Days are long gone since anyone thought comic books were just for kids. It’s the old saying, “Follow the money.”
There’s big bucks in comics, especially old ones. A few years ago a 1938 Action Superman comic sold for $3.2 million. It is considered to be the beginning of the superhero group and the most valuable comic book in the world. Reportedly there are less than 100 in existence. Debuting in June 1938, it sold for 10 cents which is clearly marked on the cover.
Although there are those who read comic books for content and entertainment, thousands now search out flea markets and garage sales for a rare find that could change their life.
Believe it or not the comic collection has for years fallen in line with the baseball card guys. And yes, coins are still pulled out of the tops of closets and corners of attics.
“They are still out there,” says Bowling Green dealer Craig Popplewell, who actually started stock piling comic books when he was six.
“I started out just collecting them and later on in life became a dealer,” he says. “In the beginning I collected baseball and basketball cards, too, but sometime back I decided to go with just comic books.”
Popplewell, who along with business partner Tim Morris, does most of their deals, either buying or selling online.
Comic book collecting or dealing is a world-wide endeavor, and like most anything else, those who do it for a living, know each other, at least in the same proximity.
“We go to some of the big shows: Atlanta, Indianapolis, Charlotte, Detroit, and Chicago,” Popplewell continued. “It’s usually a several day event. We have a booth to set up and stock to get there. Thousands of people come by, with many looking to buy or sell.”
Of course, in the comic book world it’s all about the superhero: Superman, Batman, Wonder-Woman, Spiderman, Incredible Hulk and Captain Marvel.
The Golden Age of Comics is considered 1939-54 according to Popplewell. And historically, Action, Marvel and D.C. have been the more noted publishers. There are numerous price guides that offer criteria for all types of comic books. Leading the way, of course, is demand followed by availability and condition.
Those early comic books sold for 10 cents and even if the price on the cover is 15 cents or 20 cents, there’s a good chance it is valuable.
One of Kentucky’s largest dealers is Dale Roberts in Calvert City. He started with a small comic book store in Paducah in 1990, and six years later his business had grown so much that he jumped into it full time.
“I do most of the big shows,” Roberts says. “It’s turned into a nice business, one I’ve been in since 1990. But, I’ve been collecting since 1970.”
Roberts points out that he has done hundreds of conventions, and purchased and sold tens of thousands of comics.
“I constantly get a fresh inventory,” he said.
Figures reveal that there were $1.28 billion in sales in 2020, an all-time high. With the exception of 2017, comic book sales have been rising for several years.
Popplewell gives some of the credit to the popularity of the superhero movies that then turn into comic book sales.
“The big screen gave comics a new life,” he says. “It’s just great publicity and it’s something collectors can find out there.”
A collector collects and a dealer sells is the basics of how the business easily transitions from one phase to the other while keeping the money flowing.
Regardless of where you live in Kentucky there’s a good chance there is a brick and mortar store near you that sells comic books. But, admittedly they are not as easy to find as they once were.
It wasn’t until the early 1970s that comic book stores came on the scene. But even before that, comics could be found almost anywhere. Newsstands, drug stores and grocery stores were popular places. The large metal spinner racks were stuffed. However, low profits from their sales, and easily damage to the thin pages led to the demise of these locations as selling points.
Back in 1981, Paul and Cathy Mullin’s opened their comic book store in Florence, Kentucky, and later a second spot in Louisville. Aptly named Comic Book World, it is considered one of the best in Kentucky.
The internet and social media play a large role in many of the transactions today, but there’s still a “hands-on” element to it all.
“People like to see the books,” says Roberts who has several thousand books on display in his Calvert City store.
Popplewell says his inventory numbers more than 12,000, some of which he sells on E-bay and others at shows.
There are still some stories out there that circulate among those who are serious about dealing with something funny . . . comic books. And it’s one that gives hope for making the big discovery.
“A few years ago someone was remodeling a cabin in Minnesota,” says Popplewell. “When they tore out the old wall there was an Action Comic #1 Superman. It had been used as part of the insulation. Because of the low humidity, it had not deteriorated. Mint condition.”
By the way, the value? In the millions.
There’s no excuse, get up, get out and get going! Gary P. West can be reached at email@example.com