Learning an Economic Lesson from a 75-year-old Comic Book

“Look up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No. It’s a Superman comic book found behind a wall.”

Pre-World War II ten-cent comic books can be worth a lot of money, especially if they are key issues of Batman (Detective Comics No. 27 and Batman No. 1) and Superman (Action Comics No. 1) that define the Golden Age of comic books.

An Action Comics No. 1 Superman (June 1938) recently sold for $2.16 million. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were paid $10 per page, for a total of $130 for their work on this issue when it was first published. The Superman franchise is a multi-billion-dollar business today.

It has been estimated that there are only 50 to 100 original copies of Action Comics #1 still in existence. Very few are in excellent condition. This makes them highly desirable to a competitive group of collectors.detective-comics27

World War II paper drives, the fragile nature of the medium (cheap acidic paper), and mothers that considered comic books as a child’s plaything that could be discarded after the kids went off to college made most Golden Age and Silver Age comic books rare and highly collectable.

Yearning for childhood memories and the scarcity of Golden Age and Silver Age comic books has made collecting an expensive hobby. The Silver Age comic era began with the publication of Marvel’s The Fantastic Four in November 1961. This was followed by The Amazing Spider-Man, and The X-Men.

So it was some excitement that a remodel job is going to pay a lot of money, and it has nothing to do with sheetrock, paint, and new appliances:

“A home remodeler reportedly made the discovery of a lifetime while gutting a property in Minnesota: A 1938 comic book worth more than $100,000. . . .

“David Gonzalez, 34, made the startling find amid old newspapers used to insulate a wall of a residence he was renovating in Elbow Lake, Minn. The Action Comics No. 1 issue, which features a new character named Superman hoisting a car above his head on its cover, has already attracted 31 bids in an online auction that runs through June 11, including one for $107,333.”

For a comic that is 75 years old, it’s in relatively good condition: “The rare comic could have been worth even more if a heated argument with one of Gonzalez’s relatives never occurred. He grabbed it back from his wife’s aunt amid the excitement of the discovery, ripping its back cover. Experts later downgraded the comic book’s condition to a 1.5 on a 10-point scale.”

Even so, the bid price on ComicConnect as of June 5th for the low-grade book is at $141,000.

Why would anyone pay so much for an inferior paper product with colored ink drawings?

Value is subjective and imputed. What interests you may not interest me. What one person is willing to pay for a fragile comic book, another person would walk away with heightened indifference and disbelief that anybody would lay out that much cash for a comic book.actioncomics1-cropped

But that’s what makes a free economy work. No one is forced to buy anything, unless, of course, it’s the government doing the forcing.

No one is forced to pay a specific price for a commodity, unless it’s Apple merchandise. But no one has to buy an Apple computer. There are numerous competitive options.

Billions of economic transactions take place around the world every day. Attempts to control what people buy and sell create shortages and higher prices. The more people are free to make economic decisions based on wants and price competition, the better and cheaper products get over time. Flat screen TVs and computers are perfect examples of price competition.

Because there are more people bidding on only a few highly desired comic books, a seller can charge more. No one is forced to pay any price. Supply and demand determine price.