Comic books have come a long way since the days when they were simply seen as frivolous forms of childish entertainment. Today, legions of people of all ages and walks of life enjoy comics for their engaging characters, sophisticated and relevant stories, and realistic art. Let’s not forget that they also hold their own as highly valuable, sought-after collectibles. The combined value of the first appearances of Batman, Captain America, Spider-Man, and Superman could buy you a million-dollar home in the Hollywood Hills! If you are interested in collecting comic books, here are some things to consider:
- Decide on your motivation for collecting. There are two main types of comic book collectors: Those who buy comics purely as investments and plan to resell them, and those who buy comics for recreational reading, but are aware of their potential value and would consider reselling them.
Although not considered “collectors,” there are also those who buy comics purely for entertainment and have no desire to resell them. The type of comic book collector you are determines how much time, money and effort your collection will require. For example, if you are an investment collector, you would purchase multiple copies of comics you believed would increase in value, and then pay to have them professionally graded, and then do the research to determine the best means and time to sell them.
On the other hand, the recreational collector wouldn’t necessarily purchase multiple copies, pay for professional grading, or spend any time researching the markets.
- Locate your nearest comic book shop. New comic books are released and shipped on a weekly basis, and almost every title on the market has issues released once a month (12 issues per year). Although there are several places to purchase comic books (such as bookstores, grocery stores, newsstands, eBay and other Internet web sites, etc.), your local comic book shop is best because it has knowledgeable (and usually colorful) salespeople to help you navigate the world of comics. They also provide one-stop shopping for all your comic book collecting needs -- things like older issues (called back issues), graphic novels (comics bound in book/magazine form), quality storage supplies, price guides, industry publications, memorabilia, etc.
Comic book shops often offer discounted subscription services where they will hold a set amount of comics for you for a predetermined period of time. To locate your nearest comic book shop, you can call the Comic Shop Locator Service toll free at 1-888-266-4226, or visit their web site.
- Pick the book that’s right for you. Like any other form of entertainment, comic books come in a wide variety of genres with stories that revolve around a diversity of iconic and obscure characters. Action/adventure, comedy, mystery, horror, science-fiction, fantasy, religious, adult, foreign -- it doesn't matter what kind of stories you like, there's a comic book for you.
There are many comic book publishing companies to choose titles from, but the two largest and most successful are MARVEL Comics and DC Comics. MARVEL is responsible for characters such as Spider-Man, The Hulk, X-Men, Fantastic Four and Captain America, while DC lays claim to Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Justice League and Teen Titans. Looking for comic books about your favorite characters from the Star Wars, Aliens and Terminator movies? Then you’d want to look for books published by Dark Horse Comics. Like stories and characters that are off the beaten track? There are many independent companies to choose from like Image Comics, Top Cow Productions, Inc., Fantagraphics Books, Oni Press and Dynamite Entertainment to name a few.
Both the recreational and investment collectors should note they can still buy comics from publishing companies that are no longer in business (such as CrossGen Comics, Valiant Comics, First Comics and Comico, The Comic Company).
- Fill in the gaps in your collection. Whether it's for investment or recreation, once you begin collecting comic books, you'll quickly realize that you've joined a long-running program already in progress.
The evolution of super-hero comics is generally considered to have begun in the late 1930s -- called the Golden Age of Comics -- when a little-known character named Superman debuted. The Golden Age continued from the late 1930s through the mid to late 1950s. The following years of comics are called the Silver Age (late 1950s – late 1960s), the Bronze Age (early 1970s – early 1980s), the Copper Age (early 1980s – early 1990s), and the Modern Age (mid 1990s to present).
If you went out tomorrow and started buying the latest issues of Superman comics in the hope of collecting them all from the Golden up to the Modern Age, you'd have about 70 years and millions of dollars worth of issues to catch up on. Serious comic book collectors will tell you that they built their collections over time, so don’t expect to have an impressive collection overnight. Two options are to go to local comic shops for seasonal sales and their annual Free Comic Book Day, and to attend comic book conventions.
For the recreational collector, the best approach is to slowly start buying back issues of your favorite titles that go back at least a year. By doing this, you’ll be able to determine when the direction of the storyline changes. When a storyline starts and ends in a comic book, it’s called a story arc, and new story arcs are the best place for new readers to start collecting.
For the investment collector, comics that are #1 issues and comics starring popular guest characters (such as Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Wolverine, etc.) are usually the ones that increase in value. *Legal disclaimer: It is important to note that like any other collectible, the value of comic books is completely driven by and dependent on the markets. What is hot today may not be tomorrow.
- Protect your comic books. Like any other collectible, the best way to ensure that a comic book is worth the maximum value is to purchase, store, and maintain it in the best possible condition -- which is called mint condition. Buying comics in mint condition is always the strategy of the investment collector, but even recreational collectors care about the condition of their books. Comics are very fragile and can be damaged by everything from rough handling and finger oils, to dust and air pollution, to ultraviolet light. Even the inks used in the printing process and the acids found in the paper comics are printed on will cause comic books to degrade over time.
To keep the comic books in your collection in the best possible condition, you will need comic-sized plastic bags, backing boards, and storage boxes. There are different levels of quality and sizes of comic bags, boards and even boxes to correspond to the different sizes and formats comics have been published in over the years. There are economical options you can purchase, but they will only protect your collection for the short-term.
To ensure your comics are well protected from environmental damage, buy polypropylene or Mylar plastic comic bags. (Mylars are said to protect comics for 100 years!) Thick, acid-free backing boards can stop the spread of acids through paper and protect the spine of comic books. Storing your collection in a corrugated comic book storage box will protect the edges, corners, and overall flat shape of your comics.
So no matter what kind of collector you are, what genre you like, or where you buy them, collecting comic books can be fun, profitable or both. Just as the longest journey begins with one step, the greatest comic book collection begins with the purchase of just one. There are new worlds waiting for you to discover, so take off those boring civilian clothes, put on that cool costume, get out there and start collecting! Of course…if you want people to take you and your comic book collection seriously, you might want to skip the costume thing.