On December 6, 1964, a New York Times article was published with the headline: “Old Comic Books Soar in Value; Dime Paperbacks of 1940’s are Now Collectors Items.” The article was one of the first news clips to frame comic books as financially profitable collectibles, noting that “Old 10-cent comic books that tidy parents either threw away…are now being sold, individually, for prices ranging from $2 to $25.”
One of the reasons given for the value of old comic books soaring was “nostalgic men in their 20’s and 30’s” wanting to buy a piece of their youth. While every generation will long for the items of their childhood, in recent times, this has become only a minor factor as to why some comic books grow in value. These days, comic books worth money tend to be driven by a few key catalysts.
Flying into Films and Television Shows
A primary catalyst for a comic book increasing in value is an element of it appearing in a hit movie or TV show.
“As characters get introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, their comic book appearances have risen dramatically in value. This interest has gotten to the point where even the hint that a character trait from the comics will be appearing in one of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has led to a sharp increase in back issue prices for certain books,” writes Brian Cornin at CBR.com.
The audience for comic books is incredibly small when compared to the customer base of people who watch movies and television shows. Every time Marvel, DC, or any other comic book publishers successfully adapt a character into a film, the awareness of that character skyrockets. With more attention on a character, the greater interest there is in acquiring comic books important to that character.
An example of this is Moon Knight’s first appearance. In 2013 a 9.8 grade copy of Moon Knight’s first appearance, Werewolf by Night #32, sold for $3,000. In 2015, another 9.8 version sold for $14,500. In April 2018 it was revealed that there were plans to bring Moon Knight into the MCU. This news caused the value of Werewolf by Night #32 to skyrocket, and by February 2019 it sold at auction for $50,000.
Another illustration of this trend is Adam Warlock. This character first appeared in Fantastic Four #67. After Adam Warlock was hinted at in the end credits of Guardians of the Galaxy 2, a 9.8 grade version of his first appearance sold for $18,000 in 2018. With rumors that he will be a featured character in Guardians of the Galaxy 3, a similar copy is now going on eBay for $25,000.
Black Knight is yet another character who has benefited from this bump. In 2012, a 9.8 grade copy of his first appearance in Avengers #48 sold for $538. Since it has been announced that the character would appear in MCU’s Eternals, played by Kit Harington from HBO’s Game of Thrones, it has sold for $16,000. It’s also now on eBay at $28,000.
It should also be noted that these increased values are not one off spikes. As a character appears in more movies and gains a larger presence in pop culture, comic books and other unique collectibles associated with these characters can gain a financial momentum of their own and continue to increase in value.
One need only look to Captain America to see this. Since Chris Evans first brought the character to life in 2011, Captain America #1 has only snowballed in value. In 2011, a 6.0 grade of Captain America’s first appearance sold for $25,000; in 2021 it sold for $175,000. Even lower quality copies of Captain America #1 have drastically increased in value. In 2009, 2.0 grade copies were valued at $10,000. Those copies are currently valued at $80,000.
First Appearances, Deaths, Major Events, and Creative Debuts
Now, not any comic book with a popular character in it will increase in value. That is because comic books that typically go up in value tend to feature important events. These events are typically a character’s first appearance, the death of a prominent figure, or an important occurrence.
Comic books that feature the first appearance of Wolverine or the death of Gwen Stacey are easy to notice and document. More difficult to follow are comic books that will spike in value because of the events in their stories and/or their historical significance. For instance, Spider-Man/Peter Parker finally marrying Mary Jane Watson is easy to understand. However, many comic books are extremely valuable for non-narrative reasons.
For example, Green Lantern #76 (1970) in outstanding condition is worth 50 or 100 times more than issues #75 and #77, despite being the same age and having a nearly identical print run. This is because it features the artwork of fan-favorite Neal Adams, a socially relevant story by Denny O’Neil, and the fact that it’s considered the first comic of the “Bronze Age” (1970s)—a historical distinction of interest mostly to serious comic nerds.
Thus, another key element to look out for when determining the value of a comic book, is to pay attention to the writer and artist on the book, what stage of their career this issue represents, and if the issue represents a larger industry shift.
Real World Deaths
Though ghoulish to think about, it is well known that a creator’s death can cause comic books they worked on to increase in value. After Michael Jackson’s death, it was estimated that his memorabilia went up about 40 percent in value.
Within the world of comic books, the death of an author or artist signifies that no more work will be produced by those who have departed, nor will they be able to autograph any more memorabilia.
Further evidence of this behavior in the comic book industry can be found by reflecting on Stan Lee’s passing. Just a few days after Stan Lee died, Julien’s Auctions coordinated an event in which comic books and other memorabilia associated with Lee were put up on auction. Another example of can be found in one of Stan Lee’s greatest comic books, Amazing Fantasy #15 aka the first appearance of Spider-Man. In 2016, a 9.4 graded copy of this issue sold for $454,100. In 2020, another 9.4 copy sold for $795,000.
While nostalgia may be the initial catalyst for a collectible comic’s value, it is clear that the desirability of these books is not tethered to the past. New catalysts continue to revive these classic stories and draw new interest in forward looking ways.