There is still a back issue market.

§ August 26th, 2013 § Filed under retailing § 17 Comments

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.

17 Responses to “There is still a back issue market.”

  • J.W.Rollins says:

    “Yes, it’s great that Power Pack #27 is listed as being $3.00, but does anyone care?”

    This made me chuckle.

  • Mike Loughlin says:

    I remember seeing Uncanny X-Men 201-”1st appearance of Cable as a baby”- for $30 in the ’90s. Does that issue still sell for that high?

  • Bryan says:

    I think I actually bought that issue of Power Pack at a convention a couple of years ago because I couldn’t find the copy I bought off the rack upon its release and for some reason really needed it. I don’t think I actually read it.

    I’m glad to hear that you still stock back issues. I did some travelling this summer and often hit up comic stores in other cities/countries, and was surprised when stores had no back issues, save maybe the last month’s issue, at all. I’d look around the stores and see lots of toys (many of which you can get anywhere) or graphic novels/collections (which I could get back home, in my own currency, for considerably reduced price online), but the one thing that a comic book store would have that no other shop could have, actual comic books, is unavailable.

  • Adam says:

    I’m pretty sure my dad still has 20 autographed chrome-cover copies of WildCATS #2 somewhere.

    Keep holdin’ on, dad! They’ll explode in value some day!

  • salamurai says:

    I have a copy of Power Pack #27. For sale. If, y’know, you want it.

  • Jack says:

    I have to admit that there was nothing more simultaneously sad and hilarious in the late 90s as watching some poor bastard in my local comics store trying to unload a box of mint condition Rob Liefled Image comics from 93 at the prices they expected to get. Shop owners should’ve sold popcorn for those days.

  • Ivan T.W. says:

    No kidding, I was just about to bring a big crate of crummy ’90s comics I found in the garage to yer store next chance, heh. Surely somebody wants a copy of The H.A.R.D. Corps, #1, right??

  • kid nicky says:

    Honestly, that time period is still my favorite in comics, and now I own all the stuff I always wanted. First few Youngbloods, WildCATs all the way up to and including the crossover with Cyberforce, the whole Age of Apocalypse. God help me.

  • Snark Shark says:

    “and nobody wanting to spend money on things they can’t eat or wear or live in”

    You probably COULD build a cabin out of enough copies of DEATHMATE BLACK.

    ” Power Pack #27 is listed as being $3.00″

    izzat the one where it looks like Wolverine is gonna kill one of the kids? BEST COVER EVER!

    “That one guy collecting Doctor Doom appearances”

    a LOT of FF issues and a couple issues of X-MEN. AND Super-Villain team-Up!

    ““BUY MY SHADOWHAWKS”

    RECYCLE YOUR SHADOWHAWKS!

    “nobody’s looking for WildC.A.T.s back issues”

    why WOULD they?

    “New Warriors #1″

    not a bad series- but I never paid more than a buck for any issue I owned!

    “Uncanny X-Men 201-”1st appearance of Cable as a baby”

    but what issue had his FIRST appearance as a fetus?

    ” but the one thing that a comic book store would have that no other shop could have, actual comic books, is unavailable”

    that’s just WEIRD!

    “Surely somebody wants a copy of The H.A.R.D. Corps, #1, right??”

    only if they have a fetish for uncomfortable toilet paper.

  • Mikester says:

    Ivan T.W. – Bring ‘em by anyway…you never know!

  • I have a locker full of comics that have remained somewhat untouched for the last 14 years since I moved to Japan. Initially I had a much bigger locker for the first 5 years, then I managed to sell off paperbacks and some runs (Daredevil, FF, etc.) over that time to get it down to a smaller locker. I have been spending 100-120$ a month since then (depending on the Canadian dollar vs. the yen).

    Every time I go home, I dip into the locker and reorganize stuff and grab several to bring with me to Japan but I never have enough time to major overhaul.

    The collection is mostly DCs from the 70s-90s with a smattering in the 60s (eg. any Spectre or Deadman appearance). Lots of 70s-80s Marvels but that is what I usually purge.

    I can’t ebay them cuz I don’t have access to them. Unless I can find a trustworthy patsy to do all the legwork for me, they will just continue to gather dust.

    My question is, HOW DO I GET RID OF THEM?

    (Anyone in the Toronto area who wants to take them off my hands to keep or sell is welcome to them. I’d just like a piece of the action…if any.)

  • Damien says:

    “but what issue had his FIRST appearance as a fetus?”

    X-Men / Alpha Flight 1.

    *slinks off in geeky shame*

  • Jason Kimble says:

    “I think I actually bought that issue of Power Pack at a convention a couple of years ago because I couldn’t find the copy I bought off the rack upon its release and for some reason really needed it. I don’t think I actually read it.”

    This is what makes me sad. But then, I doubt the comics guide folks read it, either. They just noted Wolverine + Sabertooth + Morlock Massacre – primary X title, when that issue has buried and forgotten inside it a really heart-wrenching scene when Leech finds out Annalee is dead. Seriously, if you can read without a twinge the sequence where a Bogdanove-rendered Leech cries piteously that Annalee can’t be dead, because she promised she would never leave him … you’re a cold soul indeed. :p

    “izzat the one where it looks like Wolverine is gonna kill one of the kids? BEST COVER EVER!”

    You’re thinking of Uncanny X-Men #195. The cover of PP #27 has Sabertooth looking to eviscerate Franklin Richards, though, so if you’re looking for small children threatened with sharp pointies, you’re still in luck.

    Um… and just so we’re clear, I’m totally on board with dissing fools who think they can sell Power Pack issues for bank. I know just how much my collection would (not) sell for. I’m just emo about it periodically, since I clearly think there’s a lot more good stuff going on inside the issues. :)

  • Bryan says:

    Jason, I had read the issue, multiple times, when it first came out, I meant I hadn’t read that re-purchased copy that for some reason I felt I so desperately needed at that moment. But I totally remember the sequence you mention, and I’m going to re-read it as soon as I can.

    As an aside, I was probably only 10 or 11 when it came out, but I really remember loving Jon Bogdanove’s art on Power Pack. He drew kids really well and was quite expressive in poses and facial drawings.

  • Adam Farrar says:

    I still buy back issues. I may seem like a luddite but prefer an issue to a collection because I like the artifact and the context that comes with it. I enjoy the letters columns, the in-house hype, the ads. I enjoy seeing a comic as it was produced in history.

    For example, a few weeks ago I was reading some Marvel comics from 1994 and turned the page and saw the tribute to Jack Kirby. It stopped me and I thought about him in relation to what I was reading, how he influenced its art and created the characters/concepts. I also thought about what he means to me now and what he meant to me when I first bought and read the issue in my hand as an eleven-year-old. That’s an experience I wouldn’t have if I was reading a collection.

    As for the back issues I buy, it’s a random sampling to fill in gaps in my collection and like Mike’s Dr. Doom collector, I’m out to get every comic Adam Warlock ever appeared in or had a story crossover with. This puts me right in the middle of hunting for junk. I’m the guy who gets excited when a quarter bin has a lot of “Marvel UK” books like Motormouth, Knights of Pendragon and Death’s Head II because maybe I’ll find issues 6, 7 or 8 of Cyberspace 3000.

  • Jon H says:

    Y’all should pool your nickels and run ads on Fox Business channel, talking up the investment potential of classic comics.

  • Snark Shark says:

    “You’re thinking of Uncanny X-Men #195. The cover of PP #27 has Sabertooth looking to eviscerate Franklin Richards, though, so if you’re looking for small children threatened with sharp pointies, you’re still in luck.”

    Claws: good for evisceratin’!