Big Bucks In Collectible Comics

Vincent Zurzolo, co-partner of Metropolis Collectibles, holds three examples of the company's vast collection of comic books at their offices in New York, July 10, 2003. In his hands are a copy the debut of Batman, the first edition Superman and Captain America issues. A growing number of investors tired of taking their bumps bouncing around on Wall Street's roller-coaster-like stock market have found vintage comics to be a safe equity haven AP

Bob Storms takes his comic books seriously - and why not? They have made him some serious money.

Storms is among a growing number of investors who have tired of taking their bumps bouncing around on Wall Street's roller-coaster-like stock market and have found vintage comics to be a safe equity haven.

"It's not for everybody. You shouldn't use your mortgage money so you can buy collectible comic books," said Storms, of Yonkers, an office manager with Verizon who has 25 percent of his financial portfolio tied to comics.

"It requires a lot of homework," he said. "You have to be knowledgeable about what you're doing. But there are many more selling options than in years past."

Last year, Storms sold an Amazing Fantasy No. 15 from 1962 - the first appearance of Spiderman - for $32,500. He purchased the book in 1998 for $20,000. It's been his biggest investment, and biggest return.

"That's not going to happen every time, but it has exploded," Storms said.

Vincent Zurzolo, co-partner of Metropolis Collectibles, which proclaims its Manhattan gallery as the world's largest dealer of pre-1970 comic books, said investing in vintage comics had clearly increased in popularity over the past two years.

"Now is a great time to get into comic books because collecting is still relatively in its infancy," Zurzolo said.

For the past seven years, Josh Nathanson has run an Internet-style stock exchange for comic books called Comiclink.com. He said each year more investors have bartered over his Web site and sought advice about investments.

"People with no interest in comic books are laying out their money on them purely as an investment," Nathanson said.

Between 1992 and 2002, the value of Batman's debut in Detective Comics #27 went from $80,000 to $300,000, said Stephen Fishler, Metropolis' co-owner.

In 1998, Zurzolo spent $5,500 to buy a Human Torch No. 8 from the 1940s in which the Torch and the Submariner do battle for the first time. He recently had it appraised at $25,000.

"If I made a few extra phone calls, I could probably get $30,000 for it," said Zurzolo.

But the American Association of Individual Investors cautions those numbers can be misleading because they don't take into account the hidden costs including insurance against damage and theft and the need for protective storage. The effort that goes into collecting comics, including going to shows and auctions, takes more time and money for the average investor than researching Wall Street firms, and comics don't pay dividends like some stocks.

Collectors first started thinking of comics as investments in the late 1960s when conventions created a marketplace, said Ken Brown, founder of DowntownComicBox.com, another Web site for traders and collectors.

Since then, a growing number of collectors and investors have created an insatiable demand, leading to skyrocketing values, Brown said. Today, Action Comics No. 1, which introduced Superman in 1938, is the top catch in collectible comics, commanding more than $350,000 in mint condition.

In the last decade, the Internet has fueled even faster growth.

"It used to be you had to go to conventions to buy and sell," said Storms. "Being able to go online or tap into a Web site has made it a 24-7 concept."

Collectors and store owners set the first grading standards but there was widespread discrepancy in prices.

Book values today are established by The Official Overstreet Comic Book Grading Guide, which is now in its 32nd edition and is printed each April.

About three years ago, a third-party grading service was started by Comic Guaranty - or CGC - which has brought more uniformity to grading, given prospective investors more confidence and helped push prices higher.

There are many factors that affect value. Quality - including condition, color, vibrancy, gloss - is one. Others are quantity of existing books and the issue's content, such as when a new character or villain is introduced.

There are many strategies for investing in comic books but the experts agree there are some fundamental considerations.

When investing, people should look for books that have shown slow consistent growth, rather than the books that skyrocket in value in a short time, said Zurzolo.

Usually, an investor will have to hold to a book for two to three years before they will see any significant return. However, Brown said there are also opportunities for low- and midlevel investors interested in investing on shorter terms.

Two years ago, Marvel released Ultimate Spiderman No. 1. The book was an instant hit with readers and collectors and within a month was selling for $20 a copy, eventually reaching $100 a copy.

An investor who pre-ordered 300 copies at $2.99 apiece would have made a profit of more than $5,000 in one month and $29,000 over two years, he said.

Investors should also pay attention to Hollywood, Brown said.

Zurzolo said he bought a high-grade copy of X-Men No. 1 for $4,000 and sold it a month later for $8,000 following the release of the first X-Men movie two years ago.

"The Hulk should be the next hot superhero," he said.

One of Zurzolo's guiding rules is that you should like what you're collecting. In his case, that means Spiderman, the Lone Ranger and literary classics comics. He reads most of what he collects.

"Having a passion for it makes it fun. The money, that's nice, too," Zurzolo said.

By William Kates
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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