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It’s hard to overstate how important Stan Lee was to making comic books a part of American culture. Yes, he ran the Marvel Comics bullpen, and his pitchman antics always focused on their characters. Yet, more so than just being an advocate for his company, Stan Lee believed in the medium more so than maybe anyone else. Here’s one piece of proof. In the mid-1970s, Stan Lee predicted that comic book collecting was going to be a good investment. This was at a time when parents and even comic book readers thought that these funny books for kids were as disposable as diapers. Thankfully, it’s that attitude that proved the Marvel Editor Emeritus correct in the long-term. Yet is comic book collecting still lucrative?
A decade or so after Marvel Comics burst on to the scene in a big way, Stan Lee backed away from his editorial role. The company was making money and hiring writers, artists, and editors so he had less to do. Yet, because of his willingness to be the voice and face of Marvel, Stan Lee continued to be the biggest advocate comic books ever had. If you look through clips of his interviews on YouTube, you see that most of what he talks about is how seriously he takes these stories. Sure, he admits that they are flights of fancy, but he sees that as a ‘feature’ and not ‘a bug.’ I am not sure if Stan Lee really predicted the comic book collecting marketplace because of smarts or simply because he just believed in the work so much.
At the time of this interview, the first appearance of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15 was selling for hundreds of dollars. Today, a copy of that comic book sells for millions.
Image via Marvel Comics
When faced with questions about the imaginative content of the stories, Stan Lee never talked down the stories. Rather, he said that teenaged and adult readers proved their intelligence by seeing the themes in these stories that they find in classic myth and literature. He admitted that Marvel Comics artists had to rush through their work in order to meet deadlines, yet again he flipped that as evidence of the talent of these powerhouses of penciling. Even before comic book collecting was in vogue, first editions of books and art and paintings were already high-value collectibles.
Yet, I have another theory as to why Stan Lee predicted that comic book collecting would become a thing. He couldn’t bear parents and kids just throwing these books in the trash.
Here’s what he said in the interview:
“It is absolutely incredible. I would say if someone were knowledgeable in this area, it is probably a much more lucrative hobby to collect comics than stamps and, in some cases, to buy stocks. For example, we have one book called Howard the Duck, kind of a crazy new comic we started….in the last year…. Kids love it, they find a lot of satire in it…. When the book first came out, you couldn’t buy a copy because the collectors were running to the newsstands and buying up everything the dealers had available. Within in a few months, this book which originally sold for 25 cents, is now selling for $5, $7, $10, whatever the traffic will bear.”
So, it’s less that Stan Lee predicted comic book collecting, and more that he simply noticed that collectors turned their eyes to the medium.
Image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr
Stan Lee goes on to clarify that Howard the Duck #1 was a special case, but still evidence of both the potential and unpredictability of what these collectors will want. Yet, as per usual, Lee shifts the conversation from their value as items to their value as literature. It’s ironic, but Stan Lee the pitchman was less business savvy and more unbridled love for this form of storytelling. To him that people were paying lots of money to collect these books validated his views on how important these stories are to readers. (And that these readers were not all just kids.)
Fast-forward 20 years, and most of America agreed with him on both counts. By this time, Watchmen came out and people were looking at comic books and graphic novels with new eyes. The comic book collecting boom happened, and (again, ironically) are why collecting comic books is not an easy hobby to break into anymore if you’re goal is to make a profit. In the new documentary Slugfest on Roku, one episode deals with The Death of Superman comic. Millions and millions of copies of Superman #75 were sold to people thinking they had just made the best investment of their lives. Yet, unlike stocks, the more people who buy a comic book, the less it will be worth. Today, you can get a copy of that comic book for just a few bucks.
Also, the CGC is a new factor in the hobby. This group grades comics, but they don’t do it for free. Collectors have to pay anywhere from $20 to $100 (or a percentage of the book’s value up to $5,000) to get a grade. I don’t think Stan Lee predicted that collecting comic books for a profit would become so, well, costly.
What do you think? Share your thoughts, opinions, and reasons for collecting comics in the comments below. (Also, Stan’s comic book collecting comments start at around the 24-minute and thirty-seconds mark.)
Featured image: Digital painting by Abijith Ka via Wikimedia Commons
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he’s loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book “What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More” is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.
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