North of Forty: The Real Value of Comics

I am a 42-year-old husband and father…and I read comics.  There, I said it.  I meant it.  I’m here to represent it.  But I’m ashamed to admit that when I was a kid I didn’t read comics.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I owned comics.  Lots of them.  I just didn’t actually read them.  I was a regular at my local comic shop.  Never missed a Wednesday.  But while my collection was nothing to sneeze at, the books I amassed as a kid were almost never even opened, let alone read from cover to cover.  Sure, I would inspect them a bit and look at the pretty pictures, but generally speaking, I was a “collector” of comics more than an actual reader.  More specifically, I thought of myself as an investor.  Truth is, back then I was in the “comic book game” for something other than heroic deeds and the tales of Spider-Man’s trials and tribulations.  Simply put, I was in it for a big money payoff somewhere down the line.

Apparently, at some point, my hopeful young self had determined that comics had the potential to be worth cold hard cash, especially if kept in good condition and held onto long enough.  It might take twenty years, but for young me a clean issue of Micronauts #1 (or any other #1 issue for that matter) had the potential for a serious windfall in the not too distant future.  With that in mind, each week I would purchase my comics, immediately bag and board them, and then tuck them safely and securely into a long box in my bedroom closet.  And there they would sit, increasing in value with each passing day…or so I thought.  Occasionally, I’d take them out to look them over.  Good to check on one’s investments, right?  Maintaining mint condition was paramount.  These comics were commodities that I wanted to exploit.  Experiencing them on a story level didn’t seem to cross my mind.  I even had a like-minded friend who told me that there was a condition one step above mint that he dubbed “pristine mint.”  I’m not sure what defined that state of investment-grade perfection, but I suppose it was the comic equivalent of an uncirculated coin or a mint-in-box Star Wars figure.  “Pristine” essentially meant that a comic had never been opened, which also meant that it had never been experienced as a story.  I didn’t care.  As far as I was concerned “more mint, more money” was all that mattered.

Eventually reality and the wisdom of age set in and it became perfectly clear that my grand investment in comics was perhaps a bit misguided.  The years passed.  The cash value of my comics invariably decreased.  Apparently, I was going to have to find another way to finance my future.  I began to think back on my inception into the world of comics.  I remembered my first trip to my local comic store, a dingy cave of a store called Best of Two Worlds on Haight Street in San Francisco.  I’d like to say it was a magical comic book wonderland that gave birth to my lifelong love of comics, but that would be a lie.  I don’t remember much about the details surrounding that visit; however, there is one image that sticks with me to this day.  It’s the image of a teenage comic book fan standing by the shelves with his face in a book.  And when I “face in a book,” I mean the tip of his nose was touching paper.  Apparently, this particular gent had some vision issues, so the only way he could read his comics was to get his eyes just millimeters from the pulpy pages.  Here was a fellow comics fan, but one who experienced them very differently than I did.  I doubt this guy cared what his comics were worth or whether or not they’d gain any sort of value in the end.  He just wanted to read these stories and he was going to do whatever it took to drink them in.  Many years later, well into my third long box, it dawned on me that there were actual stories inside these “investments,” and that while it was nice to have five pristine copies of The New Mutants #1, my comics weren’t doing me a whole lot of good sitting in a box in the closet.  Sure, they were in good condition, but so what?

My personal history needed some rewriting, so I started the task of reading all the books I should have been reading lo those many years ago.  First up: The third issue of the official Marvel Comics adaptation of Star Wars (my very first comic).  And slowly but surely, I retroactively put my comic book house in order.  I voraciously plowed through the majority of my childhood collection, though there’s still a lengthy run of Camelot 3000 that I’ve yet to tackle, as well as some random Marvel Team-Ups that need my attention. The lesson in all this?  On a monetary level most comics are essentially worthless, but when actually read, they are priceless.  I still collect comics.  I still put them carefully into bags and boards (hey, old habits die hard).  But before they are ever placed in that long box in the closet, I read them, sometimes two or three times.  At this stage in my life, with two kids at prime comic book reading age, it’s hard not to want to put things into some sort of fatherly advice format.  So to today’s young and old comic collectors I say this:  Eat your damn vegetables, brush your teeth occasionally and, like that myopic kid in that Haight Street shop so many years ago, read your comics.

Gabe Roth is a TV writer and producer trapped in the suburbs of Los Angeles, CA.


  1. Great article. Nice to see new voices here at iFanboy.

    I was never a collector and read my comics to the point where they barely retained the physical properties of periodicals anymore. Then I gave them to cousins. I wish I still had some of the comics I read as a kid but I never had that kind of foresight. Good for you for finding a happy medium.

  2. Amen.

  3. I think they should have ‘Comic Book Flashback week’ one week and make ALL comics 35 cents.

  4. Welcome, Gabe! Great article!

    As I read it, this was the line I was glad to see finally come up: “Sure, they were in good condition, but so what?”

    In my mind, that question had always been “but FOR what?”

    I’ve been a bag-and-boarder since I got “serious” about buying comics back in the late 90s, but I feel like I’ve always been a comic book reader more than a collector. Therefore, bagging and boarding is something I do to keep my books in good condition FOR reading. I do go back and pull out an old run of something from time-to-time so I’m glad their in pretty good shape.

    I don’t think I’ll ever understand the urge to have a comic book get graded and slabbed — it just seems antithetical to the whole purpose of the comic book.

    Does anyone know of similar behavior among rare book collectors? I know first editions are valued, but even those aren’t typically rendered unreadable to retain value, are they?

    • I definitely agree! “Keepers” need to be bagged and boarded for future enjoyment!

      The only graded comics I have were given to me as gifts, and they’re all old issues of Amazing Spider-Man (I’m talking Lee/Ditko and Lee/Romita here). Books I have read in collections and reprints.

    • I only know one person who buys comics for value, and he only buys older comics for value. Like ones that are already worth money. I know he is trying to track down Incredible Hulk #181 right now, first appearance of Wolverine. The new ones he buys he just reads them. But I’m not sure about your question that they have to be unread to retain value. If it’s severely damaged than it would decrease. But just normal reading I wouldn’t think would decrease the value. My most valued comic I own is Marvel Spotlight #5, first appearance of Ghost Rider. I’ve had it graded and framed and it’s only Very Fine condition because it has severe wear on it. But I’m not sure how much a comic book decreases in value just by opening it up.

  5. My sentiments exactly…I was definitely in that “They won’t be worth anything if you read them” group for a while there. If was the early 90’s afterall. And then I stopped picking them up altogether.

    But then, one day I stopped into a comic shop in our local mall, picked-up an issue or two on whim, and LOVED it. And I’ve been reading more and more ever since.

    Great article Gabe! Looking forward to hearing more from you in the future!

  6. I participate in a comic swap on Reddit from time to time, and it always drives me nuts when guys only want a 1st printing or want to sell for more than cover price on a recent issue.

  7. I loved this article! I started reading comics when I was 4 or 5 so around 1997 I went everyweek with my step father and worked all week doing chores for my 10 bucks a week for comics those comics might not be worth alot but the memories of going into those stores and bonding with my step father who raised from the time I was a baby are pricless and looking at the ads and the panels take me back to the things that mattered to me then.

  8. wow, great article..this really hits home with me. I am 32 years old, and only started “reading” comics 3 years ago. As a kid, I used to buy comics based on what the coolest looking covers were, or whatever #1’s I could get my hands on (this was during the 90’s so ’nuff said, death of superman, jim lee x-men anyone?) and hardly read any. i would meticulously, almost borderline OCD take them off the shelf at the shop and bag and board them thinking i would have a bunch of money when I got older (same thing with sports cards, although those are a bit different)

    Now, I care less about value and read the heck out of my books.

  9. great column – i started reading comics in the late 80’s and definitely had that collectors mentality too.

  10. Awesome article man, really good. This is almost as good as a Paul post.

  11. Really interesting artical. Just wanted to way in myself with some really basic philosophy.
    What is anything worth?
    I mean really.
    If you think about it nothing has any value other than what we prescribe it as a culture or an individual.
    Is a $5 note really worth $5? No! It’s just a piece of paper. It’s only worth that because all Americans share the belief that that’s what it’s worth.
    It’s the same with everything, one day everyone could wake up and decide that (due to the economic climate or a series of fakes or whatever) a $5 note isn’t worth $5 to them anymore, a shop could refuse to accept it for that much money and so could every single bank and so it would no longer be worth that. It would cause panic and it would never happen but it ‘could’.
    Value is nothing more than a shared delusion and it’s exactly the same with comics, the only difference is it’s a smaller ecosystem.
    Of course it’s not JUST comics, I have a friend who collects video games (and video game collectibles) he paid over £100 for a sealed copy of Final Fantasy 7, even though he already owns and has played that game. When an artbook or soundtrack for a game comes out, he buys two copies, one to use and one to keep sealed.
    He never plans on selling them, no matter how desperate he gets. So what is there value? It’s whatever he decides it is, because he’s the only one that matters.
    If someone think your mint condition issue of ‘Micronauts #1’ is worth $5,000 then, to them, that’s what it’s worth.
    Personally, I’m very utilitarian, I don’t believe anything has any value, if someone destroyed the Mona Lisa I wouldn’t care.
    Sure I can appreciate it as a work of art but we have high resolution photographs of it we could recreate a replica easily so it has no value to me but I understand it’s not the same for everyone.

  12. By the late 90’s I’d gotten into the habit of getting really great copies and taking good care of them after they were read for a couple of decades. It’s a lot of comics, due to going to cons and having had worked (& had/have friends) at more than a couple of NYC’s best comics stores.
    After all of that, I’ve learned that if you are going to collect for re-sale value, keep an eye on the book’s value, for Darkseid’s sake. You only bought the damned thing to make a profit, so sell it already! I could fill a long box with the comics I could have sold at a [huge] profit, but didn’t. Learn from me, please.
    Second: Get rid of dead wood. If you bought, read it, and stored it well, but will never read it again, SELL IT! Someone else will love it just as much as you did, so let it go. Preferably at a plus than a minus. Give someone else a chance to own a piece of comics history. Pay it forward.
    You could sell it for credit on what you’re reading now at your LCS. Get a leg up. Hell, I’ve paid for car repairs with a long box of X-Men. It hurt a little, but my car got fixed. Be real.