Your first response to this question might be upcoming movies drive the value of comics. You would be partially correct with that answer. That seems to be increasingly the case. A collector more interested in obscure books might say rarity. We’ve all seen marketing like “limited to 100 issues” or “1 of 250 produced”. Some people are under the perception that because of rarity, those comics will be valuable. You know this, but it should be repeated.
Rarity doesn’t equal value.
So much more goes into the value of a comic book. Importance, desirability, artistic value, production numbers, story value, rarity, age, condition, and raw vs. slabbed are all interwoven together to give the value of a book. The grade of the book and whether it is raw or slabbed are factors for every book. The other 7 things related to value aren’t often thought about.
Artistic Value – Subjective but sometimes great art speaks to almost all collectors. Detective Comics #880 is one example.
Rarity – Is a book truly rare? How many have survived? Don’t confuse rarity with artificial scarcity that is used to drive up the price of a book. Small publishers will severely limit production to create artificial scarcity.
Age – Becomes a factor before 1984 when comics weren’t viewed as collectibles.
Production Number – Circulation numbers, Capital or Diamond distribution numbers
Importance – 1st Appearance, death, marriage, significant change
Desirability – Subjective, but driven by the hype from a movie, show or YouTuber and your personal preference
Story Value – Was the storytelling groundbreaking, well-loved or powerful?
Let’s talk about some examples to show this in the real world. You can have a comic book like the first appearance of Venom in Amazing Spider-man #300 As you go through the elements of pricing, something becomes obvious.
Artistic Value – Yes, it’s great artwork by McFarlane
Rarity – No
Age – 1988, not a factor
Production number – High production numbers at 271,000
Importance – Yes, the first appearance of Venom
Desirable – Absolutely, everyone wants that book
Story Value – The dramatic switch from Spider-man’s costume to an enemy symbiote is brilliant.
Rarity isn’t a factor but desirability, importance, and storytelling drive the price up.
Try the criteria on a silver age classic like Fantastic Four #49
Artistic Value – Some of Kirby’s Best Work
Rarity – CGC has 3267 graded copies in the census. That’s a tiny number considering the production number. Based on the census data, most would consider it rare now.
Age – 1966 or 50+ years old
Production numbers – Circulation numbers are over 329,000
Importance – Yes, because of Galactus and Silver Surfer
Desirable – Yes.
Story Value – Stan Lee telling the story of a planet eater and his minion, Silver Surfer.
Does that book “deserve” a $1580 price tag for an 8.0 graded copy? The market says, “Yes”. It meets several criteria that drive the price upward so it seems justified.
The first appearance of Harley Quinn in Batman Adventures #12 is an interesting book.
Rarity – Yes, about 20,00 copies were printed. 5960 have been graded by CGC but some could have been destroyed because it was a book in the kid section of most comic shops.
Age – 1993, not a factor
Production number – Low production numbers for the time period
This book is currently a little higher than ASM 300 which has much higher production numbers.
Compare those examples with a modern ultra-low production book that has a production run of 100 or 50. Strictly from a rarity point of view that modern book is superior. If rarity were the only factor, it would easily win. Before you unleash your credit card for a hundred or two hundred dollar purchase think about something. Does the rare modern book have any of the other 6 criteria? Is it important? Desirable? Story value? Artistic value?
Small publishers commonly use this artificial scarcity concept to manipulate the market for their books. This is a marketing strategy employed to gain attention and buzz around their product. Six months later the comic isn’t holding its value because the book is lacking in some of the other criteria. Publishers want to sell books and make money, they do not care about the long term value of a comic. This isn’t an article against small publishers because I would probably do the same thing. Without a doubt, there are some small publishers who care about storytelling and try to create something worthwhile. We should support them.
I hope this helped you think about the value of comics a little differently. If you found this article helpful, please share it with a friend.