CBSI Writer Wars Round 2 : Newbie Notes by Jarred Maxwell
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Everyone’s story starts somewhere, some people started when they were kids but just now getting serious, some are picking up an old hobby again after a long hiatus, and some are just now jumping in. No matter what the story is at one time or another everyone is a comic book investing newbie.
My story is I collected comics throughout my childhood and early teens. Just before college I stopped and a few years after I wanted to jump get back into the game, but in the those 7-8 years the game changed quite dramatically. Put a bit of money into comics I said, it’ll be fun I said, just like old times right? Not exactly… Variant covers, Ratio covers, comic speculation, focus on artists, major & minor key issues, etc. It all felt foreign and I quickly realized I wasn’t experienced at all, I was just a complete newbie fumbling my way into investing in comics.
So this is my guide to help out anyone who finds themselves in the same situation. It’s basic advice created from my lessons and failures (many failures) of these most recent and with hope be at least a little helpful to newcomers in the realm of collecting and investing in comics. A quick editor note, I tried to keep this initial column to relatively brief and general advice for Writer Wars so if the column is picked up for the future I do plan to expand it with more specific buying (especially eBay buying), speculation, and even selling advice.
The first thing to remember is that while collecting and investing may occasionally overlap they are not the same thing. Make no mistake about it, once you start putting money into comics with the intention to one day sell them you are investing in comics. Whether it is simply trying to pull off a quick flip or holding onto a comic for the long haul the goal is for the value of the comic to increase over time. That’s an investment.
As with any investment the idea is to buy low and sell high. Unless you are a Silicon Valley billionaire you can forgot those dreams of flipping a Superman #1 for hundreds of thousands, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make some money with your purchasing power. The following are some general helpful hints that will help you on the way to making the most of your investments starting out.
Just like all investing you have to realize you can lose money investing in comics, a lot of money and very quickly. There will be numerous times you will lose money on what you thought was a great buy. Your pocket book has to be able to absorb those loses. Therefore you should never invest more than you can afford to lose. You can achieve this easily by establishing a budget of how much you can comfortably spend buying comics in a week or a month and stick to it religiously. Slow and steady is how you win this race.
Money Isn’t Your Only Investment
(Clock King knows your time is important)
You won’t just be spending money, you’ll spend plenty of time too. Mostly in educating yourself. If you are just blind buying books you’re going to lose a lot. You best weapon is research. Learning about key issues is, well it’s key. You have to have the will to spend enough time on this that you become an expert and no matter how much money you ever spend that could be your biggest investment of all.
Ain’t Technology Grand…
Now you won’t be able to memorize enough helpful info and knowledge so utilizing technology is key. Ever been flipping through a dollar bin and come across a comic you think was a hot buy but you weren’t sure? Not sure if that cover was a rare ratio variant? Most of us would be pulling out our phones right?
Bookmark comic speculation news sites on your phone to get the latest news and speculation. Numerous apps not only help you track a growing collection but will also let you know all about rising and falling prices (CLZ, Key Collector, & Covrprice are personal faves). Online comic databases are difficult to navigate on a phone but are consistent and deep sources of info. Bottomline is that if you take the time to set up the tech at your fingertips then you can get the info you need in a flash.
Find a shop
(Worst comic shop ever…)
It seems a simple thing but walking into a modern comic shop can be daunting for a newbie. It’s true there maybe some shops out there that prey on a customers lack of knowledge but they are luckily few and far between. Frequent a local shop if you have a good one and strike up some chatter. Also local shops offer you the fastest and best way to pick new release comics or the thrill of digging in a dollar bin for that great find. You may not make a friend for life but you will learn a lot not only about comics but about the industry itself and how it works. That info is perhaps even more important than anything else.
Start With What You know Best
I loved all things Batman as a kid. I read multiple Batman Universe titles well into my teens religiously. If there is a brand or character you love you can start there. You will likely already have a working knowledge of the key issues, variant covers, and so forth. Not only that but owning something you enjoy keeps your interest and buying habits focused. The world of all comics is absolutely huge. If you try buying up all things comics, good investments or not, you will spread yourself too thin very quickly.
Compare Before You Buy Online
(Don’t be so quick to hand your money over…)
There will comes times you have to pull a trigger. Still caution should reign supreme. Don’t just hop on EBay and start snatching up 1st appearance keys. If you’re shopping online chances are more than one retailer has the book you’re seeking. Take your time to shop comparatively on bigger buys especially. Look up recently sold prices on eBay. If you really want to get serious I might also suggesting a site like GPAnalysis. While sites like this charge a fee they give you precious sales data that not only let you know what to spend when buying also what you can logically sell it for when you move to do so.
Old vs. New
So this falls into the realm of personal choice but many people choose to never buy a new comic and some will not even glance twice to at a silver age classic. Given the vast opportunities in the marketplace to each their own. The point is that you’ll have to realize there are distinct differences depending on what you buy.
If you are investing in high-end older books from the silver or gold age the common idea is you buy the classics like Spider-man or Batman and strap yourself in for a longer hold as they will steadily rise in value over time until you feel there is a peak selling point. One the better examples of this lately is Incredible Hulk 181. This is an unstoppable classic and while there are periods where the price gains slow down it is consistently increasing and almost never losing value.. Books like this, while incredibly expensive, may the safest long term investments.
(It’s possible the value of Hulk 181 may never decrease)
Keep in mind that an old book is not always a valuable book or even a rare book. There are even many 60 year old Golden Age issues that carry less value than you think. Make sure to check price guides and do you research first.
The alternative strategy is to quickly flip of a new book. Your financial investment is far less but making money can be far more difficult and risky. Not only do you run the risk of a hot book going cool because you hold it too long but you also have to be aware of industry factors like market oversaturation. Batman Damned #1 being an A-List example as of late. The value of this took off like a rocket to 125% over the cover price, but within 48 hours that dropped like a rock to about half that.
The reason being that people who invested heavily in a hyped book dumped those copies on the market. If you unloaded your copies before that saturation point you got what is probably the maximum return on your investment. Sometimes new books can be longer holds but learning the difference is extremely important to your success.
(The value of new release comics like Batman Damned can be a roller coaster ride)
Protecting your investment
Storage and upkeep of your investment is of extreme importance. This seems self-explanatory but if your collection gets ruined so is your investment. Storage tips is another article in and of itself, but remember to bag and board for protection. Mylar is the best choice but carries a higher expense. More important don’t forget that heat and humidity are the bad guys. Store comics in a climate controlled space with a consistent temperature at all times.
What Condition My Condition is in?
This is where things get really sticky. I’m not going to go into grading due to time constraints (hopefully another article on this later). Needless to say though condition is an important factor and it’s tough because grading is incredibly subjective. Comic Book Realm and similar sites have grading guides that will help you learn the process. To start out though look for big red flags.
Learn the common page counts for the different ages of comics and take note. Are there any missing pages? Is anything cut-out? Does either cover have missing pieces or writing on the cover? Is the spine in tact and cover attached? These are things that will hit the condition hardest. Be leary of buying online too. Online comic shops are generally pretty honest about condition, but don’t just take their word for it (especially on eBay). Check photos carefully, if there are no interior photos ask the seller if they can send some. Few things are worse than getting a minty fresh cover and find out that page 16 some kid cut out a coupon for a mail order kite (true story).
(No cover, no problem for super keys like Amazing Spider-man 1)
Also don’t forget that just because a comic is in rough shape doesn’t mean it’s worthless. Many key Golden or Silver Age books still have value even if they are coverless if you can get these at bargain prices they can make you some money.
Don’t forget your investing in comics to make some money. Many times you may even separate your personal collection from your investments. Try not to get attached to them too much because holding on too tight can cost you lots of money. Be prepared to let a book go at the right time if need be. It sounds cold to say that. If you feel like your collection has grown too much you may also need a way to cull it down to manageable number. You’ll never be able to do that effectively if you don’t approach comics with a certain amount of detachment. Also it’s not a bad idea to formulate a strategy to liquidate you entire collection if need be.
So I hope this ranting advice was helpful to some people. Again this is based largely on my own experience so if someone wishes to point out the massive amount of things I missed please do so in the comments. If you enjoyed this column I hope I can deliver more focus and concise advice about other newbie issues in the future. Thanks for reading!