About a month ago, I wrote a piece about the value of stamp collecting. It got one of my family member's nose out of whack. Ron, my CPA-son, has a rather extensive comic book collection, particularly on a series called "SubMariner." I believe he has every issue except one. So, what about comic books, he asked? What are they, chopped liver?

Hardly. When I was a kid (which goes back to when I rode up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt), I had an extraordinary comic book collection. It literally ran into thousands, from "Little Lulu" to "Joe Palooka." I also had a mother who ran a very tight ship. So, when I headed off to college those comic books were packed in cartons and relegated to the garage. You know what happened thereafter, don't you? Sure, while I was away, my mother went into a Spring cleaning mode and that's all there was to tell.

In any event (as I dabbed the tears from my eyes), there is a chap in Maryland named Bob Overstreet who has published The Official Overstreet Comic Book Grading Guide for more than three decades. In his estimable opinion, comic books are a pretty good investment and says that these collectibles have increased by a good 10 percent a year. In fact, some, he notes, have risen by 20 percent per annum. Of course, as he points out, watch that word "collectible," which really covers what serious collectors feel that a book is worth based on a demand-driven consensus.

What are we talking about? Well, consider this. The inaugural issue of "Action Comics" (which featured Superman for the first time) in 1938 cost only 10 cents. I've heard that this issue, in mint condition, can go as high as $100,000, if not more. However, most of the comic books have modest increases over time, and some may even decrease.

Okay then, what determines the value of a comic book? First and foremost is the physical condition. There is an industry-wide standard of judging a comic book's condition on a grade scale starting from "Mint Condition" going all the way down to "Poor." Therefore, it is in a collector's interest to protect more valuable comic books.

Second is scarcity. This relates to the relative availability of a given comic book issue. In other words, the fewer copies there are, the more valuable that issue is likely to be. Comic books published during the 1970s and after, already start out with a disadvantage, as comic book publishers by that time began generating a higher print run for their comics. By contrast, Golden Age comic books, which dates back to the 1930s, had a much lower print run, and accordingly, their present-day availability is quite rare, especially for those in top physical condition.

Finally, there is desirability. This can include considerations of the creative talent behind a given comic book such as star artists and writers. Keep in mind that established talent often help increase the value of a comic book. Then too, consider what are called "milestones." These can apply to story lines, the introduction of a new supervillain, a new supporting character, or the death or marriage of a character. Of course, determining what milestones will actually resonate with the enthusiasm of readers and collectors can be a tricky thing, making "desirability" sometimes easier to determine in hindsight rather than in advance.

By the way, anybody got issue #60 of "SubMariner?"

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