And then there’s the other market, where most comics change hands for pennies and nobody is getting rich or even breaking even. “The entire back-issues market is essentially a Ponzi scheme,” Salkowitz says. “It’s been managed and run that way for 35 years.”
|This is a Steve Ditko Spider-Man. It is|
worth something. You have a Todd
McFarlane Spider-Man. It is worth
nothing. See the difference?
Of course all of this was pre-Internet, and pre-eBay, but you know what? Even when those things DID finally show up, and after it managed to help equalize the back issue market somewhat, everything started slowly increasing in value again. Everything old, that is.
If I told one customer, I told a thousand, "Look, if you're buying that book, expecting it to go up in value, then you're doing it wrong. It doesn't work like that. I've sold a hundred of those books already, to people just like you. They are all bagging and boarding them up as we speak. In twenty years, you're all going to whip out your comic books and say, 'Now how much will you give me?' and there will be no takers, because the only people who bought them in the first place already HAVE them."
|These guys were the real bandits. They |
sold the entire industry a bill of goods.
Okay, that's a little harsh. But it wasn't far off the mark. But that didn't matter, either, because there was nothing you could tell most of these people who were shopping in our stores that they were Doing It Wrong. See, they'd already seen baseball cards skyrocket--not the new ones, mind you. The old Topp's cards that the Baby Boomers were buying up because they missed their childhood. When comics started to go the same way, everyone assumed that it was ALL comics, and not CERTAIN comics. As in, comics printed before 1970.
All of this collector speculation is just another iteration of the great myths of American Culture: the Get-Rich Quick scheme. The idea that you could buy something for a dollar and in ten years it's now worth a million dollars is sheer fantasy, but it's one we all indulge in on some level. Whether it's lottery tickets, a 1957 Mickey Mantle card, the super rare (but reprinted often) Action Comics #1, or the Boba Fett action figure with the rocket pack that fires a missile that so many people swear on a stack of Bibles they actually owned, we all want to think we're like Jack with a handful of magic beans. Who wouldn't want to get rich for doing nothing except buying something you like enough that you were already going to own it? How great would that be?
|These days, if you want to catch up,|
you need to buy the trade paperback
collections (or the hardcovers).
You can buy the entire series that
way for less money than this one
book will cost you.
There are two reasons for this: the first, and the biggest reason, is that right now, there's a lot more than seven thousand people who want that first issue. And the number one thing to remember regarding collectibles is the law of supply and demand. The second reason it went for so much is because the book was "professionally graded" to be a "9.9 out of 10" and sealed in Lucite, thus insuring that grade is permanent (not really) and also making sure whoever buys the comic can't read it without cracking the seal and thus destroying the grade. This is a racket, something aimed specifically at the speculators in the marketplace, but it's unfortunately one that the comic collectors of the world have bought hook, line, and sinker, so there you go.
Even now, there are people out there, trying to analyze what books will be worth something down the road. It can't be done. No One saw potential in The Walking Dead, aside from it being a modern-day western about the zombie apocalypse. Was it a good book? Yeah, if you read it. But if you gave it a pass (and believe me, everyone did), you shouldn't feel bad about that. The money was never yours. It was fate. Happenstance. Dumb freaking luck. You can't predict what people will want in twenty years, so you shouldn't really try.
But here's a good hint: if you seriously think it's going to be the same thing that everyone else is buying and storing in their cardboard boxes, you are wrong. This life lesson is best applied liberally. This hobby was never about the money. The most expensive books in my collection are books I'd never sell for any reason. Why? Because they are what they are: old, cool, funky comics that mean something to me personally. If you're not in it for the love, then you'll never understand that.