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Heritage Signature Comic Auction Review: How's the Market Holding Up?

Imaged by Heritage Auctions, HA.com

Heritage Auctions closed its June Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction last week, and volume remains extremely robust….with a caveat. We’ll get to that in the moment.

The Heritage event totaled $24.3 million, the second largest Comic & Comic Art event tally in Heritage history, trailing only April’s massive $27.6 million haul. For context, the June 2021 Signature totaled $22.4 million. 

With momentum building throughout 2022, though, it’s actually high-end comic art driving volume to new heights. 

Comic art accounted for 5 of the top 10 sales at the auction, led by the headline-making $2.4 million sale of the original Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #1 cover art. In total, 19 comic art lots reached six-figures, with those pieces combining for just under $6 million in sales. Of 1,252 total items in the auction, 626 (exactly half) were comic art. In volume, comic art accounted for 56% of the auction’s sales, up from 51% in April and just 36% in June last year. 

Conversely, that means the proportion of sales from comic books has slipped by similar margins. Comic book sales volume actually fell 20% from April and 26% from June 2021. However, the average comic book sale price was up 4.3% from April, but down 16.9% year-over-year. 

Because the top of this event was more comic art heavy, the top comic book sales show some weakness versus prior iterations, though the depth at the top )top 51-100 sales) was stronger than it was in April. April was particularly volume heavy in Golden Age books, and Silver Age showed considerable price strength at that event. The script flipped in June, as Silver Age accounted for a greater proportion of volume, but Golden Age values showed greater strength relative to the prior event. 

Note: includes Comic Books only.

A number of sales towards the top of the auction were of books in grades that had sold relatively recently at Heritage. Many are recognizable grail issues which turnover with relative regularity. You’ll notice in the featured sales below that the results versus the last sale are mixed. Where the last sale was more than 6 months ago, you generally see a fairly significant improvement in value. Where issues have sold more recently, this event frequently represented a pullback in values. 

That activity is logical given broad financial trepidation, but it underscores how far this market has come in a year’s time and beyond; it's worth mentioning, the market was already hot this time last year. In some cases, the results are indicative of just how idiosyncratic auction activity can be. For example, Fantastic Four #1 sales at the event were mostly remarkable, but the CGC 7.5 was down 50% from an April sale. Feels illogical, but at an event where two higher graded copies were available and performed really well, high-end buyers may have been preoccupied.

Fractional results were similarly mixed. Comic Books have been one of the strongest fractional performers of 2022, and while there are still pockets of short-term opportunity exiting the event, many issues may be in for an overdue reckoning. 

The chart of page views by event is, at face value, discouraging. It seems many tourists and newcomers have since exited the category or are otherwise occupied. Still, some portion of that segment has stuck around, establishing the market at a new level which it feels unlikely to relinquish in short order. Overall, there may be areas of fatigue for books that have sold with regularity over the last 1-2 years, leading to small pullbacks in appetite during this tumultuous moment. The overall demand  and resilience of high-end appetite for the right items, though, is emphatically demonstrated by the results in Comic Art and for certain grail issues.

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