Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man and X-Men — next time you watch a movie based on a comic book, you might be looking at a profitable collectible investment opportunity.
Movies have always had a positive impact on the underlying comics’ value among collectors, according to Barry Sandoval, director of operations for comics and comic art at Heritage Auctions in Dallas. That heightened interest usually ended after the movie’s run but lately the effect has been more pronounced and widespread, he says.
“Every time they’ve announced some upcoming movie, it’s kicked off a frenzy of people looking for the issues that go with that character and the prices have not only swelled but they’ve held up after that,” he explains.
“The early comic movies tend to have these blue-chip characters like Spider-Man. This year you had the Guardians of the Galaxy, and even a lot of hardcore comic fans weren’t too familiar with those characters,” Sandoval says. “So you would have comics that would be in the $3 bin at a comic show that all of a sudden are on everybody’s want list and get hot.”
One example is the “Guardians of the Galaxy” character Rocket Raccoon, a fairly obscure character whose first regular comic appearance was in “Incredible Hulk” No. 271 in 1982. That was a $5 comic, Sandoval says, but Heritage recently sold a top-quality issue for $750.
A Changing Market
Comic fans pursue different strategies for building collections, and changes in those strategies affect prices. Traditionally collectors would build a run: the first 100 issues of the Amazing Spider-Man, for example.
Doing that used to require a collector to attend comic shows and work with dealers and other collectors. The ease of locating comics online has reduced the effort involved to build a run.
“These days if you want a run of something common, you could sit down on eBay one night and just order every single issue and there’s not much challenge to that,” the expert says. “So I kind of think that’s why collecting runs doesn’t have the excitement for some people that it once did.”
Demographic shifts are another factor influencing supply, demand and prices.
Comic book readers usually lack the funds needed for serious collecting when they are young. But later in life, when they’re older and wealthier, they often collect the series with which they grew up. The golden age of comics began in 1938, so an 8-year-old at that time would be 84 today, and most of those collections have already reached the market, Sandoval explains. However, owners of silver age (1956-1970) collections are still coming to market as their owners reach their mid-60s and 70s.
Savvy collectors try to get ahead of the trends by buying issues they believe will have future appeal to today’s younger readers and movie audiences. If you see a comic movie’s star selling as an action figure in a department store, that’s probably a good sign that the character has staying power, he says.
Third-party quality certification is changing the market, as well, Sandoval notes.
In “the old days,” if you wanted to read a comic’s story, you had to have the issue. But nowadays CGC Comics of Sarasota, Florida, provides a grading and encapsulating service that seals the comic, similar to its coin-grading service. That process has led to a greater focus on comic covers, he explains, but fortunately, many of the comics have been reprinted so readers can still enjoy the story.
Comic Art Still Strong
Collector-investors can also pursue comic art, a story’s pen and ink original drawings by the comic’s artist. At one time, those drawings weren’t considered very valuable, but now comic art accounts for roughly 50% of his department’s sales, according to Sandoval.
Earlier this year, the company tied its own sales record for the most expensive piece of comic art, the last page of Incredible Hulk No. 180, which had the first appearance of Wolverine and sold for $657,250.
Comic art prices continue to increase, he says.
“Just a few years ago, there had been a couple of hundred-thousand-dollar art sales,” Sandoval explained. “Now … some people have observed that for half a million bucks, you can get some pretty decent fine art — if you’re spending that kind of money. The thing to remember is a lot of these pages that command five figures now might have sold for 20 bucks in 1975.”
Comic book images are posted courtesy of Heritage Auctions(www.HA.com).
Check out Art an Asset Class? Wealth Managers, Collectors Say Yes on ThinkAdvisor.