The aisles were filled with costumed fans at the Javits Center for the opening day of New York Comic Con on Thursday, where thousands of people had gathered to celebrate not only all things comics, but also the worlds science fiction, fantasy. , and anime, from TV shows and movies to action figures, trading cards and other collectibles.
Amid the convention’s over-the-top show — including photo ops with Madame Tussaud’s new wax figure of Marvel supervillain Loki, and a monumental bowl of some kind of Asian noodle (because why not?) — the tapes drawn themselves can seem almost an afterthought. But when you approach the northeast corner of the convention hall, there they are, vendors with rows of long cardboard boxes, each filled with hundreds of comics.
These ungraded books can start for as little as $1 and quickly increase in price depending on rarity, condition, and desirability. Hanging on the wall of each booth are the real collectibles: numbers officially graded out of 10 and permanently sealed in a tamper-evident case by Certified Guaranty Company, with prices going into the six figures.
These are the types of comics that have recently sold at unprecedented prices – the 10 most expensive comics at auction have all sold in the past two years, led by the $3.6 million sale. of Incredible Fantasy #15 (1962), with Spider-Man’s first appearance, in September 2021. The super-powered teenager, a product of the Silver Age of comics, now ranks above Batman and Superman, whose first Golden Age appearances previously dominated the industry’s best sellers. .
Normally, I spend my time at New York Comic Con looking for the artists, many of whom are there in person to sell their wares – and will even draw something for you on location in Artists Alley. But this year, I wanted to talk to resellers, try to understand the hot comic book market, and see if the recent explosion in record sales also reflected increased demand at lower prices.
“It’s a market of speculators driving prices up,” Ruben Miranda, a comic book collector and expert who worked at the Absolute Comics and Statues booth, told Artnet News. “If there’s speculation that a character will make a film or TV appearance, that’s what will increase the value of a book. So dealers are looking for first general appearances or first obscure problems.
Miranda, who assists various dealers across the country throughout the year, agreed to speak to me on the condition that he would walk away if any customers needed assistance – several other dealers declined interviews while tending to their booths, citing a fast opening day business.
But those who took the time to speak agreed: the comics market has seen the same momentum seen in other collectibles categories since lockdown began in 2020, such as video games. and trading cards. When people were stuck at home, many of them started bidding in online auctions, which drove up prices for collectibles and attracted hordes of new buyers.
“It’s crazy,” Mike Carbonaro, a comic book dealer and founder and organizer of rival Big Apple Comic Con, which opens in December, told Artnet News. “I always believed in this and thought it would have reached what it is now, but gradually – instead it took a pandemic!”
The lockdown, of course, was a double-edged sword for the industry, shutting down conventions and causing extreme financial hardship for artists and dealers who relied on the circuit to make a living. But for online comic book auctions, it was a godsend.
“The first three months of 2020, there was huge panic. A lot of books were sold really cheap, but then the market really picked up and went crazy in 2020 and 2021,” Robert C. Storms of High Grade Comics told Artnet News. He’s been selling comics since the 1970s, when he was 13.
The renewed interest is also attracting new players to the industry, such as online collectibles auction house Goldin. The company grew from its sports memorabilia roots just over a year ago, months after it was purchased in July by Collectors Holdings, a group co-owned by the art collector and owner of New York Mets, Steve Cohen.
“You started to see an increase in modern collectible types. It was kind of a ‘rising tide that lifts all boats,'” said Dominic DiAntonio, a comic book and video game expert who joined Goldin as as a director last year, to Artnet News. “I think a lot of that had to do with the popularity of crypto and alternative investments.”
For his NYCC debut, Goldin brought in between $2 million and $3 million in inventory, all also offered in online auctions. This included a rare “Illustrator” Pokémon card that sold later that night for $480,000, and a line of comics that appeared later that month. Two tall but friendly security guards were posted at the booth to guard valuable collectibles.
Storms’ biggest ticket was a $260,000 copy of Batman #1 (1940), the first stand-alone comic book for the Dark Knight and the first appearance of villains the Joker and Batman. The front cover had torn but otherwise seemed to be in much better condition than its 1.8 rating – “You could see another 1.8 that looked like a truck ran it over,” Storms said .
Absolute Comics’ most expensive offering was a copy of the above Incredible Fantasy #15which carried a price tag of $150,000.
“Anything about the first Spider-Mans is a solid investment on any level. The first 38 [issues] by Steve Ditko, and even up to 100,” Miranda said.
“If you buy a Incredible Fantasy #15, will anyone buy it in 10 years? Yes,” agreed Storms. But trying to predict future demand for modern issues, he warned, is a riskier business. “When The Death of Superman came out of [in 1992]everyone thought it was going to send their kids to college, but now it’s worth $50.
On the other hand, comics can go from the dollar bin to the bulletin board overnight. When the live-action series She-Hulk: Lawyerwhich debuted this summer on Disney+, was first announced in August 2019, it was in the middle of a convention.
“Savage She-Hulk #1 was a cheap trash book; something you could get for $1, $3, $5 – a pound of nothing,” Miranda recalls. “That day, all the dealers were rushing to get it out of the dollar bin. It sold out right away. »
Such interest does not last forever.
“It’s great if you own, because now the book is worth ten times what you paid, but as a buyer you have to look at the character and say, ‘Is it worth what you’re spending? ‘” Storms added. , noting that there has been a similar surge of interest thanks to moon knight, also released on Disney+ this year. But then this comic line “kind of went swan dive, because the show wasn’t so good.”
However, for the most part, the growing Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Extended Universe are helping to energize the market, introducing comic book characters to a wider audience, all of whom are potential collectors.
“It’s not like the stamp market,” Storms said. “There is actually a younger influx of buyers and sellers. You can see a grandfather, father and son all collecting – you have to be careful of profiling young children when they come to the booth! »
New York Comic Con is being held at the Javits Center, 655 West 34th Street, New York, October 6-9, 2022.