“How much are my comics worth?”
I’ve been writing about the artform and industry of comics for over a decade now, and this is one of the most frequent questions to come my way.
On average, if you’re lucky, you’ll get about 12 cents from a dealer for any random comic book. That’s half of what they’ll charge when they throw it in their quarter bin. And while most hardcore comics collectors have an idea what their collection is worth, both individually and overall, if you’ve only got a casual interest in collecting comics, or perhaps have found a pile of old comics in your grandmother’s attic, you will need some guidance in discovering if the books that have come into your possession really have any value — and even if they do, is that value greater than the time and energy it will take you to liquidate your comics into cash?
Make no mistake, there are comics that are worth a lot of money; but the bad news is, the chances are very high that you don’t have them. Because the comics that are worth the most money are some combination of old, in excellent condition, highly desirable, and extremely rare. As a general rule, the older the comic, the more it might be worth. Especially if it was printed before the end of World War II, when paper drives destroyed untold numbers of comics as a part of the war effort. So if you have a comic printed before 1945, it’s already a minor miracle that it is intact and in one piece.
After age, condition is a huge factor. The better care that has been taken of a comic book, the better the chances you will be able to find a buyer for it. Folds, tears, stains, cut coupons or missing staples are all defects that bring down the value of your comic book. They must be desirable, as well, in order for it to be valuable. Believe it or not there are good condition comics from decades past that still sell for just five or ten dollars, because their subject matter, or writers and artists, or some other factor, is not highly sought by collectors. But if you have an old comic book, in great condition, that features the debut of a noteworthy character (Batman or Spider-Man, for example), chances are it’s going to have a number of collectors actively hoping to find a copy.
I always advocate comics primarily as reading material — there’s no greater value to be had from a comic than a great reading experience. But there’s no question that valuable comics are out there, and there are many collectors who put the monetary value of their books far ahead of any other consideration. So, if you must put a price on your comics, go to your library and check out The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. It is far, far from perfect, but it will give you a rough idea what your books may be worth. Don’t forget that condition counts for a lot, and remember to grade your comics accurately. It’s hard to face facts when you think your comics may be extremely valuable, but you must handle them carefully and be honest with yourself and your potential buyers about whatever flaws they may possess.
Finally, remember that if you try to sell your comics to a comic book dealer, chances are, at best, they will give you 50 percent of the values listed in the Overstreet guide. The reason for this is simply overhead: The dealer has bills to pay, and in order to make a profit, he must pay you less than Guide price in order to be able to sell that same comic at or around Guide price, and be able to stay in business.
If you want to get the maximum return on valuable comics you may own, you’ll have to sell them some other way, such as through an online or real-world auction service. This is much more time-consuming, though, so think about what’s most important to you: Selling them fast (to a dealer, for less money), or getting the most money (selling them to individual collectors). Many comic book-related websites feature “marketplace” sections in their message boards, so take a look around and see what options you have for selling your comics.
Whatever you choose to do with your comics, I hope you’ll take the time to read them, and find the great worlds of wonder and imagination that the very best ones hold within their pages. Ultimately, that thrilling experience of a story well-told is the most valuable thing about any comic book.
— Alan David Doane