When the Million Dollar Comic Went for Just a Hundred Bucks

Action Comics 1 debut of Superman2010 has been the year Superman has smashed records with sales of Action Comics #1 being made on ComicConnect.com of $1 million in February for a copy graded 8.0 by CGC and $1.5 million just a month later for a CGC 8.5. Today I popped into a time machine and read about times when it was just $100 book, and I’m sure condition wasn’t a concern, inside the pages of Newsweek Magazine, February 15, 1965.

In the article titled “Superfans and Batmaniacs” Newsweek notes that the “June 1938 issue of Action Comics, which introduced the immortal Superman to the lists of American folk idols … has since become a $100 collector’s item among the country’s band of first-edition comic-book fanatics.” Now 100 bucks was a lot of cabbage back in ’65, but I don’t think any inflation charts are going to try and sell me that my 100 then is going to net me a cool mill-plus today.

Newsweek spends over a full page discussing this strange breed of collector under their “Life and Leisure” banner likely shocking respectability at the time by comparing the comic collectors to rare stamp collectors. In an article where you can just tell the writer is restraining himself from using words like weirdo or nut-job it’s stated that “the movement has grown so large that last year Jerry Bails, a 31-year-old associate professor of natural science at Wayne State University’s Monteith College in Detroit founded the grandly named Academy of Comic-Book Fans and Collectors (membership: 1,200).”

“Comic-book cultists are fascinated by how the superheroes were born and developed,” Newsweek writes, before going on to spill the origins of Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel, I’d imagine far less universally known origins in 1965 than the folk hero status attached to at least Supes and Bats today. Pointing out the growth in these heroes’ popularity even back in 1965, Superman was then published in 9 different languages throughout 36 countries with a special shout-out given inside this article to Italy where he is called the Nembo Kid and doesn’t wear the red “S” on his chest because of Italy’s continued sensitivity about the concept of Supermen.

The article closes with a section titled “Disillusionment” describing purists worrying about their icons becoming camp. Batman serials from the 1940’s were then being shown “around New York at camp parties, and, in the words of writer Pete Hamill, ‘the clique slaps each other’s thighs in glee.'”

Further clouding the future for the comic collecting purists is the idea that some companies might be playing to this element: “A new hero called Spider-Man is a long-haired teen-ager named Peter Parker who lives with his aunt, keeps his ‘spidey outfit’ hidden in the attic …” Wow, period readers of this article are just under a year away from the appearance of the Batman television series, wonder how the purists of the day initially took to that!

Newsweek 1965 article about comic collecting

EBay’s Comic Book Superhero Auction Event

EBay’s Comic Book Superhero Auction Event event, timed to run alongside the box office premiere of Iron Man 2 starring Robert Downey Jr., runs through Sunday May 9th, 2010.

During this event several rare and collectible comic related items — many never before offered for sale on eBay — will be featured. Along with vintage comic books (single issues and complete runs), the auctions include original art, signed prints, memorabilia, and specially designed artwork such as an Iron Man drawing rendered specifically for this promotional eBay event by comics artist Joe Linsner.

Bidding starts at $0.99 for most items; for items valued over $1,000, the bidding starts at $99.99. All items are available as auctions with free shipping and no reserve.

The Sporadic Collector: My Comic Book Collection

More than a handful of people who’ve known me have joked that I’d sell anything. While I don’t believe that’s true I will admit to looking for margin in just about everything I buy because you never know, one day you might want to move it. Shoot, I’m looking for wholesale prices on dinner even, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be looking to flip it later.

When it comes to collecting and collectibles I’m much more cutthroat than I am in other areas of life. The years have taught me that today’s collection is tomorrow’s profits, a jaded sentiment though I suspect it’s often the case. I’d remarked in my last article about poorly conceived investment portfolios which usually produce either a loss or another new dealer at the end of the rainbow. While I do admit to the existence of a much purer type collector who collects solely for pleasure with no immediate thoughts of cold hard cash, experience arouses in me a suspicion that they will very likely hit a wall at some point and look to cash out. I could list the reasons, but I’d rather point you to Worthpoint where Harry Rinker is currently in the middle of an excellent series about Why People Stop Collecting.

Despite all of that there is one area of collecting in which I’ve never succumbed to the dealer’s lure, it’s what I consider the purest of any of my hobbiest’s pursuits, and as you might imagine by the title of this piece it’s comic books.

The Flash Rebirth

I am the sporadic comic book collector, blissfully ignorant of hobby terms and practices and participating only through my purchase power which over the years has unleashed itself at drug stores, newsstands, hobby shops, and eBay, until finally I found a great online resource that I’ve already cemented as my future point of purchase by finding my way back after one of my regular collecting sabbaticals.

Collecting sabbaticals? Yes, because while I do have a comic book collection and it does include comics which date back to my formative years in the 1970’s it’s a hobby which has never been able to demand my attention for more than 6-8 months at any one time. By then I’ve moved on, either towards other interests or in the interest of choking off my bleeding wallet. But by this point I’m sure that I shall one day return for another 6 months or so of deep immersion inside those ever more vibrant pages which seemingly cost just a wee bit more each time I’m sucked in. Could be after I log out of here, might not be til 2015. I don’t know, all I know is it’s coming again … sometime.

My father collected comic books and while his collection was liquidated just prior to my memory bank kicking in there are a handful of comics that survived his sell off to form the nucleus of my own collection. Dad collected from the 60’s into the mid-1970’s, and as with other collecting interests I’ve seen him bite into over more recent years he did so both methodically and somewhat obsessively. He collected exclusively DC titles and somehow passed that interest down to me. He collected as I do, when I am, and that’s by purchasing all of the current issues of collected titles as they’re released and then allotting any spare funds to back issues. His collection consisted of complete runs of the main DC titles: Batman, Detective, Superman, Action, etc., down to the early 1950’s. He sold them all in bulk to a local magazine shop for 10 cents per book.

I had to take a deep breathe after typing that last line.

But hey, it was the 70’s and I suppose at the time he was probably pretty lucky to get much of anything for them. Well, still, a dime apiece seems light even in retrospect, and you can bet I still get to hear about it every time I mention the bug biting me again.

My collecting usually gets sparked up when I catch wind of something big going on in the DC Universe. I believe most recently it was the return of Silver Age Flash that got me going. While I like my comics to look nice I really don’t dwell too much on condition–I’m in this game for the stories. So if a Very Fine copy isn’t in stock I’m happy to settle for a VG. Shoot, if it’s an issue missing from a run I’d take it with the covers off, though I’ve never had too!

Each time I dip my feet into this world I find something new to obsess over. I can recall that it was Green Arrow during my early 90’s foray, Jonah Hex mid-decade, and a couple of years ago it was Adam Strange. Usually what happens is that initial interest is somehow stirred and then I’ll pull my existing collection out of storage and just start reading. Maybe I’ll catch a reference to a character or even a cross-over appearance and then curiosity is aroused and I’ve got to pursue that heroes past exploits as far back as my budget allows.

I’d mentioned earlier that my comic book collecting had never sparked the dealer in me, but I do however have one recollection of selling out. It was just a single issue that had come from a small stack leftover inside my grandparent’s house. It wasn’t from Dad’s collecting days as an adult, but a leftover from his youth. It was beat and beat bad. I mean it did have covers, but they were more or less hanging onto the binding by a thread. The comic was Fantastic Four #2 and it made me curious enough to peek inside a comic book price guide for the only time I can recall. I’m operating solely on memory here and this was nearly 20 years ago, but I want to say it booked about $1,800 at the time. I happily pocketed $75 from a local shop where I was a walk-in who’d never visited before.

Why’d I sell? Fantastic Four is a Marvel book, wasn’t interested!
Issue number 2 of The Fantastic Four