The Funny Business of Investing in Comic Books
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The Fiscal Times
June 13, 2014

The comic book business is as hot as it’s ever been. Comic book superheroes are everywhere from movie screens to primetime TV shows to the clothing, merchandise, and food being sold in stores and supermarkets. But should comic books also be part of your investment portfolio?

If you’re scared of the stock market and don’t understand how bonds work, investing in comic books certainly sounds less intimidating. Vintage comic books have emerged in recent years as an alternative way to invest some money. Not only is it entertaining, but recent auctions also show that there is often a lot of money to be made. At the same time, though, the eye-popping prices paid for the rarest of comics don’t reflect what’s happening lower down in the comic book market.

For most people, investing in comic books is likely to provide more fun than profit.

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Last week, a Kentucky man cashed in to the tune of $1.5 million by selling about 175 comics that included first issues of Superman, Batman, and the Flash. He accumulated his collection over three decades.

While some of the books he auctioned sold for as little as 10 cents when they were first published in the 1930s and 1940s, according to the Associated Press, they now can fetch far more. One comic from 1940 that first featured the Flash sold for $182,000, the AP reported. In a 2011 auction, a copy of the 1938 Action Comic No. 1 — the first appearance of Superman — sold for $2.1 million, the record price for a comic book so far.

“People would rather put their money in something tangible,” said Stephen Fishler, CEO of Metropolis Collectibles, a vintage comic book dealership, and ComicConnect.com, an online vintage comic auction house. “This is something people understand and feel comfortable with. You don’t have to explain at great lengths who Batman or Mickey Mouse is.”

Movies based on comic book heroes such as The Avengers and Spider-Man have also been a boost to the comic book market. “The movies are one of the driving forces behind the price of a copy,” said Fishler. “Once people see a movie, they become interested in delving into the past of a character. That’s part of the attraction.”

While investing in comic books certainly can be fun, there are risks - and you should be aware that not all comic books you've accumulated in your basement will sell for six  figures. A Bloomberg Businessweek article from October explains that many lifelong collectors have been hugely disappointed by poor sale results, which makes having a sound investment strategy even more important.

Fishler mentions that a good investment strategy is to identify upcoming movies based on comic book characters and purchase vintage comic books ahead of the release date. So watch out for Ant-Man and Big Hero 6, for instance.

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Here are some tips for anyone starting to invest in comic books:

  • Do your research first. Know your superheroes from the most popular to the most obscure. Follow industry chatter, monitor auctions and talk to experts to find trends, the most lucrative characters, and characters that will be featured in upcoming movies.
  • Set a budget and an investment strategy. You can spend from $10 to $2 million on a single comic copy, so decide ahead on your annual budget, how many comics you want to buy and how long you are willing to hold them. It’s a good idea to focus on books issued prior to 1985 for the best long-term appreciation.
  • Learn to value a comic book. Take into account an issue’s condition, rarity and significance to best value it. The first appearance of a hero, the death of a character, or an artist’s first work all contribute to a comic’s valuation, notes Fishler. Even single pages have sold for thousands of dollars so don’t overlook low-grade comics.
  • Protect your collection. Store you comic book collection in a cool, dry place such as a safe-deposit box. Purchasing insurance for your collection can be a good idea, too.

The best places to buy and sell vintage comic books are online websites, including eBay, Fishler’s and some competitors such as Heritage Auctions as well as the annual Comic-Con conventions in New York and San Diego.

Click here to see the 10 most profitable comic book movies.

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Marine Cole has been covering finance and business for a decade and has written for publications that include The Wall Street Journal, Crain's New York Business, and AdvertisingAge.