Whoever says paper assets are poor investments hasn’t considered comic books. Once regarded as disposable literature to keep kids busy, comics are now serious investments for millions of collectors.
One such collector is actor Nicolas Cage. He bought Action Comics #1, the first issue that flighted Superman, in 1997 for $150,000. It was stolen in 2000. Cage got it back when it resurfaced 11 years later in a storage locker, and auctioned it in 2011 for a record $2.16 million.
Along with the potential for large gains, another benefit of comic investing is that performance doesn’t correlate with traditional asset classes, says Joe Taylor, a writer at auction house news service Paul Fraser Collectibles.
- Can be easily damaged by flood, fire and owner carelessness
- The slightest mark, tear or thumbprint can knock down the price
- Best stored in a cool, dry and dark deposit box
- Place comics on acid-free backing boards and within plastic or Mylar slipcases. Inspect comics every five to seven years for yellowing
- Prices rise and fall with popularity of new film releases based on comics
- Lack of liquidity
- Usually not covered under a homeowner insurance policy; must buy separate insurance
“Between 1994 and 2004, the top 30 blue-chip comic books performed better than the Dow Jones Industrial Average, with a total return of 276.6% and a compound annual growth rate of 13.8%,” he says. “In the same period, the Dow Jones saw a 241.76% total return and a 13.07% compound annual growth rate.”
The blue-chip superheroes are Superman, Batman and Spider-Man.
The increased interest caused by less-steady equity market returns hasn’t gone unnoticed by the world’s leading auction houses. Sotheby’s held its inaugural comic book art sale in 2012. That’s given the market credibility and bolstered investor confidence, says Taylor.
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ComicConnect is a U.S.-based auction house that sold the first million-dollar comic in 2010: 1938’s Action Comics #1, graded an 8 out of 10 by Comic Guaranty LLC.
Vincent Zurzolo, that firm’s co-founder, says it has sold the three most expensive comics ever: Amazing Fantasy #15, the edition that launched Spider-Man, fetched $1.1 million; another copy of Action Comics #1 that sold for $1.5 million; and his firm also handled the sale of Cage’s Action Comics #1 that netted $2.16 million.
But this game’s not only for millionaires. “You can spend as little as $10,” says Zurzolo.
People usually have childhood connections to comics, but Zurzolo has dealt with investors who’ve never read one. And that’s fine so long as every purchase is preceded by extensive research.
“You need to talk to experts [and] follow auctions to find trends like which characters will be showcased in a new movie,” he says.