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Thursday, June 24, 2021 

What's so important about the collectibles market?

I know this is a business journal like Forbes covering the topic, but I still don't see why the speculator market should be such a big deal when the storytelling market should matter more. Still, let's see what they say here:
2020 was a pretty good year for many investments, but one class of assets has seen nosebleed-level growth that has shocked even long-time market watchers: vintage comics and original comic book art. Though there is no market index to quantify growth in this area, the results of large public auctions provide some transparency into the value that buyers place on a variety of benchmark items. On that basis, the evidence is stark. Last week, Heritage Auctions demolished records and shattered expectations with a $22.4 million haul from its recent sale of high grade collectible comics, surpassing its recent high water mark of $16.5 million set in April.

The auction results were led by a new “pedigree” collection called The Promise Collection, featuring nearly 5,000 comics that were bought new off the newsstands in the 1940s and preserved in perfect condition for the past 70 years. 181 of those books sold in the June auction realized $7.1 million in just four hours; an additional 93 books added $800,000 to that total the next day, and the remainder of the collection will be auctioned throughout 2021 and 2022. A mid-grade (5.0) copy of Detective Comics #27, featuring the debut of Batman sold for $1.125 million – not a record, because higher grade copies go for more, but still a landmark. And one-of-a-kind works of original comic artwork continued their steep price increases with iconic pieces setting new highs in the upper six-figures.
It may have been a record year for collectibles, but no matter how business-related this subject is, I still think they're taking attention away from what really matters for the medium's future: story and art merit.
Beyond that are extrinsic factors. Collectible comics are a store of value, and one that can be easily stored and transported, making the format attractive to individuals who prefer to maintain part of their wealth discretely. There’s also the matter of momentum. Big gains in the market bring in money that’s seeking returns, irrespective of the intrinsic value of the underlying asset. Comics are ordinarily not the easiest market to crack because of the huge amount of esoteric knowledge necessary to identify what makes certain books collectible, but all bets are off if everything is going up in value in huge chunks.
Well this is mostly older stuff that's going about the auction market, and not always new stuff. Does newer mainstream stuff have value in huge chunks? Not if the stories have terrible art and writing, and the stories are heavily political.

They also interviewed Lon Allen of Heritage Auctions, and the latter told the following:
RS: How did the pandemic and the suspension of live events affect the collectibles market?

LA: The first few months, everyone was worried. Our first auction was flat, maybe down a bit. Then things were up a little. Then more. It became clear there was no downturn. Now why? Well, maybe more people have time to sit around and look at their computer. They’re not spending money on gas and things like that. But it became obvious it had to be something else. People don’t have more money just because they’re sitting at home.

It’s got to just be a number of factors, a perfect storm of things coming together. I wish I had a good answer. There’s just a sustained higher level of interest. Marvel, Disney, TV shows, Star Wars stuff, all that. It’s non-stop, and [all these properties that came from comics] are such a household name now. So new people are coming in, people from the sports market. The sports card market in particular has gone crazy. Comics look cheap to the sports card guys. The census reports [of the number of comic issues in mint condition] look low. They’re used to seeing a lot more cards in prime condition. If there’s a 9.6 comic at the top of the census, that’s meaningful.
Assuming sports collectors are trying to invest in comic collectibles, are they reading the insides, or do they only care about the outsides like the covers? If it's the latter, I don't see this as a good sign, because again, this only takes attention away from the vital concerns regarding story merit. And how long will movies encourage these buys if political influence winds up discouraging people from continuing to view them?
RS: How much interest are you seeing from overseas? Is there a particular global region that’s pushing a lot of money into the market right now?

LA: A little bit. I’ve still found comics and comic art are mostly an English speaking thing. You had to grow up with it and care. There’s some interest from places like Qatar, but it’s probably [anglophone] expats.

RS: No big Chinese money or money from the Middle East moving in then?

LA: Everyone has been talking about that for a long time. There was this myth of the Japanese businessman interested in investing in comics. But the million dollar invoices I’ve seen are mostly names I know are from the US, Canada, UK and places like that.
It's probably a good thing if Chinese investors aren't getting into the hobby, seeing how the country's still under the thumb of communism, and it's influence has been serious negative.
RS: For less experienced people who want to get in on the high value collectibles market, what are the things to look for in comics and original art that makes them good bets to increase in value?

LA: We always say collect what you love. That’s always panned out well. Find the genres you like, the artists you like, buy the best thing you can. Instead of buying 10 cheap things, buy one good thing. One thing you want on your wall. Buy one great thing.
But for collecting in hopes it'll one day translate into a fortune, or, for the reading enjoyment? That's awfully questionable. Certainly, art pictures to hang on the wall of a house or a gallery is reason to buy these items, but if it's a pamphlet you're not even going to read, that's where the whole hobby turns ludicrous. And that's exactly what disappoints me about all the cottage industry of modern variant covers, because they're attached to a book with a story, rather than being allowed to stand on their own as framed pictures to hang on walls. How does that help the medium's image? It doesn't. If some of the most talented artists would take the challenge of drawing pictures for gallery viewing alongside famous masterpieces like the Mona Lisa, they'd be doing the medium and its representatives a huge favor. So I wish they'd stop feeding a certain approach that's turned the industry farcical. Only that way will there ever be improvement to how artwork is handled.

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