This might seem like a really odd choice of topic, especially since I own a shop that SELLS comic books, but bear with me as I try and explore 3 different approaches to collecting that can help you get much more enjoyment out of our favorite hobby.
Before you get too up in arms about the collectability of comics, I am not here to bash collectors or those that look to turn a profit on the books they purchased. It is a part of our market and as a comic retailer, I sell some books for more than cover price as well. I simply want to offer a different view point and mindset that can help the new-comer or the fan that is getting fatigued from the relaunches, crossovers, and fighting to find issues to stories.
Stay with me and I hope you will see that I have both the fan’s and the industry’s best interests in mind.
Did you know that at one point comic books weren’t considered collectible items? Way back in the “golden age” of comics (1930-1958), they were considered throw-away entertainment. You could purchase them for 10 cents from the drug store, roll ’em up and stuff ‘ em in your back pocket as you hopped on your bike and rode to your friend’s house. Your mom would then inevitably be cleaning out your messy room, come across your stack of funny books and then throw them in the trash. Many comics were recycled during WWII to use the paper for bonds.
Comics didn’t actually start to become seen as collectible until the early infancy of the specialty comic shop in the mid-late 60’s and early 70’s. It was at this time that a few store owners realized that since customers were missing books in their collection, that they could RAISE the cost of the book due to demand. This is the advent of the back-issue market.
- Back issues are essentially issues that have already released and been available on the market for a given period of time. Maybe 1 week, maybe 10 years.
Fast forward to the 90’s. The nineties were a time of boom and bust in the comic industry. The idea of “collectability” was at it’s most insane peak. People were lining up around the block to buy the newest Image release or the new X-MEN #1 in hopes that they could soon retire on their purchase, because hey, that Amazing Fantasy #15 is worth a pretty penny so every comic must be worth something, right?? People were buying new books (especially #1’s) in the hundreds and the publishers were taking full advantage of the market by releasing different covers and generating as much hype as they could.
Unfortunately, the industry forgot a very basic law of business: supply and demand. Yes, that Action Comics #1 is valuable because most were destroyed, recycled, and used for baby wipes (true story…it hurts my heart). Therefore, the demand is high, but the supply is limited which automatically creates the opportunity for an increased value. X-MEN #1 from the 90’s sold 7 MILLION copies. Anytime there is that number of something floating around, it greatly affects the supply and demand relationship.
Now days, most comics are not printed in near the quantity of the 90’s, but that still doesn’t mean that it will automatically become a valuable issue. Some publishers still like to play the collectability game by manufacturing perceived value with variant covers (limited edition or different covers, same story inside) or constantly putting out #1 issues. All this can lead to short term increases in value, but for the most part, it can leave many fans and people wanting to get into comics feeling run ragged and burnt out.
Did you know that Diamond Comics Distributors, the sole distributor for pretty much all comic books, makes it clear to retailers that they do not sell “collectibles.” They sell periodical magazines, essentially. Entertainment.
Now, let that sink in. Entertainment.
I would argue that comic books are one of the only types of entertainment in which you can purchase a product, take it home, read it, and in a few years decide to resell. You can’t do that with a movie ticket. I can’t go to the theatre, pay for a ticket, watch the movie, and then come back in a few years and ask for a percentage of my ticket back. Or, better yet, ask for more than what I originally paid. Comics offer that, and it can be a great benefit of the hobby, but I would like to challenge you to stop thinking of comics solely in terms of collectability and I would like to offer 3 ways to maybe let you enjoy comic books with a breath of fresh air and less fatigue.
- Start collecting stories.
Comic books are just that: stories. They have characters, plot lines, twists and turns. Stories.
Find a story you like then ask yourself “what do I like about this story?” Is it the character development, the emotional pulls, the little, hidden treasures that you find through out?
Once you can narrow down what it is about the story that pulls you in, then you can start to branch out and find NEW stories that are similar. Get recommendations from a trusted source (we at The HIVE love to point out things that you can try) and this can open you up to entire worlds of awesome stories that you might not have ever thought of.
The freeing part is that when you start to “collect” stories instead of comics, the worry about potential future monetary value is replaced with personal value as you dive head first into tales that move you. Getting into this mindset also opens up the possibility of collecting the Trade Paper-Back editions (comics collected into volumes for one story) which allows you to get entire chunks of story in one setting for less cost than tracking down single issues. For more on graphic novels and trade paper backs, check out our blog here :
All comic stories have something in common. They have a writer and an artist, which leads me to the next idea.
2. Don’t just collect titles or characters, collect creators.
What I mean is, those good stories you like, they were created by someone or a team of “someones”. Find out who those people are! Chances are that if you liked this particular story from them, then you will probably like their other work as well.
This is my particular method of collecting. I have my stable of creators that I follow and gradually add new ones to the mix. I don’t necessarily collect Spidey comics, but if a writer or artist that I like is working on a run of Amazing Spider-Man, then I will read those issues.
For example, I’m not a huge fan of the character of Thanos. But, when I found out that one of my favorite writers, Donny Cates, was doing several stories with the character, I had to get them. Cates brought a new and fresh take on the Mad Titan and I’m super glad that he is currently killing it over at Marvel.
Some of my favorite creators are Brian K. Vaugh, Donny Cates, Scott Snyder, Robert Kirkman, Nick Spencer, Gail Simone, Cecil Castelluci, Fiona Staples, Raina Telgemier, and Geoff Shaw.
I collect creators and the stories they tell. If they bounce around from publisher to publisher, I follow. If they start writing a certain character, I will most likely pick it up.
Just remember, the characters are only as good as the people behind the story and art.
3. Let kids read YOUR comics.
This is possibly the most terrifying bit of advice that I can give, but, I feel that it will drastically change your feelings towards the “collectability” of comics.
Kids have such unabashed joy with comics and when a child gets one, they have no concern about if it will be worth anything in the future. They simply love the pictures and stories.
Wouldn’t it be great to share your passion and hobby with your kids: to see your favorite characters and stories through their fresh and unjaded eyes? Kids aren’t snobbish, biased, and have little concern for market trends.
Obviously, keep the books you share with the kids in your life “age-appropriate.” Please don’t go sharing Saga or anything written by Garth Ennis with your 6 year old!
Out of the 3 ideas I’ve proposed here, this one might be the most important one you can do.
Our culture needs kids getting into comics and reading. The industry needs more kids getting into stories and developing a love for the sequential storytelling medium. It is VITAL for the continuation of our hobby and the creators that are out there.
Try it today.
Go home, bust open your long box, take that copy of X-Men #1 out of the plastic sleeve and lay down in the floor with your child and let them enjoy it. Better yet, grab a stack of YOUR faves and leave them in your kids’ room next to their bed.
You’ll feel liberated and I can almost guarantee that we’ll see a new generation of readers and fans emerging.
So, in conclusion.
Do I think that all comics are worthless and not meant to be collected? Absolutely not. But, maybe we can try and implement some new thought processes when it comes to seeking out comics and the stories they offer. Maybe we can breathe a little bit and find ourselves actually enjoying what we are buying rather than banking on a return. Maybe, instead of seeing comics solely as collectibles, but rather as stories worth reading and sharing, we can have a much healthier and more robust comic industry.