Comic book collecting is a combination of nostalgia, investment and comic art appreciation.
Building a comic book collection takes time and money, and ultimately is a reflection of your personal taste.
But when it comes to the value of your collection, I have one word for the graduate. Condition.
In real estate value is determined by Location, Location, Location
It’s not too much different for comic books, except it’s their location in time and how well they have held up.
For comic books it’s Condition, Condition, Condition
If you collect as an investment, you gots to know this: the primary factor affecting comic value is condition.
The difference between a Near Mint comic and a Very Fine may seem insignificant to an amateur.
But open the pages of the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide and notice how the difference in condition can translate into a reduction of hundreds, thousands, or millions of dollars at auction.
If you collect older comics, golden and silver age, you will of course want to acquire comics that appeal to your sense of aesthetics, perhaps your memory of seeing the comic for the first time, and possibly recollections of the stories inside.
For the cold-hearted comic grader, these factors immaterial. The comic’s worth is of course based on its popularity and possibly its place in comic history. But the grader is looking at condition only and that assessment will determine the ultimate value of the comic. The smart collector will learn the rules of comic book grading. THE book to learn how is the Overstreet Guide to Grading Comics. The guide includes detailed photos of comic books in all the grades and gives the reasons for the grade.
Can I Improve the Condition of My Comics?
The short answer is no, unless you have access to a time machine. Debate rages over the acceptability and detectability of comic book pressing. Sure you can even remove some wrinkles by hand. But ultimately the condition and paper strength of a comic are irreversible.
Don’t buy a comic in bad shape and think you can “fix” it. That’s why comic grading is so critical to the hobby. A book is never going to get any better.
But a comic book’s condition can and will get worse.
Can I Protect the Condition of My Comics?
Now for some good news! Yes, you can.
Beginning with the obvious advice not to read your copy of Batman #1 with peanut butter on your fingers, the condition of your comics is literally in your hands.
The most effective and least expensive step to protect a comic book is to “board, bag, and box.”
The inked paper on the cover of a comic book is very sensitive to bending. “Spine stress” results from even a slight folding of the book from top to bottom, leaving a color break in the ink surface. Dark comics show spine stress and color breaks much more readily than lighter covers, but if the comic has been bent at any point in its life, spine stress is there no matter the color.
Like a stretcher or a gurney, the most important function of a Backing Board is the prevention of spine stress.
Quality backer boards will be acid free and buffered with alkali so that they don’t contribute to paper acidification. But don’t kid yourself that an alkali backer board is going to magically stop the pages from breaking down. It won’t.
Comic Book Bags
The comic book bag’s primary function is to keep the patient, er comic book, strapped to the gurney, um backer board. The kind of plastic of for a comic bag doesn’t matter too much if the bag is changed after a few months. For longer storage you want one kind of plastic, Mylar. I prefer thick Mylar because it offers stiffness and a bit of armor against thumbnails and other dings.
A comic book bag or sleeve also provides protection against finger oils, pollution, humidity, and drool of other comic collectors when they see a great book.
People have a misconception that comics need to “breathe.”
We need to breathe, comics are happy with as little exposure to air as possible.
Comic Book Storage Boxes
Comics in a pile press down on one another, creating stress. They also slide all over the place. You will want to keep your comics upright in an appropriately sized acid-free box.
Comics should be packed tightly so that they can’t rattle around and get damaged, but not so tightly that they smush one another. Boxes exclude light, a very damaging environmental threat, and to some extent, pollution.
These three B’s — bag, board and box — are the tender loving care (TLC) your comics need to stay healthy.
Amazon carries a full line of bags, boards and boxes. Yes they cost a little money but when you calculate the cost PER COMIC of Triple-B TLC it works out to a fraction of the value the comic stands to lose without protection.
Make sure to get the right sizes. I prefer slightly oversized boards and bags to protect edges and spines. For example, storing silver age comics in golden age bags and boards.
The team at Overstreet has published a third book on the world of comic books and details of comic book collecting.