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Comic Book Cash, Issue #011 -- Are Key Issues the Future?
November 17, 2014

Comic Book Cash #11

Should you sell your collection and re-invest in key issue comic books?

There is a disturbing trend occurring in the comic book world, and the informed comic book investor should be aware of it.

So-called 'key issues' (important books with origin and first appearances of superheroes and villains, issue #1 of series, etc.) are on everybody's buy list.

No dealer in the world is going to turn down a true key issue he or she can afford to buy; part of the challenge of being a dealer is managing cashflow so you CAN afford the keys you are offered.

Investors are waiting in line to snap up the keys, as that's where the smart money goes.

And then there are the collectors...

Dealer vs Collector vs Investor in the Key Issue Smackdown!

Collectors also always want to own these important key issues.

If you're a Hulk completist, then your collection will not be done until you own #s 1-6 of the original series, as well as Hulk #180-182 (the first Wolverine comic books).

If you love the Avengers, then you will want #1 and #4, along with the crossover books like Sgt Fury #13.

Spidey fans won't be happy until they own an Amazing Fantasy #15, along with Amazing Spider-Man #1 and #14.

And so on.

Here's the problem. Investors are also after the same key books. The difference is, they are ONLY after those books.

A person trying to sell a copy of (for example) Amazing Spider-Man #65, or Avengers #120, is going to find a lot less interest. (And don't even start me on Daredevil; there are less than 10 desirable issues in the entire run!)

As a dealer, it's becoming less and less appealing to stock and sell non-key issues. The keys are where the demand is, and they will never pay you a decent price for general back issues.

All that means less money in your pocket when it's time to liquidate your collection.

A Dismal Future for Non-Keys?

So what does the future hold for non-key issue comic books?

It's possible that keys will be the ONLY books that dealers buy before too long. As a dealer, every dollar you put into a general run is another dollar you cannot invest when a key issue comes along.

Key issues fly out of the door. You can literally turn them around overnight. There is so little work involved, it's just a matter of deciding your timing to resell (do you use eBay, submit to CGC, etc?).

This means that dealers can afford to work on lower margins on key issues. It's limited risk to them.

Non-keys just sit around waiting for a collector who wants one. Good luck if you try to sell your collection in the future, when the dealer is going to pay you 50-70 percent of fair market value for your key issues, and nothing at all for the rest of the stuff.

There are some exceptions to the back issue doldrums:

  • Amazing Spider-Man
  • Batman
  • The Walking Dead
  • Preacher
  • Anything with Thanos on the cover
  • McFarlane covers
  • Neal Adams covers
Probably the more experienced among you can think of half a dozen others with staying power.

That still leaves 95 or more percent of the market that's virtually dead in the water.

Think About the Future

If you had a crystal ball, and had a look at the future I've just described, then what are your options?

1) Stop buying non-key issues

This would limit your collection, if you still think of buying comic books as a collection rather than an investment. Of course there are other benefits, like a lot less time spent searching for books to buy.

If your wants list consists of 100 or 200 books instead of several thousand, then it stands to reason you will be looking at a lot less material before investing your cash.

2) Sell your existing collection and re-invest in key issues

This would be my option. Maybe it's making the global problem worse in the hobby, but as a person who comments on the investment potential of comic books, it would be wrong to steer you down any other path.

Let's say you have two long boxes full of decent back issues, and can raise $2,000 for them today. Within five years, well-invested, that could be $3,000 or more, and a lot less trouble to store and care for.

One key issue fits into a small safety deposit box. Several long boxes do not. They are at risk of fire or flood, general wear and tear, and damage during moving about.

3) Just keep buying what you like, and forget future resale value

Good advice, if you are not an investor. Very few collectors buy without any thought of future resale value. But when it's time to sell, don't expect much action on your stuff.

I see too many collections offered to me built on those hilarious databases which add a value to each book. You see ads like this on Craigslist all the time:

"For sale. Collection of 2,856 comic books. Valued at $8,652. Bargain at $4,500."

What can that seller realistically expect to get for his 2,856 comic books? $450 is more likely, unless he has been very lucky – for example, nobody saw Shazam! #28 coming (first return of Black Adam since the Golden Age).

People buying stocks and bonds are not collectors. They are driven purely by the likely return of investment on each dollar spent.

If you are too 'married' to your collection, then you are not in the investment mindset, and you will never be able to bring yourself to trade in your back issues now for a key issue that is highly likely to appreciate faster over time.

Building Your Key Issue Comic Books List

There are two ways to build a key issue list.

The first is to study.

Pore through the Overstreet comic book price guide looking for the tips dealers give, and the individual line notes which list first appearance, origin or death issues, or hot artist covers.

Read blogs, follow links from websites to articles citing rumors of new movies, actors signing on to existing projects, and other hints.

Check out what's hot on eBay. It doesn't take a genius to add New Mutants #98 to a key issue list. That book is ridiculous right now, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Guessing, or deducing, what the next New Mutants #98 is going to be is more interesting, and more difficult. Some people point to Batman Adventures #12 as evidence of a DC revival, and hint that Livewire might be the next Harley Quinn.

When a new movie is announced, find out which issues in a run might become keys (Shazam! #28 is the most recent example, but Guardians of the Galaxy saw Strange Tales #180, first Gamora, catapult in value).

The other way is to invest in somebody else's list. These are pretty closely guarded. Imagine being able to see a dealer's buy list; that would be like money in the bank!

Top Five Buys This Week

1) Shazam! #1

18 trades at CGC 9.6 this year, and 10 of those have happened since September. Movie rumors were powerful, but the confirmation has broken this book out.

If you can find a 9.8, it's probably going to set you back $1,000 or more.

(Note that this book hit a crazy $2,500 in 2013; will we see a return to those levels as the movie run-in continues?)

2) Preacher #1

The way the rumor mill works these days has changed everything in the comic book speculation world. There's no smoke without fire these days, as the internet allows leaks to happen at all levels of a production, from extras on up.

There is too much persistent chatter about Preacher hitting the TV for you to ignore this book. The $500 barrier is routine, while there have been no fewer than 19 sales of $600 or more in CGC 9.8 this year.

Not a rare book, but supply and demand are working their magic.

3) Batman #181, first Poison Ivy

DC's recent blast of movie announcements has left fans with as many questions as answers. Who are the bad guys going to be? (Remember what happened to Avengers #55, the first Ultron, and project this onto the first appearances of major Batman and Justice League villains.)

Poison Ivy is uber-cool. Walking around this year's Montreal ComicCon, I must have seen ten different girls dressed as Ivy (some more successfully than others). You may dismiss this as cosplay fandom, but when a character hits the pop culture mainstream like this, the books can go crazy, as Harley Quinn has proven.

Few of us can afford a 9.8 (there are only two in the census, and the last sold for $11,000); but could you push the boat out and buy a 9.2? The last sold for $1,700, and at that grade for a silver age book, you're buying something that a layman would consider flawless. It will be a lovely looker, and easy to resell when the time comes. There are 21 9.2s, 17 9.4s and 7 9.6s in the CGC census. Happy hunting...

4) Superman v1 #76, Superman and Batman learn their secret identities

Hands up if you had this on your watchlist? I certainly did not. But this week, I was offered a fine minus copy, looked it up, and did a double-take on the prices. (It's on its way to me in the mail now!)

All the fuss about the Superman vs Batman and Justice League movies has driven up some obscure back issues. This is one of them. There are 144 in the census. Around half are graded in the 5.0 to 7.0 range, so you should probably be realistic and aim for this level.

Last sale of a CGC 5.0 was $1,100. A 5.5 went for $1,325. Back in March, a 7.0 went for $1,649, which looks like a bargain compared to the 7.5 which fetched $3,665 in June.

Too little data to advise you strongly on this one; set a budget, aim for the best you can find, and go for it. World's Finest #71 (another early Batman and Superman meeting) is also worth watching.

5) Showcase #4, return of Flash and the book which began the Silver Age

Easy key to recommend. And why not? It's a landmark book, a mega-key, from the 1950s, and impossible to find – seldom offered to me in any collection and any condition.

It's not quite reaching AF15 levels, but it's certainly giving Incredible Hulk #1 a run for its money. And why not? There are just 217 Showcase #4s in the census versus 750 Hulk #1s.

Some figures. CGC 4.5 average in 2012 was $3,750. Last sale was $11,500! A 6.0 sold in March for $12,600 and that's looking like a bargain. Good luck if you find one...

Want to Save Money on eBay Purchases?

As usual, buy what you can afford and enjoy, and you can't lose.

If you'd like to explore ways to save money every month on your eBay purchases, then please Contact Us to discuss. We've done this for several collector/investors, and more are joining us every month. NO COST TO YOU. Get in touch to find out more.


Ashley Cotter-Cairns Editor, Sell My Comic Books

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