people refer to as “slabbing”).  There can be a huge value jump in a key book if you can buy it “raw” and get it slabbed as a 9.8.

You can be interested in monetary value and not focus on CGC’d comics, but there seems to be a strong correlation between collectors who focus on value and CGC.  At least having a part of their collection focused on CGC’d books.

Not all people who collect these “slabbed” books are speculators.  There are a lot of people who love to get their comics graded and encased in CGC slabs so that they are preserved from a value aspect and are also more liquid when looked at from a re-sale POV down the line.  While I have a couple of CGC slabbed comics, mostly some variant cover where I like the art and have another version of the comic to read, I generally just “crack the slab” and remove the book from it’s case so I can read it when I buy a CGC’d book.

You can still have a lot of fun collecting books with an eye towards the value/profit to be had.  I know people who will slab and sell “hot” books and use the profit to buy other comics that they collect.  Others who just like having slabbed high-grade books because of how sharp they look, and the fact that these hold their value and are easier to re-sell than unslabbed books is icing on the cake.

A customer service supervisor from CGC speaks to this in an article from the Daily Finance and points out that while the stock market is driven by politics, comics collecting is driven by passion.  In the same article the owner of Graham Cracker Comics talks about having invested $2.5M in Gold & Silver age comics from which he expects to earn a 10% ROI.

“It’s a good place to park your dough, ’cause it doesn’t have the ups and downs of stocks” he says.

PROFIT

Then there is a focus primarily on making money off comics.  On the site Comics For Profit, which seems to be set up to sell a book of the same name.  I’ll be up front in admitting I’ve not read the book, but from excerpts on the site, it’s really not something I’m interested in learning about:

Let’s face it. You are reading this guide because you want to make real money with comics. I am not talking about making $1 on a $2 comic you bought a few days ago. When I talk about real money, I am referring to making anywhere from a several hundred to a few thousand dollars of pure profit from selling the right comic books at the right time. Comics For Profits is written in a way that is easy to understand and follow for any potential new comic book collector and even the avid comic dealer who has been selling for years. This guide will teach you how to find an undervalued comic and flip it for 10, 20 or even 30 times your initial cost!

This guide does not focus on selling just any ordinary comic book. It is also not written to tell you to go out and buy an entire collection of comics for a few good ones. Why? The truth is that there really is no money in useless unwanted comics.

To me this sounds like turning comics into a pure commodity that exist to turn a profit.  Not my cup of tea, but this could be the epitome of fun for someone else.

The same Daily Finance article referenced above ends with a set of tips on making money from comics.  This one stood out as the epitome about why I tend to steer clear of CGC at the same time it draws in others:

All high-end collectibles need to be validated by certifying bodies such as CGC, the industry leader. They come sealed in plastic, with a bar code and a holographic verification. DO NOT OPEN the case. No reading. No touching. Exposing your investment to air or your hands could lower the grade and wipe out your profit.

At the end of the day, do what makes you happy.  I’m going to go with “Comic Collecting for Fun”.  I think I’m in the minority……

EDIT: Found this article in Business week today (Nov. 4th, 4 days after I wrote what is above) that makes the case that collecting and hoping to profit from it may not be all it’s cracked up to be:
http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-10-30/those-comics-in-your-basement-probably-worthless

One of my favorite passages from the above linked article:

“There are two markets for comic books,” Salkowitz says. “There’s the market for gold-plated issues with megawatt cultural significance, which sell for hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars. But that’s a very, very, very limited market. If a Saudi sheik decides he needs Action Comics No. 1, there are only a few people out there who have a copy.” And then there’s the other market, where most comics change hands for pennies and nobody is getting rich or even breaking even. “The entire back-issues market is essentially a Ponzi scheme,” Salkowitz says. “It’s been managed and run that way for 35 years.”

I believe that quote is doubly true for the CGC-slabbed back issue market on anything other than truly rare key books.

Bob Bretall: bob@comicspectrum.com
https://comicspectrum.com/ Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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