The frail economy and the economic crisis has made many investor doubt traditional channels and made alternative sources of investment popular again. In the world of stocks, real estate, gold and other commodities, collectibles are resurging as potential sources of investment. Stamps, trading cards have been joined again by comic books as investment opportunities. But are comic books worth it?
In the 1990s, an industry boom was fuelled mainly by an investor craze into comic books. Based on the rarity of successes from the 1980s like Mirage Comics’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and renewed interest into early comic books, comic book publishers jumped on the bandwagon, producing alternate covers and many first issues of new special must buy comic book series. Preserving the mint aspect of a comic book became a new mantra, forcing comic book collectors to buy acid-free bags made of Mylar and cardboard backings that would not damage the physical integrity of comic books.
An entire industry based on the preservation and the exchange of comic books suddenly rose up and expanded its importance in the minds of the average comic book readers. The speculation helped promote Valiant Comics, propelled the early careers of Image Comics’ founders, created a new generation of X-Men properties and encouraged DC Comics to write a story about the death of Superman.
The ranks of the comic book readers were no longer composed of collectors, kids and readers. Instead, speculators joined their rank and helped generate the largest sales for comic books since the 1940s. Along the way, something went wrong and more comic books were produced for this speculator market than could be absorbed. Investors, young and old soon figured out that a lot of other investors had purchased similar copies of comic books and hence, their investment had no values.
The flooding of the market with comic books, the plethora of comic book publishers starting new super hero universes, financial problems with Marvel Comics, one of the largest publisher in the industry, and the chronic lateness of many comic books published by a new class of self aware self publishers helped make the comic book market retract all at once and sales went south.
Those that remained behind worked hard to deliver a quality product again that would matter to the real comic book enthusiasts that had remained loyal. Experiments such as Marvel Knights were attempted to reboot floundering comic book properties. It was a smaller industry but one that was back to sustaining basic premises, be relevant for readers. It was with happiness that this writer and many pundits saw the speculators exit.
Yet, the market for older comic books, from the Golden Age (1930-1950), the Silver Age (1950-1970), and the Bronze age (1970-1984) still have some value that products published after that still do not have. They are rarer, often available in less than optimal physical conditions and have remained for many experts good investments.
While knowledgeable experts can make money off older comic books, it is my understanding that the pool of collectors knowledgeable and willing to pursue rare comic books is limited. New investors trying to enter the trade would only go after wares for which collectors that really want them already have a good idea of the collectibles they seek. Chances are these collectors are holding on to whatever prize possessions they have and only secondary goods of interests are available. Hence, investors who have no real interest in anything but the resale value of the comic books they invest in are probably just exchanging hands with other speculators. This type of trading is highly artificial and less safe than traditional investment avenues where anyone can understand the value of an asset immediately. Unless a speculator can find a willing genuine collector to resell a comic book to, that speculator is wasting his time. Genuine collectors are few and already possess what they truly seek. The value of the genuine collector, to the investor may be more important than the actual value of the comic book they seek to resell.
Learning about Web sites that sell monthly membership in exchange for “up to date” data on the price of comic books, I asked myself if there truly were idiots who would fall for this. There is a principle that says that people who get swindled often think they are the one that are going to be pulling a fast one on their target. I extremely doubt “official” value databases and price guides on comic books. The only value a comic book has is the one the collector is willing to pay to obtain a specific comic book. No number of speculative price guides verified by armies of experts can beat the value the genuine collector is willing to pay or not pay for a comic book.
In the past, that value was based on the rarity of the object, thus its availability. Collectors, especially those going through mid-life crises can readily find whole books at very affordable price reprinting the early adventures of Spider-man, Batman and Superman printed on very good stock paper and re-coloured digitally and cleaned up. They no longer have to worry about leaving their fingerprints on “mint” comic books or bother with Mylar bags and backing boards. Especially in the age of the digital comic book, what become increasingly important are the contents, not the format it was distributed in. As collecting current Web comics for investment becomes an oxymoron, how will speculators and their ilk sustain the need for new stocks needed to remain relevant, when the pool of genuine collectors interested in genuine artifacts keeps shrinking? Based on these predicaments, I can only conclude that investing in comic books like one invests in real estate or the stock market is a ridiculous proposition.
As the National Post, quoted this writer a few weeks ago in an article on comic books as investments, only buy comic books you like and ignore the calls for buying into a dream that will never bear any fruits.