I’ll Never Become A Millionaire This Way

Yesterday a rare copy of one of the most important comic books in history, 1938’s Action Comics #1, which features the first appearance of Superman, was sold for a million dollars.

Action Comics 1

Neither the name of the buyer nor the seller were revealed, but apparently both are well known and respected in the rare comic collecting world. In fact, the buyer had previously bought another copy of Action Comics #1, but for a lesser price because it was graded at a lower number. The grading process, on a scale from 0 to 10, is used for all kinds of collectibles, from comic books to baseball cards, and takes into account the quality of the item, it’s wear and tear and how it has held up over the years. The book sold yesterday was an 8, which is extremely rare for a book that old. Comics back then were produced in much smaller number and rarely taken care of, so to find on in what is considered “very fine” condition after eighty-two years is nearly impossible. And to have one go on sale is just as rare, which is likely why the buyer was so willing to pay such a steep price, in fact, the highest price ever paid for a comic book.

When I started writing this I almost called Action Comics #1 one of the rarest comics, but that’s not true at all. Off the top of my head I don’t know of more rare ones, but it would only makes sense that there are. Like I said, fewer comics were produced back then and they were rarely taken care of by their owners. The only reason a book like this one ends up in any kind of shape today is because it has Superman in it. I’m sure there were all kinds of comics with completely forgettable stories and characters, basically anything without super heroes, that, if found at an 8 grade today, would be much more rare than Action Comics #1, because there wouldn’t have been much interest in keeping them in good condition. More rare, but not more valuable though, because who really cares about some detective story or horror story compared to the first appearance of Superman?

No, what makes Action Comics #1 so valuable is that it introduced the world to the super hero. There were several attempts at making heroes that we would today consider super heroes, including The Phantom, one of the few from that era that lasted at all, but none came close to breaking the kind of boundaries that Superman did. He was the son of another world, truly unlike anything anyone had seen before, with more powers than he knew what to do with, and he completely changed the hero archetype. A year later Batman appeared in Detective Comics #27 and the super hero age was in full swing, as slews of heroes debuted one week after another.

While I do think that owning a copy of Action Comics #1 would be cool, it’s not the kind of thing I’d ever pay big bucks, or even small bucks, for. That’s just not how I like collecting. I collect baseball cards, but I only care about getting the ones that I can get signed. I’m simply not going to pay more than a dollar for any card, because it’s not worth it. I want to get the card to have it signed, not to just keep and look at. I guess to somebody who doesn’t collect, there’s not really any difference, but when you get a card signed you have an experience with it, you get to meet the player and have an interaction, something that doesn’t happen when you just own something. Even when I collected comics, from when I was 9 until about 15, I didn’t care about having or getting anything valuable, I just liked the stories. The reason I’m a writer now is because I loved reading comics, I liked how the stories worked and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Kind of ironic since I’ve never even attempted to write a comic book.

As someone who still has all the comics he ever bought, and still has them in outstanding, if not mint, condition, this story about a comic selling for an huge amount only frustrates me, because I know I’ll never be able to get anything for my collection. Yes, I loved reading them when I did, but now, well, I’ve read them and they just take up space, so I’d love to be able to get rid of them and get something out of them. Unfortunately, that’s just not possible. For the last 20 years people have believed that things like comics are valuable, so they’ve made a point to take care of them, to keep them pristine and thus more valuable. Of course, this is in opposition to the reality of why an old book like Action Comics #1 is valuable. It’s only worth a lot because so few of them were maintained in good condition. So if all modern comics are taken care of, they’re basically all worthless. This is made even worse by the fact that the comics companies produces millions and millions of each comic, making the likelihood that any of them will become rare even more remote.

A few years ago, when we were about to make our first failed effort at making a movie, I looked into selling my comic collection, hoping to be able to fund things. I collected for six or seven years, mostly X-Men and all the various X books, and I have some huge runs of various books, including the first 75 or so issues of the newer run of X-Men that started in 1991, with all the various cover permutations and all. But still, when I looked around a little, I found folks who had my entire collection and more, usually older, better stuff, who couldn’t sell what they had, even at prices that I thought were ridiculously low. The reality is, none of us are getting rich off our comic boos unless Doc Brown shows up in his Delorian and takes us back to the late 30s.

As sad as this is, I don’t feel cheated by my comic collecting days, mostly because I never really believed they’d be worth anything monetarily. I was reading to read, and I still get comics, though mostly only in graphic novel form, to read them, because I love the medium. Frankly, investments of any kind have always struck me as being a foolish prayer and I’ve always thought that if you can find immediate enjoyment out of the things your ostensibly collecting you’re much better off than the folks who are hoping for the day when all that pop culture junk is one day valuable. So if you’ve got some old comics sitting around in mylar bags, open them up and read them, if you’ve got some Starting Lineup figures still in the box, open them up and place them on your window sill, and if you’ve got some original Star Wars figures still in the package…well, some things are actually valuable.

  1. One Response to “I’ll Never Become A Millionaire This Way”

  2. By ChristianLeeLive.com on May 13, 2010

    He was just angry that the car was German made……..

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