Friday, September 23, 2016

Discuss: Price guides and comics, a boon or a bust?

Redartz:  Welcome, everyone! We all share a love for comic books, and many of us have at some point in time accumulated a sizeable collection . Aside from enjoying the art and stories, we also may find ourselves interested in the historical aspects of the comics. Who were the early comic creators; where did Green Arrow first appear; how many issues of Marvel Tales were published? Then there is always the question asked by many collectors (of comic books or otherwise): "how much is this  comic worth?". Of course, the initial answer to that is "as much as I'm willing to pay for it", and how special that item is to the individual. 

That said, there has long been a desire for some overall guidance as to how much a given comic might cost to acquire. Illustrated below are two of the most familiar sources of such information: the Overstreet Price Guide, and Wizard magazine. 


The Overstreet Guide has been published since the early 1970's, and Wizard had it's heyday in the wild, speculative 90's. And now,in this current internet-based era, we have, a site listing thousands of comics and continually updated with market information. All of these, and other sources, provide pricing information on a wide range of collectibles. The Overstreet guide, in particular, has a wealth of data on first appearances, artists, crossovers, and other minutae. Which brings us to our topic today: What do you think of the various price guides, and what do you think their effect has been on our hobby? Have they been a helpful source of needed  information? Have they been culpable in the problems the industry has faced in the last couple of decades; do they promote investment at the expense of esthetics? Or has their effect been neutral, just another part of the comic collecting field- no different than with other hobbies? Go ahead and vent!


Doug said...

Just a quick thought to start the day.

As I was selling my comics, I bought a new Overstreet so that I'd know approximately where to set the "Buy It Now" price for eBay bidders. Even then, I generally listed that amount as a percentage of the Guide price (for high end books, around 85%; less for others). I found that most books ended up selling at auction below what could have been that Buy It Now price. A few, such as my VG- copy of Avengers #1 and VG+ copy of Avengers #4, went above Guide.

So it's just that -- a guide. I think it unfortunately drives retailers and disappoints consumers.


William said...

It's all relative. The only thing a comic is really worth is what someone is willing to pay for it.

Back in the early 90's (when I was first married) I decided to liquidate a large portion of my rather sizable collection. I think I had around 15 long-boxes at the time, filled with a wide variety of comics, from Spider-Man, Daredevil, Captain America, X-Men, Avengers, and FF, to Superman, Batman, Teen Titans, Justice League, and dozens of various independent titles, and etc. etc.

I decided the only thing I was going to keep was my Spider-Man collection, which took up about 5 or 6 long-boxes, and so I loaded the other 9 boxes into the car and took them over to the comic book store I had been doing business with for many many years. I was hoping to get somewhere in the range of 25%-35% of Overstreet prices. However the owner of the store (who was something of a friend) offered me a whopping $300 for all 9 boxes (around 2,500 comics or so). I was incredulous to say the least. That's when I learned that the price-guide is pretty much meaningless.

So, I set about selling off the books myself at yard sales and flea markets. I priced everything at 50% of the guide (or less) and ended up making more than 10 times what I was offered by my LCS.

That was during the big speculation boom of early 90's. In contrast, the last few times I've tried to sell off some comics at a yard sale, I literally couldn't give them away.

Redartz said...

Doug- your eBay experiences mirror my own. EBay seems to be a fairly effective place to assess a likely sale price. As for Overstreet, it makes a great reference source. Ideal for finding artists, numbering details ( like those crazy Dell/ Gold Key books) and learning about the vast history of comics overall. Butt as for pricing- as you say, it's just a guide.

William- glad you didn't settle for that 300.00! Your method of pricing at a fraction of "guide" is a good one, particularly for non-key books. Price guides overall seem better at estimating high-demand comics, while 'commons' often seem overpriced.

Doug said...

Redartz --

I agree about the Overstreet Guide as a wonderful resources. But I bet it drives them mad with all of the numbering, variants, etc. lately. How thick can that book become? I have noticed that the type size has dropped dramatically through the years.

William, I sent out a spreadsheet of just my comics to several dealers as I was beginning to feel out the selling process. I actually had one guy from Boston phone me. We talked for several minutes. He offered $3000 for all of my comics.

My eBay fees thus far (and I am now into selling action figures and other peripherals, and remember that I did quite well on sales of my original art) total over $2500. Keep in mind that eBay keeps 10% of final sale prices. Do that math...


The Prowler said...

Wait......... I love word problems!!!!

I got this!!!!

Aught goes into aught, aught times.

Aught goes into one.....

(You fill up my senses like a night in the forest,
like the mountains in springtime, like a walk in the rain,
like a storm in the desert, like a sleepy blue ocean.
You fill up my senses, come fill me again.

Come let me love you, let me give my life to you,
let me drown in your laughter, let me die in your arms,
let me lay down beside you, let me always be with you.
Come let me love you, come love me again.

You fill up my senses like a night in the forest,
like the mountains in springtime, like a walk in the rain,
like a storm in the desert, like a sleepy blue ocean.
You fill up my senses, come fill me again).

PS: Still a robot aught times!!!!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it seems like comic dealers never PAY guide price for stuff, but they always try to SELL for guide price (or above). But you mentioned the minutiae in the Overstreet Guide and that's the part I love...poring over those first appearances, artist credits, and significant events. So, I have a couple of Overstreets (both out of date) and I still like to thumb through them for fun.

Mike Wilson

Martinex1 said...

Like Mike Wilson, those are the parts I enjoy of the Overstreet Guide: Scouring for the (i)Intro and (o) origin of characters and looking for Adams' or Byrne's first issue etc. I learned so much about the history of a title just by deciphering those lists.

It is interesting how title's and issue's values ebb and flow over the years - I have no idea how much Avengers Vol 1 #16 (1st Kooky Quartet and Old Order Changeth) is worth now, but I used to watch that one back in the day. That was a must-have book for me at one point, and I'd follow it lovingly in the guides. I assume it is a bit less popular as a key now 35 years later.

I may sound curmudgeonly, but computerization of all of the data takes away from leafing through that giant book, finding your "best" comics, jotting notes, and dreaming. Sometimes data is too easy now and maybe just maybe it diminishes the fun of collecting a bit.

Dr. Oyola said...

I am the anti-Martinex when it comes to this. What is the point of such a tome that is quickly outdated when such info is more easily cross-referenced and updated online?

That said, I have not so much looked at an Overstreet guide since the 80s when I was a kid with the dream of making my millions through my crappy Bronze Age comics. Back then the lower the cover price on the comic the more I imagined it would be worth regardless of what it actually was.

Eternals #1? Return of Jack Kirby? that's gonna be worth thousands! ;)

I can't say I've ever owned an issues of Wizard, and may have flipped through one in the 90s, but don't recall (I was mostly out of comics then).

I can blame comic shops for low-balling collections when they acquire them. Out of all the stuff in most people's collection, very little of it will be worth "real" money and the trouble of it all, and they have to re-sell. You can always make more selling directly to collectors who actually want to have the item, not just flip it.

In my own collecting I've found that as long as I'm not too concerned about condition (very fine if good, but very good is fine) I can get most of what I want for very cheap. I don't need a guide for that.

Redartz said...

Mike W. and Martinex- the Overstreet guide is nice to keep on the shelf, just to leaf through from time to time. Another appealing feature has been the articles; each edition has several informative write-ups. Then there is the very comprehensive section on promotional comics- convenient to have them all listed in one grouping. Oh, and Martinex- I think that Avengers 16 still has a lot of appeal even today, thanks to those Avengers movies...

Dr. Oyola- you make several good points; there is a lot to be said for all the info available online. My wife might say I indulge in it a bit too much! That said, I still also like to keep an old dog-eared Overstreet around just to leaf through. And your point about dealers and the money they offer is valid- anyone who has tried to sell books themselves will understand the need to 'make something' over your initial investment. Online sellers have expenses, and a brick-and-mortar has many, many more. Years ago when I sold much of my collection to a dealer, I figured to get maybe 30 percent of guide, and that wasn't too far off.

Martinex1 said...

I definitely understand Dr. O's point. And I'm not a Luddite. But I do have to say that I think collecting is enhanced by the "wait". Whether waiting for the next monthly floppy to arrive, or waiting for the latest update or news, I feel there is fun in the anticipation. My opinion is that immediate gratification may have affected the sport and the hunt of comic collecting negatively. Does having less disposable income and less access to material and less immediate information actually make the hobby better for an individual? Are trades better than the monthly periodicals or did the time gap inherent in monthlies influence the interpretation of the story? I am torn on this because I rely on my computer and am completely electronically connected, but I sometimes miss the mitigated pace and things like the bulk of the Overstreet Guide. Is that nostalgia or has a true style of paced entertainment been lost?

Does that make sense? Is there more value if the detail is earned? We chuckle at some of the newer superhero movie fans because we don't feel they earned their stripes so to speak. They haven't done the work to be a "true" fan. (Now I am clearly showing my bias). But is there truth in that? If the big picture is spoon fed to the receiver, did they get the "nutrition" of the nuances? Some of my favorite comics are not necessarily the "best works of art", but are so much better because of what I had to do to finally get that issue - the love of the comic is tied to the experience.

So to the Anti-Martinex I inquire - was searching for information and exploring in that way an important part of the hobby or does immediacy in fact make it better? I don't know - perhaps a discussion for another day. Cheers for getting me to think about it.

Anonymous said...

That Wizard magazine was El Crappola, an abomination in the eyes of man and God.
I got stupider just reading two issues of it.

Redartz said...

Martinex- some very good observations. "The love of the comic is tied to the experience"- much truth to that. Some of my favorite books, also, reflect my experiences as much as any enjoyment from the story. Food for thought...

M.P.- Wizard did have a certain cheesiness at times. Some of the 'humor' found therein was pretty cringe-worthy. Maybe that's why it was sometimes sold in a bag ( should have been a plain brown wrapper).

Edo Bosnar said...

Very engaging discussion.
Personally, I've never had any of the price guides, nor have I ever even flipped through one. The closest I got was the periodical catalogs sent out by Lonestar Comics (better known now as which I was receiving in the mail pretty regularly in 1981 and 1982 because I used to order books from them during that time. The prices listed there gave me a realistic view of what back issues were worth (for the most part, not much, unless it was from the early '60s or before, or was hot-ticket stuff at the time like X-men, or featured art by some of that time's big name artists like Adams, Byrne, Perez or Miller - although not even that was consistent, as at the time I purchased the entire run of the 1970s Inhumans series, which featured early Perez art, for not more than $3).
Even now, I think just going to the various online dealers, like or Mile High, etc., gives you a better idea of what various books are actually worth on the market. I think they're a better resource in that regard than eBay, where many sellers seem to have an unrealistic view of what their comics are worth (a lot of them seem to think if something's about 25-30 years old, it's gotta be worth $$$).

So basically, I'm coming down more on Osvaldo's side in this whole discussion, even to the point of sharing his understanding of dealers who low-ball when buying whole collections - despite the fact that I got burned like that twice: the first time when I dumped my entire original comics collection at the end of high school because my parents were making an out-of-state move, and the second when I similarly unloaded most of my SF/fantasy/etc. paperbacks at a used bookstore after college.

Redartz said...

Thanks for commenting, everyone!

Edo- regarding ebay- I fully agree with your comment that many sellers unrealistically overprice their books. You often see that with 'buy it now' sales (Doug's sales excluded, of course) and slabbed comics. But I've found if you look at auction sales (particularly those in which the seller starts with a low initial bid), you get both a fair idea of how much folks might pay for a given book, and also how much demand there may be for it.

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