When I was thirteen I started collecting Marvel comics, inspired by my best friend who had a collection.
To feed our hobby we used to head up to London to visit the handful of comic book stores that imported the American titles.
In the late 1970s these books were pretty cheap, so a fiver’s paper-round money could yield you the tube fare and around five or six comics to read and then store away. I collected eclectically.
My picks were based on exciting covers, well-known characters and price. After a couple of years the novelty wore off and I sold my entire collection of around 200 comics for £30 to help fund the purchase of a new stereo record player. Even the original art for comics was inexpensive back then.
I picked up a single page of artwork from one of the same comic book stores in the early 1980s for £30. It languished in various cupboards and under beds for around 30 years before I sold it for a significant profit in 2015. If only my teenage self had expanded his entrepreneurial spirit and invested in Apple or Microsoft shares. But hindsight is, of course, vivid and bright, and I know some of those long gone comic books would now yield me massive returns today. What was once a very inexpensive hobby for boys is now a multi-million pound, investment-driven market. Prices paid for rare titles have steadily increased since the end of the 1980s, initially pushed upward by the growing number of adult collectors searching out pristine copies of the comics they remembered from their childhoods. With the arrival of blockbuster comic book movies such as Iron Man, The Avengers and Captain America, values have skyrocketed.
The first appearances of well-known comic book characters usually attract the greatest values. A copy of the first issue of Action Comic – featuring the very first appearance of Superman – from 1938 sold at auction a year ago for $3.2 million dollars (around £2.8 million pounds). Even the relatively more recent debut of Spiderman in Amazing Fantasy Comic from 1962 cost its new owner $1.1 million dollars (£718,000 pounds) in 2011. But not only do you have to find a copy of these increasingly rare comics, you also have to find ones that have avoided the worst that time can throw at a 12 cent, cheaply-printed book.
Rips, tears, creases, stains and water damage as well as yellowing of the paper can wipe hundreds if not thousands from the value. An industry of comic “graders” has arisen to offer the collectors – at a price – valuation and encapsulation in plastic to keep their expensive purchases from deteriorating. But what if your budget can’t quite run to thousands of pounds for a comic: can you still make money speculating on more recent comic publications? A case in point would be the Marvel publication Guardians of the Galaxy. Originally created at the end of the 1970s, Guardians was a fairly overlooked series that had been dropped and resurrected a couple of times, but in 2008 Marvel updated the title for the 21st century.
It didn’t gain much notice outside comic geekdom until Marvel announced in 2012 it was making a movie based on the comic book characters for release in 2014. Suddenly, comics that could be picked up for only a little above their $3 cover price were now starting to sell for ever-increasing amounts, with issue one of that run going for £75 shortly after the movie opened. A nice little profit if you had picked it up when it was selling for £4 a year earlier. Marvel continues to announce future films based on their enormous character catalogue.
Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are characters with recent or forthcoming Netflix television series. Black Panther is set to be a big movie in 2018. The third Avengers movie – scheduled for release in 2018-19 – is rumoured to be based on a collection of books released in 1992. Comic collectors around the world are keen to guess which titles Marvel may pick next.
Even a rumour can increase the value of a comic by five or ten pounds. But beware: if you start collecting comics purely for their investment potential you are almost certainly heading for a fall. While comic book movies and television shows are the current vogue, they will inevitably fall out of favour with the wider public at some point. The first film to reap lower than expected returns at the box office will likely cause the bubble to burst and values will tumble.
As for me, I restarted my collection about four years ago, and now have a nice set (featuring a few books that have greatly appreciated in value – including Guardians of the Galaxy issue 1). I don’t imagine for a second that they will help keep me financially comfortable in my old age but I do enjoy watching the value increase while I enjoy my little hobby.