The Art of Collecting Comic Books

“It’s not just about what book you get… It’s about being a part of something.”


Photo by Vanessa Feliciano/SAC.Media

Boxes get lined up ready to be searched through. They’re filled neatly with colorful covers and artwork. No two are identical. Collectors scavenge through each one looking for the one comic book they need for their collection, like searching for a needle in a haystack. With their homemade list in hand, collectors effortlessly fly through every box in just minutes in hopes of finding the books they’ve been searching for weeks, months, or even years. To read? Probably not.

Comic book culture has taken off the last few years, and seems to very much be embedded in pop culture. From TV shows like “The Walking Dead” and “The Boys” to the Marvel Comic Universe (MCU) movie franchise, content adapted from comic books has become all the hype in recent years.

New York Comic Con has reached over 200,000 in attendance and every year the number rises, but for long time collectors the obsession started decades before this new comic book culture started.

For Tony Johnson, 59, the obsession with comics started when he was seven. “My dad used to work at a hotel and would often bring home things that guests left. One day he brought a comic book for me to read. I still remember it. It was Daredevil 42,” Johnson said. “It was one of the last things that my dad gave me before he died, so I think that’s why I fell in love with comics and have been collecting.”

Although Johnson has been reading comics since he was seven his collection started when he was 25.

“It was in the 80’s when I started collecting comics. I have always loved collecting. I used to collect stamps and even coins for a while, but comics have been different. I never had a passion or connection to stamps as I have to comics,” Johnson said. “I wish I started collecting them when I was younger because the ones I used to have are now worth hundreds of dollars. After I read them, I would keep them for a while, but my mom used to throw them away when she was cleaning. It breaks my heart.”

For some collectors getting just the expensive ones is not what they do, they like to get the whole run of comics which can make things more difficult.

“I have the whole run of the old Teen Titans and The New Teen Titans, Ghost Rider, Green Lantern and I’m currently trying to get Superman,” Johnson said. “Sometimes the hardest ones to get aren’t the most expensive one, but the 50-cent ones. Those are the ones you have to go searching in bins to find. Those are my favorite because I like the search. It’s exciting when you find one that you’ve been looking for for years.”

Every subculture has their own lingo and comics are no different. Depending on how old, they are categorized by different ages: Golden Age (1938-1956), Silver Age (1956-1970), Bronze Age (1970-1985), Modern Age (1985-Present).

During the Modern Age, comic companies started distributing variant covers. If one comic has multiple different covers then that means every cover, except the original, is a variant cover. Sometimes the variant covers are worth more because they can be rarer.

The condition of a book can also determine its value. If a book is in good condition you can send it into the Certified Guaranty Company (CGC). The CGC grades the comics from .5 to 10, the higher the number, the better the condition. There are other companies that grade books, but the CGC is the most prominent.

Some people don’t read their books at all to make sure they stay in the best condition possible.

Comic Book Salesman Joe Young, 55, said, “tons of people keep their books for a while and then try to sell them on Ebay. It really just depends on the collector and the reason why they collect.”

People collect comics for various different reasons. It could be for the artwork, the story or even because that’s what they did when they were a kid.

“I went to an antique shop or thrift store with my grandma when I was little and pulled out a Batman comic book,” Justin Travis, 34, said. “I didn’t know that many comic book characters, but I knew Batman. It became an addiction for me and I needed to collect the next [comic] and the next one.”

Collectors often have different reasons for collecting, but the goal is always the same, to find the book you need to make your collection better.

Johnson said, “collecting is not just about what book you get, it’s so much more. It’s about being part of something. It’s the people standing next to me as I search for my books. I know that they’re doing the same thing. It’s a bond.”