Speculating Ads

One of the biggest social issues is the prevalence of advertising and how much it influences us, if at all. John Kenneth Galbraith is the philosopher, economist and critic who coined the term “conventional wisdom” in his highly influential and polarizing book The Affluent Society. In his book Galbraith argues that advertising generates desires (for products) that we would not otherwise have. As such, these wants are not genuine. People do not “freely” choose… they are made to choose. He refers to this as the “dependence effect”. This notion was challenged by Friedrich Hayek who suggest that advertising simply responds to our natural instincts (i.e., food, shelter, sex) which already exists. Robert Arrington and Roger Crisp also chimes in only to have Barbara Phillips tell these boys that they are all missing point. Philips states that advertising has replaced community by virtue of…

• Capitalism elevates consumption over social needs.
• Capitalism promotes goods as a solution to social problems.
• Capitalism creates dissatisfaction by showing us what we should be dissatisfied with.

It’s a fascinating debate, one that critically examines our ethics and morality, which helps to define the nature of our being… But hey, whatever… because comic books! They’re fun!

A few years ago, my friend and I were set up at a photography show and he was flipping his old Kodak ads for several hundreds of dollars. He collected them because they were iconic and he liked them, but he never realized they’d be worth so much money! I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us that key vintage ads would have some value. A quick scan on eBay shows all sorts of ads being sold for all kinds of money. Ads that feature famous celebrities, famous creators, popular products, ads with errors (remember the famous Revenge of the Jedi poster) and ads that lend themselves to being collected such as the “Absolute Vodka” series of ads… torn from their respective magazines.

Mark Jeweler
One of the many Mark Jewelers inserts.
Who can forget Marvels Pizzazz magazine from the late 1970’s.

In the comic book world, we all know of the Mark Jewelers ad, Pizzazz insert and the infamous Tattooz that was stapled into Amazing Spider-Man #238. An ASM#238, CGC 9.6 without the Tattooz recently ended for about $100 on eBay, but if it did have the Tattooz, the same book probably would have shot past $250. Collectors simply feel that books without their respective ads are incomplete if they were originally published with the ads in place. As such, these ads can and do offer additional value depending on the book. Here’s a hint: Fantastic Four #252 also came with Tattooz and can readily be found in the bins for a dollar. Nuff said.

The famous, or infamous Wolverine ad. Technically his second appearance in comics.

Completeness is one thing… but this leads us to the big question, which is, can ads themselves be considered key? The well known example of this is Daredevil #115, Marvel Premiere #19 and Thor #229 which all feature an in-house ad promoting Hulk #181. Although Wolverine first appeared in Hulk #180, this famous Wolverine ad predates Hulk #181, which makes this his second appearance in comic books… technically, that is. However, many claim that ads don’t count and that they’re just a novelty at best. But aren’t key comics a novelty in themselves anyways? That is, the uniqueness of a first, second or third appearance adds nothing to the function, the quality or the actual enjoyment of a book… but it’s the novelty of it that attracts us. Hulk #181 is the undisputed champ where Wolverine is concerned but whether you feel ads are significant or not, the three books that contain the Hulk#181 ad do command a premium because of it. Other examples of this are lesser known and the demand for these books does not seem to exist. However, it’s unclear if these books are lesser known due to the lack of demand or if there is a lack of demand because they are lesser known… Chicken or egg anyone?

Journey into Mystery #118 is the first appearance of the Destroyer, but it also contains an ad for Strange Tales #135 that can be considered the first appearance of SHIELD.
Superman Adventures #4 has an ad featuring the cover of its next issue. Superman Adventures #5 is the first comic book appearance of Livewire… or is it in the back pages of Superman Adventures #4?
Malibu Sun #13 is often argued as the first appearance of Spawn, but an ad in Rust #1 predates both Malibut Sun #13 and Spawn #1.

Another group of advertising we can look at are promotional comics, often sold cheap or given away for free. The most famous give-a-way has to be the mythical Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1 which is contested as the very first appearance of the Sub-Mariner. Just a novelty? I think not.

Some people don’t believe this book actually exists or existed.
These Silver Age reprints are worth big bucks in high grade.

There is also the Golden Record reprints, the Oreo reprint and the Safeguard promotion of Action #1. Less epic is Marvel Age that started out as a 25¢ in-house news magazine back in the 1980’s. Marvel Age featured articles and insights about upcoming stories, often offering up previews of new concepts in development.

Marvel Age #12, which predates both Secret Wars #8 and ASM#252 is considered by some to be the very 1st appearance of Spidey’s black costume.
Marvel Age #25 is technically the 3rd appearance of Rocket Raccoon and graded 9.8 slabs can sell for over $200.
Marvel Age #97 is considered to be the 1st appearance of DarkHawk and often sells for about $20 in the raw.

FCBD (Free Comic Book Day) give-a-ways are slowly becoming collectible, although many key books in this group seem to spike then quickly died down after the initial hype. I have no idea what the print run on these books are but considering they are given away for free, I suspect it’s huge. There’s no shortage of these books so if you hold any key FCBD books, you may want to flip them quickly. There are exceptions of course but it remains to seen if these books can sustain and increase in value over time. The few that I know about are presented here.

The Stuff of Legend from 2009 has become a huge book due the upcoming Disney movie.
The Sixth Gun #1 from 2010 still seems to hold some value despite the TV series being cancelled.
More recently, Divergence #1 from this past May features the 1st appearance of Grail, Darkseid’s Daughter and the new “Gordon” Batman.

While advertisements expose our values, and brings up issue that relate to the human brain being programmable… For me, advertising and commerce, as a medium, is the new art. Everyday objects and common media are not be easy to accept as being art, but if we consider that advertising is a reflection of what preoccupies society, is this not the modern equivalent of what archaeologist and anthropologists would use to define culture? So bag up your FCBD books, save all the store stuffers and pick up those previews because you don’t want to miss out on any key appearances. There are so many more key advertisements out there and I’m inclined to believe that the awareness of their existence will generate desire, which in turn will create the demand that boosts their value. Case in point: After doing the research for this write up, I suddenly felt compelled to want a Marvel Age #12, just to say that I own the very 1st appearance of Spidey’s black costume. It’s all about the awareness.

Finally, have a visit at our fellow compatriot’s blog and read his May 29th speculative installment. The Dakoit also references a couple of promotional books worth honing up on. He fearlessly dives into the issues (literally) and does a great job of setting the record straight about the new Ms. Marvel.

Charlie Kim
Charlie Kim

Charlie Kim is a designer who is currently transitioning into teaching. While working for various companies, he helped develop many international brands such as the Hong Kong Airport identity, Lenovo’s sponsorship program for the Beijing Olympics and Lavasa, a new city being developed in India. Locally, he's also worked on the 1998 campaign for the Canadian Opera Company, the Canadian Innovations stamp for Canada Post and the terrible Grand & Toy re-brand (hey, they can't all be winners). Charlie’s love affair with art and design all began with comics.

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ArcRun - Mike Huddleston

Good read Charlie. I was aware of that Wolverine ad but have never tracked one of them down (now I want one!). Until you wrote this I had forgotten how I use to help others collect ads and how popular they were. Our designer at work was into those “Got Milk” ads with different celebs sporting white moustaches. Another friend of mine was on the lookout for Coca-Cola ads from the 40’s – 60’s that were printed on the back of Life magazine.They were as zealous about this stuff as we are about comics. No doubt comic ads will attract a following as well.

8 years ago

Love this topic, Charlie. One of my favorites is Action Comics #251, with a full-page ad for Supergirl’s first appearance in the next issue. The ad looks like it may have been an alternate cover for #252; look at both and you’ll see what I mean.

Kirk Ticknor
Kirk Ticknor
7 years ago

Great post. Note that in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, some direct sales versions of DC comics contained anti-drug ads that did not appears in the newsstand variants of the same comic books.. Following link gives the details:


7 years ago

I’m back to this post because I just picked up a great old EC, Frontline Combat #10 (crying baby cover; one of the few, if not the only, great EC covers that still does not command a premium, probably because its not gory, but it is impactful and shocking)…anyway, lo and behold, the inside front cover is a full-page black and white ad for Mad #1!