The auction of comic books by Heritage Auctions of the United States reached the fantastic sum of $6,332,633 U.S. for 1,000 lots of comic books of various years. "The auction exceeded our estimates by more than $1.2 million U.S," according to Barry Sandoval Director of Comic Book Operations at the auction house. "The market is red hot." Hakes Auction House of Maryland which has been in the collectible buying and selling business since the early 1960’s is advertising that vintage comic books are wanted.
The newspaper comic strip has been around for over 100 years, but comic books did not appear on the scene until the mid 1930’s. The first comic books were newspaper strips put into a book format. Famous Funnies, Comics on Parade, Tales from the Bible to name three. In reality comic books were a spin off of the popular pulp magazines that were geared to an adult population. Printed on cheap pulp paper they were inexpensive reading material with many radio show characters, The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Lone Ranger, Buck Rogers and others. It was the start of crossover material. Use the radio show to sell comic books and other items.
What has become known as the Golden Age of Comic Books began in 1933 and carried on into the mid 1950’s. The period of the mid 1950’s to about 1972 is known as the Silver Age of Comic Books. The Golden and Silver Age books are the most sought after and therefore the most valuable. The Golden Age comics are valuable for one main reason, World War II and its impact. In the early years comic books were read, traded among friends and with the paper drives of World War II the majority were destroyed. Like any item in a capitalist society it is the issue of supply and demand that sets the framework for the value.
Into the early 1960’s comic books still only cost a dime. Then the price only went up to 12 cents. As a kid I used to visit the corner store each week when the new comics arrived. It was on Wednesday and if one pays a visit to a comic book store today Wednesday is still the day the new issues arrive in the store.
I would attempt to read as many as possible until the owner demanded me to make a selection of what I was going to purchase. The cover artwork was fantastic and it was that which drew one into purchasing a specific issue. Many comics have become valuable due to the artwork on the cover.
In 1938 Superman appeared for the first time in Action Comics published by DC. At a recent auction Action comic #1 sold for $3.2 million U.S. Not bad, for a ten cent investment. Shortly thereafter Superman appeared in his own comic in May, 1939. It was to be a one issue, but was so popular another issue followed. Superman #1 has reached an auction sale figure of $507,000 U.S. In 2017 Superman continues to fight for "Truth, Justice, and the American Way." The cover of the first Superman announces to the reader, "The complete story of the daring exploits of the one and only Superman." Collectors search for issue #24 which was published in September/October, 1943. The front cover features Superman with a giant American flag behind him and Metropolis in the background. It was painted by the famous artist Jack Burnley. Of course most everyone is aware that Metropolis was actually Toronto, and the Daily Planet was the Toronto Star. One of the creators Joe Schuster was from Toronto. One of his original drawings of Superman is in the Jewish Historical Museum in Toronto.
Comics to search for from the 1930’s have black and white covers and are sometimes referred to as trash can comics. As comics became big sellers to not only kids, but adults more companies and artists entered the market. There was a race to think of a character and then have it copyrighted. The trash can comics have the character on the cover, but the inside is blank or contains no story connected to that character. It was just a way to have the character copyrighted. The majority of these characters never would see print after this issue. Needless to state many of the originals were thrown away.
During World War II comic books were banned from entering Canada under the War Exchange Conservation Act. To fill the demand for comic books and attempt to fill the void a Canadian comic book industry arose for the brief period of World War II. The United States had Captain America, Miss America, Captain Marvel, The Shield. At its height of popularity Captain Marvel sold 1.3 million issues a month. In Canada uniquely Canadian superhero figures were created, Nelvana of the North, Johnny Canuck and Best Comics, Wow Comics. When World War II ended the Canadian characters disappeared as the border was open and Canada was flooded with U.S. comics once again. The World War II Canadian comics are collectible and valuable since few have survived. The covers were in colour, but the inside pages were in black and white.
If one visit’s a comic store ask for Nelvana of the North as the comic has been reprinted in a large book format and sells for about $30. The book contains all her comic stories from World War II. As a side note the U.S. Government employed comic books as teaching tools during the war. Many servicemen had difficulty reading and the comic books were employed to teach reading skills.
After World War II the superheroes sales declined. The superheroes had been so busy fighting the Germans and Japanese, and now the war was over. Comic books hit the market that were connected to animals. Felix the Cat, Funny Folks, Funny Animals and others. The Golden Age had come to an end.
The 1950’s witnessed the rise of space comics, cowboys, war comics, Little LuLu, Nancy. The Silver Age began with the appearance of a new comic character that would draw in the most attention since the inception of Superman and Batman. Amazing Fantasy published in 1962 featured the first appearance of Peter Parker as Spiderman. At the Heritage Auction a 8.5 rated issue sold for the staggering sum of $155,350 U.S. Strange Tales #110 which introduced Doctor Strange graded 9.0 sold for $15.535 U.S.. The first issue of Hulk graded 5.0 brought down the gavel at $13,145 U.S.
Vintage comic books continue to be popular due to the number of Hollywood movies which are being released. Golden Age and Silver Age comics have a limited supply. The other factor to look for when purchasing any comic is the condition. Condition is critical to the value. If the cover is half torn off or pages ripped or discoloured the value is decreased by a great amount. When selling have your vintage comics graded by one of the firms that studies the comic and then places a value of 1-10 on it, and then seals the comic inside a plastic holder. The Overstreet book value of a comic maybe say $300, but in many instances when graded the value moves up a great deal. Buyers like to see what it is graded at.
The main source of information on comic book values is the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide which is published each year. The value of each comic issue is ranged from good to near mint. Overstreet has been releasing a new updated version of his book since 1970. The early guides are valuable in their own right. Number 1 from 1970 can fetch $2,000 U.S. if found. The 1975 issue with Tarzan on the cover can bring $260. U.S. Many collectors search for the guides since the cover of each new one has a different comic book character.
The internet is filled with various sites on comic books from the Golden Age, Silver Age and later. Usually dealers employ 1980 as a cut off date for comics. Like sports picture cards comic books were issued in large numbers from that period onward and collectors saved them
One last searching and buying tip - the first issue of a new comic will increase in value. In the majority of comic books, issue #1 explains how the new character came to be. It is a critical issue if one is attempting to have a complete collection of that character.