What Drives the Value of Comic Books?

Key Comics

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.

Artistic Value – Yes, it has the now-iconic cover by Mike Parobeck.
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
Importance – Yes, the first appearance of Harley Quinn
Desirable – Yes, Harley Quinn is a primary character in the DC universe
Story Value – The story is full of silliness with twists and turns, nothing special.
This book is currently a little higher than ASM 300 which has much higher production numbers.  

Walking Dead #1and Invincible #1are similar books but with even fewer produced.

 

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.

by

Ron Cloer

2 thoughts on “What Drives the Value of Comic Books?

  1. Good read, Ron. I started collecting in 1989 and that was the year Batman came out. Nicholson as Joker shot silver and golden age appearances skyward.

  2. I would have to say that by in large movies seem to be driving the market and have for a while. The Marvel Movies more so than anything DC has produced. DC needs to find an Avi Arad who understands the characters isn’t just making a ‘summer blockbuster’. Thankfully I collected all of the Avengers (volume 1) long before there was a prospect for a movie. There are, of course, other drivers for value. But those others are less high profile and therefore less impacting usually. What I wonder is how much value is lost after a movie comes out? Are all of those books going to maintain lofty values. I think only the important ones are likely to maintain a higher value myself.

    As a collector, I have to say that I am sometimes disappointed in what people find value in and what they don’t. I’ve expressed that before in the forums when I was talking about the birth of the Limited Series in comics with the groundbreaking World of Krypton (1979) , which in turn gave birth to Ronin, Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns just a few years later. No one cares about World of Krypton, but without it your comic book landscape would be decimated. But I guess if you look at the criteria you listed above its easy to see why the series gains no attention. First appearances, major artists and classic covers definitely drive my collecting. Lately, I have started having a major ‘crush’ on pivotal stories. It was a good read and I enjoy your thoughts. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *