Many aeons ago, there was a time when comics weren’t sold as collectables and no one treated them like collectables either, but with limited print runs, people are starting to realise the value of these stapled pages.
Remember how I mentioned that Funko’s Pop!s are collectable because they only make so many of each one? And then there are the rare Chase Variants that most Pop! Lines include. Comics are pretty similar, they only print so many of each issue and then they’re done, maybe they’ll reprint certain issues but it’s the first prints that fetch the big bucks. Comics, much like Pop!s, also have variants; a comic variant is exactly the same as the actual comic, only difference is the cover art. Just like Pop! Chase Variants, variant covers are rarer than their regular counterparts; with only one in fifty comics (or one in one hundred, or even one in a thousand, it depends on the comic) being a variant cover.
Fortunately that doesn’t mean that a store or collector has to order a thousand copies of Rebirth Superman #10 just to get one copy of the variant cover; the indicated rarity per however many comics simply gives collectors an idea of how rare a variant will be for a particular issue, but you can just order the variant if you really want it. Sometimes things get pretty crazy, with a particular issue having three or four variant covers, each harder to come by than the next.
Okay, so now you know comics are collectable, but just how collectable are they?
After hearing “comics are collectable”, many people seem struck with the idea they should just buy every comic they come across, but that’s a thought that will leave your pockets – no matter how deep – empty before the end of the week. Now comes the question of which comics one should buy.
Fortunately, that’s simple to answer: the ones you like. You’re not going to buy a random copy of Green Lantern if you prefer Batman, and you’re most definitely not going to buy Secret Empire if you’re not a fan of Captain America being a Hydra Agent (if you’re coming in as a fan of Marvel’s films, I am so sorry). So if you like reading Old Man Logan then collect Old Man Logan instead of buying the odd issue of Invincible Iron Man from time to time.
But let’s be honest, not every single comic will go up in value enough for it to really be an investment and it can be difficult to tell which one’s will go up in value. The ones you can be assured will go up in value are first issues and first appearances. All-New Wolverine #1 (released 15 January 2015 at $4.99) is now going for $10.00, from R66 to R113 in just over a year and three months. Add shipping to that as well as the price of a sleeve and backer board (provided you want to look after your comic, more on that in a bit) and you’re looking at a healthy R150 to R180.
Another way to buy comics that will probably go up in value (not greatly, unless something big happens in a certain issue) is to buy comics with low print numbers. The lower the print numbers, the better, because in fifty years or so someone will want to complete their collection of Marvel comics only to realise that they forgot to collect Unstoppable Wasp (estimates on the latest issue have print numbers at twelve thousand three hundred copies).
But a surefire way to ensure your comics go up in value is to keep the collection together. A collection of New 52 Flash will go for considerably more if you have all fifty two issues than if you were missing one or two. But if you’re planning on selling each title as a complete collection, ensure that every copy you have is a first print, not a second or third print, and is a regular cover instead of a variant, because most collectors won’t count it as a complete collection. What would be amazing, but very expensive to do, would be to put together a collection consisting of only variants; if you had all the variants for every issue of anything, you could sell them for quite a pretty penny.
Other comics that are bound to go up in value are reprints. Whenever Marvel makes a point of reprinting something, in anticipation for a related film or reboot of a particular comic, they’ll call it a True Believer. What’s amazing is that when they reprint that True Believer, the original True Believer goes up in value. For example: in February this year we got True Believers Wolverine vs Hulk #1 (the name should be True Believers Hulk #181 but hey, we just gotta deal with it), the first appearance of Wolverine, a month later they reprinted True Believers Wolverine vs Hulk #1, making the previous one go up in value. The same could be said for any Action Comics Superman #1 reprints; not only does each new reprint up the value of any previous reprints, it also ups the value of the original comic as well.
But it’s not enough to simply just purchase a comic and leave it on the shelf, much like a piece of art, you have to look after it. When people order comics from Diamond or some other comics distributor, the comics are delivered as is, they aren’t sealed in plastic sleeves, sometimes they’re damaged (in the form of a fold or crease along the spine, sometimes the comics are even torn), and so it is up to the collector/store to choose whether or not to take measures to ensure their comics remain in the best condition possible for as long as possible.
Some stores take the liberty of purchasing backer boards and sleeves to keep their comics in, taping the sleeve closed with the board and comic inside ensures that the comic stays in good condition for a long time. But be weary, for not all sleeves are equal, comics are liable to rub their colours off on certain types of plastic sleeves after a period of time, there are, however, certain sleeve types that comics are unable to rub their colours off on; Mylites are a prime example of such wondrous sleeves.
Okay, so now you have an idea of which comics you want to buy, but what should one really keep their eyes out for when buying comics?
Well, thank goodness for the universally used comic grading system; a system that allows collectors to agree on the exact condition of a comic – between 0.5 and 10. The Certified Guaranty Company (also known as CGC) grades comics based on a variety of criteria – everything from page quality to the presence (or lack) of rust on the staples. Anything under a rating of 9 and most high-end collectors won’t even bother buying the comic, but the best quality you can get is between 9.8 and 10 – if you’re really looking to earn money off of your investment you should look into buying only CGCed comics that have been graded as 9.8 or above. To ensure that a CGCed comic doesn’t degrade due to unforeseen circumstances, when CGC rates a comic they place it in a gas-permeable, sealed sleeve (one that the colours don’t rub off on) and it is then placed inside a tamper-visible, hard plastic cover (tamper-visible just means that one can easily see if the cover has been opened or damaged after the comic was placed inside); this process is known to some as “slabbing”.
The damage one should look out for isn’t always as evident as one might think. Even the tiniest of creases along the spine can degrade a comic’s value. Avoid all the things you would avoid when buying a book: damaged spine, folded/torn pages, scratches or grooves on the pages or cover, etc. But with comics you have to be a little more particular; sometimes what may seem like damage is actually a printing error (the way to check for this is to pick up other comics of that title and issue number and see if they have exactly the same damage to them; sometimes the printers used will puncture all the pages in the exact same place or will leave a blotch of ink on the same page of every comic of that issue). With a comic, you have to keep an eye out for rusted staples (specifically with older comics, rust will turn the paper blue), avoid attempting to restore a comic yourself (unless that is something you actually do for a living, because CGC, along with many picky collectors, can tell when someone has tried restoring a comic – this goes for everything from swapping the stables with newer ones to removing an old price tag), because restoring a comic can actually bring the value down drastically if you aren’t careful.
A quick tip for not damaging the spine: don’t hold the comic by the spine or the opposite side, hold it by the top or bottom; unless you’re reading it, in which case just put it down on a flat surface or hold it very gently.
Now that you know all this stuff its time to get out there and start purchasing comic books, and with Free Comic Book Day this Saturday (it’s an annual event, the first Saturday of May), you’ve got the perfect excuse to buy a couple comics – after that, it just becomes a habit, and that’s good enough of an excuse for most people.