Undervalued Spotlight #393

Four Color #178, Dell Publishing, December 1947.

I was ruminating with a pal on the possibility of a hobby wide resurgence of the classic old Funny Animal genre. Honestly it’s tough to think of a deader genre than the Funny Animal genre but I’ve noted a slight wobble in the marketplace when it comes to the big key issues.

Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #1, Four Color #4 (1st series), Four Color #16 (1st series), Four Color #9 (second series) used to be such heavyweights back in the day, all ranking high in Overstreet’s annual list of top Golden Age books. I’m not sure why they fell so far and so hard from grace but I think things might be turning around for these books, I think picking up one of the bigger keys might be a smart play right about now. I’d say focus on the best creator of the most endearing characters, go with Carl Barks Ducks.

There is no better place to start than this week’s Undervalued Spotlight pick Four Color #178.

Four Color #178 features the classic “Christmas on Bear Mountain” by Carl Barks and it features the 1st appearance of Uncle Scrooge.

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s I used to sell lots of Barks Duck books and the hottest of the bunch back then was easily Four Color #386 which was considered Uncle Scrooge #1. Today Four Color #386 has a Guide value of $6000, almost double our Four Color #178. It’s like this genre and these characters have been so neglected that nobody noticed that they skipped school the day we were all taught that 1st appearances trump 1st issues, Amazing Fantasy #15 and Pep #22 didn’t miss that class, they were both sitting in the front row!

Four Color #178 seems mispriced when you consider it up against all the books I’ve mentioned above. Here is an early Carl Barks Donald Duck book that features the 1st appearance of a major pop culture character and it’s fetching below Guide even in high grades like CGC 7.5 and CGC 8.5 (a CGC 8.5 recently lost for less than $2000).

I think Four Color #178 would be one of the big beneficiaries of a reawakening of the market for the Funny Animal keys and I think such a reawakening is actually happening, how strong will it be and how long will it last is anybody’s guess but I’m arguing it won’t have to budge far before you see prices rising for Four Color #178.

The 47th Overstreet price break for this book is $408/$1088/$2444/$3800 in the 6.0/8.0/9.0/9.2 grade splits.

Reasons to buy this comic book as an investment:

  • First Appearance Uncle Scrooge by Carl Barks
  • One of the big Disney/Duck/Barks keys

Walter Durajlija
Walter Durajlija

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

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5 years ago

Bravo! I’ve been saying this for years, Walt! Five years older than #386, a true first appearance, much tougher and less common book, and the only major Disney character to be introduced in comics. Completely agree!

Chris Meli
5 years ago

After receiving a hard slap last time I will try to keep my tongue well clear of my cheek.

My outright opinion on the pick itself is almost meaningless, because I am almost ignorant of the dynamics of the genre. The reasoning seems almost inescapable. I have two reservations, however:

– The first is whether funny animals really fit into the framework of “established” comic collecting. Based on the content of Comic Culture, I think Walt and most readers of CBD would be much more interested in answering “Who would win: Hulk or Thing?” than “What was the silliest Andy Panda pratfall you can remember?” I personally think of Disney comic collectors as more Disney collectors than comic collectors. Of course there is much crossover, but at root I think the difference comes down to “import”. From Infinity War to Bozo the robot, “established” comic collecting focuses on “serious” issues (like the destruction of the universe, to pick just one). Funny animal books are at most touching, when a beloved character suffers a series of unfortunate events, but never serious. I think most people gravitate one way or the other, and people who are more drawn to funny animals – let’s pick on Disney funny animals – are more likely to want to collect other Disney memorabilia than superhero, horror, or crime comics.

SO, with this consideration, I think the “skipped school” idea is open to question. I keep coming back to how antique book collectors are generally accepting of professional restoration, while comic collectors are not. As a comic collector I find the latter approach easy to understand, because I am collecting something different, even though it might seem the same. Similarly in this case, is it possible that funny animal collectors care more about “classic” issues than first appearances? I personally gravitate this way as well, as I also “skipped school” and was out of the collecting community when first appearances became the rage, so I could understand that FC #386 could indefinitely maintain its percentage dominance over FC #178 regardless of the first appearance argument. I find it very hard to stomach paying for a “first appearance” issue when the character in question isn’t even on the cover as in this case (or All-Star #8 to name a famous example)

– This and #386 are pretty plentiful books, and also: similar to above, I question how much funny animal collectors have embraced CGC. Is it possible that the percentage graded relative to price is much lower for this and other key/semi-key funny animal books? In that case there could be a lot more out there. If this were a wartime book I would be more on board, but I generally avoid the late 1940s for everything because examples are relatively plentiful. While by CGC stats #178 is about twice as scarce as #386, as #386 shows up all the time, it might be more of a “crossover” book for hero book collectors who want to add a nice Disney key, and of course they would be more interested in it being CGC-graded. The overall point is that there might be a lot of slack in #178, so if it started to pick up you might see more come out, limiting the speed of appreciation.

So I am not judging the call, but I will stay away out of ignorance, and out of my preference for rarer books.

On the larger topic I am firmly on board. Walt, your phrase of “slight wobble” is perfect. When I got back into collecting I bought a few high grade New Funnies because they were “cheap”, and then I realized that this was because there was zero demand. In the past year I have actually seen some sales in the title. ComicLink floated a few books in the last auction and they seemed to do well. I think there is good curiosity at this point, but people generally don’t know where to begin (aside from a few key Disney books, which are more icons than “normal” funny animal keys). I think a core problem is along the lines of what I wrote above. As there is little continuity in the funny animal space, most books are created equal, and there are a lot of them. The price dynamics of hero comics rely on the continuity: Detective #27 begat Batman #1, Batman begat Robin begat Alfred, etc. I have trouble figuring out how funny animal books can build on each other this way.