How to Determine the Value of a Comic Book

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How to Determine the Value of a Comic Book

Comic books are popular collectibles that hold the potential to become valuable over time. Determining the value of a comic book is not always easy, as the factors that influence it are subjective and liable to change. Some collectors hope to predict the future value of new comics. Purchasing items with the hope of reselling them for a profit is known as prospecting, and is one of the most challenging aspects of buying comic books.

Whether you are assessing the value of a box of old comics found stashed away in a grandparents' house, checking the worth of a private collection, or speculating on new comics, there are several ways to judge the current value of a book and possibly anticipate its future value.

About Comic Books

Comic books are commonly categorized by the period in which they were produced. As time passes, names for past eras are established. Some of these periods are defined by the size and format of the comics, while others reflect a shift in storytelling or marketing approaches. The following table examines some common designations for comic book eras, called ages.

Comic Book Era

Description

Platinum Age

Although not necessarily called comic books at the time, comic-type books from the late 19th and early 20th centuries are often said to belong to the Platinum Age of comics.

Golden Age

The Golden Age began with the emergence of comic books into the mainstream with the help of superhero characters such as Superman. This era began in the 1930s and extended into the '50s.

Silver Age

The Silver Age saw continued development of the comic book medium, and is generally thought to run from the mid-1950s until the late '60s or early '70s.

Bronze Age

Comics from the early 1970s to mid-'80s placed a heavier emphasis on social and political issues than those of the Silver Age, and are designated as the Bronze Age.

Copper/Dark Age

The mid-'80s saw a dramatic shift in the storytelling and marketing of comic books. Multiple versions of a single comic, such as foil covers, became common, and storylines and artwork became darker and more violent. This period is called the Copper Age, or sometimes the Dark Age, and it is considered to have lasted into the 1990s. This period was the height of comic book speculation, and also of sales.

Modern Age

Comics created since the 1990s are referred to as Modern Age comics. These comics feature a broad range of creative styles and genres, and show an increased presence of creator-owned comics.

Determining the Value of a Comic Book

There are two ways to determine the value of a comic book. The first, and usually fastest, is to look it up in a price guide. The second is to see how much the item is selling for in auctions or online listings.

Comic Book Price Guides

Price guides allow for quick reference of a comic book's estimated value. These guides are put together by industry experts who examine a number of factors, including demand and current selling prices. The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide is considered to be a comprehensive and reliable source for information on the value of comic books, and has been published since 1970. Other price guides exist as well, both in print and online.

Keep in mind that the value of a comic is always shifting, and consequently, hard copies of price guides will become outdated. Also, price guides do not in any way guarantee the selling price of a book. As with all collectibles, the ultimate worth of a comic is determined by how much someone is willing to pay for it. For this reason, auctions and online listings can also be used to judge a comic's current market value.

Auctions

Comic book listings in online marketplaces such as eBay are strong indicators of current demand; highly coveted books may sell for much more than their list price. If a comic is listed at $500 in a new price guide, but two copies have recently sold on eBay for more than $600, the eBay prices will be more accurate in terms of how much a book can be sold for. However, because auctions are influenced by bidding competition, the same book in the same condition might sell for two very different prices. For this reason, it is best to check several sales of a book to determine a possible range of values.

What Affects the Value of a Comic Book?

The price of a single comic book can fluctuate over time, and while the value of some comics increases rapidly, other books end up being worth far less than their cover price. So, what is it that causes some books to be worth hundreds, even thousands, of dollars, while others are left in sale bins for 50 cents? There are several factors that influence the price of a comic, though the biggest three are supply, demand, and the condition of the item.

Supply

The supply of a comic book refers to how many copies of it are in existence, and more specifically, how many are currently available for sale. This is affected by the initial print run of a book and the number that remain as time passes.

Print Runs

A book's print run is the number of copies that are printed in a single batch. The size of a print run is determined by several factors, including the publisher's estimate for how many books will be sold and the number of pre-orders placed by retailers. Publishers must attempt to determine the popularity of a specific comic book, and if pre-orders are low, initial print runs will usually be small.

Numbers for print runs can be difficult to come by, though sometimes the information will be listed online. If no numbers can be found, try asking at a local comic shop. Owners and employees of these stores are nearly always comics fans themselves, and may be knowledgeable about print numbers for a book.

A less accurate, though still helpful way to determine print runs is to check the new release racks of comic book stores. If retailers are bringing in 40 copies of one title and only six of another, it is usually indicative of the larger ordering picture.

Multiple Printings

In some cases, publishers and retailers will underestimate the popularity of a comic. When stores run out, they ask for more from the distributor. When the distributor runs out, the publisher must create a second print run to provide new copies of the comic. The importance of this for collectors is that first printings will always be more valuable than subsequent runs.

When purchasing new comics, check the inside of the books for publication information. Along with the title of the comic, the publishing company, and the date of publication, you will find a piece of text that lists the print number. For example, a comic produced in a third print run will be listed as "Third printing." Note that in many cases a first printing will not have this text.

Publishers will almost always change the cover of a comic for subsequent printings. This may involve a changed color scheme or entirely new artwork. Research of online listings may be necessary to determine the number of print runs a comic has received and the covers for each.

Age

Many people are excited to find several old comics in their family's storage and then dismayed to learn that they are not valuable. Age, by itself, does not increase the value of comic book, but is essentially an aspect of supply. As time passes from a comic's date of production, books are thrown out, lost, or destroyed. As a result, fewer copies of them exist for sale, and even fewer in good condition. This lowers their supply, and if there is demand for them, it will drive prices upward. Without demand, however, older comics will still have no value.

Demand

Demand involves the popularity of a comic and how badly people want a copy of it. It is directly related to supply in determining the value of a comic book. New comics will often enjoy a period of high demand for a few years after their release, and prices often increase by five or six times the cover price. Because people are excited about the new series, they tend to hold onto the books and few copies are available on the market. This drives the price up. For books with large print runs, however, the value will usually come back down as people lose interest, sell their copies, and the market becomes saturated with the comic again.

Books with small print runs are much more likely to maintain their elevated price, and will continue to appreciate as time goes on. The best way to judge the potential value of a comic book is to measure its print numbers against the quality of the book. Sometimes great comics are published in low numbers because of a small publisher or an unknown creative team. As time progresses, the book gains new fans, and the early issues in the series become very valuable because there are not enough copies for the extended fanbase.

Demand for a particular comic can be fleeting, and is subject to rise and fall with the success of the series. One event that commonly drives the demand of a comic is a film adaptation.

Film Adaptations

Few things can affect the price of a comic book like a successful film adaptation. Movies and television series expose comic books to a broad range of people who normally are not collectors. Fans of the movies and shows will look to buy the original comic books, and the increased demand can cause the value of those comics to improve considerably.

However, the supply of the comics is still important. Comics like Spider-Man or Batman that have large print runs and multiple monthly titles are likely to be relatively unaffected by a new movie release. Independent comics with small print runs, on the other hand, can see the value of their comics soar with a successful film adaptation.

Condition

Many criteria for the value of a comic, such as demand, can be difficult to judge with any certainty. Condition, however, will always affect the price of a comic. A book that has several bends along its spine will never be worth as much as one that is in mint condition.

Although damage to a book will always decrease its value, determining the amount it should decrease and the extent of the damage is a subjective process. Naturally, this leads to disputes between buyers and sellers over the condition, and consequently the price of a book. A standardized scale has been developed to help collectors agree on the condition of a comic. Retailers and other sellers will describe the condition of a book with an adjective, such as "fine" or "good." This is usually shortened to a two-letter abbreviation. In the case of fine, the abbreviation is FN, while good would be GD.

Modern collectors also have the option to have their comics graded by independent evaluators. These companies, such as the Comics Guaranty Company (CGC), have multiple experts examine submitted books and determine their condition based on a grading scale. Afterward, the book is sealed in a protective sleeve and labeled with the title and its condition. For books that have a notable market value, a CGC grading can greatly increase their selling price. The grading process isn't free, however, so sellers should weigh the grading fee against the potential selling price increase.

Grading companies use a greater degree of specificity in their grades than the average retailer or collector, and they also incorporate a numerical scale into the grading process. The following table lists adjectival terms used to describe the condition of a comic, their corresponding CGC grade range, and a description of a book that would fall into each category.

Condition

Description

Mint (MT) 10-9.8

A mint comic is one that is essentially in perfect condition. It has no bends, tears, marks, or discolorations. Very few comics are considered to be mint.

Near Mint (NM) 9.8-9.0

Near-mint comics are in exceptional condition, with no obvious bends or rolling along the spine. Colors may be faded and cover printing may be slightly off-center. Tears are acceptable in this category if they are no more than 1/16th of an inch.

Very Fine (VF) 9.0-7.0

Very fine comics may show wear to the cover, and images can be slightly faded. These comics can have light creases, and one or two lines present along the spine from bending.

Fine (FN) 7.0-5.0

A comic book in fine condition may have noticeable creases and bends to the spine and corners, as well as discoloration or minor stains.

Very Good (VG) 5.0-3.0

Very good comics may have significant wear, creases, fading, and discoloration. Price stickers may be present, and if the comic is otherwise in good condition, a portion of the cover may be missing or repaired with tape.

Good (GD) 3.0-1.5

Comics in good condition may have a cover that is badly torn. Staples may be rusted or missing. Coupons and ads may be cut from the book, and heavy wear and damage may also be present.

Fair (FR) 1.5-1.0

A fair book must still be readable, though stains and heavy discoloration may be present and the cover may be gone. Staples can be rusted or missing, and the book may be heavily creased and bent.

Poor (PR) <1.0

Many sellers will not even list comics that are in poor condition, as they rarely have any value. These comics are stained, ripped, worn, and bent, and may have pages missing.

Find Comic Books on eBay

To purchase comic books, head to the eBay home page. Open the All Categories tab on the left side of the page. Select the link for Collectibles, followed by Comics. You will then be given the choice to item narrow listings by age. You may also search for specific items by entering keywords at the top of the page.

Research sellers to feel confident in a transaction. Check their profiles for the number of completed transactions, as well as their positive feedback rating.

Conclusion

Comic book collecting is a challenging and rewarding process, one that holds the potential for a profit. The value of a comic book is influenced by many different factors, and is ultimately decided by the price it is sold for. Research individual items in price guides and online listings to determine their market value, and investigate print runs and popularity to judge their potential worth. Careful buyers will be able to assemble a collection that provides reading enjoyment and holds strong monetary value for the future.

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