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A Quiet End to a Golden Age? Checking in on Comic Book Markets

A Quiet End to a Golden Age? Checking in on Comic Book Markets
September 21, 2023
Dylan Dittrich

Photo: Eric McLean

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$13 million is a lot of money spent on comic books and comic art.

Believe it or not though, it's the lowest sales total at a Heritage Platinum Session Signature Auction in the category since January 2021. That's right. A meager $13 million is actually on the low side in recent years.

Is this a market in distress?! A sign of the end times?! Holy smokes, Batman! this a market where collectors are content to hold their treasured grails, particularly through a pocket of collectible softness?

The highest sale at the event was the $408,000 result for a CGC 0.5-graded copy of Action Comics #1. That's the first Platinum auction without a sale over $500,000 since this event last year. You probably could make the case that Action #1 would've crossed the $500k mark in better times, but this event wasn't really a case of the most coveted assets falling well short of expectations. Those assets simply weren't up for grabs, and really, trophy assets haven't been the problem in this market.

We can, however, look back at this event a year ago to understand the extent of market weakness for those assets that are still trading hands with some frequency. There were a handful of books that sold in the same grade a year ago that provide some frame of reference to understand the trajectory of the market:

Batman #1 (CGC 3.5): -13.6%

  • September 2022: $264,000
  • September 2023: $228,000

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (CGC 9.8): -35.4%

  • September 2022: $186,000
  • September 2023: $120,000

X-Men #1 (CGC 8.5): -24.6%

  • September 2022: $78,000
  • September 2023: $58,800

Captain America #117 (CGC 9.8): -56.9%

  • September 2022: $78,000
  • September 2023: $33,600

The Amazing Spider-Man #129 (CGC 9.8): -21.2%

  • September 2022: $39,600
  • September 2023: $31,200

Ultimate Fallout #4 Variant Edition (CGC 9.8): -43.3%

  • September 2022: $36,000
  • September 2023: $20,400

On the whole....not pretty. At all. But not out of whack with other collectible markets over the same period.

The harshest example, Captain America #117, faced a challenging comp, as the $78,000 sale in 2022 came out of nowhere, notching the highest price ever paid for the first appearance of Falcon by several multiples. Meanwhile, September 2022 was only the beginning for Ultimate Fallout #4, which would later become the second most expensive 2000s comic sold at Heritage, fetching $43,200 in January. As in other categories, speculation in the most modern of assets has often caused the most pain in 2023.

Still, the more well-trodden examples like X-Men #1 and Spider-Man #129 are demonstrative of where the market's gone in a year. However, the pain illustrated above wasn't inflicted this month alone, instead taking place in the earlier stages of 2023. In fact, many of the prices realized last week hold up well against the most recent Platinum Session in June, where X-Men #1 sold for $57,600 and Spider-Man #129 sold for $31,200, essentially the same levels. Fantastic Four #1, graded CGC 5.0, provides a similar example: it sold for $22,200 last week and $22,200 in June.

So, while market sentiment looks rough when you zoom out to a year or more, it seems there are signs of stability in recent months. Where there was once more reticence (or at least certainly no urgency) to catch falling knives, bidders seem to be demonstrating some level of comfort with current price levels.

A rapid Spidey-swing upwards seems a less likely proposition, but while stability and boredom make for terribly unexciting comic books, they might be just what this market needs.

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