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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 ComicConnect.com 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.

Legions of superheroes star in comic book auction Sept. 17

DC Comics, Marvel and more are offered in an online, no-reserve auction of classic comic books that will be held Tuesday, Sept. 17, by Jasper52. Titles range from the Silver Age of superheroes to contemporary comics, some of which are signed by the artists and writers.

‘Amazing Spider-Man #101,’ October 1971, first appearance of Morbius, CGC graded 5.0. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

How To Collect Comic Art Like a Pro

The reign of comics-infused and comics-generated forms of entertainment not only continues, it’s also growing. A visit to your local movie theater will confirm this fact. So far this year, the three top moneymakers at the boxoffice are: “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and “Deadpool 2.” All are based on comic-book heroes.

Similar events are happening in the auction universe as well, as original comic art continues to create excitement with bidders around the world. One of the peripheral benefits is that fans are becoming more familiar with the artists and writers who’ve developed comic-book culture for more than seven decades. Of course, for those who’ve been enamored with comic books and comic art for a long time, there’s a bit of, “What took you so long,” and also, “We told you so.”

Thin artboard with pen-and-ink art by Jack “King” Kirby for the February 1970 issue of the Fantastic Four #95, which was published by Marvel Comics. Kirby and Joe Sinnott created the art for the issue and Stan Lee handled the writing. It measures 11⅜ in. x 17½ in. and it sold for $95,156 at auction in March 2013, after four decades of being off the market. Actual finished cover shown at right. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles image

To help gain a better understanding aspects of collecting original comic art we turned to Comic Art Specialist Sean Rutan with Hake’s Americana & Collectibles. In the discussion that follows, you’ll learn at least five things you should know about collecting comic art.

Tip 1: Become familiar with the work of various comic artists. Many of them produced vast volumes of work appearing in the evolution of comic books.

Who are a couple of artists from the Golden, Silver, and  Bronze eras that are most sought after by collectors today?

The big names in the early days of the collecting hobby were the comic-strip masters and/or the creators who bridged the gap from strips to comic format. (George) Herriman, (Hal) Foster, (Alex) Raymond, (Winsor) McKay, (Milton) Caniff, and (Walt) Kelly, among others, were the big names in early strip art. From there, the bridge moved into comics with the contributions of (Will) Eisner, (Mac) Raboy, (Jack) Cole, (Alex) Schomburg, (Dick) Sprang, and a slew of others. All of these names are giants in the medium, and their art (when you can find it) is valued accordingly. The unfortunate reality is that most of the Golden Age art seems to have been lost to history, with a large percentage of it destroyed by the publishing houses who valued the copy value but not the originals themselves.

In between the transition from the superhero-dominated Golden Age and the similarly-themed Silver Age, many of the great horror-comic artists (especially “Pre-Code”) made an impact that is still coveted by collectors to this day. So, too, did the crew over at Mad Magazine. The team at Mad included artists (Jack) Davis, (Reed) Crandall, and (Graham) Ingels, among others.

Mixed-media original Mad Magazine cover art for issue #121 (Sept. 1968) by Norman Mingo, featuring Mad’s Alfred E. Neuman as a spiritual guru perched above The Beatles, actress Mia Farrow and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Measures 25¾ in x 31¾ in. and sold at auction for $52,242 in March of 2017. Actual finished cover shown at right. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles image

Several artists who earned their stripes in the Golden Age continued their greatness into the Silver Age. Jack Kirby was the creative dynamo behind much of Marvel’s “House of Ideas” era, and his art from the ‘60s is definitely in the emerging “fine-art” level seen in today’s market. Carmine Infantino’s cover layout skills defined the look of DCs books for a decade as well, while Curt Swan was the artist who defined the face of Superman for a generation. Original artworks by both Steve Ditko and Wallace Wood are coveted for both their unique style and relative scarcity, especially in the superhero genre. The latter part of the era saw the emergence of John Romita Sr, John Buscema, Gene Colan, Neal Adams, and Jim Steranko. Their Silver Age art commands top dollar whenever it hits the market.

The Bronze Age market is arguably the current “hot era” in original art collecting, largely due to the fans of this era being at the perfect point in life where they’re still actively building their collections (versus the liquidation you see from older collectors) while also being right in their prime earning years. Big names from this era include Frank Miller, Bernie Wrightson, John Byrne, Jim Starlin, and many others who were in the forefront as the Bronze Age turned to the Copper Age and then into the Modern Era.

One of two examples of original comic cover art for Blazing Combat created by Frank Franzetta and featured in Hake’s Americana & Collectibles upcoming Auction #224. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles image

The reality is that there are so many great comic artists and creators from these past eras that it would require an entire book to give them the due they deserve. In my response alone I’ve missed two of the highest-priced recorded sales in the entire hobby with Frank Frazetta and Todd McFarlane, whose cover art has sold in the seven-digit and six-digit range respectively. There are too many greats to list and too many pieces of art that have sold for substantial dollar amounts.

Tip 2: Know why you collect and always be observant and willing to learn.

What are five essential tips you would give anyone buying original comic art?

1. Find a mentor who is already a successful collector and knows the game.

2. Know your “why.” Take some time to understand WHY you collect so you can identify the art that fits your real goals.

3. Observe and learn before leaping into the hobby, but also learn to recognize when to strike if a great deal presents itself.

4. Join the support structure that already exists, with things like ComicArtFans.com and the various Facebook groups and Internet forums.

5. Buy what you love.

Tip #3: Keep an eye on work by emerging artists as well. 

What are a couple of contemporary comic artists whose work appear to be poised for popularity in the collectible market?

This is the area of speculation that drives the modern wing of the hobby. I’m not personally great at this end of the spectrum, as I’m more of a “nostalgic” collector and similarly a bigger fan of history in general. That said, I really like the work of Chris Samnee, Jenny Frison, Rafael Albuquerque, Andrew Robinson, and many others.  I really enjoy Lee Bermejo’s work, too, though he already poised himself into popularity a few years ago

Framed pen-and-ink with inkwash recreation of the 1940 concept sketch of The Joker’s calling card by co-creator Jerry Robinson. It was initially designed with the classic playing-card image with Conrad Veidt’s depiction of the titular character in the 1928 silent film “The Man Who Laughs.” Drawing dates to 2006 and is inscribed “For Dan-” and contains Robinson’s signature. Measuring 15¾ x 18 x 2¼ in., it sold for $6,490 at auction in November of 2017. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles image.

Tip #4: Keep in mind that various factors drive value.

When looking at the difference in the value of cover and interior-page art, what factors impact that difference?

This is a very nuanced question with a bunch of layers, so it’ll be tough to give a great answer in a short format like this. Historically speaking, covers have generated the highest prices on the market. Value-wise, the covers are then followed by splash pages (often the title page but can also be full-page, single-panel drawings), and then the interior sequential art.

There are caveats to this, such as an instance where the title splash is weak or dull, or a story as a whole is so highly regarded and coveted that the supply-and-demand factor throws some of these “rules” out the window, etc. You can also expect to pay much more for an interior page by a legendary creator than you would for a lesser-known cover. And keep in mind that certain inkers or penciler/inker teams will always command a premium.

In other words, the factors involved are the type of art (cover, splash, interior, prelim, etc.), the importance of the story from a historical standpoint, the artist(s) involved, the availability of comparable art, and the quality or visual appeal of the art itself.

Framed and double-matted pencil, pen, ink and inkwash original art by Wayne Boring, features Silver Age image of Superman along with Boring’s ‘hands’ flanking the superhero. It includes handwritten instruction text “Friend Dan – Here is Your ‘Drawing Lesson….First Get a Piece of Paper!” Measures 7-¾ in. x 10-½ in. and sold for $6,089 at auction in March of 2018. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles image

    

Tip #5: The comic book auction market is creating a new level of interest and excitement. Which leads to opportunity.

How would you describe the auction market for comic books today?

In a word: aggressive. At literally every show or convention, I find myself having an “I can’t believe the prices. It can’t keep climbing. There has to be a top end!” conversation, and yet, the end hasn’t shown itself. I did get the feeling that the top end of the comic book market was possibly plateauing for a bit (Detective Comics #27 and Action Comics #1 sold for high-dollar amounts but were still below quite a few early estimates that I’d seen in collector groups, for example) but when we’re talking about funny books being sold for more than half-a-million dollars it starts to feel like splitting hairs. Many collectors have speculated that once a piece of comic art surpasses the million-dollar mark, we would see a whole new level of interest and an influx of new, serious buyers flood the market. I guess now we shall see!   

The aggressiveness of the current market is also one of the main reasons behind Hake’s approach to auctioning original comic art. We put a cap on the amount of art that we’ll list for each event so our consignors’ pieces stand out and don’t get buried in an avalanche of competing sellers. It is a somewhat slow and methodical approach, but our sellers appreciate it, as each and every piece gets maximum effort and marketing exposure. Beyond that, many of our bidders are aggressive collectors in OTHER genres and don’t normally follow comic art auctions, but they WILL bid on an interesting piece of comic art in our auctions if it somehow draws their interest. This cross-bidding is becoming more and more prevalent as comic art expands into higher levels of recognition. I’ve attached a few links to some pieces that I believe directly benefited from our unique approach.

Superheroes swing into action in Jasper52 auction April 24

The first appearance of Black Panther is one of the key issues in a vintage comic book auction that will be conducted online by Jasper52 on Tuesday, April 24. The auction has hundreds of fine vintage comics including Superman and Spider-Man at affordable estimates.

‘Fantastic Four’ (1961 1st Series), #52, Black Panther first appearance. Estimate: $345-$450. Jasper52 image

View the auction.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

How to Start a Comic Book Collection

Just about everyone can remember the comic books they read cover to cover and collected as kids. But why should the fun end just because you’ve grown up? Collecting comic books is an exciting hobby for fans of all ages. Maybe you’ve thought about getting into it but you just don’t know how to begin.

To help put you on solid footing, we turned to J.C. Vaughn, vice president of publishing for Gemstone, the company responsible for The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide and other comic book references and guides devoted to pop culture and collecting.

Although one size does not fit all when it comes to comic books, there is one truth in collecting that applies to both the person who is collecting purely for enjoyment and the one who acquires comic books as an investment.

Every collector dreams of finding something like this – Amazing Fantasy #15, Marvel, August 1962, CGC 7.5, featuring the first appearance of The Amazing Spider-Man. Hake’s Americana sold this very rare example for $140,760 in their Nov. 14-16, 2017 auction. Hake’s Americana image

“First, last, and always: collect what you love. If you do that, you’ll never go wrong,” said Vaughn. “It may sound funny for a price guide publisher like me to say that, but that’s always my first answer for beginners in either category [enjoyment or investment].’

“Beyond that, educate yourself and seek out people who are trustworthy and who are willing to share their insights. Experience is the key.”

Detective Comics #27 (DC, 1939) CGC VF (Very Fine) 8.0 condition, off-white to white pages, marks first appearance of Batman. Sold for $425,000 through Heritage Auctions in 2010. Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image

Here are some of the ways to gain access to, and knowledge about, comic books:

  Attend comic book conventions and collector shows where comic book dealers are present. It provides an opportunity to become familiar with various genres of comic books under one roof.

  Visit recognized sites devoted to comic books and comic book collecting and sign up for e-newsletters serving the comic book community. Two excellent examples are the Comic Book Collecting Association: http://www.comiccollecting.org and the Scoop e-newsletter: http://scoop.previewsworld.com, among others.

  Become familiar with auction catalog descriptions and watch comic book auctions in person or live online. Observe what the comic book looks like and the grade it has been given for condition.

  Begin acquiring comic book reference books [price guides] today, and they’ll pay for themselves in no time.

As in every other collecting category, condition is king when it comes to comic books. If expense is a concern, start modestly as you learn the ropes. Go for the best condition you can afford and don’t get discouraged if you can’t buy a prized example. You can always try to upgrade later on.

Plunge into the Depths of Despair Comic, Robert Crumb, 1969, complete and in very good condition, shows 50-cent price listed on the cover. Sold for $45 through Jasper52 in 2016. Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers image

Prices for the most popular comics – the newsmakers and top lots with the higher grades of 9.4 and above – have been volatile for years, and Vaughn doesn’t see that changing. While grading is undoubtedly nuanced and not something you can learn overnight, it’s something a collector can get a handle on, given some effort.

“Understanding grading, even if you’re going to use one of the third-party, independent grading services, is key,” said Vaughn, who is part of the team behind Gemstone’s The Overstreet Guide to Grading Comics. The title may not be the company’s top-selling reference, but it is the most consistent, Vaughn said.

The good news is that getting into comic book collecting doesn’t mean you have to take out a second mortgage on your home or return to the staple college diet of ramen noodles for every meal. In the comic-collecting world, there’s something to suit every budget.

Zip Comics #1 (MLJ, 1940), poor/fair condition, detached cover, split at spine, with most pages detached. Sold for $150 through Michaan’s Auctions, Jan. 13, 2018. Michaan’s and LiveAuctioneers image

“Most, but certainly not all, comics published since the late 1980s are easily accessible and very reasonably priced,” said Vaughn, who first became familiar with The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide when it was in its sixth edition. This July, Gemstone will release the 48th edition of the industry’s go-to guide.

Changes in perception, including a significant shift in social acceptance of comics and collecting, all play a role in shaping the market, but it often comes back to one truth, according to Vaughn, who has written thousands of articles and books about comic books, as well as comic books themselves, a comic strip, and a couple of cartoon shows, among other products.

“For anyone spending serious money, go back to ‘Collect what you love.’ If you overpay, at least you still have something you enjoy, and you won’t feel so bad waiting for the market to catch up to what you paid.”