Collecting Comics 101: The Basics

Posted: January 7, 2016 in Comic Book Study
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Collecting comic books is an age old staple of simple investments, with even greater numbers of people taking part in it due to the current rise in popularity for superheroes. However, without any prior knowledge or idea of what to do, it can get pretty confusing. Hopefully, this post (as well as the sequel posts I’ll be publishing in the future) will help you on your way to starting your own comic book collection!

*Today’s post is geared towards beginners, and is intended to introduce the idea of collecting comic books as an investment (including terms, general collection techniques, etc). Future posts will get into these, and other, topics in further detail. 

1. Identify Current Trends

Who are some of the most popular superheroes right now? You should be able to list a few of them: Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, etc. Even the most comic ignorant person on the planet knows a few superheroes, and that’s because of both their popularity and their lasting appeal. Basically, just look around and pay attention to which character(s) is/are getting the most attention. Popular movies and television shows are also big indicators into where you should be directing your focus, as they are very clear signs for sellers looking to sell their back issues of comics related to the main character(s).

That having been said, make sure you don’t overspend. Most of the big name superheroes have comic histories that extend over long periods of time (for example, I mention on the front page of this site that Superman has been around since the 1930s), and as such, their older issues are going to cost you quite a bit more than something you can find on the stands today. That leads me into my next point –

2. Start Small, then Go Big

For the sake of this point, let’s say you want to collect issues of Superman. Where do you start? You’ll want to try to find your local comic book store (or, in case you don’t have one within reach, their online shop) and pick up a few issues they have on the stands/in the store. Talking to the store owner wouldn’t hurt either, as they could be a valuable asset for you in terms of gathering more knowledge, or even helping you track down a few older issues.

Once you’ve begun collecting some of the more modern Superman books, and have a general idea of his history (make sure you at least like the character before you start buying up his comics), start looking backwards. Go back decade by decade, and try to pick out only the most important issues of Superman’s history that you can easily afford (for example, The Man of Steel #18 and #19 are the first appearance of Doomsday, a major Superman villain, and are still relatively cheap right now). If you’re just starting out, be sure to utilize whatever guides you can to find out which issues are more important than the others, so you don’t accidentally waste too much time and money buying things you don’t need right off the bat.

3. Know the Lingo

If you’re just starting out with comic books, chances are you won’t know whar a “CGC” is, or why it makes an issue of Spider-Man worth $200 more than the exact same issue missing the CGC label. Because of this, I’ve included a short investor’s dictionary below*, to help you keep up with any sellers you’re thinking of making deals with.

*This is not a full list of the terms you’ll come across when collecting comic books. We’ll cover more terms in later posts. All CGC grading values are taken from their website.

  • CGC: Certified Guaranty, also known as Comics Guaranty LLC. A professional grading company that decides the “Grade” of a particular comic book sent to them before sealing the comic in a plastic case, keeping it safe from further harm. Comics from CGC tend to be more valuable than their ungraded counterparts, or even from other grading companies (as CGC is a better known brand, they’re the ones most likely to earn sellers money).
  • Grade: An individual number, ranging from NG (No Grade) to 10, that determines the condition of a comic book. The lower the grade, the lower the value of the comic. Each number also fits into a particular category, such as:
    • Gem: Also known as Gem Mint. These are comic books that have been found during the grading process to have absolutely no flaws, earning a perfect score of 10. Few of these comics exist, making them extremely valuable.
    • Mint: These are comic books that have little to very little flaws with them. Comics in this category will be graded at a 9.9 or 9.8, making them very valuable. These are relatively common among the top quality comic books average buyers will be able to find/afford on the market.
    • Near Mint: These are comic books that have little to light flaws with them. Comics in this category will be graded at around 9.0 to 9.6. Buyers will mostly find comics in this category, depending on where they shop.
    • Very Fine: These are comic books that have light to medium flaws. Comics in this category will be graded at around 7.5 to 9.0. You’ll probably start to really notice the problems with a book in this condition (the previous grades will usually mark down for probms in the corners of certain pages, slight discoloration of pages, etc), as they’ll potentially contain heavier discoloration, slight markings on the pages, etc.
    • Fine: These are comic books that have medium to semi medium flaws. Comics in this category will be graded at around 5.0 to 7.0. In my experience, there’s not too much of a difference in terms of visible damage between this category and the “Very Fine” category. However, I’d still recommend you inspect any book in this condition before you make the purchase, just in case there is a deal breaking problem.
    • Very Good: These are comic books that have begun to truly show their age, although they are still decent looking enough for public display. Comics in this category will be graded at around 3.5 to 5.0. Use the picture of Iron Fist below as an example of a comic in this category.
    • Good: These are comic books with heavier damage to their pages (trust me, you’ll know what I mean when you see it). Comics in this category will be graded at around 1.8 to 3.0. Depending on the issue of the comic series in question, I’d recommend you begin thinking twice before paying for anything in this category.
    • Fair: These are comic books with extremely obvious damage to them, including water stains, tape/tape marks, etc. Comics in this category will be graded at around 1.0 to 1.8. Again, depending on the issue, I’d recommend avoiding comic books in this category.
    • Poor: The worst quality comic you can find on the market, excluding NG. These are comic books that have heavy to extreme flaws with them, and will mostly likely not get a seller much money, if any at all.
  • Key: An important issue in a comic book series.
  • Repro: Shortened version of “Reproduction”. This applies to issues of comics that were not printed during the issue’s initial release date (being printed sometime in the future), making the value of the issue in question less than the original first printing.
  • Slab: A comic book that has been graded and sealed in a plastic container.
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A comparison of two different grading companies. Note the grade on the CGC graded comic (right) in the upper left corner. Image taken from youtube.com

4. Beware Online Sellers

For the most part, you shouldn’t have too much trouble with an online seller, depending on where you buy your books. However, it’s still important to recognize the tell-tail signs of online scammers, especially once you reach the older and more expensive titles.

For one thing, avoid signed comics that aren’t certified by a professional grading company. Unless you either personally know the seller, or the seller was recommended by someone you trust, just avoid paying for a questionable product. You should especially ignore any of them that try way too hard to push a COA (Certificate of Authenticity) with their signed comic as “proof” the signature’s real. Again, you’re running the risk of trading large amounts of money for a potentially fake autograph.

Also make sure to double check the seller’s entire listing, not just whatever they offer in the picture. Not only is it entirely possible that the picture could be a simple stock photo (disguising a reprint, damaged book, or a completely different product), but I’ve dealt with a number of sellers in the past that tried to hide their usually worthless comic with fancy titles, or long descriptions/false promises.

If you’re the type who doesn’t want to run the risk of bad merchandise online, then don’t worry! There are alternatives for buying older titles, including:

5. Comic Conventions

If you’re just starting out with superheroes and comic books, you may not want to go to any comic conventions just yet, if at all. That’s completely okay if you feel that way. However, keep in mind that you’re also cutting yourself off from an excellent access point of comic material and knowledge if you do.

Sellers at comic coventions tend to bring out a lot of their merchandise, including and especially the older titles, due to the number of people in attendence. Granted, the prices for the more expensive stuff may be a little bit inflated compared to other places, but at least you’re more likely to buy a real copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 from the guy at a convention, rather than a seemingly sketchy, random person lurking around on the Internet. Plus, if you wait till the last day, you’re more likely to find sellers (trying to make that last little bit of profit) interested in cutting the prices on their merchandise.

6. Go for #1

This is probably the simplest thing I can tell you as far as collecting goes. Any time you see a big “#1” on the cover of a comic book, you should probably think about picking it up. First issues and first appearances of characters usually are worth more than subsequent issues, especially so if the character is popular or turns out to be popular later. Like I said before though, watch out for overpaying and make sure you keep those comics safe.

Obviously, we haven’t covered too much in this part of the guide. However, I hope you’ve gotten a bit more knowledge on gathering and maintaining a collection, and are ready to learn even more about collecting comics!

Ready to start collecting comic books? Let me know what character you’ll be trying to collect in the comments below, or with a tweet through that widget on the left. Better yet, like the Comic Books vs The World Facebook page, subscribe to the official Youtube channel, and follow the official Comic Books vs The World Instagram to keep up with all the latest on Comic Books vs The World.

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