Valuable comic books only have value when people want to buy them. The collectors’ market for old comic books, like any other collectibles market, has rules that govern prices and values, and unless you know something about that market, it’s easy for someone unscrupulous to take advantage of you.
So, how can you tell the rare and vintage comics from the old and worthless ones?
Which old comic books are valuable comic books?
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Buy a good price guide
- Focus on a few publishers or titles
- Pay attention to condition
- Protect your collection
- Comic book price guide: the one item you can’t do without
Can you collect comics without knowing much about them, or without reading them? Maybe, but you can’t do it without a reliable price guide. Even if you know everything about every Marvel crossover ever, do you know how much other collectors are interested in that Spider-Man/Daredevil team-up? Not without a price guide.
The price guide is your key to knowing which ones are the most valuable comic books, so you need to get familiar with it. Essentially, it is a listing of the prices you can expect to pay for any comic book, in any condition.
You could just try buying up all the old comic books you can find for sale, and you may get lucky with a rare find or two, but odds are you won’t. Since collectors patrol the market regularly, you’re likely to wind up with nothing but a pile of worthless old comic books.
You have to know what’s worth looking for, and what’s not worth your time. This is where a guide on comic book prices can help. There are many available both in print and online. The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide is probably the most authoritative, but it’s not practical to keep buying new copies of the book.
Fortunately, you can follow current trends through magazines like Wizard or on websites like comicspriceguide.com.
Focus Your Collection
So what should you pick? I can’t tell you that. Comic book collecting is personal in that regard. Pick something you would enjoy collecting and reading. If, however, value is of utmost importance to you, I can offer at least a few tips.
If you stick to publishers that have been around for a long time and that have long established popular characters, you’re more likely to find older and more valuable comics. Marvel and DC are probably the best bets in this regard. Dark Horse Comics might have great titles, and you can certainly collect them, but they haven’t been around long enough to have the number of valuable comic books that Marvel does for even a single character.
You may also want to pick a single character to focus on. Think about it. Superman’s first appearance was in 1938 and Batman’s was in 1939. They each have more than seventy years of history. If you focus on one, you don’t need to learn the history of both, and getting to know the character is important.
It is also a good idea to stick with popular, iconic characters. They tend to have more titles, a longer history, and more crossover appearances in other titles. Also, more people are interested in buying their issues. It’s no wonder that the first appearances of Superman and Batman are the two most valuable comic books. More people are interested in these two heroes than in someone like Moon Knight.
One of the things that make a particular issue valuable is how what happens on the page affects character’s life. Marriages, births, deaths, first appearances, first titles, crossovers, and key villains will all push the value of a particular issue. Knowing the ins and outs of a character in depth will help you pick out the key events and story arcs that have lasting value.
Protect Your Investment
Comic books, especially old comic books, are delicate things, and their condition significantly affects their value. When you’re shopping, you need to look for issues that are in excellent or very good condition, and when you bring them home, you need to keep them in that state. It is the difference between having a box of valuable comic books and having a box of recyclables.
Comic books should be stored in Mylar bags with acid-free backing board to protect their shape and spine. Good archival quality storage materials are available from comic book stores or online through Amazon.com or bagsunlimited.com.
You may also consider durable, acid-free cardboard boxes to make storage easier. They keep everything nicely arranged in the proper vertical position and protect your valuable comic books from sun damage as well.
You can expect some degree of yellowing from old comic books because, unlike the comics of today, they were not printed on acid-free paper. Some very old comic books are also sized differently than those of today, and you want to bear this in mind when purchasing supplies. Your bags and backboards should not be too small for the comic.
This care and maintenance really makes a difference, and these simple steps really help protect your investment.
This should give you some idea of how to collect and care for valuable comic books. What it cannot give you, though, is a sense of how exciting it can be to find that box of comics at a garage sale that just happens to have a valuable one tucked inside, or explain the joy of completing your collection of a particular series or story arc.
Above all, collecting comics is fun, and for most collectors it isn’t just a matter of what titles have the most value in the market. It’s about what titles have value to the collector as well, and that isn’t in a price guide.