A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Rich Collecting Comics - IGN (2022)


Action Comics

Peter Panzerfaust

Or, the necessary evil of speculation in comics today.

As of the moment that I am writing this article, the last three unsigned, ungraded copies of Peter Panzerfaust #1 sold on eBay went for an average of $255. The last three copies of Saga #1? An average of $73. It’s almost enough to make a person drive to the nearest comic shop and start rummaging through back issue bins.
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If you do, run an experiment for me. Bring five to ten copies of a recent #1 issue (the flashier the variant cover, the better) to the counter and pay close attention to the reactions of anyone near you. Chances are that you’ll see some raised eyebrows, some shaking heads, and maybe even a snort of derision.

Why, though? Fans new to comics may not understand why the mere appearance of trying to make a buck on comic books would elicit such a reaction, and they may or may not care. For those who do care, read on, and I’ll explain. For those who don’t, read on anyway because I’m also going to explain how to get rich collecting comics.

Stop Reading Comics You Don't Like

The Tragic Tale of Comic Book Speculation

A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Rich Collecting Comics - IGN (2)Before that, though, we have to understand a little bit about the history of comics. Back in the day, people didn’t think of comics the same way that we do now. The average price of a comic in 1961 was 10 cents. That’s equivalent to 78 cents today. Back then, comics were purchased as a temporary diversion – maybe something to read on a long car ride – and then thrown away. You never bought two copies of a single issue because you could always share your copy after you were done reading it.

In the late 70s, when early comics started gaining value in the secondary market (that is, people other than the original retailer reselling them), comic book fans started to wonder how much their current purchases might be worth in a few years. This led to people buying multiple copies of “key” books like the first issue of a new series or comics featuring the first appearance, death, or origin of a character. One copy was usually for reading and the rest were for sale at a later date.

Publishers capitalized on this practice, known as speculation, by introducing “key” issues more frequently and advertising those events more heavily. Sales exploded, with buyers snapping up copies as fast as they could be printed. Enhanced and variant covers, commemorative issues, and new spin-off titles based on peripheral characters and featuring a “collectible” first issue were seen by speculators as larval retirement packages.

Suddenly, collectors began to realize that everyone to whom they tried to sell their extra copies of “key” comics already owned them. Resale value collapsed (you can find a copy of X-Men #1, bearing a cover price of $2.56 in today’s dollars, for a dollar or less anywhere in America). Burned comic speculators left the industry in droves. Orders for new comics plummeted, and major publishers who were budgeting on speculation-fueled forecasts either went into bankruptcy or were sold. The speculator bubble had popped, and the entire comic book industry was a hair’s breadth from extinction.

Some blamed the publishers for living beyond their means and fomenting speculation. Others blamed glitzy price guide magazines for inflating prices and condoning publishers’ pandering to speculators. Since price guides have largely disappeared, and publishers are the dealers that bring us our sequential art each month, comic book fans had only one villain left to blame for the whole mess: the speculators.

Under the Hood of Comic Book Speculation

A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Rich Collecting Comics - IGN (3)
It turns out that the value of a comic book depends on just two things: supply and demand. When supply is short and demand is high, a book increases in value. In a normal free market system, these two things find a balance point. When speculation plays too big of a role, though, demand gets inflated based on hopes of a big pay day – a day that may never come.

Demand for comic books is most commonly created with good stories, as anyone who has ever discovered the wonders of the medium can attest. Undiscovered gems like The Walking Dead or Peter Panzerfaust gain huge bumps to after-the-fact demand by being picked up for TV or movie adaptation. Demand can also be created artificially, however, through crossover events requiring fans of one title to buy issues of a second title.

Alternately, it can be generated by releasing milestone issues such as new #1s and (often temporary) character deaths or by creating the perception of rarity, as is the case with variant covers. The problem with these artificial means of increasing demand is that they only work in the short term. When buyers realize that the changes are not the milestones that they initially appeared to be or that supply is not, in fact, low, demand decreases and prices drop. Furthermore, such artificial means of generating demand tend to promote style over substance, with good stories and art being sacrificed in favor of larger print runs and fancy trimmings.

Also important is the fact that larger print runs mean increased supply. If everyone who wants a copy of an issue can get one easily, nobody needs to buy the one you’re selling. In the early days, comics were printed on paper that easily tore and yellowed and were treated poorly by the people who bought them. Thus, only a small fraction of the copies that were printed remain in good condition. Today, superior printing and shipping practices get comics to readers in pristine condition before readers bag and board them for long-term storage, promising that the number of near mint condition comics will almost never diminish over time. Grading has offered a new means to segregate comics by condition (thereby defining a small supply of ultra-high condition comics), but it is an expensive process.

There is the possibility that the digital revolution will actually enhance speculation in comics.

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The impact of digital comics on the future of speculation is difficult to predict, as it’s a brand new paradigm that seems to represent an infinite supply of each issue. Whether digital comics can be made to be collectible or whether they will reduce hard copy print runs has yet to be determined, but there is at least the possibility that the digital revolution will actually enhance speculation in comics if they cause floppies to become more scarce without completely eliminating them.

For the speculator, the upshot is that only obscure titles with short initial print runs have the potential to be truly valuable in the future. Considering the costs of buying, storing, grading, and selling/shipping comics, the only path to riches through comics these days is to make a practice of buying and spreading the word about high quality, lesser-known comics and to convince lots of people to read (but not necessarily collecting) comics. By increasing demand on a large scale against the limited supply of comics that you already own, you may, one day far in the future, be able to use those copies of I, Vampire to help pay for your retirement. Maybe.

Speculators: Devil Incarnate or Lifeblood of the Industry?

A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Rich Collecting Comics - IGN (4)We’ve seen how speculation can create an economic bubble by artificially increasing demand and weaken the quality of stories and artwork by shifting focus to sales over substance, but those aren’t the only dangers. Many people feel that the mercenary nature of speculation detracts from the joy and escapism that comics are supposed to represent.

Is there nothing to say in defense of speculation, though, or is it really worthy of the hatred it still receives today?

The fact of the matter is that, without speculators, there simply aren’t enough comic book readers to power the industry. Markups on cover variants keep brick and mortar shops in business, and profitable gimmicks allow publishers to offer more than just a handful of titles. What’s more, quality smaller titles would never survive their first few issues and mid-level titles would struggle against trade-waiting if enterprising buyers weren’t buying those comics on the hopes that their purchases would net a profit one day. Let’s also not forget that collecting can be a fun hobby in and of itself that simultaneously provides the rest of us with a market on which to sell our old hard copies once we’ve enjoyed them.

Lessons Learned and the Future of Speculation

A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Rich Collecting Comics - IGN (5)In the end, it may be best to approach comic books without the expectation of riches to come. Free to enjoy your purchases for what they are, any resale value that your comics realize will feel like a bonus.

At the same time, though, it’s time that the angst directed at speculation be re-evaluated. Speculators make today’s industry possible, and, while it’s important to remember the causes and consequences of speculation bubbles and to use our purchases to discourage publishers from irresponsible practices, we should welcome all who enjoy buying comics. After all, the general populace still sees comics primarily as an investment good, and reflexively berating them for speculation only keeps new readers from discovering comics.

Poet Mase is a regular contributor to IGN who enjoys both reading and collecting comics. Follow Poet on Twitter @PoetMase, or post a message on his IGN profile PoetMase.


What is the name of the comic book Joel collects for Ellie? ›

Found in The Ranch segment of Tommy's Dam. When entering the ranch to find Ellie, head to the second floor and go into the first bedroom on your left. You'll find the Zero Point comic on a chest of drawers beneath a window.

Why are golden age comics so rare? ›

They were printed in large quantities and even the limited ones were printed by the thousands, more importantly, they were saved by collectors with the intention of collecting and investing in the books so their future values would increase. Many other modern collectibles followed in the footsteps of 1990s comic books.

Are collecting comics worth it? ›

If you are collecting for the love of the hobby and aren't concerned with long-term prices, collect what you love and have fun! Modern Comic books are great for collecting and enjoying. If you want a portion of your entire collection to be a long-term investment, consider focusing on investment-grade books.

How many comics are in TLOU? ›

The Last of Us: American Dreams
FormatLimited series
Publication date3 April – 31 July 2013
No. of issues4
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