What are Comic Books Worth?
When it comes to determining the value of comic books, there are several factors to consider. Just like any other product or commodity, simple economic principles can be applied to comic books to determine value. Below are listed the primary factors which one needs to consider:
- Scarcity or availability
- Demand or popularity
If you know very little about comic books or are unsure of what you have, the following information will help you learn more information about your comic books. It will help you determine who and when produced the comic book, and put you on the correct path to determine the value of your comic book collection.
Age of the comic book
In general, comic books can be sub-divided into 4 major categories by age:
- Golden Age (pre-1955)
- Silver Age (1955-1969)
- Bronze Age (1970-1979)
- Modern Age (1980-present)
To identify the age for a particular comic it is necessary to find the publishing information for the comic book. This information is typically located in “fine print” on the inside of the front cover, or the first page following, near the bottom of the comic book.
In a general sense, Golden Age comic books are typically the most valuable comics. Most experts believe that while millions of these comics were produced, only a small percentage of these comics have survived, and typically in very poor condition. In many cases, less than 100-200 hundred copies of particular issues are known to exist.
Single comic books from this era can commonly reach values of hundreds to thousands of dollars if found in acceptable conditions. An issue of Action Comics #1, the comic book containing the first appearance of Superman, recently sold for over $1,000,000.
There were many comic book publishers printing comics during the Golden Age. Some of the dominant comic book publishers during the Golden Age include DC, Timely, EC, and Fiction House.
Silver Age comic books are not nearly as scarce as their Golden Age counterparts. Due to their availability, the vast majority of these comic books can be found for sale without much searching at reasonable prices.
While Silver Age comic books are not considered scarce, they are difficult to find in near mint condition due to improper storage methods used by many early collectors. Single comic books from this era can still reach values of hundreds to thousands of dollars if found in near mint condition. On the other hand, many books in lower condition are difficult to sell for prices as low as a dollar apiece.
Marvel and DC were the two main comic book publishers of the Silver Age. Marvel comic books were more popular than DC comic books during this time period due to the introduction of new superheroes like Spiderman, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men. As a result, the population of DC comic books is significantly lower than Marvel comic books for this era.
Near the start of the Bronze Age, production levels of comic books began to increase. Also, kids and adults began to learn that their comc books had value and began to handle and store them with care. With a few exceptions, Bronze Age comic books are plentiful not only in average condition, but also in near mint condition.
While a handful of single comic books from this era can reach values of hundreds of dollars if found in near mint condition, most books have an abundant supply and will not fetch premium prices.
Marvel and DC continued to be the two main comic book publishers during the Bronze Age. With the benefit of Neal Adam’s artwork, DC’s popularity surged during the early part of the Bronze Age.
By 1980, production levels of comic books began to rapidly increase. Also, dealers and collectors began buying and hoarding these comic books in volume.
During the modern age, comic books ceased being a hobby for the youth, and became a business dominated by adults. In the 90’s, new comic book companies, such as Valiant, entered the market and the amount of comic books published continued to be driven up.
By the mid-90s, the comic book market crashed due to the lethal combination of increased supply and decreased demand for the material. Due to the severe over-supply, there remains very little demand for comic books from this time period. In short, comic books from the Modern Age have little to no value (with the exception of a very few select issues).
Condition of the Comic Book
The condition of a comic book is paramount when determining its value. Collectors seek after and pay premiums for comic books in high grade.
The condition of a comic book is determined by many factors including the following items:
- Spine stress
- Staple condition
- Cover Gloss
- Corner wear
- Surface wear
- Page color
- Presence and size of tears
- Presence and size of creases
- Presence and size of stains
Based on these criteria, comic books are given a number or grade rating from 1-10 to describe the condition. Please reference this complete guide on how to grade a comic book.
The value of a low grade example versus a high grade example of the same comic book can be greatly different. As an example, consider the value difference of a 1963 Amazing Spider-man #1 comic book based on condition:
- 1 – $805
- 2 – $1,525
- 3 – $2,100
- 4 – $2,750
- 5 – $3,127
- 6 – $6,800
- 7 – $10,158
- 8 – $14,500
- 9 – $37,000
- 9.4 – $83,650
The prices above are actual prices realized for this particular comic book in the last few years. It is important to note that grading standards are very rigid and it is very rare to find Golden and Silver Age comic books in high grade, which is why they command such high premiums.
Scarcity or Availability
This concept is really quite simple yet very important to determine value. Why is the comic book with the first appearance of Spider-man (1962) worth a fraction of the comic book with the first appearance of Batman (1939) even though Spider-man is the more popular superhero? Quite simply, the discrepancy in value is because the availability of the Spider-man comic book is much higher than the Batman book. This principle affects the value of all comic books. In general, comic books that had high production levels and are readily available are not going to have much value.
For Golden Age (pre-1955) comic books, it can be quite challenging, and nearly impossible to find a particular comic in low grade, let alone high grade! Because these comic books have limited availability, they are highly sought after by collectors and will bring large premiums when offered for sale. On the other hand, while some of these comics are considered scarce, demand may be minimal and result in lower value.
For Silver Age (1956-1969) comic books, the production levels were high and are most books are readily available.However for comic books from this era, the scarcity/availability factor mainly applies to condition. To better demonstrate this concept, we can look at Amazing Spider-man #1 (2nd appearance of Spider-man). In low grade, this comic book is readily available and relatively easy to find. The challenge for this book (and others from this era) is to find it in high grade condition. The low grade Spider-man #1 is worth $800-$2100 compared to a high grade copy which can fetch $15,000-$80,000.
The availability principle heavily influences comic book values in the Bronze and Modern Ages (1970-present). Most of these comic books are not only readily available, but also readily available in high grade, so comic book values are generally lower for this time period.
Demand or Popularity
The final factor to consider when weighing the value of a comic book is demand or popularity for the particular issue. A comic book may be scarce, but have little demand and result in a lower value than a readily available book that everyone wants to own. Here are the three primary factors that impact demand for a particular issue:
Certain superheroes have much larger fan bases than others and this affects the value of any comic books that feature those characters. For instance, Batman and Superman are considered the most popular superheroes of DC comic books, while Spider-man and the Fantastic Four are considered to be some of the most popular Marvel superheroes.
If a comic book contains an important story it is considered a key issue. Examples of key issues would be first appearances of new characters, special appearances of characters, or deaths of major characters. These key issues are highly sought after by collectors and results in higher value for these books. To look at an example, we can compare values for Incredible Hulk #181 and Incredible Hulk #182. Incredible Hulk #181 is considered a key issue because it contains the 1st appearance of Wolverine. This book is worth around $250 in Very Good condition. Incredible Hulk #182 has no special story and brings around $10 in the same condition. The availability of the books is similar, but the much higher demand for #181 drives up the value.
The last major factor affecting demand is the artwork featured in the comic book. Cover and interior art that is created by a popular artist will drive up the demand for that particular comic book. Probably the best example of this phenomenon is Neal Adams’s artwork. Adams’s artwork is highly popular due to the realistic and creative nature of his penciling. Because of the demand for his art, any comic with his work is valued higher than a comparable story with another artist.