Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hey!! Kids Comics: From Trash to Treasure

X-Men #1 Pacific Coast pedigree (Marvel, 1963) CGC NM/MT 9.8 White pages - $492,937.50

Heritage Auctions shattered its own comic art auction records again this Thursday-Saturday. There were 2,633 lots in the mamoth three-day auction, and they sold for a grand total of $10.463,000. All but two of the lots sold, a near-100% sell through with an average price realized of $3,876.81 per lot.

When I started collecting comics in 1962 at the age of eight (we lived outside of the USA before that), comics cost 12 cents. I missed out on the 10-cent years. I started reading the Walt Disney character based titles from Gold Key, then began collecting superheroes with The Justice League of America (starting with issue #25, 2/64), Batman (coincidentally, the first "New Look" issue, with issue #164, 6/64), Green Lantern (issue #30, 7/64), and The Flash (issue #151, 3/65).

My Marvel comics collection began with Avengers issue #6 (7/64), Daredevil issue #6 (2/65), and X-Men issue #4 (3/64). the Marvels, with their offbeat brand of heroic monsters, flawed heroes, and charismatic villains, were different that the other companies' stories. Even stranger were the oddball Charlton comics, which had a wonky appeal for me.

I grew up collecting in Anchorage, Alaska, from 1962-74, in school grades 1-12. Back then in Anchorage, there was no organized fandom, no used book stores with old comics, and no comic stores -- the only comic retailers were the spinner racks at the grocery stores and drug stores.

You basically had a one-two week window to acquire the lastest issues, and they hit the racks every Thursday. I usually had to haunt three or four stores in order to make sure I found every issue I needed to keep my "runs" intact. I mainly shopped at the Rexall drugstores, F. W. Woolwoth's and Carr's grocery stores (a local Alaskan chain).

I was a well-heeled collector, because my dad paid me (and Alf) an unheard of weekly allowance of $5.00. All we had to do to "earn" it was take out the garbage, shovel snow from the driveway and walks in the winters, and water/mow the grass in the summers. With such an magnificent endowment I could buy virtually every current comic or magazine I wanted, and still have money left over for candy and movies.

My brother collected stamps and built model kits, and he used to chide me about "wasting" my money on comics, which were mostly seen as disposable entertainment back then. You were supposed to read them and threw them away. Only a few kids saved them. "Yeah," I'd reply in justification, "but you can't read a stamp." I was way, way, way into the art and stories. Today as we can see, the comics from that era are quite valuable, while my brother's stamps, sadly, are virtually worthless. Only a few (ahem) visionaries saw it turning out this way.

As the weeks and months went by comic collection grew and grew. At first, I stored my prized Avengers issues in a large wooden cirgar box, then with the rest of the comics in the bottom shelf of my chest of drawers, and finally as a lopsided stacks in the closet. There were no comic bags, backing boards, or special boxes back then.

In later years, I stored them in large banker's document boxes or better yet, in a metal file cabinet. Back then those who read comics were regarded as dolts by the public at large, because "funnybooks" relied heavily on the visuals rather than text. Once again the comics defied popular perception. The comic fans would go on to become the scientific and financial nerds, geeks, and downright brainy folks of our time, much as the science fiction and pulp magazine fans had done in earlier years. In these early years comics were often lumped in as a lower order of s-f fandom, as the somewhat abused "red-headed stepchild."

One summer in the early sixties, mom finally laid down the law and commanded me to give my comic stash away, except for 100 issues. Naturally, I was torn about which ones to keep, and was haunted by loss. I felt I had made many ill-advised decisions, and so, her scheme backfired, inciting an even more unrelenting obsession to reacquire the "lost issues," and more. When comic books started to climb in value throughout the seventies (thanks in part to an offical price guide), I would constantly remind mom that I had owned many of those valuable treasures ($2-$35 each). She had long ago relented on the quota and let me amass a huge collection. Dad hated the "clutter", and would often make a snide comment or two. Still, I was allowed to keep them all.

Collecting comics was very uncool in those years, and as boys aged, they often "outgrew" their comics. Once alerted, I could swoop in and buy their entire cache for $10-$20. I'd rush home with paper grocery bags filled to the top, overjoyed, and would fill in missing issues in my runs thanks to thes "super-scores."

I didn't attend my first comic convention until I was 18, when mom and I traveled to New York City just so I could attend the 1974 Comic Art Convention put on by Phil Seuling. I had a blast, and bought a marred copy of Daredevil #1 at the show for $6.

The most I've ever paid for any single comic book issue was $75.00 (I actually paid that much for three different issues -- an Incredible Hulk #1, a Tales of Suspense #39, and a Fantastic Four #2 from the personal collection of Jack Kirby). My "magic number" for pulling the trigger on a purcahse was $6, though I would sometimes pay as much as $20-$50 for certain prized issues (like Batman #4, #5, and #10).

Original comic book art was scarce in the market place in these early years. I moved to Dallas in 1974 to attend SMU, but even in the much bigger fan mecca of Dallas, I seldom saw art for sale. My first art purchase was consumated at my first San Diego Comic Con in 1991. I bought a complete six-page Alex Toth Standard Comics romance yarn for $500. Toth was my favorite artist back then. After I bought that art I was hooked. To use a metaphor, if comics were as enjoyable and addictive as cocaine, then original art was a crack-cocaine'like rush (only not as cheap).

I started collecting comic art via phone calls to other collectors, Buyer's Guide ads, and San Diego conventions. In the early days of eBay, I started selling some of my art and comics to get the cash for new acquisitions, and being local lad, I landed my job as an art/expert cataloger at Heritage Auctions. Jim Halperin liked the writing of my eBay ads and contacted me personally via email.

As much as I have always loved and treasured comics, the prices now being realized for many of these lots blow me away. A copy of the X-Men #1 comic book from 1963 (said to be in the best condition known) sold for $492,000 and change. Todd McFarlane's 1990 original cover art for The Amazing Spider-Man #328 sold for $657,250. That was the year I started collecting art. These are relatively recent collectibles, not even hailing from the truly scarce Golden Age era. It seems that the world has been turned on its ear, and all those years and quarters I "wasted" honing my expertise in comic art have paid off big time.

An old school "spinner rack."

1 comment:

  1. Do you know any details on the spinner rack in the picture on this post?