Well, at least for us. We still sell plenty of back issues at our shop. Lots of them. Across a whole range of prices. Of course, after 30+ years in business, plenty of collectors in our area and environs beyond have learned that we’re a good and well-stocked source of reasonably-priced and accurately-graded old comics. That drives plenty of folks to our shop, turning over our stock and giving us the impetus to continue acquiring even more old comics to offer to our customers.
Of course, the situation described here is not new…there are some comics that are just common as dirt, that have a “book” value of some amount, but realistically, will not sell for anything. It wasn’t that long ago that we divested ourselves of 100,000 copies of that very kind of comic, a bulk sale to a wholesaler who paid a nickel each for whatever we wanted to unload, primarily ’90s market-crash comics that nobody will ever love, ever again. After years of nobody caring that Deathmate: Black is the first appearance of Gen 13, years of never once realizing the price guide price of $6 in an in-store sale, I was happy to get that fat nickel for every copy I was able to pass on. And the Team Youngbloods. And the Brigades. And the Valiant Comics that aren’t the first issues, last issues, or “gold” issues. And so on.
As noted in the linked article, the decrease in potential values was in part caused by the democratization of back issue sales via eBay and Amazon and the like, where vast amounts of essentially the same product is available: instead of going to your local comic shop and hoping they finally have that one back issue you’re looking for this time and paying whatever they’re asking for it, now you can search online and potentially find dozens of people competing with each other offering copies of that book in whatever grade or price range you’re looking for.
There are other factors as well, such as extensive reprinting in more convenient formats like trade paperbacks, or digital availability, or certain characters or titles falling out of favor, or the economy being terrible and nobody wanting to spend money on things they can’t eat or wear or live in.
Like I said, we still buy old comics, and we’ll still pay good money for stuff we can turn around relatively quickly. But more and more, people are unloading whole collections on us. We prefer not to take whole collections; the amount of time sorting out the wheat from the chaff usually isn’t economically advantageous. When we do buy collections in bulk, we make it very clear that while we pay real money for what we can use, we can only pay very little for the rest, reducing our costs and making it more likely for us to come out ahead when processing the bulk, even if it only ends up in our bargain boxes. In general, most people are okay with that, since they’re trying to clear room and understand that, for some comics, anything is better than nothing.
The linked article notes that the owner of the collection discussed greatly overestimated its value. Again, that’s something we’ve seen over and over again at the shop over the decades. Someone gets their hands on a price guide, dutifully marks the mint price for each book on a Post-It note and affixes it to the bag or just directly to the cover, and then hauls the lot into the shop expecting to get full retail. They don’t realize that shops can’t pay equal to what they expect to retail the book for, or that just because a book has a certain price in a price guide, that anyone’s actually going to pay that anytime soon. Yes, it’s great that Power Pack #27 is listed as being $3.00, but does anyone care? Is someone going to rush into the shop demanding to buy Power Pack #27 Right! Now! Unless I’m completely out of any copies of Power Pack #27, and if the copy is still in brand-new condition, and if I can get it cheaply enough, I’d buy it. Maybe.
So what back issues are selling for us? A whole lot of stuff! Anything pre-Code! Romance comics! Cheap Silver Age books! High-grade Silver Age books! Batman! Old Archie Comics! Deadpool! War books! Classics Illustrated! That one guy collecting Doctor Doom appearances! The first few issues of most New 52 series! Sonic the Hedgehog! Adventure Time! Avengers! Green Arrow, apparently, judging by the huge pile of them I pulled out of the backroom when restocking on Sunday! Basically, a whole lot of different titles, but those are the ones that stick out.
I’ve seen some pooh-poohing of the back issue marketability of ’70s and ’80s Uncanny X-Men, the once-red hot Byrne issues in particular, but we still get asked for those all the time. High-grade copies blow out the door. A long time ago, we were lucky enough to get a lot of high-grade #141s and #142s (the classic Days of Future Past storyline). We kept pricing them up ‘n’ up, and they kept selling, and now I’m pretty sure we’re completely out of them, or darned close. And keep in mind the bulk of these sales were before anyone even knew those issues were going to be the basis for a movie.
One trend we’ve been noticing lately is the slow upwards creep on prices for a handful of books from the post market-crash era, when sales were down on everything, from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. Stuff like the 1999 Amazing Spider-Man relaunch, or Simpsons comics, or final issues (read: even lower print runs than the already low numbers most titles were at) of certain series, or other comics published then that folks still have an interest in now, particularly if still in near mint or better condition. When I made a mention of this on Twitter, I wasn’t specific enough about what books were showing such an increase, so everyone was all like “BUY MY SHADOWHAWKS, MIKE,” and I looked down and whispered “no.”
I may have more meanderings about back issue stuff later in the week, but let me stop for today after dealing with one more bit of business:
Pal Dave asked me on the Twitterers about which once-valuable comic took the biggest dive in price and is now basically worthless. Now, I thought about that for a long time. In the subsequent discussion on Twitter right after Dave asked, Superman #75, the Death of Superman issue (I’m sure I don’t need to remind you), was mentioned. At the time, I recall hearing stories about people selling copies for $100+ the weekend after its release, though I never saw it with my own eyes. At our shop, when we finally started dealing with it as a back issue item (after sorta avoiding it for a while, waiting for the market to settle) we were charging $15 for the still-sealed-in-the-black-baggie edition, and that’s where the price stayed for years. I think now we have it at $25, and yes, they’re still selling. So, at least for us, this comic didn’t dive in price.
One that comes to mind is Harbinger #1 (1992) from Valiant Comics. I seem to recall that selling for about $100 at one point at the height of Valiant-mania. I remember having a bunch of them on the rack when it was new and thinking “we’re never going to sell these stupid things.” Well, sell they did, and I still get requests for it. There is still a market, as I implied earlier in this post, for early Valiant comics, and even before this most recent relaunch of the Valiant brand there was demand for Harbinger and early X-O Manowar and whatnot. A quick glance at the eBay revealed a couple of sales in the $30 range, only half that of the $60 price in the most recent Overstreet. While there was a drop in price, I wouldn’t say it’s worthless, and people are still looking for it.
I don’t know if this counts, the WildC.A.T.s #1 Gold Foil edition, which we sold in an in-store auction for over $100…and now we have a copy, signed by Jim Lee himself, in the shop for $15.00. I don’t know if that $100 price tag was typical for the time, or just a fluke at our shop, but that’s a big drop for us, at any rate, added to the fact that nobody’s looking for WildC.A.T.s back issues.
So I still don’t really have an answer for Dave. There were a number of titles that were briefly hot that you can’t even give away today…New Warriors #1, for example, though never worth a lot of money it did sell regularly, unlike now. If you folks have any suggestions, you know where to lay ‘em on me.