How to protect and preserve comic books

In the early days of comic-book production, publishers probably never imagined their products would become valuable collectibles. Comic books were considered ephemeral – something to be discarded after they were read. Little thought was given to making them last beyond their intended usefulness. They were printed on cheap, acidic newsprint that quickly turned yellow and brittle.

A few wise collectors were successful in preserving their old comic books. We know this because of the small number of pristine, early copies that only infrequently come to market.

Action Comics #1, June 1938, CGC-certified 9.0 featuring first appearance of Superman, sold by Pristine Comics on Aug. 24, 2014 for $3.2 million. Image courtesy of Pristine Comics

Who thought to carefully preserve a copy of Action Comics #1 (Superman’s debut) when it published in June 1938? Those who did take pains to store their copies with future value in mind were visionaries, considering what this title is worth today. A CGC-certified 9.0 example of Action Comics #1 was sold by Pristine Comics via eBay for a record-setting $3,207,852 in 2014 – the highest price ever paid publicly for an American comic book. More than one copy of Action Comics #1 has sold for seven figures, and it’s the only title with multiple specimens confirmed to have sold at or above $1 million.

Want more mindboggling reasons to take care of your old comics? A CGC-certified 8.0 copy of Detective Comics #27 (May 1939), which features the first appearance of Batman, was sold by Heritage Auctions in 2010 for $1,075,500. It was the first comic to break the million-dollar mark in the open marketplace.

Cover of Detective Comics 27 (May 1939 DC Comics), art by Bob Kane. Copyright DC Comics. Fair use of low-resolution image to illustrate the issue in which the copyrighted Batman character first appeared

Even The Amazing Spider-Man #1, published in March 1963, has risen rapidly in value. A condition-9.6 example of this title sold for $262,900 at a 2016 Heritage auction. However, Amazing Fantasy #15, which introduced the enduring character Spider-Man before he was given his own dedicated comic book title, is worth far more. A CGC-certified 9.6 copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 sold for $1.1 million on in 2011.

Twenty years younger than Action Comics #1 or Detective Comics #27, Amazing Fantasy #15 is by far the most recent comic book production to top $1 million – a testament to Spidey’s enduring popularity. From a standpoint of market observation only, it’s interesting to note that five years later, in 2016, Heritage auctioned a CGC-certified 9.4 copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 for $454,100. This might suggest that the market thought the previous $1.1 million price came a little too soon for the title, but it nonetheless supports the long-established pattern of six-figure prices for this issue.

Marvel Comics’ Amazing Fantasy #15 marking the debut of Spider-Man, CGC-certified 9.4 condition, sold by Heritage Auctions on Feb. 18, 2016 for $454,100.

So now you know what some of the most coveted comic books can sell for. Here are steps recommended by the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide to help preserve your paper collectibles:

Store comic books in a cool, dark place, while maintaining a low and stable relative humidity – around 50 percent. Fungus and mold thrive in hot, humid conditions. Never store comic books in a basement or anywhere where they might be exposed to flooding. And never store them in an attic, where hot, dry conditions will damage the paper.

Direct light will quickly damage comic books. Store them away from direct light, especially sunlight and fluorescent light, which contains high levels of ultraviolet radiation. Limit their exposure to other types of light sources as well.

It is important to protect comic books from atmospheric pollution. As extreme as this may sound, avoid exposing comic books to air. Sulfuric dioxide, emitted by automobile exhausts, will cause paper to turn yellow. For that reason, storing comic books in or close to a garage is not recommended. To minimize exposure to atmospheric pollution, comic books should be stored in Mylar sleeves. Polypropylene and polyethylene bags, while safe for temporary storage, should not be used long-term.

Comic books should be stored vertically in acid-free boxes to preserve flatness and spine tightness. Only acid-free backing boards should be used inside the Mylar sleeves.

Following these simple steps will ensure a comic book collection will last for at least the owner’s lifetime.

Our thanks to the experts at Hake’s Auctions for providing the record prices and other statistical information included in this article.