What to Buy

If you’re in this hobby to read books and be entertained, then far be it for me to tell you what you should be buying. The answer is simple: buy books you like and don’t let guys like me tell you otherwise. However, I’ve been on a selling spree the past few years and I’ve been noticing certain buying habits. I see a lot of people buying books because they think it’s “cheap”, but “cheap” is relative. If words like “high grade”, “rare” or “restored” are terms you use often, then chances are you’re also in it for the investment. It’s difficult to make the distinction between collector and speculator since they are two sides of the same coin but if your want your money to work harder for you then consider making more strategic purchases.

Typical scene on the show floor.
A typical scene from a show floor. Most of these buyers are hunting for books that they feel are undervalued. Some may have $1000 in their pocket and will take home several cheap books instead of one big $1000 hammer.

A few years back, I was trying to collect all the first appearances of Spidey villains prior to #50 certified 8.0. There is joy in collecting in it of itself and I definitely enjoyed the challenge of the hunt, but joy is an emotional state of mind. The logical side of me had to ask… why 8.0? Well, for me an 8.0 was the threshold in which I considered a book to be “high grade”. It was a respectable grade for Silver Age books which allowed me to brag and show off. I also assumed that these books would rise in value but I realize now that this is not the case. Looking at the sales stats, the first appearances of Spidey villains are relatively flat, even for villains with past or upcoming movie appearances. Some have gone up a bit but not enough to justify the investment. Financially speaking, the money didn’t really grow and in some cases I risked losing money if I factored in the selling fees. This made no sense to me so I switched gears and looked for books on the rise, even if I already had multiple copies. As for the hunt, collecting lower grade copies proved just as challenging and fun without having to tie up large sums of money on books that weren’t going anywhere.

1st Vulture
ASM #2, CGC 8.0, 1st Vulture: Although finally breaking past the $4000 mark, the Vulture seems to be flying back south again. Still really only a $3000 book in my mind.

1st Doc Octopus

ASM #3, CGC 8.0, 1st Doctor Octopus: Recent results are reaching high but has yet to grab hold of anything past $3000.

1st Sandman

ASM #4, CGC 8.0, 1st Sandman: Still roughly a $2000 book after all these years. The Sandman has yet to solidify.

1st

ASM #6, CGC 8.0, 1st Lizard: The Lizard can’t seem to climb past it’s average as it zig-zags around $1500.

1st Electro

ASM #9, CGC 8.0, 1st Electro: Will Electro ever zap his way past $1000?

1st

ASM #13, CGC 8.0, 1st Mysterio: Smoke and mirrors here. Basically a $1000 book, although it did mysteriously rise beyond $750 from his past.

1st Green Goblin

ASM #14, CGC 8.0, 1st Green Goblin: The Goblin can’t seem to bomb his way out of $1500 although he did look hopeful just a few years ago.

1st Kraven

ASM #15, CGC 8.0, 1st Kraven: I’ve always felt this book was undervalued relative to the others on this list but Kraven has yet to jump into action.

1st Scorpion

ASM #20, CGC 8.0, 1st Scorpion: Don’t get stung here by expecting anything more than $500.

1st Molten Man

ASM #28, CGC 8.0, 1st Molten Man: This book oozes past $500 only to melt back down again. This zig zag pattern leads to nowhere.

1st Shocker

ASM #41, CGC 8.0, 1st Rhino: The Rhino finally busts past $200 to reach a high of almost $600… but will he be stopped? One of the few books on this list making progress.

1st Rhino

ASM #46, CGC 8.0, 1st Shocker: Shaken into action in recent years, breaking past the perpetual $100 but I’d like to see more results before grabbing hold of this one.

1st Kingpin

ASM #50, CGC 8.0, 1st Kingpin: The success of Netflix has given the Kingpin a slight lift but can this heavy book be sustained?

Another aspect to buying that I’ve noticed is that some people prefer to purchase 10 books valued at $100 as opposed to one book valued at $1000. The perception being that a $100 book is cheaper than a $1000, and yet, these same people most likely have thousands of dollars invested into their collection. The problem with this kind of thinking is that in order come out ahead, lets say to make $100 profit… the $100 book has to double in value while the $1000 book only needs to go up 10%. True, you tie up more of your money but it’s a lot quicker and easier to reach 10% than it is 100%. The other problem is, if a book is cheap (or expensive), it’s usually a reflection of the demand. Even among “key” books, there are “junk keys”, which most likely will not last. Owning a smaller collection of quality books is also much more manageable in terms of handling, storage, inventory, etc. Owning a large collection of “junk keys” may appear to have a high value overall, but trying to actually cash in on those books is a different story. Not to mention the extra work of selling $100 books 10 times as opposed to a $1000 book just once. Of course, much of this depends on the book(s) itself but the point here is that quality trumps quantity.

Iron Man #118, CGC 9.8, 1st Jim Rhodes (War Machine):
Iron Man #118, CGC 9.8, 1st Jim Rhodes (War Machine): Jim Rhodes blasted up to new heights during his appearance in the Iron Man movies but lost gas and is grounded once again.

Uncanny X-Men #129, CGC 9.8, 1st Kitty Pryde:

Uncanny X-Men #129, CGC 9.8, 1st Kitty Pryde, White Queen and Sebastian Shaw: I love this book and will never sell any of my 9.8 Byrne X-Men’s but the books high value was not solid and just an illusion.

Avengers #55, CGC 8.0, 1st Ultron:

Avengers #55, CGC 8.0, 1st Ultron: The internet went “boom” over the announcement of Ultron as the key villain in the most recent Avengers movie but this party seems to be winding down now that Ultron is unplugged.

The third point I’d like to make is that there is a huge discrepancy between online prices and show prices. At first I wasn’t sure why, but after doing several shows and talking to lots of buyers, I’ve come to the conclusion that many people who buy at shows simply do not troll the online sites enough and have no clue about the online market. The same could be said for vendors, who miss out on opportunities to max out on their books because they are behind the curve. This is often true of modern keys where the value tends to be based more on a book’s recognition as opposed to being legitimately important; I won’t try to define “legitimate” or “quality” here because it’s too big of a conversation. The large quantity of these books floating around out there makes their value highly speculative, volatile and prone to fluctuations. Understanding the ebb and flow of the online market is an advantage at shows… let it whisper to you. Become familiar with online prices so that you won’t feel pressured to undersell your books at shows just because someone else has it cheaper. Put it away and list it online. You also won’t feel the need to pay high prices for “junk keys” because you’ll know you can pick those up cheaper… even with the added cost of shipping.

Fantastic Four #48, CGC 8.0, 1st Silver Surfer:
Fantastic Four #48, CGC 8.0, 1st Silver Surfer: One of my current favourites, I like the fact that the Surfer remains popular, has no upcoming movie deal and thus people are not talking about him, making this book a bit of an open secret. Not only have 8.0s doubled since 2011 but at $1000, it’s off it’s high and a much better choice than a handful of Spidey Gwens.

Hulk #181, CGC 8.0, 1st Wolverine:

Hulk #181, CGC 8.0, 1st Wolverine: There are thousands of these books registered on the census, but thankfully, there are even more fans out there. As well, this book has a cult status, recognized for its high value by the public at large. Since coming out of the housing fiasco, an 8.0 has gone from being affordable to being green with envy for those who missed the boat.

I’m not suggesting that all moderns are bad and that you should only be buying books with a steep slope. There are many books that have shot up due to being the flavour of the month, only to come crashing back down. But do your research and invest in books that have good long-term potential, even if you hold multiple copies. I would even go so far as to say that it’s okay to overpay for quality books, which I have personally done many times in the past. Good books are difficult to pick up below market because many collectors know their strength. You may have to pay a little extra just to pry it out of their hands. I’ve purchased several copies of Hulk #181 above market and I’m sure the sellers thought they had the advantage. But today, I’m way ahead and if those sellers want it back, they’ll have to pay me a bit extra on top of the already appreciated value.

So, while the current climate has many collectors chasing the next hot book, I would say don’t feel the need to try and pick up the next Kamala Khan or Spider Gwen. Consider pumping that money into another Hulk #181 or a Fantastic Four #48 because these have stood the test of time.

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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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18 Comments

  1. I really found your article quite valuable! A quick question: in the paragraph where you mention the disparity between show sales and online sales, are you inferring that the people who buy in shows are paying too high and that dealers are charging too low? I may have misread it so I just wanted to clarify my reading of it.

  2. Another interesting post Charlie. I thought of doing the Spidey villian thing once too and then switched gears and decided to try for the whole top 50 (in much lower grade).

    I think one of the big keys that factor in to total return for CDN buyers is the US exchange rate, and when you buy and sell your books. Over the time frame you posted, the US exchange rate has swung widely. If you purchased books in the 2007-8 era when we had a flush buck and sold your books now in US funds there would be a substantial pick up over the straight price appreciation. Of course buying books in US funds today isn’t much fun.

    Of the books you posted #41 the First Rhino is the one I “don’t get”. He turned out to be a long-time B grade villain who is mainly a Hulk antagonist in the bronze/silver age and yet he remains very popular today. To be fair my favourite Spidey B villain was Mysterio #13 and I know a lot of people don’t get him either.

    Agree with youon the the Fantastic Four #48 and Incredible Hulk #181. There seems to be no end to the demand for Hulk #181.

  3. Hi! Basically i concur on many of Charlies points. It can be quite a ride. I know he’s chuckling over the long story concerning the Speculation History of Shazam#1(’73 )series! By the way, once again. I spoke with some folks at Overstreet and It”s time to add a top Humor comics Catagory. It’s over due!

  4. Thanks Alan… and yes, I see the disparity quite often… with some people on certain books. But over paying or under selling is nothing new. Happens to all of us when we go shopping. The point is, knowing the online market is an advantage at shows… so that you’re not just comparing prices from table to table, but you’ll also be comparing it against the greater market.

    Many of my statements in this write up may seem contradictory but only because I’m trying to communicate nuances. It took me a long time to understand the relationship between eBay, ComicLink and the CGC boards so I’m trying to offer an overview, hoping that the gist comes through.

    For example, the cheaper Spidey books seems to be out performing the more expensive Spidey books so why would I recommend some one put down $1000 on a single book when the cheaper Spidey books are doing better? My point with the Spidey books is that most of them are flat… and the run up of the cheaper books have been fairly recent. This could be seen as self fulfilling. If enough people gravitate toward the cheaper books, they could be the next big books. While the market does ebb and flow, all things being equal, why not simply put the money down on another Hulk#181. Of course the Hulk#181 could also tank some day but speculating is about odds and odds are that the Hulk#181 will remain an investment favourite for a long while. The only draw to cheaper Spideys that I can see is that they are… cheap, and to me, it’s not enough of a basis for investment. If you like gambling or need/want the book, don’t let me discourage anyone. But if you’re in it for the long term and want to come out ahead, there are better options out there.

  5. Thanks Mike. The strength of the USD has definitely saved me in a few instances but I see this as a bonus since it doesn’t change the book. It’s definitely a sellers market out there and good time to sell books you no longer need or want.

    I really noticed how flat the Spidey books were when I picked up ASM #4 and #9 during 2009. At first I blamed it on the recession, but then coming out of the recession, they didn’t move very much while other books seem to be on a tear. When Electro finally hit the theaters, it did nothing for the book. Some speculate because the movie was a dud, it was a very different electro… or that he wasn’t popular enough. As a collector, I really like all these books but I no longer wanted to be invested in them.

  6. Hi Stephen. I did quite well with Shazam #1 and Nova #1 because I was able to time it with Hollywood news. However, I’ve still got multiple copies of these which I can’t seem to sell at previous prices. I don’t want to offend anyone by calling these “junk keys” but sometimes timing is everything.

  7. yeah, i have a dozen 9.6-9.8s and i traded off 500 copies lesser grades back in the 90’s. Tell the young’ens to be carefull. I guess a little warren buffet advice can be applied here.

  8. Good piece Charlie and in general I’m with you on everything you wrote. That said, I did want to add a few points. Not everyone does have $1000 in their pocket and sometimes even if they do, there’s a real mental barrier that even a hardened collector has to pass in order to drop that kind of money on a book. Also, should you get to that point and spend that kind of money on a book as an investment then you’ve only got one book to pay you back. If it stiffs you’re screwed. It may take longer and more effort to get a return on ten books but if one or two go kaput you still have the others to hopefully win out in the end. And you must admit that it does seem like from a percentage increase standpoint, it’s the newer bronze and copper books that really seem to be catching fire outside of true first issue / key appearances.

  9. Thanks for your comment Jay El… and you make a really good point!

    The “mental barrier” is exactly what I’m criticizing. It’s just an emotional state. Of course, not everyone has $1000 in disposable income to blow at once… but, however much you do have, it’s better to buy quality stuff because a quality book shouldn’t stiff you. The evidence is Overstreet and past sales records which can now be accessed online. Here’s an example… During the 1980’s the New Teen Titans was a hot new title. The 1st issue was a wall book and use to command $20+. However, let’s say I saved that $20, and instead, overpay on a Giant-Size X-Men #1 at $100. Today, a sharp New Teen Titans #1 still sells for about $20 (less inflation) but a sharp GSX#1 in the raw can bring in $1000 or more.

    Your second point about creating a mix portfolio is a sound idea. However, whether you’re betting on 1 horse or 10 horses, you should bet to win on every horse. The mutual fund concept is okay if you’re not sure about what you’re buying… and if you’re not sure, I would advise not to invest in comics at all because there is no fund manager who will be doing the buying and selling for you. The fund manager is YOU. It’s too easy to take a loss here or there because you feel your bets are hedged but junk is junk and there are enough winning horses out there that you shouldn’t have to take any loss.

  10. An even better Example then the Teen Titans Is the X-Men 95-141 run. I paid around $35 for a vg-f ish copy back in the mid ’80s as one of the rare times i’d buy into books with out a track record, and by and large that Bryne run appreciation rate is no great shakes.

  11. Stephen, I’ve got a soft spot for the Byrne X-Men run so I can’t concede ^_^ However, there are definitely are better investments out there. When I was a teenager, I had the opportunity to buy the whole run for about $500. Today, the same run could easily fetch $2000 to $3000 for decent grades. Factor in the inflation and it’s probably the same thing actually (that’s the closest I come to admitting it… ha). See what I’m mean… it’s difficult to block out the emotional connection with these books. But definitely, gone are the days when #1’s and creative contributions meant anything. Sad.

  12. hi Charlie. I left out by error—-I meant to say I spent $30 or $35 for#95. Now onto some other matter. A prediction—All-Star #8 will be in the top 10 with in the next few years. Reasons—Equal status with male iconic figures and many more females collecting comic books.

  13. According to past sales records, an All-Star #8 CGC 3.0 sold for $6400 in 2012. Two years later, one sold for $17925. All-Star #8 is the 1st appearance of Wonder Woman of course… Books that shoot up fast makes me nervous, however, this is no Av#55 or IM#55. Once the movies are done with Ultron or Thanos, it remains to be seen, how, when or if they will return but I suspect that our woman of wonder will be around for a while.

    I’d love to know what your current top 10 consists of Stephen.

  14. Check out the current Comiclink Focus Auction. An All-Star#8 in 2.0 is at $8,200. I believe this book will squeese in to #10 of the top tier, within the next 2 years. Ultimate reason—a very scarce book. My top 10 Action 1,tied with Marvel 1,then Detective 27, 3rd place Captain America 1,Superman 1,Detective 33. 4th place All-Star 3. 5th More Fun 52, 6th All American 16,7th Marvel 9, 8th Batman 1 (Too many copies out there), 9th Captain Marvel 1 (Rare as Hell) , All-Star 8. For me, the proper criteria is Historical ,Cultural importance. Contents, Rareity, Demand, and Lastly…Condition!

  15. Also i feel very strongly that Silver Streak #6 always a Classic Iconic Cover—Highly respected as a work of Art by one of the greats Jack Cole slips into #11 slot!

  16. Captain Marvel #1 over Whiz Comics… hmmm. Interesting. That’s a massive list of course and the only GA books I’d be interested if I ever win the lottery. I may bump Det#33 or More Fun for Flash Comics only because I prefer 1st app over origin or the Flash over Spectre. I wouldn’t bet against you on the AllStar#8… but let’s see what happens after the movie.

  17. There are various Market Reports in Overstreet by newbees. One example and i will not name names is that More Fun #73 is a more valuable book then Marvel Mystery #9 !!! True, both books are Rare but other than that the genius of Bill Everetts art and story compared to the pedestrian work on Aquaman and Green Arrow——Please—–give me a break! TV, Film, Vidio? What the Hell does that have to do with the original concept in determination of a Classic !! Charlie, yes i know, tough call between a Whiz #1 and a Captain Marvel #1, but the latter book edges over the former in terms of Rariety. But i would still go with that latter book. Over 55 years in this game, and only a few dozen exist.! Plenty of Special Edition #1s though which i scarce but not rare. ALERT NOTE. d’ont use the Census as the gospel!

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