Movies help comic sales but rare classic issues still fetch biggest prices

By Published On: March 29, 2010

Published Saturday March 27th, 2010
The Canadian Press

So you think your pile of comics is going to shoot up in value with the next big comic-book-based movie? Maybe Iron Man really is the Golden Avenger and there’s a hunk of green in Green Lantern?
Whoa, Sparky. Rein in those Richie Rich fantasies a bit. Not everything is hitting the astronomical $1-million-plus that a couple of rare comics have fetched recently.
“There’s really only certain films which generate interest in characters that have translated into dramatic increases in prices,” says Gareb Shamus, founder and CEO of New York-based Wizard Entertainment.
Like Iron Man, for example. His debut issue in 1968 originally cost 12 cents and now goes for $500.
“There’s no question the first Iron Man movie really put Iron Man on a blazing path from a collectibility standpoint and an awareness standpoint,” Shamus said.
“In comic book circles, he was a popular character but on a worldwide basis most people walking down the street wouldn’t know who he is. Now he’s a household name.”
But nothing’s a sure thing.
“The Ghost Rider movie doesn’t do anything for the Ghost Rider comic book,” says George Zotti, manager of Toronto’s Silver Snail comic store.
This summer, Robert Downey Jr. will strap on the superhero tin in Iron Man 2, and Seth Rogen will try his hand at crime fighting in The Green Hornet.
Josh Brolin will play the scarred post-Civil War bounty hunter Jonah Hex while Jeffrey Dean Morgan will lead a band of deadly spies in The Losers and fans of the edgy teen crimefighter saga Kick-Ass will get a look at their heroes on the big screen.
“There’s always a bit of a spike,” Zotti said of the effect of films on the comic market. “There’s always a renewed interest from people who don’t normally read comic books.
“Some people get curious and come in.”
The Human Torch-like heat for the price of collectibles comes from rare books of the so-called Gold and Silver ages of comics, roughly between the 1930s and the 1970s.
Last month, Detective Comics No. 27 – Batman’s debut in May 1939 – sold at auction for $1,075,500, breaking the record $1 million paid three days earlier for 1938’s Action Comics No. 1, which featured Superman’s first appearance.
Action had held the record previously, selling for $317,000 in 2009.
Comic collecting became a serious hobby in the 1960s, with book shops and conventions popping up slowly after that.
While there were blips of interest in the hobby with hit movies like 1978’s Superman, it got more attention with a speculation boom in the mid-1980s and the box office and marketing success of 1989’s Batman.
Shamus publishes the popular Wizard comic-book fan magazine. He notes the average comic buyer is around 25 and up and has more money than a kid of yesteryear.
“They can afford to recapture their youth and have a really strong attachment to it,” said Shamus, who is behind a comic convention in Toronto this weekend.
The price of new comics is around $3.99 on average.
But are they a good investment?
Michael Joffre, owner of Montreal’s Carsleys Comics, suggests people get a copy of the Overstreet Price Guide – considered the Bible of comic collecting – and do their research. He stressed millions were paid for Action Comics No. 1 and Detective Comics No. 27 because they are rare and because “there are two collectors with too much money fighting for it.”
Joffre, a former stockbroker who actually does most of his business in rare coins, says it’s important to understand the angles of investing in comics just as in any other field.
“For someone to go out blindly and invest in comic books, they’re just as certain to lose money as if they go out and buy penny stocks on the TSX.”
Condition, rarity, content and creators all play a part. And stores will usually pay around 75 per cent of value, meaning many people sell on eBay.
In the meantime, the cinema juggernaut rolls on. Cinematic reboots are in the planning stages now for Spider-Man and Superman. Canadian Ryan Reynolds has picked up cosmic cop Green Lantern’s ring and is before the lens now.

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