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Precious heroes and villains

Artist and comic book enthusiast Joseph Bugeja on the value of vintage comics.

Action Comics No.1. Right: Detective Comics No.27.Action Comics No.1. Right: Detective Comics No.27.

Q: Which are the most prized heritage comics and why are they so expensive?

A: Action Comics Issue 1 (1938), which featured the character of Superman for the first time, must be the most sought-after comic in the world. This is closely followed by Detective Comics Issue 27 (1939), which was the issue in which Batman was first introduced to the public and Amazing Fantasy Issue 15 (1962), in which Spiderman made his debut.

There are a lot of factors which determine the value of a comic. These include whether the issue contains the debut of a famous character and the number of copies that are still in circulation. Comics weren’t meant to be collected and in fact they were printed on very cheap paper – this means that there are very few copies of important comics.

The quality of a comic is also important. What makes a comic valuable is that it has survived without a single crease, with no rust on the staples, glossy cover and no scribbles on the pages.

Q: Is it just famous first issues that are expensive, or are there other criteria which make a comic a prized collector’s item?

A: Not all first issues are expensive – it all depends on the character they feature. The more famous the characters are, then the more prized their debut comic will be.

There are other aspects which make a comic a prized collectible. For example, what makes Amazing Spiderman No.252 valuable is that in it, Spiderman gets a costume change. The same goes for Amazing Spiderman No.121, in which Spiderman’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy dies.

Then there is another genre of comics which are very much in demand and which are my personal favourites – the horror comics of the pre-Code of 1954. The Comics Code of Authority was established in 1954 after Prof. Fre­dric Wert­ham published a bo­ok called The Seduction of the Innocent. In his book, Wertham condemned comic books for depicting and promoting violence on children. Therefore, an organisation was formed to check all comics content and give its Code of Authority before going to print. A lot of horror comics ceased to exist, with many of them being burned by angry parents – very few original, good copies have survived.

Q: Does Hollywood, with its takes on comic book-inspired tales, encourage this boom in heritage comics sales?

A: I’m sure that films inspired by comics increase the value of key issues and may also increase the fetching price of recent issues.

Q: Does nostalgia also play a part in elevating prices?

A: Most collectors begin their hobby from when they are young – if a collector desires a particular issue because it reminds him of his childhood or he is missing an issue from his childhood collection, then the price will go up. The Official Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide controls how much a comic is worth today.

Q: Can modern comics ever become precious collectibles?

A: The comics industry has changed a lot in these last years. Now comics are printed on a much better quality paper and have bigger print runs – this means that modern comics will not be rare and are unlikely to fetch astronomical prices like vintage ones. Back in the 1990s, publishers tried various techniques to make comics collector’s items, including variant and hologram covers. However, the early comics remain in a class of their own.

Q: Which comic do you dream of one day owning?

A: Like all comic enthusiasts, I dream of one day owning Action Comics No.1. Also, I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on a box full of Tales from the Crypt from the early 1950s.

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