Comic Collection Tips from a Real Comic Book Man

With Comic Book Men just finishing up its first season on AMC, and the recent news of a long lost comic book collection selling for $3.5 million, my curiosity about comic collecting has been piqued. My own collection is modest, with just a few graphic novels and random issues, but I recently made my first purchase of a “collectible” for a whopping eight dollars. I decided I needed to talk to an expert about making these first forays into buying and selling comics.

Recent Collection Sold to Austin Books / Photo Courtesy Austin Books & Comics

Enter Brandon Zuern, store manager of Austin Books & Comics in Austin, Texas. Brandon is a real “Comic Book Man,” who not only runs the day-to-day operations of Austin Books, including deciding what stock to carry and how to display it, but he also finds the time to curate the new Guzu Gallery next door. A lifelong comics fan, Brandon read comic books before he knew how to read. He recalls, “I remember making my parents read me the same issues over and over again. I started learning to read as soon as I could, so that I could just do it myself.”

Although I do the majority of my reading with digital comics now, there’s something about holding a comic in my hands that still gets me in a store from time to time. When I asked him if digital comics have impacted their customers’ buying habits, Brandon replied, “The collectability of comics is still a major factor.” I can attest to that. If you’re like me and enjoy having comic books to call your own, here are some tips for getting started on a collection.

Beginning a Collection

Brandon advises taking your first steps to a collection by first considering what you like the most. He suggests, “Do you want to collect comics by a certain writer or artist? Are you trying to put together a complete Aquaman collection? Do you buy any pre-Code horror (gruesome early 1950s comics) you’re lucky enough to find? Once you decide what you’re most interested in, always look for those issues!”

Start a Harley Quinn Collection / Photo Courtesy Austin Books & Comics

When looking for my first collectible, I browsed for my favorite comic book, Superman/Batman Annual #1, at a Seattle comic book store because I only had a digital copy of it. I was delighted to find it on the shelf, but that turned to dismay when I saw a higher price on it than I’d wanted. I went ahead with the purchase after just a minute of internal debate. I asked Brandon if I should have attempted to get a different price. “[Austin Books has] a pretty strict no-haggling rule,” he said. “I price issues for what I know they’ll sell for, and I’d rather have a cool, rare issue stay on the wall than sell it for less than it’s worth. I’m not rude about it if you want to try, though.”

Selling a Collection

Brandon is also the Classics Buyer, in charge of looking at collections and making an offer. His advice for getting the most bang out of your collection’s buck includes presentation, research, and condition:

Action Comics #1

You should bring your comics to me [at Austin Books]! But if distance is an issue, here are some pointers for selling comics to a comic shop.

Make sure your comics are presented well. They don’t have to be bagged and boarded, but standing up in a comic box is the best. If you cram your comics in a grocery bag, the buyer will see you have no respect for this thing you’re trying to sell. Some organization is nice, too. Makes it easier to go through.

You should do some research, but understand that you’re going to come across misleading data. If you look your comic up on an auction site, look up what it has actually sold for — not what someone has it listed for. Condition can make the value of a book vary drastically, so don’t expect your creased copy of Incredible Hulk #1 to sell for the same amount as a high-graded copy. There could be dozens, hundreds, or thousands of dollars of difference.

Also, don’t tell the buyer your books are “still in their bags.” That is the first hint you know nothing at all about comics, because 99.9% of them don’t come in those bags. I’ve heard that literally hundreds of times.

If you’re not comfortable with an offer, walk away. It may be appropriate, or it might not. But if you’re not happy with it, hold onto your comics. If they REALLY want them, they’ll stop you before you get out the door with a bigger offer. If they don’t stop you, you probably don’t have anything valuable, so you might reconsider. Good luck!

My daughter recently started her own comic book stash with two new Toy Story comics from Disney/Marvel. We read them before bed one night, and she had fits of giggles at the antics of Woody and Buzz. She hugged the comic books close to her chest when we finished. I hope one day she has fond memories of reading comics together, just like Brandon does with his own parents. My daughter reminded me that, while a collection is a possible gold mine for the future, the best part of comic books is how they make us feel when we read them.

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Kelly Knox is a freelance writer in Seattle, WA, where she contributes to local parenting magazines. She also writes for StarWars.com, Geek & Sundry, and more. You can find crafts and art projects for geeky families at her blog The St{art} Button.