My Albatross: How Dead is the Secondary Comics Market?

Every day, at least once a day, a loud thud reminds me how much I love comics. I was never the kind of obsessive geek who sees the world through the prism of superheroes; I'm not someone who gets caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella and can't help thinking, "What would Animal Man do in this situation?" Normally, I would only think about comics on Wednesdays, if it weren't for The Box. As it is, though, I'll get in my car to run an errand– maybe I need to mail something, maybe I've just been reading Geoff Johns' Twitter stream and need to satisfy a Slurpee craving– and at some point I'll reach a stop sign. I'll hit the brakes, and a loud KA-THUNK will jolt me from behind.

"Yaaagh!" I'll say. "What the hell was…? Oh, right. The Box."

The Box has been in the trunk of my car now for, I would estimate, two years. The Box has roughly the dimenions of an industrial-sized microwave, and it weighs seven thousand pounds because it is filled to bursting with comics that I do not want but cannot throw away. At one point, I put The Box in my car to donate to someone, but we never got around to setting a meeting time, and things got busy, and my wife and I created a human being out the very building blocks of life, and then two years went by. Two years hurtling back and forth in the trunk have not been kind to The Box. One very near day, The Box is going to become The Lurching Pile.

Let me emphasize that I am not at all precious about throwing comics away. In the last few years, I've shredded and recycled enough comics to earn me at least three Deadpool variant covers to also shred and recycle. The comics in The Box are not holofoil Spider-Clone Fantastic Force hogwash, though. They're not in The Box because I was trying to make room in my closet for the good stuff. This is the good stuff. These are runs of books like Astonishing X-Men that I liked so much I replaced them with hardcovers and deluxe editions for posterity. Some of them are books like All-Star Superman, which did absolutely nothing for me but which the rest of the world recognizes as one of the greatest works of the decade (which… clearly, either the rest of the world is crazy or I am, and in this case I am pretty sure it's the rest of the world, which I guess all but guarantees it's me, but never mind all that now) so I respect it too much to line a birdcage with it.

"I don't want this," I said as I filled The Box, "but someone with taste does."

And, yeah, there are some Heroes for Hire Civil War tie-ins in there too. Mostly, though: good stuff. Good stuff that became a millstone around my neck without my realizing it had happened, but good stuff nonetheless. Or at least I thought it was good the last time I peered in there two years ago.

I'm sure I could rid myself of The Box if I focused, but I can be pathologically incapable of solving my simplest problems. I will die from the splinter I never bothered to get out of my finger, and my tombstone will be engraved, "OH, RELAX – I'LL GET AROUND TO WRITING AN EPITAPH – LET'S SHOOT FOR SOME TIME AFTER LUNCH."

In that daily moment when The Box does its Telltale Heart impression, though, I always think, "It used to be so much easier to get rid of a comic." Didn't it? I don't know about the rest of you, but when I was a kid my comic shop was also a used book store. It was a monthly ritual: I'd go in and offer the clerk a comic. He'd say, "I'll give you three bucks, store credit only." I'd say, "The Overstreet Guide says it's worth fifteen." He'd say, "Go sell it to the Overstreet Guide, then." I'd take my three dollars and a hearty handshake and be rid of my comic. I'd come back the following week to find my comic under glass and selling for $375. (I was able to test out of Microeconomics just by telling my guidance counselor this story.)

Today, though? In my neck of the woods, unless your grandfather's estate just found Action Comics #1 in his airlocked vault, the comic shop's not buying your comic. The comic shop has plenty of comics. That's why they have that shop. The few times in the past I've asked store owners if they'd buy The Box, all have been courteous, but all have given me the politest possible version of the answer, "Take a gander at the Great Wall of Longboxes in the back of this room, and tell me how many more old comics you think I need." It's all they can do to sell the ones they ordered.

One time, four comic shops ago, I brazenly just abandoned The Box in front of the shop, thinking, "Tomorrow, some early customer is going to have the best day ever. Free at last! Ha ha!"

I didn't notice that my name was on The Box. That took some explaining the following week. I had to stand there in the middle of the worst episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm ever written, going, "Is that where those went? Thank God you found them!" all the while thinking, "Oh, goddammit."

Before you even start: I don't want to hear about eBay. Every book in The Box has already been put up on eBay, lovingly photographed and eulogized; the auction started, the auction ran, and the auction ended, and it was back in The Box. Have you seen what happens to comics on eBay lately? I did an extremely unscientific study this evening, and here are the sorts of things I saw:

BEYOND #1-6. Four dollars, no bids with a minute remaining.

SPIDER-WOMAN ORIGIN #1 2 3 4 5 + Variant #1. Five dollars, one bid with a minute remaining.

Okay; not great, but those weren't huge series. I can see that.

Marvel Essential Captain America Vol 2. Steranko art, goes for $15-20 brand new… two bucks, one bid. There's a trip to the post office that doesn't feel great.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #500, bagged and ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #501, "Deluxe." Ninety-nine cents each. No bids.

Eight of Jim Lee's X-Men comics, five of which are all variant-covered #1s. You can Buy It Now for $25; he will accept nothing less. Best of luck to you, pal.

It's the same for All-Star Superman, or Astonishing X-Men, or just about anything you care to mention. If you're buying, this is a glorious time to be alive, but suffice it to say this is not a seller's market. Certainly not a lazy seller's market.

Besides… eBay is the last refuge of the CGC slabbing guy, the guy who fantasizes about a post-apocalyptic world where he's a hero since archaeologists were only able to reconstruct our civilization because he was wise enough to encase his entire life in Lucite. I don't want to get into it with the eBay Feedback Warrior over my grading prowess. "You said this book was VNM 9.2-9.4, when it is clearly VNF 8.9-9.1." "I'm sorry, sir, but I actually graded the book IDAGAGGDAT, which is the standard grade for I Don't Actually Give A Good Goddamn About This." I left these books in the car for two years; would you really trust my judgment grading them?

I'm not sure how much of a secondary market exists anymore, at least compared to a few short years ago. Sure, there will always be collectors, and there will always be dealers with vans full of the classics on the convention circuit. Largely, though, if I want to read a back issue now, the paperback is probably in print. If not, there are the digital comics initiatives, along with some much more widespread ways of reading the oldies that don't make anybody any money, matey, yarrr. This is by no means a bad thing; hunting back issue bins to complete a story was wonderful when it worked, but I also spent a lot of time biking around town for an issue I never did get to see. Still, I have a feeling this brave new world is going to be keeping The Box in my trunk for quite a while.

Maybe I'll just chuck it at a grade school and hope for the best.


You don't have to write in and tell Jim Mroczkowski he's an idiot; that's essentially the thrust of the article. See also: Twitter, the.


  1. I actually bought my first (and probably last) comics on ebay, Phonogram Vol 1 issues 1-6.  I’ve got the trade but I wanted all the backup matter.  I’m probably going to end up getting both volumes bound so I "needed" the first 6 and have never found them all at a con.

    Otherwise I don’t really like anything enough that I’d want to go back and get issues in lieu of getting a trade.

  2. i don’t really have a problem getting rid of my single issues. I have an understanding with my Brother. I just hand it off to him when im done. But i have a serious problem with my trade collection. i have a ton of trades that i bought simply because i wanted to read the story and, now that i’ve read it, i know i will never revisit them. i’ve read it once and that’s enough for me. So now i have all these trades taking up space on my bookshelf and i would really like to get rid of them, but i can’t be bothered with eBay. If i weren’t at work or if i had a better memory, i’d list them here and see if anyone was interested in taking them off my hands for the cost of shipping (i live in Canada) and maybe 5 bucks. Let me know if your interested in what i have and i’ll try to shoot off a list:

  3. Mike (and Jimski) the 11 O’Clock boards have a Buy/Sell/Trade forum that I’ve bought some trades off of, not sure how well the issues people put up work but it’s worth a shot.

  4. I usually grab a handful of back issues on sale days, like Free Comic Book day. The shops I visit usually put all their long boxes up for like a quarter or fifty cents an issue, and I’ll scoop up a bunch of old Daredevils or West Coast Avengers or whatever. It’s fun.

    Every now and then I’ll see someone show up at a store with a box full of comics, usually stuff from the ’90s. I sadly shake my head as the owner offers them pennies an issue.

  5. I’ll take that box, Jim.  $10 for your trouble to ship it.  I like mystery boxes of comics.

  6. Trades are much easier to get rid of than single issues.  List them for $5 on Amazon, and they’re usually gone by the weekend.

  7. I will buy that box sir. i will do it for your sake

  8. I’ve done foolish things on eBay – I’ve gone back and bought all missing issues of both Grant Morrison’s New X-Men and Joss Whedon’s Astonishing.  Even though I had the trades.  A strange switch went off and I needed to own them. 

    Now, they’re sitting in the box, untouched and unread.  And the killer is…I don’t even really want them anymore.

  9. just kidding

  10. I’ve been reading through a shit load of old comics and desperately trying to get rid of stuff that I will never read again.  I now have 7 boxes, and I realized how exhausting it is to pull out old story arcs, taken ’em out of their bags, read ’em, re-bag, compress, and put back in the boxes.  It’s not fucking worth it.  That’s why, as I replace all of these books with trades, I’ll trade comics in for in-store credit.  My dealer gives me a better bargain than any other local store, so even though I’m taking a loss, I’m still getting more than I would somewhere else.

  11. One thing you dont mention regarding your ebay links is that the shipping and handling is always a part of whether it moves or not.  Just look at the Spider-Woman lot (which I actually did buy on ebay) the s/h is $7.50 for 6 comics.  That’s kind of ridiculous seeing as I can buy up to 40 some comics from stores for $3.95/$4.95 s/h.

  12. Does anyone remember when wizard had an online comic marketplace, like 7-8 years ago? I sold all my original Watchmen and Dark Knight comics, as well as a bunch of other stuff. I think I sold the Watchmen issues to a guy stationed in Japan. Shipping that was fun. It was like ebay but specific for comics. A nice idea, too bad it didn’t last. 

  13. I always get a kick out of the people on eBay who don’t realize that only the really old, monumental issues are worth anything.  Today I’ve found Power Girl #3 for $33, Flash Rebirth #1 for $40, and the FCBD Blackest Night issue for $11.20.

    I’m not really one for back issues since vendors don’t really seem to get that they aren’t worth anything either.  All I’ve ever got is every X-Men Origins book (except Ice Man and Cyclops) and The Mighty 1-6 from, and a copy of Action Comics 775 for the original price at a shop across town.

    I’ve got a load of trades I want to get rid of.  Out of Amazon, eBay, a used book store, or some other source/site, what would you guys say is my best bet?

  14. @slockhart – I’ve actually seen LCS’s trying to sell the BN #0, its absurd.

    My ebay experience has been limited to me remembering an old issue I read over and over as a kid and I finally decided I need to have again as an adult.  It’s been hit and miss.

    None of the LCS’s near me have any real back issue options.  Most have $1 bins but its from the last year or so.  Anything I wanted in the last year I probably paid $3.99 for like a sucker.  There are entire runs I’d like to complete so its off to cons for such things, but I’ve always been oddly fascinated with ‘hunting’ through long boxes at a con.  Maybe that’s just me.

  15. I actually went through my childhood comics that includes Jim Lee’s run on Uncanny and adjectiveless X-men, a ton of Image launch titles, and several other X books from that era. I sorted through two stacks: a keep and a toss. I tossed out anything Rob Liefeld related like his run on New Mutants, X-Force, and Youngblood. Anything I tossed out went to the Goodwill, who will try to sell these things for at least 200 times their actual worth. I’m just glad to have finally rid myself of an excess of comics that have no value to me.

  16. I’m not kidding, seriously i will buy that box. never read all star superman. would love to and would love to see what else is in there

  17. Well, I’m sure the fact that a recession has "just" finished, and that people have only just got their first pay cheque after the holiday period is helping to stagnate the market.
    Now just isn’t the time to buy OR sell anything. 
  18. Replace "The Box" with "monkey’s paw", and you’ve got yourself a screenplay!

  19. @Jimski: Actually in my neck of the woods comic shop owners still buy used comics. However, like you say they give you cheap store credit.  It shouldn’t be to hard to get rid of that box of comics.  You could donate them to a library or some kind of kid organization, you could just sell the whole box on eBay, or you could come up with a prize pak here for iFanboy members. Hell keep them until Halloween and give them away with candy or go to the polar opposite end and burn them and claim they are the tool of the devil.

  20. I don’t collect any single issues.

    I leave them in places where people will be forced to sit for prolonged periods of time with possibly nothing to do.

    Subway terminals, bus stops, reception rooms.

    That is how I help to promote comics.

  21. Jimski, how the children cry out in anger that those didn’t end up in my classroom library!  I would totally take them off of your hands, as I offered a couple years ago, but I no longer live in the STL.  The offer still stands though, if you want me to cover the shipping.

    Sadly, I have a similar box that sits in my office filled with comics too adult to put into my classroom set.  Someday, it will find its way into the warm embrace of Heroes for Heroes, but until that day, my wife still stares at it with scorn.

  22. I always think its funny when people at my work go "Hey, you like comics" then try to sell me some old ass issues of crap they found somewhere. No I’m not talking Action Comics I’m talking like Hop Along Cassidy or Mad.

  23. If you really want to sell your single issue, there are a few places on line that do buy back comics. I’ve been selling my books back to for a few years now. I just recently had them buy back 100 books for about $200 in store credit and then place a massive trade order. In general, they’re pretty fair with their trade-in offers and because they’re fairly large in internet orders, they often need to replenish books quickly.

    As well, I don’t know about in other areas but in NY and NJ, the secondary market is pretty profitable. My LCS in NJ does amazing business in back issues from eBay, conventions and just the back issues in store. A few of the shops I frequent in NY have people poring over the back issue bins. 

  24. I’m also in the same boat as a lot of you – I’ve got three long boxes I’m trying to get rid of and the stuff just won’t go anywhere. I’ve has some success with the e-bay, but all told, I’ve been stuck holding more books than I’ve shipped out. I may just have to chuck them at a grade school – it’ll at least be fun to watch the news when the bomb squad comes to blow them up.

  25. I like JesTr’s idea of just giving them away as a prize pack for iFanboy members. It would give me perverse glee to see the face of the guy who really, really wanted that CHOCKER prize pack and got this instead. "Aw, MAN! What the crap? These look like they’ve been hanging out in somebody’s truck for the last two years!"

  26. Pretty dead…with a couple of exceptions.

    On ebay I did sell the first four issues of Chew for $150.

    Then again I’m currently running an auction on the complete original Dark Phoenix (in issues) which last I checked was only up to $5.50.  (Granted they’re not all NM but its Dark Phoenix dammit – in issues!)

    Unless you are one of the fortunate lucky few who goes to an independent (read non-corporate) comic shop and has a good rapport with the owner that you can do the occasional trade-in your best bet is to give it away – if not to children you know then to a children’s shelter or the Salvation Army and get a tax write-off.  With regard to the former I donated all my old legos and they told me a year later it was still the best donation they ever had.  Besides the tax write-off you get the extra pat on the back in knowing that you are promoting literacy among underprivileged kids, encouraging would-be artists who might never be exposed to modern and pop art otherwise, and hopefully ensuring comic book longevity by creating the next generation of comic book fans.

    It would actually be pretty cool if there was some kind of annual effort to give comics to these types of places.  Just a thought.

  27. @kmob181: The suggestion for the Salvation Army – I agree that it is a great place to unload comics that you no longer read [and even the library (for the tamer supermanish things)].  They will sell them like for 10 cents to kids, and in this day and age where comics are way too much for a kid to buy into, you give a little joy and keep the kids in the comics.  And heck, if you do choose to write it off – the value is preprinted on the front. 

  28. Oh, here is also another donation avenue :


  29. I’m thinking about cleaning out the boxes here in the near future and looking to perhaps donate them to soldiers overseas thru

     It’s a good cause and you get rid of some of those books you don’t need anymore.

  30. @Wade and roadcrew – agreed.  And anything that creates new comic readers is also a good thing.

  31. It certainly seems true that you can get very little for secondhand comics these days.  The only times I ever claw back something approaching cover price is by listing a series or story on e-bay pretty much as soon as it’s done.  If you can be quick off the mark with a decent wedge of story/limited series you can usually shift them.  Anything too old and people seem to forget, or would rather have a nice neat trade.

  32. I think someone mentioned it, but it bears repeating that shipping is what kills the value for individual shipping on Ebay. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a $0.99 book with $6.50 in shipping. Don’t ship priority ($5 and up). First class postage for one comic book usually runs $2-2.50. If the weight goes up, ship it media mail. It is a book, at least as far as the post office needs to know. That also keeps the shipping of multiple books down around $3. Multiple books is generally the way to go unless you are talking silver age/rare books, because otherwise shipping eats into all the profits. 

    But yeah, 99 times out of 100, I only buy floppies on Ebay if I am getting a good deal, like $0.50-1 a book. So you are sending the books to a good home, not getting rich.

  33. I buy issue’s on ebay fairly often , I guess.  Most recently I bought the first issue of RASL (all I had was the second printing, ha). I have also bought the Jenkins/Lee Inhumans series.  In fact earlier this week I was seriously considering an auction that was the complete run (including tie-ins) of Infinity Gauntlet/War/Crusade for like $300.

  34. As to how dead is the market, it depends on your point of view. Sucks to be a seller, but it is a dream to be a buyer. Thanks to the internet/ebay/etc all the barriers that used to exist between people who had items and those who wanted them have been almost completely smashed. You live in L.A., Boston, Ft. Wayne, Little Rock, or Anchorage and you can get just about any back issue you need. From multiple people. Now there is competition where in the past, in most loations around the country there used to be none. Don’t want to pay $8 for an old issue of Daredevil? Feel free to wander from store to store or wait for a convention to come into town. Maybe they will sell it cheaper. Now it is click, click and there are 6 people selling the same issue. So yeah, I you might have trouble getting any money for your box, but there are tons of books flying around the country in the secondary market. And certain outfits have geared themselves to take advantage of this, making money by volume.

  35. I’ve compiled a list of trades that im either willing to sell for cheap or give away for the cost of shipping. If you are interested email me at and i’ll send you the list

  36. There was an article on ifanboy a few months back that mentioned donating comics to send overseas to the troops.  I think that’s a great idea to promote comics, a good cause, and is also a tax write-off.  A lot of the books I want to get rid of are for adults, so donating to schools might not go over well.

  37. In terms of ebay, i love it.  Why pay $3 per issue of a 50+ issue run at my LCS when I can pay $20-30 for the whole run, already complete.  Selling has been hit or miss, but at least it frees up space for other stuff I want to read.

  38. i probably just bring them and let them sign them so i would keep it.

  39. I just want to echo Wade and Roadcrew.  I tried to sell of my collection in chunks, and donating it to a local boys’ shelter was easier, faster and gave me a warm glow inside.  Also, I guarantee that my tax write off was more than I would have gotten if I’d tried to sell them, since the write-off was for the listed guide value of the books, and not the actual pennies I would have gotten on eBay.  I’ll never try to sell a comic again, not when there are so many potential future readers to whom I can donate them.

  40. i leave my old books (not comics) in bars and the mall for other people. i write a little note saying ‘please pass this on after reading’ and hope for the best.

    maybe someone has a good time with it. 

  41. @vio666 – I read an interview with Joe Quesada, who stated he does the same thing. Obviously different as he get’s everything for free, but cool none-the-less.

  42. I know the feeling. I have a longbox full of comics I don’t want. Not bad stuff, just things I don’t think I’ll read again. Few mini-series, or runs on books I lost interest in.

    I offered it to a new comic shop that had opened near me. It does’t have a back issue bin and I offered the owner mine for free, and he said he’d think about it.

    Few stock! Good condition. What is wrong with the world. The next neareststore will by any back issue’s for 5p each. But it’ll probably cost me that to get it there.

  43. ebay works well for me.  I never expect to get back what I pay, but it frees up space, and sometimes things sell for way better than what you think they will.  I only tend to sell what’s new and recent, and usually in complete runs.  Anything else I donate or add to my classroom stash for my students.

  44. The secondary market is indeed severely downgraded, but only a little bit more than the rest of the industry has. Back issues matter less when everything is being reprinted in trades. Period. But there’s still a ton of places that sell back issues. One of my local shops will buy your single issues for trade value: you get around half of cover price for any modern issue.

    The back issue market isn’t what it was 15-20 years ago, but the whole industry is really severely downgraded in a lot of other respects too. As comics readers, we notice the decline of back issues, but what about the declines of things like younger readers and non-direct market sales? We only notice the decline of the back issue market in particular because we’re left with single issues that don’t have much value.

    But, oh, they still have infinitely more value than a used digital comic has.


  45. In the sense that none of my digital comics are weighing down the trunk of my car or overwhelming my office, and that I can get them out of my house with the push of a single button, and are more portable, let us just leave it by saying that I define "value" differently than other people might.

  46. My library is impressive. A lot of books, music and movies.

    But I don’t delude myself into thinking that it has any value.

    As we move more digital, they lose value.

  47. A month or so ago I was re-organizing some old boxes and found that I had duplicates of Uncanny X-Men 96 and 98 (Claremont/Cockrum). They were slightly crinkled and 96 had very slight water "damage." I took them to my comic store and the ower said he wasn’t even interested in 96 since it had minor water damage, but that he’d give me $3.50 for 98. This was much less than I’d hoped, but I didn’t really care and took him up on it. I used the $3.50 to buy The Lone Ranger #5 (Dynamite), which is $3.50. I drove 2 minutes down the street to a Half-Price Books and sold them issue 96 for $12. 

    So, Jimski, if there is a Half-Price Books in your area, try them or any other used book store.

    Or, donate them to a children’s hospital.