Starting Out

I was talking to a pal about real estate the other day, we were both lamenting on how hard it is for young people to aspire to homeownership. Housing prices are so high and high-income jobs seem harder and harder to get. I don’t envy the kids today.

Like always I somehow turned this line of thought to comic books and comic book collecting. I don’t envy the kids starting their collections today.

We’re spoiled, us collectors that can remember picking up stuff in the 1980s and even earlier. We could amass runs at will, availability was there, prices were such that most of us could afford to collect runs from multiple titles at the same time and we’d splurge on the key issues as we went along, deals were there to be had if we looked hard enough. Imagine you are in your early 20s and you’ve decided to start collecting comics today, August 2020. Where would you start? You’d obviously start with what you like but soon you’d be pulled towards key issues, special books, grails.

Come on Walt, you sound like an old man. Did you have any care for Golden Age while you were building your Amazing Spider-Man run? Did you pine for early Famous Funnies when you were finishing up Daredevil #1-181? Were you hunting down pre-code horror E.C.s when you were buying your Hulk #181s and Marvel Spotlight #5s? Well, the answer is no, I wasn’t looking at that stuff at all, that stuff came later. I must have looked like a snot-nosed fool to that old dealer as I pushed aside his Big Logo Detectives to get to the Marvel Team-Up box.

So what will collections started today look like in 25 years? I haven’t a clue but I do know that the young guns starting out today will have to be much more selective than we were. Remember when it was nothing to amass the relaunch May 1968 Marvels? Iron Man #1, Hulk #102, Subby #1, Cap #100, Nick Fury #1 and Doc Strange #169 were such easy targets, they weren’t the keys but it was a nice set to have. Try getting the set today? Odds are you will pick the one or two you like best or feel have the best long term prospects.

I talked a few posts ago, and this post is in a way an extension of that one, about modern key issues, books like Ultimate Fallout #4, Edge of Spider-Verse #2, NYX #3, these are the new keys and some will turn into grails over time.

Why should a young collector care about snagging an Amazing Spider-Man #9? Who’s Electro to these young collectors? You show one of these new collectors a More Fun Comics from 1937 and it might be like showing me a Bringing Up Father Platinum Age book from the 1920s. Yawn.

So is my nice tight copy of Amazing Spider-Man #9 safe? Should I get rid of it now for fear of the next wave of collectors not caring? I don’t know the answer to that, I think this might be true on some books and not true on others. Try selling your copy of Double Life of Private Strong #2 or Fighting American #4 today, tough slogging, though they were once hot books.

I’m not making any firm statement or taking any firm stance with this post because while I want to broach the subject of the future of comic collecting I just can’t read the future to any degree of certainty that would allow me to make statements, so I chicken out and ask a bunch of questions.

Now I’ve written myself into a corner so I’ll try and make a few bold predictions. I think 10 years from now a collector showing off his or her nice complete run of Spawn will impress the heck out of their contemporary collectors. I think owning the one in twenty-five variant of Ultimate Fall Out #4 will be just as impressive as showing off an Amazing Spider-Man #129.

Grails will still be grails but much like our generation never being able to aspire to ever owning an Action #1 these young collectors may feel the same way about an Amazing Fantasy #15, something nice to dream about but not having one in no way diminishes the drive to build and improve the collection.

I wish you new collectors all the success in the world, collectively your influence on future values will grow and grow until one day your tastes will dictate the comic values from Golden Age to the future present. Of course, at that time there will be a new crop of collectors starting the process all over again.

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Walter Durajlija
Walter Durajlija is an Overstreet Advisor and Shuster Award winner. He owns Big B Comics in Hamilton Ontario.
Articles: 1565

18 Comments

  1. Been thinking exactly the same things that you’ve brought up here, Walt. What’s the future of our current grails? Great topic!

  2. Ha! Never heard of any of those Modern keys you mention. What could I be passing up when I look at a collection, or what could I have in my stacks of stuff “to be processed,” from past deals? I finally was going to ship all my modern dupes to Buddy at mycomicshop, since he’s an old friend and I trust him…when he stopped buying “general” collections and got pickier. Now I have to do the work myself!

    Its much more fun with the books I know, i.e. pre-1970. But you are on the right track…right now, though, it still seems like a LOT of money is being sunk into Gold and early Silver, even high grade Bronze and Modern, judging by auctions and dealer prices and my limited vantage point. I have to wonder when some of this is going to go bust, especially the more common Bronze and modern stuff in hi-grade slabs. But even a lot of scarcer Gold is really hyper-inflated right now, to my eyes.

    But I am only looking at a small part of the market, Heritage, mycomicshop, A-1 Comics, and the top convention dealers, Harley, Terry, Jaime, et al.

  3. It’s funny how the same old concern keeps rising up every decade or few – will comics maintain their value? I think it’s ultimately dependent on new collectors being able to learn about what’s come before. The 60s fanzines that Bud and I grew up on always were uncovering and revealing for us young collecting fanboys the great comics of the past. We’d check them out and agree, and then dive in collecting that cool old comic. The Price Guide gives a good general layout of what’s there, but without the primary sensory experience of reading a comic book of course. But if you don’t know and like first, then you don’t end up wanting to buy. It’s always primarily about demand; supply just aggravates prices. But now we’ve got another 50 years of accumulated comic books since the world of 1970 that Bud knows well. So yeah, I don’t know any of those modern keys you mentioned either, Walter. But if the kids don’t find out about the cool old stuff, price isn’t the issue. But thankfully they’ve got Google now, so they can access most of the generic history of comic books in some granularity anytime they want it. That does help. And some will go on to earn big bucks in their lives, so I just don’t think Action #1 is gonna tank anytime soon!

  4. Well, first I don’t know as we will see older conics become devalued. Oh there might be issues, runs, characters that might go a bit soft, but overall I doubt a complete devaluation by successive generation of older material. I know much younger collectors who have inherited collection from parents who have an interest in their parents comics and bet those are not isolated cases. Secondly there will continue to be hot comics of the modern era. I don’t know they will reach an Action 1 status simply because there are more of them and more in pristine condition… but there will be sone hotter ones.

  5. Good replies guys, I especially like Larry reminding us that the collectors of today have the internet, savvy young fingers on an iPhone can dislodge more information on old comics in two hours that two years worth of old fanzines and price guides couldn’t dig up.

  6. I think the comic collecting trend is obvious Walt. Comic book readers of the 1930`s to the 1970s were readers first, became confirmed comic lovers second, and then at some point as a youth, or later as an adult,became collectors. This is what created the comic collector market and eventually a price guide, dealers and market. But I think as the market dwindles from 10`s of millions of comics read a month to now mere thousands, I expect the complete collapse of comic collecting as we know it in 75 years.
    What I do know for certain, is that I wont be around to see if I`m correct or not. 🙂

    6 decades of comic readers,which included mass children readership, both genders, and many many more genres, will be reduced to the Beanie baby dust bins of collecting History as today“s generation no longer reads.

  7. Is it a conspiracy that we rarely see older books in the current top 10? Some people seem to think so, and refer to these lists as nonsense, manipulative, false or biased. Maybe it is… but then, by the same logic, is it a conspiracy that kids don’t listen to their dads music or wear his fashion?

    The current back issue growth is in modern keys… in part due to these these top 10 list. But as well, because they are…
    • affordable
    • accessible
    • relatable
    • and are supported by social media, movies, and current industry news and trends.

    New books also give speculators a chance to feel like we’re “winning”, without having to tie up $10k in a book like TOS#39 and hope that it goes up enough soon to cover fees with a bit of profit in order to be active for a bit of fun.

    By contrast, go to your LCS today and start picking up books written by Donny Cates at cover price. This guy knows how to write for the speculator market and every issue of his new Thor title is KEY. They’ve all spiked in value, including 2nd and 3rd prints. You start buying his books today and I’m pretty sure that you’ll have 10X… or maybe 20X your money within a year. Some books will fizzle out, but some books wont, while others may become notable 2-3 years later. Try something new for a change… it doesn’t hurt.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=speljaAILOk&t=3s

  8. A few years ago, I learned about a new Thing action figure on Toy Galaxy. I was able to find this figure, while on vacation, at the first place I looked. This got me to wondering if The Thing ever had his own book series? I am sure you know the answer is yes. I spent some time online and confirmed that I was correct. I decided I wanted to buy as much of the run as I could. I compared several listings on Ebay and other sites. I wanted the highest grade for the least amount of money. I bought what I could online. I looked up comic shops in my area. I don’t care for the big shop in town. I called a few shops in the state, I had a very specific list, and they never got back with me. I ended up buying the books in town, but I did drive several hours away to a store that didn’t seem interested in letting my buy them with PayPal and mailing them I asked the store owner if he would hold them? I have a good friend who loves road trips so we drove down. We drove several hours from home, this store was like a treasure trove I would have spent some time in. My friend asked if there was a restroom he could use and was told no. This upset me because of the distance we had traveled. I stopped looking and bought what I had and left. I think The Thing figure displayed with the some of the books will look great. I enjoy your site.

  9. I don’t believe that digital comics is the answer… And subscription services maybe where media has landed, but I refuse to be chained to these businesses, basically paying rent for stuff I like. Apple had it right when you could own your music, but they had no choice but to switch to the subscription model for various reasons, including the labels wanting to regain distribution control over their content. The subscription model is a predatory practice that forces people to pay more by taking away ownership and choice. Digital comics may earn enough to cover the basic cost of production, but digitization alone is not a catalyst. I will quit comics before I start reading digital material… just like I quit blood sucking Bell and Rogers! I hope no here gets suckered into 5G phones.

  10. By the way, I think we’re in for some pain in the coming years. The layoffs at DC is not unique. People are losing jobs all over the place. We’ve been gifted with a reprieve so we should take advantage of it to blow out junk stock, even if it’s at below market. The news cycle paints the picture as being… “not as bad as what they expected” but this is spin. Keep an eye on those mortgage default numbers and evictions. I can already see the cost of groceries at Lowblaws inching higher and I paid 50% more for my hair cut. CGC also doubled the cost of shipping 25 books to Canada from $90 to $180!! I’m in the process of trying to get all my books graded quick before prices go higher. Also, Trump is putting the pressure on the USPS to make more money. He’s got Dejoy in there messing things up for the upcoming election so expect slower deliveries or lost packages… all of which work against our hobby… and personal wealth. Time to cut back on Starbucks coffee and brew my own.

  11. I’m very torn about this, being a relatively young collector who focuses exclusively on older (i.e. pre-1980) books. I just can’t wrap my head around the modern books. Alas.

  12. Against the idea that comic sales are going to dwindle and disappear I’d say there is still huge potential for growth of interest in old comics. I think the collecting needs to stay fun to keep going. Sales seem to indicate that interest keeps growing. The market hasn’t globalized yet – I can’t buy (or even find out about) comics from China or Nigeria or Chile as easily as I’d like to, so there’s tons of room there to make them available and desirable. With grading and as books get valued for their cover art, the language they’re in becomes secondary, especially if they are reprints. I am always surprised at how much great stuff is out there. I found myself starting out looking at e.g. Italian editions of Marvel stuff and then realizing how good the local productions were in the process. For instance, Italian horror comics of the seventies are truly extraordinary cover-wise and currently completely absent from most English-language collectors’ awareness. With the rise of online sales, it gets easier and easier to FIND American comics, and so it just becomes a matter of AFFORDING them. With foreign comics the prices are still cheap and the hunt is still a much bigger part of the collecting – and that also makes them fun to go after.

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