Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Market Spotlight: Rare RRP Editions!

As I mentioned on the latest episode of Chronic Insomnia, the FCBD Overstreet comic got me thinking about The Game again, what it means, the true scope of it, the future.  I was fascinated by the page listing the values of certain key issues when the first Overstreet Guide appeared in 1970.  Action Comics # 1 for $300, Detective Comics # 27 for $275, and Amazing Fantasy # 15 for the absurdly paltry sum of $16!

I'm sure back then if you'd paid $300 for a comic book, for ANY comic book, the neighbors would look at you sideways a bit.  It would seem a little extravagant, a little crazy to spend that much on a funnybook.  Of course if you could get in a time machine, you'd be more than happy to do so now.  The market matured.

So I sit back now and recognize that the TPB game is here, it's real, and I think in a similar state of development.  I think trades in 2011 are very much like comics in 1970.  People are just starting to wake up to the idea, and big leaps are in store for collected editions.

It's not perfectly identical, of course.  For one thing, there is no Overstreet for trades yet.  I know, I know, technically Overstreet does list collections in the catalog.  But it doesn't understand them or believe in them yet.  If you're in The Game, that's a good thing and a bad thing.  When somebody with an ounce of vision does finally produce a guide, it's going to explode the whole system, and the system is going to get big.  But when that happens, your ability to pick up the equivalent of Action # 1 for $300 will be officially over.

So where are these opportunities now?  Well, it's not as cut and dried as you might believe.  I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about these things, and I don't believe I have a perfect handle on it.  It's tougher because we're dealing with reprints, not original material, and we're dealing with material that is liable to go back to press at any moment.  That changes things.

It's not as simple as looking at a legend like Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man and figuring out where they first appeared.  Pretty much by definition, no TPB is ever going to be the first of anything, it's going to be a collected reprint of something else.  There are OGNs, of course, but they aren't prevalent at this point, and they're never used to debut anything.  Debuts tend to be the collectible thing, whether it's the first appearance of a character, a team, a creator.  Firsts matter.

The other major element, though, tends to be scarcity.  And in terms of scarcity, there are some trades and hardcovers that stand out.  This edition of Market Spotlight focuses on a few gems that ought to have some lasting impact and astonishing future value.  Because of the scarcity involved, your investment cost (and therefore risk) will be higher.  But ask yourself: if you could go back to 1970 and buy that Action Comics # 1 for $300, would you do it?  Oh yeah.

Man Of Steel - Raffle Edition
DC Comics (1987)

To my knowledge, this is the first of the truly scarce TPBs, and really, one of the earlier trades period.  John Byrne had just re-booted Superman for a new generation in the 1986 Man of Steel mini-series, and DC offered these collections as prizes in 1987.

It's interesting for a lot of reasons.  Generally publishers take the original art (or scans of same) and produce collections from that onto new paper and permanently bind it.  In this case, DC took actual Man of Steel comics, covers and all, and glued them onto a permanent binding.

Some editions still have their award letters intact, some do not.  Obviously, if you're a collector, you want the one with the letter.  I'm not saying that a letter-less book doesn't have value or shouldn't be invested in.  I'm just stating the obvious fact that if you're paying top dollar, it's something you need to be aware of.

There is some debate about the actual scarcity of these books, and I've got no reliable data on a print run.  Judging on the number of copies floating about, I find it difficult to believe that the supply is solely raffle winners.  It's rare, though.  Your average collector does not know it exists - hell, your average LCS owner will be clueless.

How do you know when you've got a real raffle edition?  Well, the award letter is a clue.  The raffle edition will have the actual comics bound with the covers, and there will be no forward by Ray Bradbury.  Given the fact that this is an iconic character, that Man of Steel is an important turning point in that character's life, the fact that it's an early TPB, and the genuine scarcity of the item, I find this book to be a blue chip investment item of the highest order.

Batman: Blind Justice - Diamond Retailer Exclusive
DC Comics (1992) 

In 1992, Diamond held a retailer's summit and handed out this collection as one of the first "Retailer Response Program" variants.  They also gave away RRP editions of Todd McFarlane's "Torment" with its distinctive red cover at the same conference.

DC again decided to collect actual comics with covers and ads included, in this case Detective Comics # 598-600.  The cover is easily identifiable as the RRP edition, sharing no characteristics with future printed editions.  No data on a print run, but also no evidence that this book was available anywhere but the Diamond retailer summit, and it is legitimately scarce.

This trade is particularly powerful because the deeper I get into The Game, the more I recognize that Batman is a singular phenomenon for book collectors.  Batman material trades higher than other characters, and is noticeably easier product to move.  That could change, of course.  But because this collection represents the beginning of Diamond's RRP product, and also one of if not the most scarce Batman TPB, it presents an incredibly strong investment opportunity.

Spawn - Capital Exclusive
Image (1993)

Remember when there used to be more than one distributor?  Not content to let Diamond hog all the exclusive fun, Capital City offered this Spawn collection as a retailer incentive in 1993.

The book collects Spawn # 1-3, was limited to 1,200 copies, and includes a Todd McFarlane signature on the first page.  That's a really nice package!

However one might feel about Spawn, he's certainly stood the test of time, and an autographed item that scarce from a beloved creator should fetch a kingly sum down the road.

Incidentally, there are lots of other extremely scarce retailer exclusive TPBs, maybe the most famous of which is the old Unity trade from Valiant.  This list is not even close to comprehensive, but I think these are the cream of the crop.

This is more obvious stuff, but remember that condition is vitally important.  I think these particular items are valuable in almost any condition, but there is a wide chasm between the value of a Detective Comics # 27 graded CGC 9.0 and graded 6.0.  That chasm is tens of thousands of dollars.  I can't pretend to know what a good price is for any of these books.  I do know that personally, I would be very comfortable spending over $100 for any of these books in true NM.

- Ryan

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Intriguing idea you have there but it really only is an option available to less than maybe 5% of those who would be willing to pay up for such books since they are all pretty hard to come by. what would be interesting is to hear what you consider to be the 'next tier' of boook worth getting your hands on in great shape and putting away. Of course my concern with all this is always going to be the question of how much are you willing to put aside for the future at the expense of current potential returns just to see if Graphic novels as a whole catch on the way you visualize/predict?

You could be making some nice future investments but at what current cost?