Comic-book investing is a funny business—and sometimes a profitable one

February 25, 2013

Wham! Ka-Pow! Zounds!

Comic-book investing is a funny business—and sometimes a profitable one

By STEVE ROSENBUSH

In August 2008, comic-book dealer Metropolis Collectibles Inc. auctioned a copy of Action Comics No. 1—which introduced the character of Superman in 1939—for $317,200. At the time, it was the largest sum ever paid for a comic book.

When the real estate and stock markets tanked in 2008, some savvy investors turned to the so-called “golden age” comic books, and the market has continued to boom. WSJ’s Steve Rosenbush talks to Vincent Zurzolo, COO of Metropolis Collectibles.

Last November, Metropolis sold another copy of Action Comics No. 1. The price this time: $2.2 million.

While some other asset classes withered in the wake of the recent financial crisis, comic books have emerged triumphant. They’re not all investment superheroes, but overall demand has risen steadily in recent years, says Ed Jaster, a senior vice president and comic-book specialist at Heritage Auctioneers & Galleries Inc. in New York.

Last year, Mr. Jaster says, Heritage auctioned $37 million in comic books and comic-book art, more than triple the amount 10 years earlier. Mr. Jaster’s advice to buyers: “Buy what you love and can’t see yourself ever parting with. Deal with reputable people. Do your homework. Have fun! It’s a great hobby.”

That last point is echoed by Vincent Zurzolo, chief operating officer of New York-based Metropolis. “I think comic books, along with jazz, are one of the truly original American art forms,” Mr. Zurzolo says. “They just make me really happy.”

Rarity Value

Part of the reason for the renewed interest in recent years is a string of new movies that have raised the level of interest in characters such as Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man and the X-Men.

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Over a longer time frame, Dave Kohler, president of sports memorabilia dealer SCP Auctions Inc., in Laguna Niguel, Calif., sees other factors driving the comic-book market that remind him of his own business. “They are grading and authenticating comic books, and that has brought structure to the market,” he says.

Of course, the value of comic books and their investment potential vary. In general, the older the book, the more valuable. So comics from the 1940s and 1950s have been faring particularly well.

But it isn’t just a question of age. For instance, Captain America comics generally sell for less than Superman or Batman titles. That has left collectors wondering: Are the laggards in for a bump, or will Superman and Batman continue to vanquish their competitors?

New Sells, Too

Alex Rae, a buyer at Midtown Comics in New York, notes that some recent publications have proved good investments, too. The first issue of the new Detective Comics series from DC Comics, featuring Batman, was sold in 2011 for $2.99 and is now fetching $10 to $20.

Other recent titles that have done well include early or notable issues from independent publishers such as Image Comics Inc. Mint copies of the first issue of Saga, a title introduced just last year at $2.99 by Image, are selling for $60 and up. Copies of Thief of Thieves No. 1, also introduced last year by Image at $2.99, have sold for $70 or more.

It’s impossible to say which new comic books will become hits, but as a general rule, first issues or issues that introduce characters often generate interest. Again, though, there are no infallible formulas: “Dozens of new characters are introduced by comic-book publishers each year,” says Heritage’s Mr. Jaster. “Of the hundreds of new characters introduced over the last 35 years, Wolverine is one of the very few that can rival Spider-Man or Batman in popularity.”

Issues that kill off characters often do well, too. But there’s a caveat there, as well: “In the old days, when a character was killed, they stayed killed,” but that’s not always the case anymore, notes George Papadimatos, an actor and comic-book collector in the New York area. In recent years, publishers have killed off characters—including Superman—only to bring them back in later issues.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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