2009 Overstreet Report
by Frank Cwiklik, Sales Executive
Compared with being a collector, it's a very different experience being down “in the trenches” as the head of Sales for Metropolis Collectibles. From this vantage point, I can see how the comic collectibles market ebbs and flows, I see the trends in both buying and grading, how books can go from hot to not overnight, and how quickly prices can shoot up. It's been a great lesson in market mentalities, human nature, and fandom. Sometimes I feel like part of my job description should involve "cultural anthropologist".
I think the first book I ever read was a Batman comic. When I discovered, in a tiny classified ad in a comic, that there were people who actually sold old comic books, I nearly fell over. From then on, every birthday, every holiday, every Christmas, every good report card, I would plead for $30 (a small fortune at the time!) and a car ride to the local comic shop, where I would snap up beaten Golden and Silver Age comics and walk out loaded down with piles of four-color magic. I still remember the first Golden Age comic I bought, and still have it, a battered Sensation Comics #27 with a split spine. It's no better than a Fair (1.0), but I still have it, love it, and still treasure the memory of showing it off to my comic-collecting pals after buying it.
Times changed, I stopped reading comics in the early ‘90s (can you blame me?), sold off almost all of my vintage stuff and pretty much forgot about comics entirely. I didn't start collecting seriously again until around 2002. Whoa. What happened? Gone were the days of comic shops wallpapered with Black Mask and All Star Comics covers, Romita posters, Amazing Spider-Man #121, and other vintage goodies. Now, stores were crammed stem to stern with reprints, manga, graphic novels, hardbacks, variant this and that. I was thrilled to see that so many classic comics were finally available in reprint form, but the joy of digging through musty old boxes for hidden treasure was long gone, and, worse, none of the new readers seemed to care. It seemed that a hobby based on remembering and arguing over the smallest minutiae of comics history was now populated with readers who believed that anything published before 1995 was passé or campy or out of style. It was disorienting and a little upsetting.
I'd been working in retail for years, plugging away in managerial positions while running a theater company at nights with my wife. I was burnt out and needed to find something more rewarding when my wife lucked across an ad for Metropolis. They were looking for a new stock clerk. It seemed like a fun gig, and I was getting back into comics anyway, so I figured I'd give it a shot. After I made the appointment, I looked them up online to see what I was getting into… Holy cow! This was more like it. I was looking forward to the interview just to check the place out, and was not disappointed. And upon starting at Metropolis, I was delighted to discover that the network of fans, collectors, scholars, and packrats who I so loved hanging around with in my childhood had not actually vanished, but instead had coalesced into a small but vibrant community based around conventions, exciting deals, incredible collections, and a deep and abiding love of the history of comics and the importance of their contributions to pop culture history.
Upon being promoted to Sales Executive not long after starting , it has been my joy and privilege to not only meet so many like-minded collectors, but to introduce new and younger collectors and fans to this wonderful hobby, both in person at conventions, and over the phone and Internet. And now, Holy Cow! Look at me. I'm in the Overstreet Guide!
As I said earlier, my experience at Metropolis has allowed me to notice trends and buying patterns from a unique vantage point. I get to experience the visceral excitement of a collector discovering lost treasures, as well as the dealer and seller perspective of following what's hot and what's a good investment buy. This unique position has led me to conclude that, despite the wobbly economy and the seismic shift in how vintage comics are bought and sold (thanks, internet!), the long term picture for the vintage comics market is very good and has a firm foundation that can be used to bring even greater respect, marketability, stability and growth to this very unique market.
In recent years, orders that came in were predictable -- High-grade Spidey, Golden Age keys, Silver Age Marvel, etc. Business was very strong, but it was largely the same group of sellers chasing the same hot books. Recently, however, that's been changing. What I find encouraging for the long term prospects for both Metropolis as a company and the comics business in general has been the diversification of interest in terms of genre, titles and condition. Lower-grade copies of obscure books that we've had sitting around for years are now selling respectably - Westerns, Disneys, Dells, Charltons, obscure series and genres of all types. I have a rabid Katy Keene collector who contacts me once a month, several overseas collectors who love Quality titles, and, of course, Disney sells like gangbusters in all grades to our European clients.
I'm also encouraged by the number of new collectors who are just now coming into the market. Some are fans of the art and stories, like the retired priest from California who's a big Dick Tracy and Charles Biro fan, or the French Canadian collector who's crazy about Joe Palooka. Some are drawn by the investment potential, like the local collector I've just started working with who loves high-grade Silver Age DC and Golden Age Superman War covers, and has shrewdly amassed an impressive and valuable collection in a short amount of time. Plus, the phone now rings off the hook with requests from people who want to stop by on their trip to NYC to pick up a key book or a run of Golden Age treasures - one Italian couple showed us their itinerary last year, with the Metropolis Gallery at the top of their NYC must-see list!
The thing they all have in common is that they've heard the good buzz coming from our business. Comics are great investments, long term and short term, and there are books for every budget and taste. Plus, the exploding popularity of the San Diego Con and New York Comic Con is whetting the average, non-comic collecting person's appetite. Whereas a few years ago, new comics collectors would pass our booth at shows and wonder whether we were selling reprints, now even younger readers know both the financial and historical worth of the books we're offering - when 10-year old boys are rattling off key issue numbers at conventions without being prompted, it's a sign that the hobby is healthy. At least once a week I hear a story from a new client about how excited they are about getting into the hobby, about their grail books, and, best of all, how their families are just as excited as they are! In short, rare comics collecting is now gaining the acceptance and gravitas that is afforded rare books, furniture, Americana, or other respected antiques, and the number of new clients we sign up every day attests to this growth of interest.
This, of course, is all spurred on by huge sales and record-breaking prices. Amazing Fantasy #15 has become the Silver Age equivalent of Action Comics #1, and sells at top prices in all grades. We sold all of our copies at this year's San Diego show without breaking a sweat - it's the single hottest, best investment book on today's market, and I get calls asking for it all day, every day. Marvel keys in general are doing killer business. The biggest growth has been in Avengers #1 and 4, which were unjustly neglected books only a couple of years ago, and now, with Marvel's aggressive and clever movie-making strategy, interest in these books has exploded. If you see an Avengers #4, buy it; it's the next big Marvel key.
We've also been doing very well with a variety of keys and rarities: in just the past six months, we've sold Marvel Comics #1 and Captain America #1, along with other Timelys (which are selling briskly), an All Star Comics #8, a Superman #1, a gorgeous More Fun #54 in 8.0, and all of our copies of Batman #1, which show that DC Golden Age books are still attracting investors and collectors. In addition, we recently sold the Mile High copies of both Exciting Comics #9 and 11, a Gaines file copy of Tales From the Crypt #20, and even the Mile High Captain Midnight #9. Looking at our recent sales list is fascinating, as the range and variation of the types makes it look like a history of comics in general, rather than a laundry list of the same big keys. It seems all sectors of the market are growing, not just one or two specific niche markets or a handful of key books.
In more unusual sales, a handsome copy of the exceedingly rare Great Comics #3 arrived in our offices earlier this year and sold to a long-time client who specializes in rare comics such as these, which I think of as “caviar” comics - the sort of stuff not everyone knows about, but hard-core comic collectors drool over. It was a pleasure to finally have a chance to see the book in person and find it a good home. It was also gratifying to see the unjustly neglected but very important Funny Picture Stories #1 sell in a Mile High pedigree, as did the Mile High copy of Roly Poly Comics #1. As a Wonder Woman fan, I've been personally pleased to see her collectability rise this year, with strong sales for both Wonder Woman #1 and Sensation Comics #1, and for us to obtain a number of scarce issues from her late Golden Age period, some of which we hadn't had in years, if ever! And, of course, Chris Nolan's astoundingly good The Dark Knight spurred renewed interest in Batman, which led to terrific sales of Silver Age Batman key issues that had plateaued for some time and are now desirable again. In fact, any comic property that's been optioned for movies or TV seems to experience an interest spike, however brief, so keep an eye on the industry trades! Finally, if there's a Neal Adams cover on a comic, and it's VF+ or better, there's not even a point in putting it into our stockroom as it will be sold the minute it hits the site.
Trends to watch: We've recently been doing very well with Copper and late Bronze books. Comics we would have blown out in wholesale lots are now selling briskly, sometimes above Guide. Claremont-Byrne Uncanny X-Men, Miller Batman, any Spider-Man (especially McFarlane), Wolfman-Pérez New Teen Titans, Miller Daredevil, even Captain America, Avengers and Defenders have all been growing in demand. Iron Man's been good, too, though it remains to be seen whether this is a short-term trend from the movie's popularity. (I have a sense his popularity is going to continue for some time). I also believe that seminal and popular DC and Marvel titles from between 1978 and 1985 are sleepers and have great growth potential. Keep in mind, they're very common books, so they've got to be 9.0 or better (unless they're Spidey or X-Men, which sell in any grade), but bearing that in mind, this may just be the next growth market.
In conclusion, it's been really enjoyable meeting so many of you at conventions, and starting up correspondences through email and over the phone. The vintage comics market has changed drastically over the past 15 years, and is undergoing another transition now, but the explosion of online selling and the new influx of fans driven by movies, conventions, and TV series hints at a new and exciting future for the market. Numerous museum retrospectives and scholarly tomes on comics history are giving a new and very real respect for the history of the medium. It's an awesome time to be a vintage comics collector. If you've been around for awhile, fear not, the best is yet to come, and if you're new to the hobby, I envy you the excitement and joy you're sure to get in your journey through comics collecting.