"Give me one of everything"
Brand-spankin' new comics can be $300 right off the rack if they're rare variants, with ratios approaching and reaching one in 1000. The recent Batman: Three Jokers #3 1:450 variant is a hot item, but was a little easier for stores to get.
Instead of being a straight 'stores get one copy for every 450 ordered,' this variant was cumulative, available if stores ordered 150 premium variants for three consecutive issues, thus 'spreading out' the risk – not that that was much of a problem.
"We have two stores, I knew Three Jokers (opens in new tab) was going to be big, we have a special bond to anything Geoff Johns does, and it was a long-anticipated storyline," says Carr D'Angelo, owner of the Earth-2 comic stores in Los Angeles (Johns was previously a co-owner of an Earth-2 location). Earth-2 got two copies of this rare variant. But how do they price them, and who's the buyer for something like this?
D'Angelo keeps an eye on eBay but says most people start with 'ratio,' typically one-half to one of a variant's ratio. If it's a 1:25 cover, it's typically a $12.50 to $25 book, dig? As to the buyer…there's always someone.
"We have a guy who does Spider-Man, wants every Amazing Spider-Man variant," D'Angelo says. "He doesn't care as much for some of the offshoots, but if it's Amazing Spider-Man and there's a variant cover for it, he wants us to get it. And we do that."
D'Angelo says this particular thirst is usually a way for people to focus and control their collections.
"Maybe you can't get everything-everything, but you can get everything of Amazing Spider-Man," he says.(opens in new tab)
For the Three Jokers 1:450 variant, D'Angelo had willing buyers as well.
"We have someone who's a really big Batman collector, and in this case, he wanted the whole set," he says. "He wanted to be able to say, ‘I have every cover available for this.' So this guy is going to have dibs. He made the investment all the way along, got every Three Jokers variant leading up to this."
At the end of the day, everyone walked away happy.
"Prices vary, but at a time when it was selling for $200-$300 on eBay, I think we settled on $200 for my customer," D'Angelo says. "And we sold another one on eBay at $250. We'll always offer a less-than-eBay price in store because we're eliminating hassle."
End of the line Valiant
In the last column, we mentioned that scarcity sells, and last-issue Milestone Comics issues were selling at some crazy-high rates. Well, scarcity isn't limited to just Milestone, so it should come as no surprise that end-of-run Valiant Comics are popping as well.
Valiant started in 1989 and after baby-stepping for a couple of years started making noise with a quality superhero line in 1991. They became the "next big thing," but market upheaval and a sale to video game publisher Acclaim Entertainment in 1994 spelled doom. By 1996, the string was out, but Valiant fans remain, and a 2012 Valiant revival under new ownership kept the blood flowing.(opens in new tab)
"The big three are Bloodshot #51, X-O Manowar #68, and Turok #47," said Dan Moler, a dealer who specializes in Valiant Comics and art. "Bloodshot #51 has shot up in value over the last few years due to the movie buzz. Prices can range from $25-75."
The others aren't too bad, either. X-O Manowar #68 sells for $8-$20, while Turok #47 is $15-$25.
And as is often the case with so many "unpopular" books that suddenly become popular again, you might find a bargain.
"Collectors may get lucky if the dealer or seller isn't as dialed in," Moler said. "Most comic shops are usually long out of stock on these. But you never know."
Print errors? Collectibles? Why not both?
Just because a comic is (seemingly) screwed up doesn't mean you should trash it. One man's trash is another man's treasure, particularly when it comes to certain print errors.(opens in new tab)
One such error seeing a lot of interest is the Wolverine #145 "bone claw" variant. Marvel celebrated the return of Wolverine's metal claws back in 1999 with foil on the cover of #145, but a few copies made it out without the foil. The error is a rarity, and one copy recently sold for $1616 (opens in new tab) on eBay.
Look, if you have a comic chopped in half, it's just a comic chopped in half. There's no magic number as to what constitutes a "legit" variation, but once they're identified, people might start taking notice, and grading services might, too.
"The bone claw, we treat as a printing error; actually we say ‘manufacturing error,' and it's noted on the label," says Steve Borock, president and primary grader at Comic Book Certification Service (CBCS). Borock notes that many other errors have become popular and sought-after enough that CBCS notes them.
"Secret Wars #8 has a ‘blue Galactus variant,'" he says. "You have to check inside to see if they left off the red inks on one page, and we consider that a variant."
And in most instances, comic covers and interiors are printed separately. The covers are stapled on after the interiors are assembled, leading to occasional double-ups.
"Double covers are not considered a variant, but they get noted on the label and both covers get a grade," Borock says of CBCS's policy. "The exterior cover might have a 9.4 grade, but the interior cover might be a 9.8. And in our grading notes, we explain the defects on every cover."
There's a thin market for double covers, but a market nonetheless.
"There are people who might want to pick up just one or two as a novelty," Borock says. "There are canny people who know that if there's a double-covered book, well, that exterior cover has been protecting the interior cover for however many years, and they might tear the exterior off and keep the better cover underneath if the outside is trashed."
Demand equation: Two billion comics vs. 150,000
It may seem counterintuitive in a pandemic lockdown world, but collectibles markets all over the place are going nuts: coins, fine art, sports cards, and yes, comics.
"Since there are so few comic cons or even weekend shows, the market for back issues in shops sure seems to be growing," says Joe Field of Flying Colors Comics in Concord, CA.
Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics in Denver, CO boasts over 10 million back issues in stock. He's the ultimate in "view from 40,000 feet," and he's seeing something he has not seen in 52 years in business.
"We're seeing very, very broad-based demand, probably unprecedented," Rozanski explains. "I take a look at all our orders that come through, and sometimes it takes hours. But I'm looking for trends. And the trend right now is just very broad-based general demand across the board."
Rozanski thinks the "value proposition" is part of the equation.
"Once it gets to the point where it costs $6 for a new comic book, back issues suddenly become way interesting," he says. "The price point is a good one for fans, and there's a lot of interesting material that may have been ignored back in the day. Now they're looking a little deeper."
Another part is that the comic book supply may be slowly melting away.
"I think people are starting to wake up to the fact that comic books are disappearing," Rozanski says. "Comics are paper and paper is fragile and subject to all kinds of degradation that gradually reduces the number of comics in existence. At one point about 10 years ago, I estimated there were 2 billion comics extant in the United States. Now that's a guess, but I felt it was a fairly educated guess. I don't think we're anything close to that anymore between fires, floods, tornadoes, and theft and vandalism like this trailer."
Huh? What trailer? Rozanski was speaking from inside a storage trailer Mile High was using as the company shifted inventory. The trailer was broken into, and Rozanski estimated 50,000 comics were stolen, with another 100,000 irreparably damaged.
"We only lost one trailer out of seven," he reveals. "And I purchased two million more comics in the time this trailer was sitting here."
So that's 150,000 comics going out in one fell swoop. But what's coming in?
"I think the replenishment rate, at current print runs, is far below what's being lost to these attritions," Rozanski says. "The aggregate number being destroyed is greater than the number being printed in any given month. That's a really interesting event horizon. And I don't think there's any question about it. The number of physical comics available is declining every day. And standing in this wreckage, I can see clear evidence of it. 150,000 is the entire print run of three comic books today – top-sellers."
"Bottom line, we are seeing a decline in the number of titles, and a precipitous decrease in print run."
Your highest-end storage… is also a bank
As collectibles get more and more expensive, security and storage become more and more important. Enter PWCC and the Vault.
PWCC is a company that provides highly secure storage, a digital marketplace, and more. Users create an account, send in graded trading cards, and PWCC will appraise, insure, and store the cards for a 1% intake fee and a small monthly ongoing storage fee. PWCC will also take hi-res photos and upload images of your cards into a digital portfolio, wherewith the click of a button, you can sell or auction your cards on PWCC's marketplace. And yes, the service is for trading cards only at this point.
"Since the Vault was built specifically for storing graded trading card assets, that has been our primary focus," says Chris Callahan, director of marketing for PWCC. "However, we are looking into expanding into graded comics books and are analyzing a fee structure that we hope to announce in 2021."
The storage… is pretty high end. PWCC's custom vault is bank-quality and surrounded by 11 inches of concrete on all six sides.
PWCC also provides loans and lines of credit with cards they have stored as collateral. And yes, on appointment, you can come to their facility in Oregon and visit your collectibles anytime you want.