Where have all the Comic Collectors Gone?

17 Feb

By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

IMG_20150619_150545093_HDRBuying comics used to be a big hobby for baby-boomers two decades ago and for appreciators of sequential art, it still is. But if one thinks the printed medium is worth something, I feel that newer titles are harder to resell at full market value these days. Getting your hands on golden age titles, like the first appearance of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy (see left) requires re-mortgaging your home for a mint condition edition stored in a mylar strength bag to preserve the quality of the paper.

Today, most people in their 30’s to late 70’s just buy to read, and a handful of these readers stores them in a comic bag and backing board. That’s a sign of a collector. Al Coccola has been in this hobby for more than 50 years. And on the retail side that’s what both managers Bill Rice of Curious Comics and Gareth Gaudin of Legends find as part of their customer base.

“It’s a love affair with the object itself,” says Chris A. Bolton, writer of Seattle-based Smash Comic.

He believes investors have climate-controlled attics with rare comics, and speculators with 20 copies of Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1 are hoping that it’ll be worth millions one day. They’re also known as investors.

Coccola finds the buying and selling of comics more of a hobby for him, “It supports my habit so I can buy a few new titles a month. But they don’t necessarily do better than a mutual fund and they are a lot more fun to play with. But most people are collectors first than investors,” says Coccola.

Back in the early 90’s, there were more speculators than collectors and when Island Fantasy, Xeron and Curious Comics were the only game in town, more stores opened up because they were hoping to cash in on the comic book craze. Some managed to survive but many more have closed down. The same thing is moreorless echoed all over North America.

“I think the mid-’90s bust ruined the comic book speculator for all time, but you never know what a few years or decades could do. The fans who continue to collect variant editions do so out of love for the medium rather than a desire for money,” says Bolton.

“Collectors are still looking for that elusive issue that they need to complete their collection and lots of people buy for reading purposes still end up collecting,” says Rice.

“Instead, comic book collectors are all at home, buying on the Internet,” says Dick de Ryk, former owner of Island Fantasy.

That store’s heydays are gone but de Ryk is still selling comics both locally and online. He knows the market has shifted. Unlike the mass public interest in the 90’s, he sees the collectible market has become a little more underground.

The Internet is helping collectors more than by going to a store. “Getting things that you really like have become easier. Either it’s Facebook, Ebay or whatever,” says de Ryk.

And Gaudin agrees. He once worked at Island Fantasy himself. Rice sees comic book collecting as still a niche market even though it’s become more mainstream because of movies. “If everything comes in cycles then this is the down-turn of comics. It’s still going strong with people buying graphic novels,” says Gaudin.

While this form killed the speculator market, it’s a good thing for comic book readers. They’re not spending lots of money for that hard to find early issue of Amazing Spider-Man. I was lucky to hear that Legends Comics had an edition and I had to at least behold it for a few minutes in all its glory when Gaudin mentioned he received an autographed version at his store. If I want to read it, and keep the original untarnished, I’m glad that this issue has been reprinted in a trade paperback. And really, who can’t resist holding the real thing than looking at a digital facsimile?

“A comic book is lot about turning the pages and I love the smell of the old comics,” says Gaudin. “That’s what collecting is all about. It just needs a new generation of young people to get into collecting back issues to boost interest again.” concludes Gaudin.

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