The Comic Speculator is a blog by Worthpoint Comic Book Worthologist Matt Baum that discusses comics as collectibles and the back issue comic market.
Before the advent of the Internet and Ebay collectors mainly used printed guides to establish the value of their collectibles. This worked fine for years but also allowed certain parties to see the values of their collectibles artificially inflated. There were also regional problems, especially with hobbies like baseball card and comic collecting. The main problems were caused by trends in the largest markets. For instance, a 1982 Cal Ripken rookie card may have been very difficult to find on the east coast where the Baltimore Oriels are a very popular team, yet on the west coast Ripken’s card may have been readily available. Fans in L.A. may have passed on Ripken’s card while hunting down a Pedro Guerrero or Steve Sax card and when looking for a Ripken had to pay East-coast-prices despite availabilty. Without a national database to track sales it was virtually impossible to decide on a true value of a card or comic based on it’s rarity and for a time, the guides reigned supreme. Then came the Internet.
Suddenly a collector in L.A. could talk to one in Baltimore instantly and trade their Guerrero for a Ripken. With the birth of Ebay collectors could look at sales on their favorite items and track what prices were actually being paid by real people for the items they collected rather than having those prices dictated to them by guides. As it would turn out some guides were proven legitimate while others were exposed for their insane price inflation. As collectors used the Internet more and more to both collect and communicate with each other, the nature of collecting began to change. Historically, for the most part, only older items were considered rare and therefore rose in price as they became older and rarer. However auction sites like Ebay were seeing an old idea reborn in the form of the instant collectible.
Instant collectability didn’t necessarily get it’s start with Ebay. One story that I remember as a child was the Bill Ripken “naughty word” card that were released with the first printings of the of Fleer 1989 MLB card set. In his photo Ripken was holding a bat that had… well, a naughty word written on its handle. Fleer attempted to recall the cards but several had already made it to circulation and instantly spiked in value. Had this same incident happened today, who knows how much Ripken’s naughty card would be selling for on Ebay?
A very similar incident took place at comic shops every where this week with their shipment of All Star Batman and Robin #10. Earlier this week Diamond Comics sent an email to comics shops saying that if they receive and copies of ASB&R #10 the issues were to be destroyed due to a printing error. Diamond was able to intercept shipments of the issues to the West Coast but a few shipped to stores in the East and Midwest. 90% of which are on Ebay right now. As it would turn out writer Frank Miller’s version of Batgirl has a pretty nasty mouth on her. Rather than replacing her naughty words with symbols (like “Oh $%#@!”) DC choose to print the cuss words and then print black lines over them. Only the black lines weren’t dark enough and guess what, the naughty words were plainly legible. So Diamond announces a recall and an instant collectible is born.
As of today there are more than 50 issues of the recalled comic on Ebay selling for an average of $40.00-$50.00. The most expensive issue sold for $150.00 yesterday. What does this mean for the future of ASB&R #10? One thing is for certain, there aren’t any more of the issues out there that will later surface. It’s rare, yes. But will collectors care years from now? The Bill Ripken card I mentioned once sold for $70-$80 but now only sells for $10-$15.
A similar incident took place in 1999 when DC recalled the entire print run of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen #5 because of a fake advertisement for a women’s hygiene product named after Marvel Comics. None of the issues made it to American stores but an estimated 100-200 were shipped to the U.K.. The 2008 Oversteet Comic Price Guide lists the comic at $30 in Near Mint condition, which is in most opinions is vastly undervalued due to the low number of copies in existence. The same guide lists the recalled issue of DC’s Elesworld’s Eighty Page Giant, recalled because of a panel showing Superman Jr dead in a microwave, at $175.00 in Near Mint even though there is an estimated 2000 copies in existence.
There are plenty of other recalled comics on the market today but few have held their once inflated value. That said, it’s been a while since collectors have seen a recalled comics due to content and not a legitimate error, the most recent being in 2001 when Marvel Comics recalled Elektra vol. 2 #3 which showed nude panels of the main character (18.00 in Near Mint).
Only the future will tell if collectors stay interested in Batgirl’s string of legible cuss words. For now ASB&R #10 joins the ranks of the instant collectibles spiking in value due to company recalls because of, as Bill Cosby calls it, “filth-flarn-filth”.