The mail is starting to arrive on my earliest columns, and it's clear from the spirited comments expressed by readers that I'm certainly eliciting visceral responses. That's great! I'd rather write columns that get people excited (either pro or con), than to write the same old boring tripe. As I stated in my very first column, you may love my opinions on comics retailing, or hate them, but I'll do my damnedest to never bore you.
This week I'm going to take on another taboo subject, by starting a series of columns on successful investing in comics. I consider this subject currently off limits for most writers because of the general perception within the comics publishing and retailing community that readers of comics are somehow saintly, while folks who consider a return on investment when making comics purchases are the scum of the earth. This dichotomy of perception is a direct result of the damage caused by the over inflated market conditions of the early 1990's, which were fueled in great part by an influx of remarkably gullible speculators in comics. During that period it seemed that there was no limit to how many comics you could sell if you either printed "Limited Collector's Edition" on the cover, or retailed an issue by calling it Hot! Hot! Hot! (Limit: 5).
Well, ignoring the ridiculous period from 1985-1995, there have been some comics fans over the years who have invested significant sums in both new comics, and older collector's editions, and done quite well. As a case in point, last week I purchased an estate lot of 200 Silver Age Marvel Comics for $5,500. Based on my conversations with that gentleman's son, I estimate that the father had no more than $1,000 invested in those books. That being the case, his rate of return was rather decent, even for a 20-year investment. More importantly, he was able to enjoy owning those nice comics throughout his lifetime. To my way of thinking, that's the best possible form of investment. It increases in value steadily, and is also fun to own.
Before I go any further, I need to make a few things clear about investing in comics. First, you have to ask yourself if you believe in the future of the comics industry. It's no secret that the comics industry has been in a steady decline for the past eight years. This past year has seen an uptick, but it is too early to say whether that is a long term trend. Bear in mind, if the comics industry declines dramatically, liquidating your investment may become quite difficult.
That having been said, I then need to ask you if you can afford to completely write off any investment you make in comics? Aside from the risks to the overall industry, sinking your hard-earned cash into comics is a very, very risky way of trying to make a buck. As far as I know, I currently own more old comics than anyone alive. I love comics, and have made huge sums investing in them over the years. I still make sure, however, to keep my personal investment portfolio diversified. You always need to keep a nest egg of liquid funds set aside for unforeseen circumstances, such as a major illness, or temporary unemployment. Investing every cent you own in a high-risk, illiquid commodity, such as comic books, would be exhibiting a classic case of stupidity. I know people do this, however, as I've received any number of heartbreaking calls from people who suddenly need to liquidate their high-cost comics collections, and find that the market punishes them dramatically as a result of their need for speed. My #1 rule for comics investors is: Only invest money in comics if you can afford to completely write off your investment.
My #2 rule for comics investing is that you should only buy items that you enjoy owning. Note, I did not say "reading," I said owning. I mention this specifically, because during the past five years I have assembled one of the premier private collections of Pueblo Indian pottery in the world. I can't "read" any of my pots, but I sure get a thrill when I am able to add one into my collection/investment portfolio that is by a creator I particularly like. Taking this same concept to comics, I find it perfectly acceptable for someone to enjoy (just as an example) collecting 1940's Timely comics, even if they find many of the stories dull, and the artwork very dated. The fact remains that what these early Marvel comics lack in stylistic and editorial content, they more than make up for with wonderful covers, historic characters, early artwork by creators who later developed more contemporary styles, and genuine rarity. That's why the demand for those books continues to be very high, even after prices have gone up incredibly over the past 20 years.
My third rule is that you need to be willing to become an expert on what you're buying. It never ceases to amaze me when I see people sinking big bucks into investments without first taking the time to research the genre. To make wise investments you need to work hard! Start by studying the market conditions of the particular genre that attracts you. If the genre you like is unpopular at the moment, you may be able to consistently buy at under the comics price guides prices. If, on the other hand, you've picked a type of comic that's currently very much in high demand, don't be surprised if you have to pay a premium. What's most important, however, is that you know the difference. That can only come about by taking the time to study the market.
My final rule is that you always need to plan your "exit strategy" right from the beginning. What this means is that you need to formulate a plan for how you, or your heirs, can liquidate your collection when the time comes. Before you invest a penny, give some serious thought as to how exactly you're going to get it back. Remember, even dumb little bunnies dig a back way out of their burrows, at the same time as they dig a way in...
Next week I'll continue on the subject of investing in comics by revealing a strategy on how you might get rich by filling your garage with bulk comics. Your wife is going to love this one...
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your letters to:
Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221