Let's Talk Comics

Wow - $3.21 million for a
1938 comic book at auction
Let's Talk Comics
With Rob Lamberti
Craziness continues to flourish in the back issue comic market.
A high-grade Action 1, the first appearance of Superman published in 1938 by DC Comics, sold in an eBay auction in August for a remarkable $3.21 million. It appears the future holds no boundaries for that comic as it is expected to soar in value.
The record-breaking book was independently graded as a 9.0 out of 10, only one of two known to exist. The other, which once belonged to actor Nicholas Cage, set the record in 2011 when it sold for $2.161 million at auction.
There is a better back-story to Cage’s comic, which was stolen in 2000 and later recovered in an abandoned storage auction in San Fernando, Calfornia. A movie about Cage’s book is reportedly in the works.
A private collector held the record-breaking comic sold in August. If there are other high-grade copies of the comic held in private hands, no doubt the ceiling will be pushed higher if and when they come to market.
Just to give an indication of the rising value of a high-grade Action 1, it sold for $250 in 1965, hit the $1,000 mark in 1973, $25,000 in 1982 and then the magical million-dollar mark in 2010.
Jerry Siegel and Toronto-born Joe Shuster created the Superman character in 1933. Shuster hawked the Toronto Daily Star as a youngster and the paper would be a model for the Daily Planet and Toronto’s early skyline would later be drawn in the initial skyline of Metropolis.
The Shuster family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where Joe would meet Jerry in high school. They worked on a number of characters and comic books, but they weren't able to convince any publisher to print Superman’s story. They eventually sold the rights to DC Comics for about $130.
It was an immediate hit and the character would, over time, make billions for the company, not so much for the creator duet. The two men were destitute until lengthy legal and publicity battles with DC eventually ended in a $20,000 a year pension for Siegel and Shuster and credit to the creation of Superman.
The latest auction sale will no doubt drive up prices of other key books in high grade, including the first appearance of Bat Man in Detective 27 (1939), Superman 1 (1939), the first appearances of the Human Torch and the Submariner in Marvel Comics 1 (1939), and Bat Man 1 (1940).
But it won't have an impact on the comics back-issue market as a whole. The market position of Amazing Spider-Man 600 won't change much, if at all, because of the Action 1 sale.
That’s the problem with many collectible markets: there is an expectation of riches, a sure thing, better than Lucky Sevens in the fifth race.
There are fundamentally two markets. First, there's the one everyone hears and reads about, that is, the Action 1s and Detective 27s and Amazing Fantasy 15s, where there appears to a steady supply of buyers willing to drop huge amounts of money.
But the other market consists of the rest the books. The question is whether there will be enough people in the second comics market to sustain it in the future. It's a dilemma many other collectible markets face: the Baby Boomer generation is a vanishing breed.
So, finding an old comic, or a collection of comics, is not necessarily the path to financial Nirvana or retirement security. Just like finding an antique vase, a Ming Dynasty could bring you a Ferrari; one bought at Woolworth’s in the 1950s will get you a ham sandwich. With mustard. Maybe.
That’s why the mantra in the comic book biz - maybe in every hobby - is to collect what you like. Enjoy the story, the art and the genre before treading into the market. Expect a modest financial gain as not everything a collector or dealer gets their hands on is going to impact the collectibles market.
Temper the expectations, as most likely it will be a stroke of luck if a huge financial score is made. A profit will be made, but realize that it most likely won't buy that fancy Italian sports car, but maybe an Italian ham sandwich. No mustard needed.
Next column: Prices at antique markets
Let's Talk Comics with Rob Lamberti, who started collecting comics when the going price was 12 cents an issue and Peter Parker really was a teenager. He dabbled in the comic convention circuit in the Toronto area for a while, but stopped to concentrate on his career as a not-so-mild- mannered crime reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, where he hoped he managed to record a little bit of history the past three decades.
You can reach Rob at lamberti@cogeco.ca
Return to top of page
This Is Livin' Publishing © 2014
581 8th Line West, RR1 Hastings, ON, K0L 1Y0
Phone/Fax: 705-696-1833