The $317,200 sale of a CGC-certified copy of Action Comics #1 in their recent auction got all the headlines from the establishment media, but was the March 13-15, 2009 ComicConnect.com auction really a sign of the continued strength of the vintage, high grade comic book market? Scoop talked with the company’s Chief Operating Officer, Vincent Zurzolo, Jr. about that and more.
Scoop: The coverage you received from the establishment media for the auction you concluded this past weekend isn’t something that just happens by itself. How hard did you have to work on that? Do you find them to be more receptive than they’ve been in the past?
Vincent Zurzolo, Jr. (VZ): At ComicConnect.com we have created a culture where every member believes that comic books are a true American art form that has earned its place in society to be respected and appreciated. Not only are we business people but we have a responsibility to change the misunderstanding that comic books are for kids or geeks. In Japan everybody reads comic books; why not here? Each year, I teach about the history of comic books at a high school in Queens, New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibited comic books as part of their “Super-Heroes, Fashion and Fantasy” Exhibit in part due to our insistence that comic books were a vital part of the success of the show and to leave them out would be a crime.
We realized what an important piece this CGC-certified Action Comics #1 in 6.0 was and we set up a strategy to promote it in the best ways possible. Getting the media to take notice of even a great story is not easy but we had several things going for us. The popularity of comic book films has created a tremendous sense of awareness in the public psyche about comic books. The New York and San Diego Comic Con’s growing popularity and coverage from the establishment has made people understand how important, popular and fun comic books are and how many people love them. And finally, this was a great story. You have a comic that hadn’t been on the market since 1951. It was in great condition. And of course it’s the first appearance of the first Super-hero-with the cliffhanger ending of, “How much will it go for?”
Scoop: To what do you attribute their level of receptivity?
VZ: At first we were not sure how much coverage we would get, but throughout my 20+ years and my partner Stephen Fishler’s 30+ years in the business we have established relationships with reporters and people in the media which helped us in lobbying for this story to be told. It worked!
Scoop: Have you noticed a decline in some of the “Pow! Zap! Blam!” stories about the comic book world in favor of serious reporting? How far do we still have to go in this area?
VZ: When I started off in this business, when I told people what I did for a living I was usually asked, “And you can make a living at this?” I don’t really get asked that question much anymore… But every once in awhile I do, and I guess it is the same way with stories with the ‘Pow! Zap! Blam!’ it has lessened but it has not gone away completely. I think when reporters don’t understand the subject they go for what they remember from the old Batman TV show. I do recall the “It’s a bird, It’s a plane… no, it’s the first appearance of Superman” quote being used as a headline for the coverage we received.
Scoop: Obviously the big attention getter for a lot of people in the auction was the CGC-certified un-restored copy of Action Comics #1 in 6.0. What was the average initial reaction from the “outside world” like and how did it differ from the reactions of experienced collectors?
VZ: The general public, even if they don’t understand the concept of a 6.0 grade, they do know Superman and the cover of Action Comics #1 has become a recognizable iconic image. I am happy to say, people got it, they understood how important this was. Also, I truly believe that in this time of extreme economic difficulty, people are looking for something to be happy and optimistic about. Whether that be in the newspapers or on TV, people want a positive story.
The sale of an Action Comics #1 CGC 6.0 for a world record $317,200 is a very positive story. Even though the amount pales in comparison to the hundreds of billions of dollars being thrown about like spare change, it does show that even in these tough economic times there are people out there who are optimistic. They also believe that investing in comics is much safer than stocks. I mean, when was the last time Superman needed a bailout? When was the last time an Action #1 depreciated in value? The answer is never.
Scoop: What were the other high points in the auction in terms of garnering attention?
VZ: ComicConnect.com set a world record for a CGC-certified Amazing Spider-Man #1 in 9.4 at $104,200. The Amazing Spider-Man #14 (CGC 9.6) sold for a world record $53,195 which is about three times the previous record. The first African-American published comic, All Negro #1 (CGC 6.0), sold for $10,200, Detective Comics #29 (CGC 5.0, the third appearance of Batman) sold for $22,200, and the highest graded copy of Action Comics #60 (CGC 9.8 )sold for a record setting $15,800. You can view many more of the astounding prices realized in our auction at our site ComicConnect.com.
Scoop: What sleepers did you see?
VZ: I felt very confident that our auction would do well. There were some books that fared better than expected like the Amazing Spider-Man #14, but overall since I expected us to do very well and we did I am not sure how to answer this question.
Scoop: Aside from the big price on the Action Comics #1 and the media coverage, how happy were you with the results of the sale?
VZ: We were extremely satisfied with the results of our Event Auction. And more importantly, the consignors I have spoken with since the auction ended have also conveyed that they were very satisfied with how their comic books did.
Scoop: During the fall when we talked, despite the economic downturn in the mainstream economy you were still quite bullish on the future of high grade, vintage pop culture collectibles, particularly comics. Has your position on this changed in light of the continued turmoil or do you still see bright things ahead? Are these comics still a good buy, and why?
VZ: Last fall I had made up my mind that no matter what, my company would strive to have the best year we have ever had in 2009. Now, I must admit, in December and January all of the stories I read started to weigh me down. It took me a little bit to shake things off. I think the turning point was the very successful New York Comic Con we had.
The people at Reed Exhibitions do a great job and people turned up and spent money. Also, during the months of February and March we sold three copies of Detective Comics #27 and thousands upon thousands of other vintage comic books… and then there is the Action #1. High grade or rare comic books are a good investment and will continue to be. You cannot just pick any book. Do your homework, look at trends and talk to people in the know and you will find the right place to invest.
Scoop: Are you seeing any panic selling to go along with the record prices?
VZ: I would not call it panic selling. I have seen collectors and investors selling books, but you have to understand, they bought these books partly because they love them and partly as an investment. When you need money you sell off your investments. Something I did notice were several collectors not being able to make purchases as they or their spouse lost their job.
Believe it or not, most of those collectors have already come back but have pared down how much they will spend. I think they intrinsically know that they will do well investing in vintage comic books. It is also worth noting that we have seen brand new buyers, at all price levels entering the market. I attribute this to several factors, the increase in awareness many have of comics as viable investments and that during difficult economic periods consumers look for things that make them happy and have value and comics fit that bill.
Scoop: What do you have coming up next?
VZ: Because of all the press we received, consignments are rolling in and we pushed up our dates for our next auction to May 1-3, 2009. And here is the really exciting news: we received a call several weeks ago from a gentleman who, along with his brother (who recently passed away), in 1938, purchased an Action #1 straight off the newsstand! He heard about our Action #1 and decided it was the right time to sell his. We are proud to be offering another un-restored copy in our May Auction!
Almost unheard of, this book is from an original owner collection. In my over twenty years in the comic book business this is the first time I had the opportunity to hold two un-restored Action #1s in my hands at the same time. Maybe our new slogan will be ComicConnect.com… where the Action is!