The Golden Age of comic books appears to be making a return—although perhaps they should further qualify it as the 24-Karat Age, if recent auctions suggest anything. Take the $3.5 million sale of the bulk of the famed "Billy Wright Collection" on Feb. 22 in Dallas. The assortment included Action Comics No. 1, a 1938 issue featuring the first appearance of Superman, which itself sold for $299,000—and that was a low-grade version! The highest grade known of that original edition sold last year for $2.16 million.
Just as contemporary art is on a dynamic upswing, as revealed in the April 1 edition of 60 Minutes, so too are slices of comic book Americana providing investment safe havens for many. For at the same time that readership is declining for most print mediums, there's a growing demand for updated versions of the colour-splashed classic art form of graphic novels and comic books. Disney made news in 2009 by acquiring Marvel Comics for $4 billion, but it was publisher DC Comics that really breathed new life into the medium when it re-launched its entire line last September.
Hamilton's Big B Enterprises, which operates as Big B Comics, is well positioned to reap the rewards of the revival. "Investing in highend comics has moved away from the niche collecting community and into mainstream investing because it has become widely accepted as a credible place to put investment dollars," says Big B President Walter Durajlija, whose flagship store, located at 1045 Upper James, was selected as Canadian Comic Shop of the Year in 2008, an award comic book retail outlets can claim only once. "Overseas money plays a large part in this investing boom, as European and Asian investors see the merits of holding important pieces of American Pop Culture history, with properties like Spider-Man, Batman and Archie knowing no boundaries.
"One of the many things that differentiates our store is our knowledge of the high-end back issue comic book market," adds Durajlija, who has a second store in Barrie and a third that opened in Niagara Falls last month. "There are thousands of Canadians and many from the Hamilton area active in this market. I'm seeing more and more 'non-comic' people come to me and ask, 'What book should I put $5,000 into?'"
An advisor to the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide and host of a radio show every week on CFMU on the subject of comics and their effects on pop culture, Durajlija also produces segments on comic culture for Cable 14's Hamilton Life. For its part, Big B's largest sale to date for a single issue has been $26,500 for X-Men No. 94, published in 1975, which Durajlija originally purchased for $800 from a comic book store in New York. That same comic is now worth just $12,000. "That's something I sensed would happen and thus sold it as soon as I got it," Durajlija says. "Some comics are good long-term investments; others are better to flip right away."