In a recent discussion with one of my fellow CPV Price Guide collaborators about the broad market for collectibles, I made an off-hand mention of “NFTs” … and the response was: What are NFTs, is that something I should know about? With this post, I will explain what NFTs are, and why I believe there is a good chance we may see them become part of the future of the comic book collecting hobby in some form.
To begin the explanation, I want to first start with “cryptocurrencies” for background. The main one everyone has heard of by now is, of course, Bitcoin. Within every article about Bitcoin, it seems they always want to include some kind of picture, and usually it is something similar to the picture at right, i.e. a visual of an actual coin — which is quite funny when you stop to think about it, because it isn’t like you can buy a Bitcoin, then pick up the phone, call some number, and say “I’d like you to send me my Bitcoin now, here is my mailing address.” No, these “coins” are actually entirely virtual, they exist only in the realm of zeros and ones, and, there is nothing “behind” them — no country, no government, no economy, and no tangible attribute whatsoever is backing these virtual coins.
So if they exist only in a virtual realm, aren’t backed by anything, and when it comes to something you can touch or hold in your hands these are basically “nothingness,” then why do they have value? As I write these words, one Bitcoin costs in excess of sixty thousand US dollars. Clearly that’s not nothing; in fact, if you multiply all of the bitcoins there are, by today’s per-coin price, you get a total market value of… I swear I’m not making this up… 1.2 TRILLION dollars (yes, that’s Trillion with a ‘T’).
To put some perspective on this, a quick thought experiment: would you rather own all the bitcoins, or would you rather own all of the company ExxonMobil? At current prices for bitcoin, and current trading prices for ExxonMobil shares, you could actually own five ExxonMobil’s in this thought experiment, not just one. In other words, if I held out two hands for you to choose from, and in one of them was all the bitcoins and in the other hand was five ExxonMobil’s, then based on the current market values Mr. Market is saying that those two hands, those two hypothetical choices, are equal.
How is it possible that something with zero “inherent value” can be worth this much? One answer I see a lot is, “it has value because everybody agrees it has value” (but that’s not a very satisfying explanation). The best explanation I can give as to why Bitcoin (and any of the myriad others that came on its heels) has any value is: (1) there is nothing that prevents it from having value, and, (2) people are allowed to trade it. The rest just boils down to supply versus demand… And while there may be restricted supply of coins within each coin type, there is no limit on how many types of coins there can be — the successful introduction of new ones kind of all comes down to “brand marketing” and how capable the creators of a new coin type are at drumming up demand for it.
[Sometimes the building of a brand can even start as a joke: apparently the “DogeCoin” coin type was created AS A JOKE based on a “meme” that was circulating at the time… And today, the current market value of that coin type, multiplied by all of the coins outstanding for that coin type, is now 34 BILLION dollars today (Billion with a ‘B’)… that’s right, it went from a joke to a market value greater than that of the Clorox company.]
As basic as this supply-versus-demand and “we’re allowed to trade it” explanation sounds to explain what is happening to these cryptocurrency values, we must remember that while today it feels like we have practically unlimited freedoms about what types of assets we can own, the past is filled with counter-examples; for instance, individuals weren’t always allowed to freely own gold in this country:
While hard to imagine today, back in 1933, “Executive Order 6102” had made it a criminal offense for U.S. citizens to own or trade gold, albeit with exceptions for collectibles and jewelry. These prohibitions would only begin to be relaxed decades later in 1964, and then by 1975 we were once again free to own and trade gold to our hearts’ content. So it is probably something that people take for granted that the trading of cryptocurrencies is allowed by our government; if the government ever came to decide that it is bad for us or bad for the country or bad for the planetthen the government could easily step in with regulations and/or restrictions.
But absent any restrictions, right now there is unlimited freedom in buying and selling all of this “nothingness,” AND there is no limit to the number of new cryptocurrency types that can enter the market. In fact, some years back I half-jokingly shared the following idea with some friends: what if we introduced new cryptocurrencies to correlate with the top 1st comic book character appearances — a coin for Action Comics #1 as the first appearance of Superman, a coin for Amazing Fantasy #15 a the first appearance of Spider-Man, etc. etc., and we limit the number of coins for each appearance relative to the actual scarcity of the actual comic book.
This idea was met with three reactions: (1) who on Earth would pay real money to own one of your coins when they are not backed by anything? (2) Since anybody can introduce new cryptocurrencies, what would stop a potential “competitor” from saying, “no no, don’t buy those coins for the 1st appearance of Superman from Ben, buy these coins, from me.” (3) Would it even be legal given that these characters are owned by someone else?
And that third point is the real deal-killer isn’t it — for anyone to take a comic book “coin” seriously, for everyone to agree that it is legit, it would really have to be issued and backed by Marvel/DC/etc. The actual creator/owner of the character, the artwork, etc., is really the only one who could legitimately sell “coins” tied to such characters or artwork and stories about those characters.
Artwork: in the old days it was all done on paper or canvas, but nowadays, there are actually a lot of artists who do their artistic work completely digitally, i.e. they are creating their art on the computer… So in these cases the “original” artwork isn’t on a physical piece of paper; rather, it is saved in a file somewhere.
What if there was a way for an artist to sell their digitally-native artwork, as a coin — i.e. since it is possible to create an unlimited number of new cryptocurrencies, suppose a new “cryptocurrency” was created but instead of having many coins, that new currency just had one coin… And suppose that the actual original artist is the one who makes the initial sale of that coin, and does so in a way that legitimately transfers ownership, such as an auction via a legitimate auction house like a Sotheby’s or a Christie’s?
The scenario I’ve just described above, is basically what an “NFT” is… NFT stands for “Non-Fungible Token” and I think the best way to wrap your head around it is that it is basically using the same underlying “blockchain” (“digital ledger”) technology that powers cryptocurrencies, but applying it to single coins/tokens — the “non-fungible” part of the name just means “this token is unique, it is not interchangeable with any other coin.” And then from there, the whole world just needs to agree that “this particular token/coin — this ‘unique serial number’ in essence — represents ‘X'” and voila, ‘X’ can be a piece of digital artwork, a video clip, even a tweet!
[Right now, many of the NFTs making the news are traded on platforms that are “piggybacking” off of the “Etherium” (“ETH”) blockchain (to buy one of these NFTs, much like if you enter a casino you’d turn your cash into chips before sitting down at a table, in this case you’d turn your cash into Ether and then buy/sell NFTs with the prices denominated in Ether); another cryptocurrency blockchain being used is “Flow.”]
And as you either guessed by now, or actually saw in the news, last month the very first NFT representing a piece of “digital artwork” to be auctioned by a major auction house, was sold by Christie’s… it was this work, by the artist Mike Winkelmann who goes online by the name of “Beeple” and the opening bid was one hundred dollars:
Before the idea of selling digital artwork via NFTs came about, the best this artist had ever done was to sell a print of his work and the most he had ever achieved selling a print was $100. And on March 11th, after the NFT auction ended, news outlets would report the results. If you haven’t seen this news before today, then before I tell you the number, I’d like you to wager a guess first… Do you think it fetched more or less than 50 grand? What about a quarter million dollars? More? Or less? Half a million? A million? Five million? Ten million?
Nope, those guesses were all too low. The NFT for the above digital piece of art auctioned, at Christie’s, for SIXTY NINE MILLION DOLLARS (that’s Million with an ‘M’). That marks the third highest amount ever paid for a piece of art by a living artist.
With a result like that, suddenly everyone who owns anything digital is now thinking about what could potentially be monetized, using NFTs. The CEO of Twitter auctioned off the first tweet … and it went for $2.9 million. The NBA is now selling “video highlights” as NFTs, calling the platform “Top Shots.” Eli Manning just announced he is launching a line of football NFTs. Mark Cuban is reportedly thinking about turning Dallas Mavericks tickets into NFTs. Even the New York Stock Exchange is getting involved — would you like to own “the first-ever trade” of, say, Spotify? Soon you can.
But what I find particularly interesting about NFTs, especially as it relates to comics, is that the technology has a built-in way for the original seller to earn royalties on any and all future sales of those NFTs. The seller can decide to charge a percentage of all future secondary sales.
Let’s stop to think about that for a moment, as it relates to comic books. Suppose that tomorrow Marvel creates a new character and sells 50,000 printed copies of the comic that contains that character’s first appearance. The new character becomes popular, and that comic starts to rise in value… $20, $40, then $60 per copy in marketplace trading. Who currently benefits from those sales at higher prices? For one thing, the collectors who bought the book when it was first released can profit if they sell. Comic shops that reserved some copies for their back issues stash can profit. Then there are the trading platforms — e.g. under the basic eBay account, eBay charges sellers 10% of the value of any collectibles sold on their platform. But where is Marvel’s share of those future comic book collectible sales? Sure, they benefit from the increased popularity, but when it comes to profiting off of the original 50,000 copies, where is the money for Marvel? Nowhere, that’s where!
But with the idea of NFTs and royalties on those NFTs, if I was an executive at Marvel or DC, I’d be practically salivating over the future potential: Suppose instead of selling 50,000 printed copies of a new issue, Marvel decided this particular comic was not going to exist as a printed issue, just as a digital one, and it was going to be 50,000 coins/tokens (or perhaps even a split; perhaps 25,000 tokens and 25,000 printed copies — there are no rules here whatsoever, the rules can be invented). [I realize this idea of a purely-digital collectible comic book sold via NFTs is a very scary thought for anyone whose business is based on selling physical copies of new issue comic books]. And now suppose a 5% royalty was placed on future trades of those newly-issued NFTs.
Think about the additional franchise value this could potentially build over the years: the royalties on each new NFT are basically a new asset that would add to the total value of the business. Can you imagine if, hypothetically, Action Comics #1 had been issued as an NFT instead of a comic book, and that you could own a 5% royalty on any future sales of Action Comics #1? What would you pay to own such a royalty? In this hypothetical suppose you would have earned $162,500 from this single recent $3.25 million salealone… so based on this, probably you’d have been willing to pay way more than $162,500 to own that royalty interest on not just the active sale but any and all future resales of the collectible, right? In actual reality, Action Comics #1 of course already exists as a printed comic so this is purely a wild hypothetical, but it does illustrate the idea: if the publisher had a way to earn a royalty on all future sales of a given comic book issue in the collectibles market, that royalty has a ton of value.
And that is the main reason I think we could see NFTs become part of the future comic collecting landscape in some way shape or form… It is just too lucrative a concept for comic book creators to ignore, from small creators who might view NFTs as an alternative to raising funds for their creations on Kickstarter (how about making it digital-only and selling a fixed number of NFTs instead?), to the executives at Marvel, DC, Archie, etc… Whether it is the more-radical idea of entire comic book issues getting sold as NFTs, or whether it is digitally native comic book artwork getting turned into NFTs, this technological development is something that definitely has the potential to creep into our beloved hobby — and in an extreme scenario potentially even to “disrupt” it.
Can you imagine buying a comic as an NFT? What a strange world that would be: There would be no “grade” on a digital token… you wouldn’t submit such a thing to CGC, nor need to “preserve condition” in any way… it wouldn’t have a smell that brings back childhood memories… you wouldn’t need to find a place to put it / store it since it doesn’t take up any physical space… you could look at it and thumb through it but only on via a screen… you could print out and frame the cover and hang it on your wall but you could never hold the original paper in your hands because there’s no original paper anymore… It would be an entirely different collecting experience than any of us are used to…
All existing comics ever printed would still be physical comics of course — it is hard to imagine cryptocurrency-based coins/tokens ever competing directly with our beloved tangible/hold-them-in-your-hands comic books of the past. Much like my half-joking coin idea was “shot down” by friends, it is hard to envision Action Comics #1 actually existing as a crypto collectible let alone catching on (although I definitely wouldn’t rule out such a thing if DC was behind it!).
So I don’t think the sudden rise of NFTs means our hobby is suddenly headed for a major change in the short term nor are our pre-existing collections “threatened” by the new technology; but in the long term I expect that we’ll eventually see NFTs crop up — in some way shape or form — in connection with our hobby, in the future. [Or on the other hand, maybe, as many believe, all-things-crypto are part of a gigantic “bubble” that will soon pop, and that bubble-burst will in turn kill new NFT ideas before they get a chance to leave the idea phase.]
– Ben p.s. To be clear: none of this new technology changes my approach to collecting comics (and I have a very hard time envisioning myself ever buying an NFT), but I do think it is something to know about, and to keep your eye on!
Today I’m going to dig into the various versions of Todd McFarlane’s 1990 classic, Spider-Man #1 (a “Classic Cover” if there ever was one!). Between our various go-to sources of comic book information, it seems we have a fairly good picture of how many copies of each different original August 1990 version were sold… except for the newsstand version, which the hobby doesn’t seem to have a good handle on, almost as if its sales were a mystery (which in many ways they were) — so in this post, I hope to explore further, in order to learn more about the relative rarity (and relative high grade rarity) of the newsstand copies versus the other types.
To begin, let’s review the various types out there (and we’ll stay in the 1990s — various reprints subsequently occurred including a flood of them last year, and I will be ignoring those). This review can be more complicated than it needs to be, simply because each different comic book “authority” has their own internal categorizations (and the prominent comic shops have their own categorizations as well). Often this can mean that distinctly printed types can be overlooked/ignored by a given authority: In fact, if we went just by the variant names that appear on the CGC census for example, we might (falsely) conclude that 1st print newsstand copies don’t even exist!
“Regular” copies (no variant name on the label) = 6,458 copies presently on census.
“Gold Edition” copies = 3,980 copies presently on census
“Platinum Edition” copies = 1,727 copies presently on census
“Poly-Bagged Edition” copies = 922 copies presently on census
“Poly-Bagged Silver Edition” copies = 1,136 copies presently on census
“Silver Edition” copies = 9,415 copies presently on census
“UPC Gold Edition” copies = 571 copies presently on census
But as I’ll get into around the middle section of this post, this list is incomplete because it completely ignores the presence of 1st print newsstand copies. It does, however, include the second print newsstand copies…
“UPC Gold” Copies — Let’s Start By Looking At These
Interestingly, CGC does recognize one type with a newsstand bar code on it… and that’s the second print (gold cover) newsstand/UPC type… which for years CGC denoted without any indication that it was actually a second printing!
The terminology “UPC Gold Edition” was entirely of CGC’s own choosing, as this terminology appears nowhere in the indicia itself. Rather, CGC appears to have chosen it to delineate the Gold cover copies with newsstand UPC codes, as being distinct from the direct edition “regular” Gold cover copies (i.e. the ones with logos in place of the bar code — if you are unfamiliar with the difference between direct edition and newsstand comics, then I suggest you pause here, and read this post first before you continue). To show you what the indicia looks like for the Gold UPC copies, below is an eBay listing I found of a Gold UPC copy, where as you can see from the row of picture icons, the seller has helpfully included an indicia photo.
Below is their indicia photo, where as you can see, it says nothing about “UPC Gold Edition” anywhere; and it is clearly denoted as a “Second Printing”:
Here’s a zoom-in with the Second Printing notation circled:
Despite being a second printing, for years CGC’s labeling treatment had zero indication anywhere that the Gold UPC version of the issue was indeed a second printing (which unfortunately led many collectors to falsely assume that it was a first printing). Below is an example of CGC’s old/past labeling treatment:
Years later, CGC began to place the note “Indicia states ‘Second Printing'” on the right-hand side of the label:
[The same goes for “regular” (direct edition) gold copies as well: CGC used to label them without any second printing indication, but then added the same note shown above, onto those labels as well.]
At this point, you may find yourself asking, “why does CGC give gold cover copies with newsstand UPC codes their own census entry (but meanwhile no census entry for first print copies with UPC codes)?” I’d wager that part of the answer to this question has to do with what appears in the Overstreet price guide. Let’s explore that further, in the next section.
Second Printing (“Gold”) Copies — The Print Run Numbers
Although the newsstand bar code would lead us to assume that such gold-cover copies were distributed on newsstands, as it would turn out, Marvel inked a deal with Walmart whereby Walmart took the entire print run of these for themselves as an exclusive, and therefore none were distributed across the traditional newsstand channel. And according to Overstreet, the size of this run given to Walmart was a mere 10,000 copies (leading Overstreet to include a distinct high-value entry in their price guide for such copies — and that distinct entry and high value perhaps helps to explain why CGC, in turn, would create a distinct entry in their census):
I find this absolutely fascinating to think about from the “business perspective” of imagining Marvel weighing the decision to make this deal with Walmart (versus going to the traditional newsstand channel with their second print Gold cover copies printed with UPC codes). To Marvel, a firm sale of 10,000 copies to Walmart as an exclusive (at whatever price they negotiated) must have been judged as a “superior” deal versus going the traditional newsstand route. Perhaps this helps shed some amount of light on what sales “might have been” had they gone the newsstand route instead — i.e. if Marvel had expected they could sell 20,000 or 40,000 or 60,000 second print copies on newsstands, would they have still made this Walmart deal??
Newsstand copies we must remember — unlike their prevalent direct edition counter-parts — were returnable copies by the very nature of the newsstand distribution channel: publishers would print out a distinct print run batch for newsstands (to distinguish them from non-returnable direct editions) and then send them out to newsstands where each copy would sit waiting for a buyer to come along. And if no buyer ever came, then the unsold copies were then returned for credit, and typically pulped/recycled forward.
This fascinating dynamic also makes newsstand sales issue-by-issue a fun mystery: how many newsstand copies did the publisher ultimately sell for the issue in question?? That all depends on the sell-through for that book on the stands, which could vary considerably issue by issue. Based on newsstand rarity discussions and estimates we have seen, we might look at the 1990 estimate given by Chuck Rozanski (who played an important insider role in the advent of direct editions) for Marvel’s 1990 direct edition sales (overall) at 85% in that year (versus newsstand at 15% of sales). This estimate would imply, for example, that for a given typical issue with total sales of 500,000 copies, 425,000 of those sales would be expected to be direct edition, and 75,000 would be expected to be newsstand.
As it turns out, second print (Gold cover) direct edition sales of Spider-Man #1 fell right in that range of 425,000 according to Overstreet:
So therefore I would interpret the situation as Marvel giving up the chance for newsstand sales of “an estimated up to 75,000” second print (gold cover) copies, in exchange for a firm sale of 10,000 copies to Walmart as an exclusive. While part of any business decision is non-monetary (Marvel may have seen value in “building a relationship” with Walmart), this situation still leaves me wondering just how well 1st print copies sold on newsstands given that Marvel gave up the chance to sell their 2nd print newsstand copies the traditional way, in exchange for the firm sale at 10,000 copies.
Green/1st Print “UPC” Copies — What Were The Numbers??
So while we have good information on the second print copies that carried newsstand bar codes, how about the 1st print newsstand copies… how well did they sell? Unlike the gold UPC coded copies, the first print newsstand copies were sold in polybags, and they look like this:
Unfortunately, Overstreet gives no estimate whatsoever for the sales numbers on these first print newsstand copies with UPC codes; however, they do give us some “clues,” in the form of print run numbers for other poly-bagged versions. In addition to their sales of regular unbagged direct edition copies, Marvel apparently took 125,000 copies out of the regular direct edition print run and stuck those in bags too. Overstreet gives the polybagged direct editions their own line item in the guide, and reveals their print run as follows:
Interestingly, Overstreet has separate value lines for: the polybagged regular direct edition copies; the un-polybagged regular direct edition copies; and also for UPC coded polybagged copies. And, perhaps tellingly — since Overstreet appears to be factoring in print run differences into their guided values for other types — they give the “UPC polybagged” copies the same guided value as the “regular polybagged” (direct edition) copies. Interesting, right? Already, that leads me to wonder if the UPC coded polybagged copies had sales in the same 125,000 neighborhood, in-line with the “regular” (direct edition) polybagged copies?
The “regular” polybagged direct edition copies look like this (notice the logo in place of a bar code):
And then Marvel also sold a known number of silver copies in poly-bags as well; and interestingly in the case of those, rather than bag some number of copies out of the regular silver direct edition print run, instead, Marvel cleverly (greedily?) sold those special silver polybagged copies for 25 cents more… and to do this, they placed a $2 price on the plastic bag and then did a distinct print run batch of silver copies with the cover price edited out of the cover itself:
Here’s a close-up of the price box comparing a polybagged silver copy like the above, versus a regular silver copy:
And according to Overstreet, Marvel sold 125,000 of these silver polybagged copies too:
So if we know that Marvel sold 125,000 regular direct editions in polybags, and we know that they also sold 125,000 of these no-cover-price silver copies in polybags, we’re still left with the question of how many newsstand copies in polybags were likely to have been sold — but it is really starting to seem that Marvel liked the number “125,000” for these polybagged batches, does it not?
Further Clues: CGC’s Treatment & Marketplace Observations
As it so happens, CGC’s bizarre treatment / organization of their census entries for Spider-Man #1 actually has a “side-effect” that should help us explore the newsstand sales numbers mystery, because referring back to the list of census entries shown before, they have both a “Poly-Bagged Silver Edition” census entry and a “Poly-Bagged Edition” entry; and as it turns out, that “Poly-Bagged Edition” entry encompasses (lumps together) the direct editions that originally were sold in poly bags and the newsstand editions with UPC codes as well!
When CGC was asked about how to submit polybagged copies to them for grading, this was their answer:
This creates a comical situation where CGC does not discern direct edition versus newsstand first print copies with distinct census entries, but, CGC will encapsulate a given copy under the “Poly-Bagged Edition” variant census category if they know it used to be in a polybag; whereas the exact same comic could be categorized under the standard census category if its polybag-or-not origin is unknown to CGC!
And this polybag-vs-un-polybagged treatment appears to be the same for both direct edition as well as newsstand copies (even though all newsstand copies originally would have originated in polybags), i.e. looking in the marketplace, it is readily possible to find CGC graded newsstand copies both with the “Poly-Bagged Edition” label and also without it… Presumably with the former having been submitted to CGC still inside the polybag, and the latter having already been snipped out by its submitter. Here’s a side-by-side example of two newsstand copies I found listed — remember the comics themselves are 100% physically identical to each other because they are out of the same print run batch — and yet they received two different CGC labels based on “polybag status” at submission time:
I want to talk a bit more, later on, about the treatment of polybagged comics in general; but for now, when it comes to the exploration of the newsstand numbers, what this CGC treatment does for us is to actually help us out quite a bit… Because knowing that CGC will lump together both the newsstand and direct edition types under the “Poly-Bagged Edition” category for books submitted to them in poly-bags (and that unbagged copies can be given regular/non-variant labels) means that we can study the marketplace availability of CGC graded copies that were given the Poly-Bagged Edition variant designation and then among those, observe how many are newsstand, versus how many are direct edition; and since we know from Overstreet that the print run of direct editions that were polybagged was 125,000, and we also know that that the silver polybagged copies were also given a print run of 125,000, this print run knowledge for two out of the three, combined with a study of marketplace availability under the Poly-Bagged Edition label, can in turn help us to calibrate our thinking about the newsstand numbers!
I searched eBay for CGC graded poly-bagged copies using the search string “Spider-Man 1 CGC Poly-Bagged”, looking both at the active listings and also the sold listings sections. While today is just one point in time, this study should provide helpful ratios of recently sold plus currently available copies, that originated in polybags. Here below are my screen-captures, followed by my counts.
I count as follows: 20 Silver Polybagged CGC copies, 13 Direct Edition Polybagged CGC copies, and 12 NewsstandPolybagged CGC copies. Keeping in mind that for the silver copies the lack of a cover price makes them discernable to CGC as that type regardless of whether the submitter opens the polybag or CGC does (versus with the green-cover polybagged copies where CGC can instead categorize them under the main/regular census entry all depending on submitter behavior), this would argue for the silver polybag census count to be “naturally elevated” versus the regular polybag census count. Thus it is not surprising to me that I counted 20 of these silver ones, versus 13 direct edition poly-bagged copies, even though both are known to Overstreet to have had the same 125K print run — I think part of the explanation for the difference here is that some of the direct edition poly-bagged copies are simply not making it onto the polybag edition census entry.
But the comparison that is the most important to us here, in the context of our exploration into the newsstand numbers, is that I counted roughly the same number of direct edition and newsstand copies that had been labeled under that Poly-Bagged Edition census category — thirteen versus twelve, pretty much right in line!
To me this all suggests that a good best guess would be that Marvel printed out 125,000 silver copies for polybags, took another 125,000 copies out of the regular direct edition print run and stuck those in polybags, and then I’m going to wager a guess that they polybagged 125,000 copies for newsstand distribution as well. It could also be the case that they sent more than this to newsstands and some portion never sold. [Ultimately what we really care about as collectors is how many were sold (and the survivorship characteristics from there) — if Marvel printed and sold all 125,000 copies that would leave us in the same situation as if they had printed 250,000, sold half, and pulped the other half, or printed 375,000 and only sold a third of them, etc. etc., you see what I mean I hope].
And I’m going to further guess that Marvel experienced a well-above-average sell-through on the newsstands for this particular issue, between the gorgeous cover artwork, the big “#1” and the fact that the polybag looked so enticing as a point-of-purchase item… I’d bet that lots of newsstand-goers who wouldn’t have normally bought such a comic to read it, would meanwhile have grabbed one or more of these Spider-Man #1’s figuring they’d squirrel it away in hopes of future collectible value.
But unlike direct editions which would have been handled with great care by the comic shops that received them, and stored away in comic bags and boards by the collectors who took them home, the polybagged newsstand copies would have experienced the rough handling that newsstand-distributed comics are notorious for — and indeed, many of the newsstand copies of Spider-Man #1 that I have seen that are still within their original polybags are nonetheless creased along the spine (typical crease spot I’ve seen is usually at the top left within the orange Marvel Comics box), and/or have indentations where they hit the rack along the cover edge, and, I even spotted the below copy advertised as “brand-new, sealed, never opened!” but with obvious water stains on the back cover:
And please notice something else, too, about that back cover picture shown above: notice the “ridge” of plastic that sticks up along the center, where the plastic comes together and forms a seal. For even the most well-preserved newsstand copies where the original buyer placed the whole polybag into a comic book bag with a backing board, this plastic ridge still presses a bend along the entire back cover. This back cover bend is the case for every newsstand copy I have examined so far, and I really don’t see how any of them could have avoided it. Worse, for any copies stored in a stack, the plastic ridge also presses into the front cover of the copy below it! Here’s an example back cover that I am holding at the right angle against the light, so that the bend is illuminated:
So although the “natural temptation” would be for any owner of a still-sealed polybagged newsstand copy of Spider-Man #1 to think along the lines of logic of “it is still sealed in its original bag, therefore it is still in mint condition” (and many owners are indeed advertising their copies for sale as mint or near-mint), the reality of the situation is that most of these are likely in a more-realistic 8.0 and under; I think that Comics To Astonish has it right, with their method of listing their own polybagged newsstand copies, which are all still sealed and yet are (truthfully) advertised as “7.5 or better”:
As for the lucky newsstand copies that received the very best possible storage from their owners, and those owners are later tempted to send them in for grading (thinking to themselves, this is still sealed, and I’ve kept it in a comic bag with backing board since 1990, so it must be mint, right?), I have to imagine these are most likely going to be actually surviving “as is” at 9.2 grades at best. I found the below CBCS example (CBCS happily makes its grading notes public, enabling us to see them) and the single note inputted by the grader for this example is: “poly-bag bend front & back cover” (so apparently “poly-bag bend” is so common as to be a grading industry term):
Given these condition challenges for surviving newsstand copies, how is it that 9.6 and 9.8 CBCS and CGC-graded newsstand copies are sometimes seen in the marketplace? I think the answer is either that (a) the original owner removed the book from its polybag back in 1990 and carefully stored it in a bag and board ever since, or, (b) probably more likely: the book has undergone a “pressing” to straighten out the polybag bend, ahead of being graded.
CBCS has a census of their own, and it is interesting to note that their entry for “UPC Poly-Bagged Variant” shows just seven copies in the top two grades of 9.6 and 9.8, and meanwhile their entry for “Gold UPC Variant” shows just six copies in those grades. Not much of a difference there between the first and second print newsstand copies, when comparing the highest grades! That being said however, CBCS’s census does not indicate when (in time) the “UPC Poly-Bagged Variant” census entry was created (it is possible they may have only added it once they began to recognize newsstand comics broadly, back in 2017), so it may not be fair to compare those two census entries against one another, if one of the two has only been accumulating copies since 2017.
However, what is definitely fair to look at with regard to this “UPC Poly-Bagged Variant” CBCS census entry, is the breakdown of the various grades within the census entry — for example, the ratio of 9.6-and-up copies, to the total submitted. And here, we find that just 13.5% of total copies submitted that have been given this “UPC Poly-Bagged Variant” classification by CBCS have received a 9.6 or higher grade. For contrast, fully 74% of the direct edition silver copies on CBCS’s census are 9.6-and-up!
And to add to the overall picture for comparison, how about the polybagged silver copies, the ones with the cover price edited out? These would have had careful handling via their direct sales distribution and similarly would have been handled with care by the collectors who took them home — but they’d still have that “polybag bend” condition problem if stored in their original bags. And for these, the CBCS census shows that 9.6-and-up copies make up 25% of the CBCS census total.
Bottom line: all signs seem to point to first print newsstand sales being “in-line” with the other two poly-bagged “known numbers” (which were 125,000 as per Overstreet), but having been distributed in polybags means that surviving first print newsstand copies are going to face condition challenges. Layer on the rough handling that was typical of the newsstand distribution channel, and the condition challenges are even more steep — as the above CBCS census comparison shows quite glaringly.
Next, let’s review and compare all of the different 1st and 2nd print types that Marvel created for Spider-Man #1 in 1990.
Green, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Oh My! — A Look At All The Types
Now that we’ve tackled the “newsstand mystery” as far as the numbers and have come up with a guesstimate, let’s next compare each of the various other types (from 1990 — I’m not going to review the myriad reprints that came later) for Spider-Man #1, and review the print run numbers shared with us by various sources.
First, let’s talk a little further about polybags in general, and what they mean to us as far as comic books being “variants” or not. While it is totally understandable that comic book shops — like Mile High Comics or MyComicShop — would want to have different entries in their systems for polybagged versus unbagged copies of the same version (so that customers know what is going to arrive to them), to me speaking as a collector who likes to send my comics to CGC to be graded professionally, the important criteria that makes for a distinct version is in the printing of a given version, and whether it is distinctly marked / discernible in some way from other types.
Given this view, the idea is absurd and comical to me that that you and I could each start with polybagged newsstand copies of Spider-Man #1, and then do as follows: suppose you decide to submit your copy to CGC inside its polybag and choose the “Poly-Bagged Edition” variant notation on your submission form, along with a note giving CGC permission to snip open the bag; meanwhile I take my copy and I snip it out of the bag, set the bag to the side, and then submit my copy with no variant notation on my submission form. At the end of the day, you will have a first print newsstand copy inside of a slab marked “Poly-Bagged Edition” in one hand, and you will have the empty plastic poly-bag that CGC “maybe” has returned to you in the other hand; and I, meanwhile, will have a first print newsstand copy inside of a slab with no variant notation on the label in one hand, and in my other hand I will have the empty plastic poly-bag I set aside earlier.
Each of us now have newsstand copies that both used to be in poly-bags but are now in CGC slabs. Our two copies are 100% physically identical, and came out of the same print run batch. And yet they carry two different CGC labels. Yet meanwhile, CGC will not tell newsstand and direct edition copies apart with their own census entries and labels?!? To me that’s a situation that can only be described as just plain silly… I think that CGC has it wrong, and should be going by the physical comic itself when creating unique entries.
And when it comes to the physical comics themselves, the following versions exist, as laid out by ComicsPriceGuide, which, in my opinion, among all the various sources I will refer to today, is the one that has organized these in the most logical way (to my way of thinking; and I’m not saying I agree with their guided values, just that I agree with the layout of their entries):
Referring to the above, first, they have the “green” cover copies, which exist as both a direct edition — for which they are estimating over 1,000,000 copies produced — and a newsstand edition (where, like Overstreet, they give no information about the numbers).
Next, they have the “silver” cover, which exists both as a regular direct edition — for which they are estimating over 1,000,000 copies produced — and also the “no price” version (which as we saw earlier was distributed in those polybags with the $2 price on the outside of the bag), which they indicate at 125,000 copies produced (their number matching that of Overstreet).
Next, they have the “platinum” cover, estimated at 10,000 copies produced. Here again they match the information given in Overstreet (which says as follows — and also, their note about new McFarlane art and editorial material instead of ads is a particularly interesting tidbit):
And finally, they have the “gold” cover — correctly identified as the second printing — where they estimate over 450,000 regular direct editions were produced (in-line with Overstreet’s range), and they echo Overstreet in stating a 10,000 (or less) print run for the gold copies with the newsstand UPC codes on them.
Green Direct Edition: 1,000,000+ per CPG
Green Newsstand/UPC Edition: 125,000 (our estimate)
Silver Direct Edition Regular: 1,000,000+ per CPG
Silver Direct Edition No Cover Price: 125,000 (per both CPG and OPG)
Gold (2nd Printing) Direct Edition: 400,000 to 450,000 (per CPG and OPG)
Gold (2nd Printing) Newsstand/UPC Edition: 10,000 (per both CPG and OPG)
Platinum: 10,000 (per both CPG and OPG)
But it is also useful to see how Mile High and MyComicShop break them out into different listings — and from this we actually learn of a few interesting additional things!
Let’s look at Mile High first. For their green cover listings they have entries for both the poly-bagged and unbagged versions, and I found it interesting that for the poly-bagged versions, they list Near Mint newsstand copies at more than double the asking price of Near Mint regular copies in poly-bags:
Similarly, for the Silver listings, they value the polybagged no-cover-price version higher than the regular silver version (and a little under the polybagged newsstand copies):
The Gold listings bring no surprises, except that their asking price for regular gold copies seems extreme relative to that huge print run…
And lastly, the platinum version:
Moving on to MyComicShop, there are a number of additional interesting details among their listings. For one, they have listings for “signed and stamped” versions that may include “a letter of authenticity from Todd McFarlane’s own comic shop he ran back in the 90’s, ‘The Spider’s Web'”:
I found an example copy on eBay complete with the referenced letter. Here’s what the stamp looked like…
…and this is the “letter” shown in the listing:
Moving on to MyComicShop’s “regular”/green-cover listings, as expected they have both a polybagged and unbagged listing in their catalog for direct editions…
… and also for newsstand copies:
The listings for Silver cover copies start out as expected:
… but then there is a nifty surprise as well:
Apparently, some unknown number of regular silver copies show the Lizard in blue instead of green on a certain page. I went looking for a copy, and here is the page in question:
While CGC does not recognize these as variants with their own census entries — and this is reminiscent of the Secret Wars #1 “blue Galactus” copies — much like in the case of Secret Wars, CBCS meanwhile does have a variant census entry for these. Here is what a CBCS copy looks like (with a label note that reads: “7th and 10th page color plates transposed”):
Interestingly, as of this writing CBCS’s census shows ten of these Blue Lizard copies in the top two grades of 9.6 and 9.8, which is a higher count than the six Gold UPC copies on their census, and also higher than the seven UPC Poly-Bag copies on their census, in those same two grade tiers. This relative count makes me question just how many Blue Lizard copies are truly out there? In any case, I think it would be frustratingly hard to try to find these “in the wild” because of the necessity to check interior pages for the error.
Moving on to MyComicShop’s “Gold” cover listings, there is another interesting surprise:
The surprise (to me anyway) is that last entry: at least some number of gold 2nd print direct edition copies were sold in polybags too! How interesting that Overstreet doesn’t mention these given that they do mention each one of the other polybagged types. And why no CGC entry either? If someone was to submit one still in its polybag, then “by precedent” considering how they treat the regular direct editions, shouldn’t they have created a “Poly-Bagged Gold Edition” census entry too? And yet, no such entry appears!
And finally, MyComicShop’s Platinum cover listing:
The platinum copies were distributed to retailers along with the below letter. As you can see, it isn’t so much a “retailer incentive variant” as it is a “thank-you gift variant” after the fact:
Below is an example of what a CGC-graded Platinum copy looks like:
And here’s the back cover of the Platinum version (note the artwork in place of ads):
Marvel Collectible Classics: Spider-Man
I also want to make mention of the 1998 title, Marvel Collectible Classics: Spider-Man, because eBay sellers will often list issue #2 of that title as “Spider-Man #1 Chromium Edition Variant” or similar. This title re-printed two of McFarlane’s Spider-Man classics, with special chromium wraparound covers: issue #1 reprinted Amazing Spider-Man #300, and issue #2 reprinted Spider-Man #1. Here’s what it looks like, front and back:
Front (based on the Spider-Man #1 cover):
And back (based on the Spider-Man #13 cover):
Since the cover of issue #13 is an homage to the cover of #1, but this time with Spidey wearing the black costume, many Spider-Man #1 “set” collectors also want to collect the original issue #13 from 8/1991 as well when assembling their sets, an issue which exists both as a prevalent direct edition and also with the newsstand UPC code which is far more rare. Here is an example newsstand copy:
Something neat to notice about these #13 copies, is that underneath where McFarlane signed the cover artwork, there is now a number: 71. In the original #1 issue, there was a question mark:
McFarlane famously hid spiders in his cover artwork, sometimes writing the number of hidden spiders next to where he would sign his name on the cover artwork; but for the 1990 issue #1 of Spider-Man, there were so many spiders hidden that he put a question mark instead of a number. Fans rightfully took this as a challenge! Many wrote in with the answer; and then with the issue #13 cover-swipe of #1, in place of the question mark there is now a number — 71, beneath his name.
The CBCS census happens to be much more helpful when it comes to Spider-Man #13 than for #1, because here instead of a mess of different entries, there exist the two expected entries of “Direct Edition” and “Newsstand Edition” which we know are directly comparable to one another, with both starting at the same point in time following their 2017 decision to start recognizing the types distinctly. Comparing the 9.8 grade counts, 87.5% of the current census copies are the prevalent direct edition type, while just 12.5% are newsstand, for issue #13:
Current 9.8 Market Values
Having now reviewed the various 1990 versions of Spider-Man #1 that you can expect to find in the marketplace, let’s next take a look at recent sales examples. But first, let’s form an expectation of what we’ll see. Based on the known print run numbers as revealed by Overstreet and other sources, and based on our own estimate for the first-print newsstand sales, my expectation would be that if the market is responding to relative rarity then we might see the following relationship:
Starting with the lowest reported print runs, we have a tie between the Platinum and the 2nd print (Gold) newsstand UPC coded copies, at 10,000. Since Platinum copies were presented to comic shops as a “retailer reward/thank-you variant” I’d expect that each and every copy was handled with extreme care once it arrived; the only damage/loss I’d in turn expect would be of the accidental variety (lost in the mail or bent up — which a lot of these were apparently, as they were shipped in simple envelopes like this one, dropped accidentally, etc.).
The UPC coded gold copies, however, were sold to the general public through Walmart. Many would have been read; some would have been thrown out. Thus it seems only natural to me that coming from the same “starting point” of 10,000, we’d end up with fewer surviving gold 2nd print newsstand copies, versus platinum ones. And the current CGC census counts support this notion, with 1,727 platinum copies currently on record at CGC, versus 571 Gold UPC/newsstand copies. Based on this, I’d expect to see the 2nd print (gold) newsstand/UPC coded copies in “first place” when it comes to market value; I’d expect platinum copies in a close second place.
Next, there’s the types at 125,000… The polybagged direct editions I mentally “group together” with the regular/unbagged direct editions because there is no physical difference; I wouldn’t expect to see the market give any premium just to know that a copy now living in a slab used to live in a polybag. That leaves the silver “no cover price” type and the first print newsstand copies. I’m going to give the edge to the first print newsstand copies on account of survivorship bias strongly favoring comics that were distributed as direct editions. Thus I’d expect first print newsstand copies in “third place” followed by the no-cover-price silver copies in 4th place.
In 5th place, despite the high CPG value (and Mile High’s high asking prices) I’d expect to see the direct edition 2nd print (gold cover) copies, given the print run at 400,000-450,000, a huge number (but still less than half that of the silver direct edition and green direct edition types). And this just leaves the direct edition regular/green and silver copies in last/second-to-last; I don’t have an expectation of one having notably more value than the other, since both are reported to have had print runs in excess of a million copies, meaning there’s no shortage whatsoever out there of either of those types.
Let’s see how these expectations match the reality, by looking at two of the most recent auction results for each type, in eBay’s “sold” section. As expected, green direct editions in 9.8 don’t seem to be noticeably far apart from silver direct editions, with price differences that can very easily come down to shipping rates and seller preferences:
And the market does indeed seem to reward the no-cover-price silver direct editions with a premium over the regular silver copies:
First print newsstand copies do indeed seem to get a market premium, and are the next-strongest among the recent auction results:
But the next result is a surprise to me… beating both the 1st print newsstand copies and the no-cover-price silver copies, are the regular direct edition gold copies! Given the huge print run difference, this comes as a surprise to me (although given the Mile High listing noted earlier, and the CPG guided value, I suppose I should have been prepared for it):
This seems out-of-whack to me, with the gold direct editions looking overvalued to my way of thinking, and the 1st print newsstand copies undervalued by comparison (the no-cover-price silver copies looking undervalued by comparison as well). I realize that gold “seems” better than silver (and better than regular) if you’re ranking by the perceived “level” of the metal, but given the stark difference in print run, I’m still surprised!
With the newsstand/UPC code gold copies we now go up an order of magnitude higher in market value than the types seen so far, with the last two 9.8 sales at auction being these:
And then for platinum copies, I was surprised to find no 9.8 universal grade auction results in the sold listings section at all; the closest results I found were a Signature Series 9.8 (so part of the the market value will reflect the signature value), and a best-offer-accepted result where all we know is that the transaction took place somewhere under the seller’s crossed-out asking price:
And then just in case you were curious, here’s where Marvel Collectible Classics #2 has recently been selling:
Let’s also take a peek at sales of Spider-Man issue #13 — direct editions in 9.8 are selling not far off from where direct edition regular #1’s have been selling at auction:
Newsstand copies of #13, on the other hand, are selling at quite a notable premium (and also much higher than newsstand copies of #1):
For those collectors focused on collecting just the most rare versions of Spider-Man #1 from 1990, I think the two clear stand-outs are the Platinum variants sent as a “thank-you” to retailers, and the 2nd print newsstand/UPC coded Gold variants — both of which had the lowest reported print runs among the various types, of 10,000 each.
I also know that there are many collectors out there who like to collect sets and will simply want one of each possible version of Spider-Man #1 from 1990 (and possibly beyond 1990 too). But there are also those of us who look for relative value within the comic book marketplace and act accordingly. And having explored Spider-Man #1 today, I’d argue that what we’ve seen has exposed some strong relative value opportunities.
For one thing, I’d rate both the direct edition green and direct edition silver copies as an avoid — with print runs reported to have exceeded 1 million copies each, to my way of thinking spending $75-$85 on a 9.8 copy of one of these exceedingly-common types is just way too high a price tag for something so common, when that same money (with just a little more on top) could go toward one of the more-rare versions of each of these cover variations: for the silver cover, there’s the “no-cover-price” type which would be my clear preference among the silver copies (and for those who find the “Blue Lizard” copies intriguing one could go after those), and for the green cover variations, I’d strongly prefer the more-rare newsstand/UPC coded copies, which also have such an extremely low 9.8 percentage on CBCS’s census.
In particular, I think the relative value opportunity for first print newsstand copies looks particularly strong because it has a possible future catalyst: if CGC ever were to follow in the footsteps of CBCS and come to embrace newsstand comics as distinct census variants (c’mon CGC, it is way past time to do this!!), then we could go from the current situation — where going by the CGC census alone you might (falsely) conclude that only second print UPC coded copies of Spider-Man #1 exist but not 1st print ones — to a situation where suddenly lots of collectors will check the census and realize that not only do 1st print newsstand copies of Spider-Man #1 exist after all, but their surviving numbers in the highest grades are smaller than the marketplace seems to be giving them credit for!
Here’s a quick guide to demystifying the CBCS census when it comes to 1980’s comics that were published in three different types (direct edition, regular cover price newsstand, and higher cover price newsstand for the Canadian market), using Wolverine Limited Series #2 as an example. The same overall concepts discussed here can be applied to any 1980’s comic that was published “as triplets” (where the publisher produced one direct + two newsstand first print types for a total of three variations), but obviously the cover prices may vary issue by issue, and the census proportions among the three types will naturally vary as well issue by issue (all depending on factors like publication year, newsstand sell-through for that specific title/issue, comic shop order levels of the direct edition, etc.). I should also point out that the CBCS census numbers for the price variants may also “run high” as a percentage, on account of CBCS having been chosen over CGC for grading services for the WaWa collection which really was the first time a huge collection of professionally graded high grade 1980’s price variants hit the market (consigned to MyComicShop).
Below I’ve made a graphic with cover price “legend” at the left of each CBCS census row, for their Wolverine Limited Series #2 census result as of the time of this writing:
Let’s go over these five rows. It is easiest for me to explain them from bottom to top so let’s start at the bottom row: “Newsstand Edition” refers to the 60 cent cover price newsstand type. They started differentiating newsstand from direct at CBCS in 2017.
Moving up, to the second row from the bottom: “Canadian Edition” is the old way that CBCS used to refer to the 75 cent cover price newsstand type, from inception until they changed their Type 1A variant labeling terminology.
They then changed their terminology in 2018 to instead use “75¢ Canadian Price Variant” as the label name for these, which is our next row up in the census result…
Why are both of these different names listed in the census record? Because instead of “porting over” the old entry / doing a simple “rename” (like CGC did when they made their own change to “Canadian Price Variant” terminology in 2019), CBCS meanwhile left the old entry in place and then started a second new entry with the census numbers for the new entry starting at zero. So these are not two different variants of the issue CBCS is listing, rather, they are two names for the very same 75 cent variant newsstand copies, with the difference being when in time they were submitted to CBCS (pre-2018-change recorded as “Canadian Edition” while the very same book submitted post-2018-change would be recorded as “75c Canadian Price Variant”).
Moving up again we have the row with variant name “Direct Edition” — this entry is counterpart to the “Newsstand Edition” row, and once again these census numbers started from zero when they made their 2017 decision to break out the types:
And finally, we move up once more and we’re at the top row, the one with a “blank” variant name. This one is the original census entry from before they started breaking out newsstand from direct edition, where we can’t tell exactly how many are direct edition and how many are newsstand, because they were lumped together. The icon at the left of the row is a blend of the direct edition picture and the 60 cent newsstand picture — because this original entry encompasses both types:
So… How do we go from the five entries walked through above, down to an “apples to apples” count of the three actual types published? Here’s how I approach it:
STEP ONE: First, since the Newsstand Edition and Direct Edition entries have the same inception, those two rows are directly comparable when studying them. Even though the CBCS data set is still relatively small, and ideally we’d have larger numbers to work with, we can still calculate a ratio of newsstand-to-direct among this sample, and we can calculate the percentage of each. With 28 Newsstand Edition (bottom row) and 125 Direct Edition (second row from the top), that’s a total of 153 “broken out” 60 cent cover price copies. Calculating the percentages, that’s approximately 18% newsstand, to 82% direct edition:
STEP TWO: With these percentages calculated, we can now extrapolate how many of the 140 “lumped together” copies from row one are likely newsstand and how many are likely direct edition. In this way, we can estimate that row one most likely adds 25 newsstand and 115 direct editions into our numbers:
STEP THREE: We basically now have six different counts: a pair of numbers for each of the types. So now we just add together the two numbers for each of the pairs: For 60 cent cover price newsstand, there are the 25 extrapolated copies from the first row, plus the 28 “broken out” copies from the last row, for a total of 53. For direct edition, there are 115 extrapolated copies from the first row, plus the 125 “broken out” copies from the second row, for a total of 240. And finally, we add the 4 “old label name” (“Canadian Edition”) 75 cent cover price newsstand copies from row four to the 7 “new label name” 75 cent cover price newsstand copies from row three, for a total of 11. Having “collapsed down” the rows into the three types in this way, we can now directly compare the three numbers in “apples to apples” fashion:
FINAL RESULT: Of the 304 CBCS census copies currently on record, the extrapolated breakdown into the three published types for the issue looks like this:
Direct Edition: 240 copies = 78.9%
60 Cent Newsstand: 53 copies = 17.4%
75 Cent Newsstand: 11 copies = 3.6%
The way CBCS presents their report into five rows has confused some collectors into thinking there were more than three types actually published, and I hope this walkthrough helps people understand how to read into the numbers and work out estimates for the three actual types.
EXTRA CREDIT: Armed with the newsstand and direct edition percentages from step two, another extrapolation exercise we can do is to carry that information over to the CGC census. As direct competitors offering the same type of grading services — and at similar cost — I think it is fair to presume that the behavior of their customers (decision-making about which books in their collections to pay to get graded) would be similar. Thus, I think it is fair to assume that the ratio of newsstand-to-direct edition books submitted to each grading company is likely to be similar. (Although I do think it would be fair to argue that CBCS’s newsstand labeling could be a “draw”, i.e. they could potentially be attracting business away from CGC for newsstand comics and thus possibly seeing a higher proportion — but we have no current way of knowing for sure).
Whereas CBCS has “too many” census entries (five), compared to the actual number of types (three), CGC’s census meanwhile has too few entries — just two. CGC, as of the time of this writing, has not yet caved in to the huge collector demand for “broken out” newsstand comics broadly. (Instead, CGC only breaks out newsstand comics in certain special circumstances, such as manufacturing differences and cover price differences [more on this here]).
So when it comes to Wolverine Limited Series #2, their census looks like this today (with my icons added):
The first section at the top, with the 5,439 total count, lumps together both the 60 cent cover price newsstand type, and the direct edition type — just like the first row of the CBCS census did. Suppose we now perform our same type of extrapolation: If the proportion within that first CGC section follows the breakdown we discerned from Step One earlier, then ~18% of those 5,439 books would be newsstand: 979 copies. Meanwhile ~82% would be direct edition: 4,460.
FINAL RESULT: Of the 5,483 CGC census copies currently on record, the extrapolated breakdown into the three published types for the issue looks like this:
Direct Edition: 4,460 copies = 81%
60 Cent Newsstand: 979 copies = 18%
75 Cent Newsstand: 44 copies = 1%
Both the CGC and CBCS breakouts calculated in this post are pretty much right in line with the estimates given in the CPV Price Guide for surviving 1980’s comics, with the guide’s estimate at 80% direct edition, 18% regular newsstand, and 2% price variant newsstand:
These exercises are only meant to give us a good “big picture” / ballpark sense of the proportions, and issue-by-issue variation always needs to be studied individually due to all of the variables that can skew the proportions one way or the other for a given issue. And as more data accumulates onto the CBCS census the results should get better and better with larger data sets.
But the very fact that we’re even doing these exercises in the first place exposes some of the flaws in the way these grading companies are tracking our comics… In an ideal world, CGC would start to break out direct edition from newsstand and then we can see some actual future numbers on their census, instead of being forced into estimating. So I hope you’ll join me in requesting of CGC that they do this! Contact CGC here and add your voice to those of us who have asked that they follow CBCS’s lead and start differentiating newsstand comics from direct edition! 🙂
Hi everyone, this is my market report for the 2021 edition of our CPV Price Guide, marking our 4th edition!
I’m thrilled to welcome Tim Bildhauser to the advisory team this year; Tim was formerly with CBCS as their International Comics Specialist, he is a renowned expert in his niche, and he was instrumental in making possible CBCS’s 2018 labeling change for how they treat Type 1A price variants. If you like those “75¢ Canadian Price Variant” labels (versus the old highly-misleading “Canadian Edition” treatment) then please give Tim a thank-you the next time you see him, for the key role he played in making that happen. And surely the fact that CBCS “took the lead” on improving their Type 1A labeling helped, in turn, towards ultimately convincing CGC to follow suit as well (they too changed to “Canadian Price Variant” labeling, in 2019).
A big thank-you as well this year to all the fantastic contributors towards our Market Reports & Articles section, your insights are so valuable, from Salvatore Miceli’s observations about Cartoon Books, to Tony LeBlanc’s great article From a Seller’s Perspective, and James Gilbreath’s insights into Collecting CPVs for Profit. And many more authors contributed some incredibly insightful stuff; you should definitely check out their full reports here.
And one more thing before I dive into my own report: Applause and congratulations to the two recipients of this year’s John Verzyl Overstreet Advisor Award: Michelle Nolan, and our CPV team’s very own Doug Sulipa! Below is from pages 94-95 of the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #50:
The John Verzyl Overstreet Advisor Award is presented annually to Advisors whose knowledge, contributions, ethics, and reputation are held in the highest esteem by their peers. As mentioned in the above-pictured award presentation pages, Doug Sulipa has most certainly influenced and advanced the worlds of comic books, their creators, and their fans, by actively sharing his knowledge with others.
I’ve said this before about Doug and I’ll say it again: he has contributed absolutely encyclopedic knowledge towards our CPV guides; there’s that old saying about super-knowledgeable people, and it certainly applies to Doug, that he’s so knowledgeable about comics that he’s probably forgotten more about comics than I’ll ever know!! To think that as a Senior Overstreet Advisor he’s been contributing to the Overstreet guide since edition #2 in 1972 and now they are at guide #50… Remarkable contributions over the decades, that most certainly have greatly enriched the perspectives of comic book enthusiasts everywhere.
So I say Bravo Doug!! Well deserved! We never could have created and contributed our CPV guides to the hobby if it were not for you, Doug; I am so glad to see you getting this award! And I’m glad to see others in the hobby, such as Steve Borock, applauding you as well:
“On a great note, speaking of John Verzyl, I would like to congratulate my longtime friend and hobbyist, Michelle Nolan, and fellow hobbyist and friend, Doug Sulipa, on being picked this year for The John Verzyl Overstreet Advisor Award. This is a real honor and well deserved by these two fantastic hobbyists who have done so much for our hobby spun out of their love for it. It’s not easy to win this prestigious award, so CONGRATS!”
— Steve Borok, CBCS President; OPG #50 page 107
OK, on to my report for the 2021 Edition of our CPV Price Guide! In today’s age of a zillion-and-one different 1-in-whatever “manufactured-rarity” retailer incentive variants we could choose to take home, many of which collectors are asked to shell out $25-$50+ to own, it is so nice by contrast to have a universe of “naturally-occurring” Type 1A price variants within the world of 1980’s (and 1990’s) newsstand comics, where we can hunt down the dramatically-more-rare cover price variant newsstand copies of some incredible books from our childhoods — many of which we can often land for that same $25-50 cost (or even much less)!
The rarity characteristics of CPVs have been easy for most collectors to grasp, but meanwhile hard for certain critics to understand and embrace; yet I think the thought process is really quite simple and can be understood after learning just two “big-picture concepts.” The first of those concepts is understanding how small the population of Canada actually is, compared to the United States, both today and historically. One collector likened the comparison to that of a mouse versus an elephant!
Canada looks huge on a map!
Understanding this disparity in population size is not necessarily a “natural instinct” for most Americans, because when we look at a map of North America, Canada seems absolutely huge by total land area… But the reality is that there are far fewer people living on that huge land area up in Canada versus the number of people living within the borders of the USA — looking up the actual population data, we can see that the USA:Canada population ratio actually works out to about 90:10. This statistic surprises a lot of American collectors, who generally just haven’t put thought into it before.
Another way to think about this, is that California alone overtook Canada by population size, in the year 1982 (which happened to be the year our “price variant window” opened for our 1980’s CPVs). Google presents a nice chart of this size comparison, when you search on the phrase “population of Canada“, citing Statistics Canada, the US Census Bureau, and the World Bank as data sources — I’ll repeat their chart below:
If market size difference by population was truly one of the primary drivers of 1980’s CPV rarity characteristics, then it would be natural for us to also expect that the 90:10 USA:Canada population ratio would similarly be a rarity driver for comics of other decades as well where there was a distinct version created specifically for distribution in Canada. For example, according to this Statistics Canada page, the 1950-1960 population count was approximately 13.7 million to 17.9 million people living in Canada. Meanwhile, the US Census Bureau reports on this page that the 1950-1960 population count in the USA was 151.3 million to 179.3 million.
So as a ratio of USA:Canada by population, we’re once again looking at approximately 90:10 here during this 1950’s decade. Said differently, comparing the 1950’s population of the two countries with a pie chart, the two “pie slices” of the population pie are a monster-size slice taking up 90% of the pie representing the USA, and a tiny sliver of a slice taking up the remaining 10% of the pie representing Canada. And this 10% figure happens to be exactly the number that Overstreet Advisor Ivan Kocmarek cites for the Canadian reprint period lasting up to 1954, in his OPG #50 market report (highlight and bold added for emphasis):
“There does seem to be a resurgence of interest in comics from the Canadian reprint period that came after the period of original Canadian war time comics (1941-46). This reprint period, in which American comics were published in Canada as reprints and mash-ups, ran from 1947 to about the period of the Comics Code (1954). These comics were published at about 10% of the rate of publication of their American Golden Age counterparts and correspondingly are difficult to find, yet crop up in the market in greater number than the original Canadian war time comics and at prices that are more attainable than those original Canadian war time comics.”
— Ivan Kocmarek; OPG #50 page 139
In the quote above, Ivan also mentioned the 1941-1946 period of “original Canadian war time comics” as well. Looking into the population data, the 1940 census numbers are even more stark as far as the population difference, with Canada at approximately 11.38 million people versus the USA at 132.2 million. The Canadian War Exchange Conservation Act dubbed US comics as ‘non-essential imports’ during war time, meaning that from 1941 to 1946, imports of US comics into Canada were banned. The “Canadian Whites” originals filled that hole, and those comics happen to be a specialty of Walter Durajlija, who wrote about them for our 2019 guide here and included a very memorable chart which I’ll repeat below:
“In the case of both the Canadian Whites of the 1940’s and the Canadian Price Variants of the 1980’s, collectors should keep in mind the relative size of the market where these comics were distributed: By population, you can fit about ten Canadas inside the United States!”
The portion of CPV rarity characteristics that were “market-size-driven” really should be just as easy for collectors to grasp as it is for these comics of the 1940’s and 1950’s, because the purpose for creation, behind all of these various groups of comics distributed in Canada, was essentially the same: that the population of Canada demanded comics to read! And the last word in that sentence (the word “read”) brings me to the second of the two “big-picture concepts”: By the 1980’s, Marvel and DC were actually selling comics through two distinct channels instead of just one: the historical newsstand channel, and the newly-invented direct sales channel.
Comics printed for the direct sales channel were sold on a discounted but non-returnable basis to specialty comic shops, and this type of comic — known as a “direct edition” — was “multi-country” in purpose, with one print run batch covering all three of the USA, the UK, and Canada, in one fell swoop (if you took home one of these in the 80’s in Canada, your direct edition copy was indistinguishable from the ones sold in comic shops in the USA, because they came out of the same print run batch):
But, if you instead shopped at your local newsstand in Canada during the 1980’s, then you would have taken home a Canadian Price Variant, because during the “price variant window” instead of placing a large-print US price and a small-print CAN price on a single newsstand batch (as they would eventually do), Marvel and DC ran off two differentsingle-price newsstand batches during the window! [Note: there have been a great many anecdotal reports of “imperfect distribution” near the border, where the 75¢ type was for sale in the States and the 60¢ type was for sale in Canada — but for the “big-picture-thinking exercise” we need to think about the publisher’s intention (the market they had in mind) when they sized the print run batches, and the 75¢ newsstand type was intended for newsstands in Canada.]
And that is the second big-picture concept needed to understand the main rarity drivers of Marvel and DC’s 1980’s CPVs: the variants were sold not to the entire Canadian comic book market (which was already just the size of California alone so that alone would already have made them incredibly interesting given the 90:10 population ratio — which is before considering the “Quebec Effect” which makes the skew even more extreme), but rather, they were sold just to a portion of the Canadian comic book market… The newsstand portion of that already-tiny 10% pie slice!
But we must also keep in mind that this wasn’t a just a “simple division” of the market into the two distribution channels, rather, it was a sorting of the market: comic shops tended to serve collectors who would take home their direct edition copies and preserve them in plastic bags in the hopes of future collectible value. Meanwhile, newsstands tended to serve readers, who paid their 75¢ purely as an entertainment purchase, to actually read the comic! A collector preserving these price variant newsstand comics was the exception, not the norm.
So it is really the intersection of these two different “big-picture” rarity drivers — (1) the market size difference by population, and (2) the newsstand-exclusivity of the price variants — that drives them to be the most rare of the three first-print types published, not by a little, but by a country mile when it comes to high grade collectible condition. Which makes collecting them a challenging and in turn rewarding endeavor.
But pick your spots… the CPV window was multi-year and multi-publisher and as a result there are over 5,000 issues with variants in our latest guide, many of which are issues where the baseline direct editions have very little value. Had the price variant window been shorter and had the number been, say, just 50 issues with variants, then perhaps it would be the case that finding any Canadian Price Variant comic would be an incredible find… But with so many thousands of issues with variants, my advice is to think about the CPV rarity characteristics in the context of driving your collecting decisions within the 1980’s issues you have already chosen to collect due to their appeal: first select the issues that appeal to you, and then target the CPVs for those issues (although that being said, there are also a handful of CPV titles that are so impossible to find that after so many years of looking unsuccessfully, I would call them incredible collectibles just based on their rarity alone; like the Zatanna Special variants — if they really do exist that is, as I think they must!).
When I compare these example wins against today’s modern “manufactured-rarity variants” competing for my collecting dollars, the prices I was able to pay for these CPV examples feel to me like a relative bargain by contrast, for what is truly a purely naturally-occurring type of cover price variant — with rarity that came on its own arising from the distribution circumstances, with that extreme relative rarity only to be “discovered” by collectors decades later.
Unlike today’s modern 1-in-whatever cover artwork variants which are treated as coveted collectibles to preserve and protect from the get-go by those who buy them, the initial typical buyers of our CPVs paid cover price for them as an entertainment purchase! Those buyers may not have even kept the books, let alone preserve their condition! The contrast against today’s modern cover variants, which have been cooked up by publishers to appeal directly to (and make money off of) collectors, could not be more stark!! Can you imagine one of today’s retail incentive variant buyers actually reading the variant they just paid $25-50 (or more) for? No way! When thinking about these modern manufactured-rarity cover artwork variants, we should expect that excepting accidental damage, every single copy printed is now out there somewhere in a collection with its high grade condition being preserved.
I recently was doing a CGC census lookup for Marvel Comics #1000, and I was astonished how far that page scrolls down, with cover variant after cover variant… it is hardly possible to count them as you are scrolling without getting dizzy and losing track of how many you have counted, so I did a “find-in-page” on “Country/Variant” and the web browser counts forty-one occurrences. And the census entry page for Amazing Spider-Man #800 has even more: fifty-nine occurrences! That’s literally 100 different cover variations across just two modern issue numbers.
The publishers need to sell comics, and I get it; but for my collecting dollars, the true treasure out there is the naturally-scarce comics, not the myriad different cover variants (each one “artificially-rare”), of today’s modern comics. I really like how Dr. Steven Kahn put it, in his OPG #50 market report, discussing this very topic:
“I don’t begrudge these companies for trying to make a profit. I do, however, resent when a company creates demand by calculus, whether it’s through variant covers, special editions and the like. In the long run, value is rarely created and the collector is left holding the bag. Just think for a moment about comic books in general. Where has lasting value come once first appearances are removed from the equation? What has risen to the top was certainly not intentional. Value came when the company made a small change that was not expected to be noticed. It was usually due to a mistake in manufacturing a book or an attempt to test something new. Sometimes it came from reducing production. The most valuable Bronze Age comic today is a 35¢ price variant of Star Wars #1. Recently, later prints of popular issues have taken off. Look at the third print of Hulk #377 as a prime example of that. Fifth prints of Superman, Man of Steel #18 are what people are now looking for. Newsstand variants are also stirring the pot these days. Double covers, printing errors, and the like are what caused prices to rise, not calculation by the company as to how to make more money. Created scarcity seldom translates into long term value.”
— Dr. Steven Kahn, Inner Child Comics And Collectibles; OPG #50 page 135
Just as the 35¢ price variant of Star Wars #1 is 100% identical to its regular 30¢ counter-parts except for the cover price, so too are our CPVs 100% identical to their regular US newsstand counter-parts except for the cover price. And just as the 35¢ price variant of Star Wars #1 had “naturally-occuring rarity” due to its distribution being geographically restricted to certain test markets within the full North American market for comic books, so too did our CPVs have geographically targeted distribution to a vastly smaller market area. And just as the initial buyers of the 35¢ price variant of Star Wars #1 had no clue they had just been sold something different or special, so too did the initial buyers of our CPVs have absolutely no idea there was anything different or special about the copy they picked up from their local newsstand in Toronto, or Montreal, or elsewhere…
And since knowledge of CPVs is still not fully widespread in the hobby sitting here in 2020, many sellers who own CPV treasure actually have no clue they are selling something different or special — and all too often they will simply turn to the corresponding page of the Overstreet guide, find the 9.2 guide value for the issue number in general they are selling, and then use that guide value as their asking price (as the seller of The WaWa collection did when forming their asking price for their collection)!
Tim Bildhauser remarked in his latest report that in 2020 he saw more mis-listed CPVs than ever before, saying:
“Oddly enough, I probably saw more ungraded CPVs listed for sale that weren’t notated as such than I can recall ever seeing before, most commonly with the .75 cover price books.”
— Tim Bildhauser, Amazing Spider-Man #238 Remains the King of CPVs
Think about the unbelievable opportunity this situation affords us as collectors today: with some “hunting effort” we can land the dramatically-more-rare CPVs, at direct edition prices, for issues we already wanted to collect on the merits of the underlying issues… in this way we get Two Ways To Win instead of just one — the underlying issue itself may rise in value if we chose wisely, and, we may see collectors of the future willing to pay ever larger premiums for the CPVs on account of their extreme relative rarity.
What would drive a future expansion of CPV premiums from today’s levels?
For one thing, collectors are waking up to the appeal of newsstand comics in general, like never before. As Bill Alexander remarked below, sites like GoCollect are now starting to separately track newsstand sales, which in turn are opening collectors’ eyes to the ever-growing market premiums being paid for the best-grade newsstand copies:
“Direct edition copies are perhaps 50X to 100X times easier to find in high grade compared to their newsstand counterparts. As an example, GoCollect now separately reports newsstand sales for many comics, and for Uncanny X-Men #266 gives a current 9.8 newsstand value of $900 based on 88 recorded sales. They meanwhile give a 9.8 direct edition value of $475, based on 5,989 recorded sales.”
— Bill Alexander, Market Report + Dell and Archie CPVs 1951-1959
As more and more collectors become newsstand-aware, it is only natural that they are going to notice the existence of CPVs when searching for newsstand copies of those issues where CPVs exist as a collecting choice… And having already made the decision to collect newsstand over direct edition for relative rarity reasons, such a collector will certainly recognize the appeal of CPVs as an even-more-rare newsstand version they can go after! One way the expansion of the collector base for CPVs will become evident, is by seeing a rising percentage of new online CPV sales going into the hands of US-based collectors. As Tony LeBlanc reports, that percentage has been rising notably, but still has a lot of room to run:
“I started classifying comics as CPVs about 12 years ago. At first, I was surprised to see that roughly 80% of all my sales were predominantly from fellow Canadians. Now that CPVs are more mainstream, I would estimate that about 65% of my CPV sales goes to the States and this percentage continues to rise.”
— Tony LeBlanc, From a Seller’s Perspective
With each passing year, more and more people are becoming interested in CPVs… One way I know this for certain, is from our own guide usage statistics: Each edition of our CPV guide has gotten more hits than the prior year’s edition; and with the launch of our 2020 edition the guide was “carved out” from the blog itself, onto its own domain (cpvpriceguide.com) with its own separate stats, giving me even more usage data than before. Overall, between the November 2019 launch of the new domain and the end of November 2020, that new domain has gotten 1,054,018 total hits over the course of that first year, and that number has recently been increasing by an additional hundred thousand plus hits with each passing month:
Among other things, carving out the guide onto its own domain also allowed us to have individual pages for each and every issue in the guide. What this means for usage statistics is actually pretty interesting, and I’d like to share some additional statistics with you now. Suppose, using the prior editions of our guide, you had wanted to look up the value for, say, New Mutants #18 (1st appearance of the new Warlock, and a book where as of this writing the top CGC grade is below 9.8). To do that, you would have clicked to the New Mutants page. As far as usage statistics go, I would have seen, simply, another hit to the New Mutants page. I wouldn’t have been able to know that you were interested in issue #18 specifically.
But now, with individual click-through pages for each issue, we’re able to see not just the hits to our page for the New Mutants title, but also the hits to the individual guide page for issue #18 specifically. These hits in part come from people who went to the New Mutants page and then clicked through to issue #18, but we’re also seeing people come to individual issue pages directly, coming from search engines. All together, these usage statistics paint an interesting picture of which particular issues (and titles) are being looked up the most out there.
The most looked-up title in our 2020 guide is Amazing Spider-Man. I’ll bet that surprises no-one. Other top titles won’t surprise you either: Batman, Uncanny X-Men, Detective Comics, and Thor. But how about this one among the top titles: Master of Kung Fu. Surprised? I was at first. But then I realized that the surprisingly-high number of hits to that title may be driven by interest following the movie announcement.
And to me, even more interesting than the hits-by-title data, is the individual hits by issue, which I view as being, in essence, a measure of popularity. I ranked each of the issues in our 2020 guide by their individual hits, and I found it particularly interesting to compare the hit rank, versus the value rank… here’s what that comparison looks like:
So to explain what you’re seeing above, I’ve taken the 20 most popular issues in the guide and ordered/ranked them by number of guide lookups in the past year. The first column is the picture of the issue, the second column is the popularity/guide-lookup rank #, the third column is the value rank #, and then the final column shows you how much higher or lower the popularity rank is, versus the value rank. So over the past year, Amazing Spider-Man #238 was the most looked up issue in the guide (versus #3 for value), Amazing Spider-Man #252 was the second most looked up issue in the guide (versus #10 for value), Secret Wars #8 was the third most looked up issue (versus #9 for value), etc.
I find this comparison very interesting (and I hope you do too), and perhaps the biggest stand-out here is Web of Spider-Man #1, which is wildly popular on hits as the #13-most-looked-up issue in the entire guide, versus #54 in value. Similarly, Batman #404 is the #20-most-looked-up issue in the guide, and sits down at #53 for value. ASM #265 marks another stand-out. Does this popularity portend future upward movement in value for these issues? Time will tell!
What factors drive the hits/popularity of different CPV issues? As part of the Bronze and Copper ages, part of the answer — whether we like it or not — may be movie hype and speculation (and when speculators go after particular issue numbers, that inevitably impacts the market value of the price variants of those same issue numbers). As Marc Sims of Big B Comics put it in his OPG #50 market report:
“Bronze and Copper Age sales in my view are, more than any other sector of the market, driven by speculation and movie/TV hype. This also means that there is a big focus on CGC 9.8 copies. The two seem to go hand in hand. I have said it many times in my reports over the years, and I will say it again. I think it foolish to pay huge premiums for 9.8 copies when you can have a nice tight 9.4 for a fraction of the price. More often than not you are paying for an arbitrary .2 or .4 on a label, not the comic itself. Always buy the book, not the label!”
— Marc Sims, Big B Comics Barrie; OPG #50 page 161
I really like Marc’s advice here about the relative value of lower-than-9.8 copies. Witnessing some of the sales in the CPV niche in 9.8 over the past year, versus the same issues in 9.2-9.6, it really is quite remarkable how much more money people are willing to pay for that 9.8 label. Yet, one of the things I’m sure many of us have all experienced, when having a book re-graded (whether switching from one grading company to another, or getting an already-graded book signed under Signature Series, or just “trying for an upgrade” by having an already-graded book re-graded) is that 9.6’s often become 9.8’s, and 9.8’s often become 9.6’s (or even lower!), sometimes in seemingly arbitrary/luck-based fashion.
Most of us seem to try to continually upgrade our collections of CPVs, trading out of lower grades and into even-better copies, but perhaps it is time to have a serious conversation about the merits of the idea of purposely downgrading, i.e. selling 9.8’s for the huge market premium, and holding onto (or acquiring new) near-mint-range copies of the same issues? This strategy might be especially rewarding when there is a surge of TV/Movie-driven demand for a given issue. I haven’t done this myself, but it is something to think about!
As far as specific books with future TV/movie potential, Angelo Virone has some great discussion in his report here. There were also a lot of titles and issues that were specifically mentioned in Overstreet #50 market reports in connection with movies and/or television. One example of such an issue with a CPV is Star Wars #68, which Joseph Fiore reported on as follows:
“The hit TV series The Mandalorian has created a seemingly unending buzz of interest for Boba Fett’s first appearance in comics, original art, and toys. … I can’t seem to ever stock enough copies of Marvel Star Wars #42 or any 75¢ cover priced copies of #68.”
— Joseph Fiore, ComicWiz.com; OPG #50 page 124
Thor #337 was another issue getting specific mention in the OPG #50 market reports, for example in Steve Mortensen’s report:
“Marvel and DC Canadian variants have also sold well. Thor #337 Canadian Variant sold in CGC 9.8 for $700 in October of 2019 while a U.S. edition sold in November of 2019 for $480. Canadian variants generally sell for 50-100% more than their U.S. counterparts.”
— Steve Mortensen, Miracle Comics; OPG #50 page 147
Recent strong sales of Thor #337 are no doubt driven by Beta Ray Bill’s first appearance, with speculation about future Thor movies. In Russ Bright’s market report, he mentioned Moon Knight books as another character being increasingly sought after:
“Fringe characters (Moon Knight, Werewolf by Night) are more sought after than ever. Some of this can be expected by the age of the consumer. The average comic book consumer is in their mid 30s to mid 40s which leads to… Strength in ’90’s comics!”
— Russ Bright, Mill Geek Comics; OPG #50 page 108
His point about age groups is a great one; certainly part of the growth in demand for Bronze, Copper, and now early Modern age keys is driven by nostalgia for comics (and cartoons) experienced during childhood, by people who now are reaching the age where they have extra income. And as an adult, a collector is more likely to comprehend the direct edition versus newsstand difference, and what that means for the specific copies they should target when re-collecting old favorites (which naturally will lead them to discovering newsstand comics and in turn CPVs). This same age group also has nostalgia for the video games of their childhood too, a trend mentioned in multiple OPG #50 market reports, including the report by Doug Sulipa, who wrote:
“WATA has started to professionally grade video games, with many already bringing record prices. This trend has transferred into all the video game related comics. Blip is now a red hot title from Marvel. All the Nintendo titles (Mario, Zelda, Game Boy, etc.) now sell Raw in the $10 to $40 each price range, and $100+ graded by CGC. Other titles to buy now while they are still cheap are: Atari Force, Double Dragon, Knuckles, Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Sonic the Hedgehog, Street Figher, and Tomb Raider.”
— Doug Sulipa, Doug Sulipa’s Comic World; OPG #50 page 166
Another trend that received a fair amount of attention in the Overstreet #50 market reports, which certainly seems like it has “spilled into” the CPV niche as far as creating additional demand, is the growing cohort of collectors who specifically look outside of US borders for different versions of key issues. One Overstreet Advisor who wrote about this niche was Timothy Kupin:
“The market that seems to be gathering a lot of new interest is the foreign comic book market. It’s also the niche market that I find most interesting. I’ve been accumulating foreign comics or international editions for decades now and until five years ago had no idea how many people worldwide were international comics collectors. I have personally paid real money for a number of international editions of key comics. I’ve also begun doing what a lot of the international collectors are doing and that is actively putting together redundant cover sets. For example, I have Conan #1 from seven countries in ten different editions.”
— Timothy Kupin, Koops Comics; OPG #50 page 139
His note about “redundant cover sets” echoes what Tim Bildhauser has talked about in the past [here, for example], which is that one of the main “styles” of collecting comics that has grown in popularity in recent years is assembling what is referred to as a “set” for any given targeted issue.
A “set” collector targeting Amazing Spider-Man #239, for example, will want all the different types they can possibly find: sometimes all three of the US-published types — the direct edition type, the 60¢ newsstand type, and the 75¢ newsstand type (the CPV) — but also any foreign-published editions they can find as well that match up (books published in Mexico, Australia, etc.).
What more dealers are beginning to realize, is that if they were to have in their inventory, say, a L’Incroayble Hulk #39, that this book is the French Canadian “match-up” comic to Incredible Hulk #180 — so at a show, if they put that French Canadian book up next to their regular copy of Hulk #180, potential buyers looking for #180 are now potentially going to be curious, and ask, “what’s that other one next to it?” This sales technique is starting to really catch on, with Tim Bildhauser reporting in his OPG #50 market report that he has noticed more dealers doing this at the many comic cons he attended throughout 2019:
“As anyone that reads the market reports knows, mine is focused on international editions. During the course of 2019 I attended 30 conventions throughout the year and I can’t recall a single one of them where there wasn’t at least a couple of dealers with a few books on their wall from various countries outside the States.”
— Tim Bildhauser, CBCS International Comics Specialist; OPG #50 page 104
Putting up key books grouped “in sets” of different versions next to one another, sounds like a smart move for dealers looking to tap into this growing collecting style. An “eBay equivalent” sales technique would be either to (a) group books into sets and create a listing for the full set, or (b) still sell the books individually but list the international book not titled as, say, “L’Incroayble Hulk #39 Fine Condition” (which nobody would ever find if their keyword search is “incredible hulk 180”), but rather, as, e.g. something like “Incredible Hulk #180 French Canadian Version, L’Incroayble Hulk #39 Fine Condition” — which collectors looking for Incredible Hulk #180 will then see in the search results; and some percentage of people will inevitably be curious and click through.
The keywords included in a listing title in general are incredibly important to online selling, as Jef Hinds discussed in his OPG #50 report:
“A word on the proven importance of keywords in online listings. There are collectors of everything. Keywords having to do with professions and sports and others greatly increase the chance of a sale. Especially good ones I have found are Golf, Chess, Dentist, Baseball, Tennis, Skiing, etc. There are many more.”
— Jef Hinds, Jef Hinds Comics; OPG #50 page 129
When it comes to keywords people are using in their titles when listing Canadian Price Variant newsstand comics, I notice that “CPV” is increasingly present in titles — when I search eBay today on just the keyword “CPV” in the Comics category, there are 1,180 results. I hope that use of this CPV keyword continues to catch on, over on eBay and elsewhere. Perhaps it will become one of those abbreviations that eBay “learns” over time (e.g. eBay has learned “TMNT” — whereby if your title has “TMNT” in it but not “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, eBay will still show your listing to people searching on “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” … this TMNT shortcut can save a lot of space in the title for other important keywords; eventual similar treatment of “CPV” by eBay would be fantastic for that same reason).
A new feature that eBay recently introduced is the ability to place a buy-it-now item on sale to the specific users who have added it to their watchlist. [If you have ever added a comic to your watchlist, and some time later an email appeared in your inbox where the seller sent you a special discounted offer, they used that feature.] If you come across a book that interests you, but find yourself thinking that the price is just a little too high, I recommend adding the book to your watchlist anyway — because you never know, the seller might send you one of these special offers. And if they check a certain box when doing so, then you can in turn send a counter-offer and get a negotiation rolling.
This really isn’t all that different from the “best-offer” listings which are already widely in use… But something to know about this new feature, is that in the eBay Sold Listings section, while you can easily identify which ones were best-offer-accepted listings, there meanwhile is currently no way to know if a buy-it-now listing was actually discounted by way of one of these offers. In other words, at present, eBay will show a “slash” through the asking price of a best-offer-type listing where an offer was accepted, but will show the un-crossed asking price for all buy-it-now listings regardless of whether they were sold using this new discounted-offer feature or not. Thus, an unfortunate side effect of this new eBay feature is that we must keep in mind that some portion of buy-it-now sales shown to us by eBay may actually have gone for a lower price than the number shown. Fortunately, results of auctions still remain a reliable indicator for true eBay sales prices.
Another factor that has recently come into play with eBay sales is state-level sales tax. As far as reported prices, eBay is showing the price before sales tax. So in actuality, the all-in cost of the comic could be notably higher. This was mentioned in quite a number of Oversteet #50 market reports. For example, Conan Saunders wrote as follows:
“The largest impact on comic sales in 2019, if not specifically comic prices, was South Dakota v. Wayfair, a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that allowed states to charge sales tax on purchases from out of state sellers. … I’ve heard from several sellers both inside and outside of comics that their eBay sales have faced a significant headwind over the second half of 2019, and I think a big part of that is buyers responding to unexpected new sales tax charges.”
— Conan Saunders, Lone Star Comics; OPG #50 page 157
Alex Reece also had a particularly good discussion of the impact:
“Overarching all of this is something of greater importance than movie hype or even internal market patterns. What I am referring to is the landmark Supreme Court decision that allows states to collect sales tax from large internet companies, even if they do not have a physical presence in said state. At the time of my writing, 42 out of the 50 states have enacted laws based upon this ruling. This affects a vast majority of comic buyers, and is going to affect prices of comic books. We have already seen it. Many of the bigger companies, including the auction houses, are now forced to collect sales tax from everyone who lives in one of those states, and buyers are forced to build the tax into the cost of their purchase. For example, if a buyer was willing to buy a book at auction for $1,000 before the new law, he may now only be willing to purchase it for $910, as he has to factor in the new 10% tax rate of his state. He is still paying close to $1,000 for the exact same book, but the sold price of the book is now reported at $910 instead of $1,000.”
— Alex Reece, OPG #50 page 155
Perhaps driven in part by this new sales tax situation, I keep hearing the word “Instagram” from collectors lately. One said to me, “Ben, Instagram is becoming the new eBay.” Market report contributor James Gilbreath reported earlier this year that his list of Instagram followers to his cpvkingcomics account crossed over the 3,000 mark (and I just looked today and see that now it is above 3,400).
As always, it is interesting and exciting to see how the comic collecting landscape changes and evolves over time. The year 2020 sure has fallen under the category of “interesting times” and to everyone reading this I wish you good health and prosperity in the new year!
Finally, I want to end this market report by sharing page #100 of the Overstreet Price Guide #50 — thank-you to Overstreet Advisor Bill Alexander for honoring me with the invitation to contribute to his market report — here it is below:
A quick note from Ben, publisher of the Rare Comics Blog: Hi everyone, it is an honor to be publishing Jon’s full Overstreet #50 market report online this year. As you may know, for their 50th anniversary guide issue, Overstreet included special anniversary features that necessitated they restrict the length of other areas of the guide such as the market reports section. Therefore, advisors were given a length limit this year, and were invited to end their reports with a web address to read the full version. Welcome to all the Overstreet readers who have landed here as a result! What follows is Jon’s full OPG #50 report; the blue background section is what you already read in the guide.
By Jon McClure; As published in the Overstreet Price Guide #50
Greetings from Astoria Oregon!
Here’s a few sales from late 2019: Wartime Romances #5 (Matt Baker cover) VG+ $450, Tomb of Dracula #1-70 average F/F+ $895, Green Mask #10 VG- $69, Fast Willie Jackson #1 F+ $65, Crime Smashers #11 VG+ $159, Buffalo Bill #7 VG- $59, and Strange Planets #1 NM- $59. Low to mid-grade Marvels sold in antique malls at 150% Guide or higher. Double to triple Guide was not uncommon to receive from speculators and collectors looking for undervalued and overlooked titles. Comics sell in person that won’t move online. DCs were sluggish in general except for key issues and large runs sufficiently discounted. Sales in general were steady, with Marvel titles leading the pack as usual.
The best definition I know for a “Variant” comic book is (1) any non-standard edition created for distribution with a unique purpose, (2) anything reprinted for distribution under the same title with some changes to the cover and/or contents, and (3) any non-standard edition created for distribution in an unplanned or imperfect way. The primary characteristic of a Variant is a strong similarity to the “regular” or standard edition.
Here’s a list of the five unique types of Type 1 variants that exist:
• Type 1: Test Market Cover Price Variants (US Cents Priced)
• Type 1A: Foreign Distribution Variants (UK Pence, Canadian $, Australian $, L Miller Indicias)
• Type 1B: Reverse Cover Price Variants (US Cents Priced)
• Type 1C: Variant Covers
• Type 1D: US Cents Price Font Variants
Type 1: Test Market Cover Price Variants (US Cents Priced)
Cover Price Test Market Variants with regional or otherwise limited distribution, published simultaneously with standard or “regular” editions. Such Variants exist because publishers want to test the market prior to raising prices. The indicia and all aspects of the book, except for the cover price, are identical to regular editions.
Type 1A: U.S. Published Foreign Distribution Variants (UK Pence, Canadian $, Australian $, L Miller Indicias)
Cover Price Variants intended for foreign distribution with limited regional distribution, published simultaneously with standard or “regular” editions. In the majority of cases, the indicia and all aspects of the bookare identical to regular U.S. editions except for the coverprice. In some instances other alterations may be present. These may include missing or different cover dates, regional indicia details and variant company logos. Other minor alterations may also be present.
Note: The definition of Type 1A has been updated for clarification purposes to accommodate new variant discoveries.
Type 1B: Reverse Cover Price Variants (US Cents Priced)
Cover Price Reverse Variants with regional or otherwise limited distribution, published simultaneously with standard or “regular” editions. Reverse Variants exist because material is accidentally printed with a lower price than intended, a mistake not always sufficient for the publisher to destroy otherwise salable goods. The indicia and all aspects of the book are identical to regular editions, regardless of whether it is intended for U.S. or foreign distribution, and the primary characteristic is that there is another version with the same cover logo and markings and the correct cover price. The Gold Key 30 cent and Whitman 40 cent Price Variants are perfect examples.
Type 1C: Variant Covers
Cover Variants with limited or standard distribution, published simultaneously with standard or “regular” editions. This type of Variant exists because publishers choose to experiment with the market without making widespread appearance changes to their logos or regular editions, or to capitalize on current popularity. The indicia and all aspects of the bookare identical to regular editions except for the front, inside, and/or back cover deviations, with Variant covers sometimes noted inside. If one book has two different covers, it may be impossible to identify a “regular” edition beyond “cover 1a, 1b,” etc. DC’s Fury of Firestorm #61 and Justice League #3 Superman Logos Variant are good examples. A good multiple cover example is DC’s Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #1; The Walking Dead #100 is another solid example. Many contemporary publishers produce multiple different covers for their titles, and Type 1C is the most commonly used variety.
Type 1D: US Cents Price Font Variants
As of last year (2018), a new Type of variant has also surfaced, brought to my attention by UK based researcher Steve Cranch. Type 1D is defined as “Cover price variants with a unique price font. All aspects of the bookare identical to regular editions but with a unique style of cover price.” There are 13 such variants currently proven to exist; they are Marvel U.S. Ten Cent Price Font Variants. Because no copy can be yet said to be the primary copy, all are “variants” in their own right, and can be catalogued as cover 1, 1a, 1b, etc. Twelve of thirteen known examples have two unique 10 cent fonts, and the 13th is a key issue, Rawhide Kid #17(8/60), which contains an origin story with Jack Kirby art, and which has three different ten cent fonts, not to mention a Type 1A 9d price variant! I know many of you may be thinking I’m splitting hairs, but we’re talking about original copies of the same books with different and identifiable characteristics on the covers.
There are three unique cents fonts known: 10 cents in bold with a slashed c, a ’slim font’ 10 cents with a small c next to the 10, and a slim font 10 cents with a big C next to the 10. In most cases, the slim font mirrors that of the Type 1A 9d copies raising the possibility of a link between the two. The cents font variations begin when the UK 9d prices are introduced; up until that point, all Marvels had the standard bold 10 / slashed c cents font.
Why do these variants exist and which copy was printed first? Might they have played with the appearance of a few books as an experiment of sorts, just for eye appeal, or on a whim, or due to some error? Or, given the timeline link to the 9d UK copies, could the additional cents fonts indicate some other purpose like foreign distribution – Canada perhaps – especially because of the example of Rawhide Kid #17? For the record, I believe all Type 1D 10 cent font variants should be valued equally in respect to scarcity and potential interest until more is known.
The 13 known Type 1D variants were published from June 1960 to February 1961 inclusive, and more variant examples may exist. Issues with font variants include Battle #70(6/60), with Kirby and Ditko art, Journey Into Mystery #60(9/60), 64-65(1-2/61), with Kirby art in #60 and #64, Rawhide Kid #17 (origin by Kirby), Strange Tales 75-77(6, 8, 10/60), 81(2/61), with Ditko art, Tales To Astonish #14(12/60), 16(2/61), with Kirby and Ditko art, and Two-Gun Kid #54-55(6, 8/60), with Kirby art. Although Steve is not the first to notice the font differences on Marvel covers, I believe he is the first to research and document the extent to which these variations exist.
For the remainder of my report, limited spatially because this is the 50th Annual Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, please go to rarecomicsblog.com.
By Jon McClure; Remainder of OPG #50 market report:
Marvel Type 1 test market cover price variants continue to break record sales results. Publisher experiments in the 20th century repeatedly birthed Type 1 cover price variants immediately before universal price hikes, such as the shift from 10 to 12 cents per copy that occurred in January 1962 from Marvel and DC, and the 25 cent to 30 cent shift famously embodied by the Marvel variants cover dated 4-8/1976 and from 30 to 35 cents for variants cover dated 6-10/1977. Archie and Charlton also played with 15 cent variants in the beginning of the 12 cent era. Despite much heckling back in the day from fellow advisors and critics, when I discovered and publicized the existence of the Marvel cover price variants in Comic Book Marketplace #51(8/97), such comics have soared in popularity and value. For a history of comic book variants from the Golden Age to the present, as well as a list of known variants and a detailed lexicon of variant types, with examples that continue to evolve and expand, refer to my article from 2010 in the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide #40, “A History of Publisher Experimentation and Variant Comic Books,” pages #1010-1038. An updated version is in progress for the 51st Annual OPG. All variant types and publishers are represented into the early 1990s.
Marvel Type 1 test market cover price variants are among the hottest Bronze Age books pursued by collectors and speculators. The key books listed by the Guide in the top 10 Gold, Silver and Bronze Age categories are there due to consistent sales and demand, and currently five of the top ten Bronze Age comics are 35 cent variants. The ratio of regular 30 cent copies of Star Wars #1 in CGC 9.4 NM to 9.8 NM/M (there are over 2000) to the 35 cent variant of #1 is 200 to 1, according to the CGC census. Roughly twenty certified 35 cent copies exist in NM 9.4 or better, of which two certified copies exist in CGC 9.6 NM+ condition to date, despite the fact that the CGC census says there are three; a processing error mis-identified a reprint with a 35 cent cover price, which sold on eBay in 2018, at many times its value due to inept misrepresentation and lack of understanding by the bidders. The highest graded examples of Marvel variants are bringing record prices at auction, on the rare occasion they come up for auction at all, especially the western and horror titles that had the lowest distribution. Sales were slow for Marvel western and horror titles back in the day, hence their cancellations in 1976-1977.
Tip Top Comics #56(12/40) has surfaced as a 15 cover price variant, bringing other United Features’ titles and all issues from December 1940 (and months before and after) into potential variant territory. It is a Type 1A variant as Golden Age books were universally 10 cents unless a giant size. The best place to find variants is where you have already found one. Captain and the Kids #1(1938) exists as a Type 2 Variant dated December 1939 that reads “Reprint” on the cover. True Comics #60(5/47) has surfaced this year with a Type 1A 15 cent cover price. Other issues show small and subtle differences that make them variants. For example, #57(2/47) has gray and blue cover variants, and #29(11/43) has two versions: The regular copy has a ten cent price that stands alone, but the second copy has “cc” under the price. Additional examples likely exist within this title.
On another note, I.W./Super comics have not shown any appreciable interest yet, including the variants, despite my article in the OPG #47, “The Strange Story of Israel Waldman and the I.W./Super Comics Mystery,” pages #1169-1180. Such books have been overlooked for decades but I believe their day will come.
Archie 15 cent Type 1 cover price variants exist for issues from March 1962 to April 1963, and they now have over 80% confirmed to exist, so I feel confident that all 112 issues will eventually surface. Doug Sulipa and I estimate that such 15 cent variants are about 500-1000 times scarcer than their 12 cent counterparts. Regular 12 cent sci-fi monster issues from 1961-1962 sell for about 2-4 times guide, so the 15 cent variants of these books should logically be higher in value. It’s difficult to nail down actual worth when such items rarely change hands, and the listings do not appear in the guide yet, although collectors and dealers are well aware at this stage. I believe all 15 cent Archie Type 1 cover price variants have enormous investment potential, especially the three super-keys: Archie’s Madhouse #22(10/62), Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica #75(3/62) and Josie #1(2/63). March 1962 to April 1963 is the time period where all Archie titles had a 15 cent counterpart.
Forty one different Type 1 Charlton 15 cent test market cover price variants from March 1962(20 titles) and April 1962(21 titles) are potentially hiding out there. Currently Fightin’ Marines #46(4/62), I Love You #39(4/62), LI’l Genius #37(3/62), Six-Gun Heroes #67(3/62), Space War #15(3/62), Sweethearts #64(3/62), Texas Rangers #32(3/62), and Timmy The Timid Ghost #31(3/62) are the only eight examples confirmed to exist. Such 15 cent variants are so scarce and unknown to collectors that no sales have yet to bring a premium due to the fact that almost no one is looking for them and dealers are unaware. Real value is difficult to judge without any money changing hands. I find such cusp era variants interesting and hope collectors will share acquisitions with me so I can continue to disseminate all Variant information. You can reach me at jonmcclurescomics.com with these or other variant discoveries.
Type 1A cover price variants simultaneously published for foreign distribution are increasing in demand according to Doug Sulipa. Bronze and Copper Age Marvel and to a lesser extent DC Type 1A Canadian cover price variants are now routinely selling for 150-500% Guide, and select CGC high grade key issues of popular characters have been bringing 200% to 1000% of guide; such Type 1A books are at least 10 times scarcer due to low print runs. Canada’s population is about 10% of the US population, thus about 10% of all Print Runs are Canadian copies, however roughly 80% of the surviving copies are Direct Editions, bought in comic shops and saved by collectors. “Type 1A Canadian Newsstand Cover Price Variants from the 1980s were easily our #1 bestselling variants of the year,” according to Sulipa. “Demand for them continues to grow at an accelerated rate, with many record-breaking sales taking place in 2019. In record numbers, collectors are learning about the scarcity and appeal of this type of price variant.”
Most of the Newsstand editions were bought by non-collecting readers, with a much lower survival rate, and most are well read FA/G to FN/VF copies. Most VF/NM or better Type 1A Canadian Newsstand Cover Price Variants are roughly 50 to 300 times scarcer than their US Direct Market counterparts in high grade; randomly checking the CGC census will substantiate this for most items. High grade examples from the Silver and Bronze age of Type 1A variants are scarcer; this is largely due to damages that occurred in transit, and in particular water damage found on pence editions shipped overseas. Such difficulties predate contemporary standard procedures like simultaneous off-site printing, a reality that renders the concept of origination meaningless, at least for modern books. Marvel collectors dominate about 75% of the Type 1A Canadian cover price and British pence variant market, while DC and the others split the remaining 25%, with non-DC books accounting for less than 10% of total sales, a ratio that steepens when you hit the 1990s, when Type 1A cover price variants that don’t say Marvel or DC have yet to show much interest outside of key issues.
Only five Type 1A DC pence issues exist from the early Bronze age: Action #402(7/71), Adventure #408(7/71), Detective #413(7/71), Flash #208(8/71), and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #139(7/71). Action #402, Detective #413, and Flash #208 have Neal Adams covers, and the Flash issue is a 52 page giant, so such books have attractive qualities beyond just being Type 1A variants, and can bring 300% guide or more than cents editions, especially in high grade. The bulk of DC Type 1A pence issues exist from February 1978 to September 1981 and are more common.
Dell Canadian and U.K. Type 1A cover price editions are being collected more, and currently sell at at a modest premium of 125-150% of standard cents editions. The first published Canadian price variant Dell Giants were Bugs Bunny’s Christmas Funnies #2(11/51) and Walt Disney’s Christmas Parade #3(11/51). Western Publishing’s Type 1A 75 cent cover price variants of 60 cent Whitmans from 1984 sell briskly at 300-400% Guide due to extremely low print runs, according to Doug Sulipa. Whitman pre-pack comics dated 8-12/1980 are red hot sellers due to scarcity and bring $80-$500 or more in Very Fine or better condition for the finest examples. Refer to my article, “The Whitman Mystery,” in Comic Book Marketplace #85-86(9-10/01) for the strange story behind what caused the scarcity of Gold Key/Whitman comics dated 1980-1984 and their untimely demise.
Type 1A variants are drawing the attention of collectors and investors like never before. I have long argued that Type 1A variants of all eras would climb in interest due to scarcity. The scarcity of Canadian newsstand cover price variants versus simultaneously published U.S. direct editions is a chasm of difference, roughly 50 to 1 by comparison! Even “newsstand variants,” the newsstand edition of comics extending into the 1990s, have come to bring a premium of up to 1000% or more due to scarcity, as print runs descended year by year. Comiclink sold an Amazing Spider-Man #238(3/83) Type 1A CGC 9.6 for $2300 in August 2018; such items rarely surface.
CBCS and CGC now label Type 1A books “variants” on the labels, which is a positive step forward in understanding what they are and how to discuss them intelligently. Check out the free new online Price Guide for Type 1A Canadian cover price Marvel and DC comics from the 1980s at cpvpriceguide.com. The Guide contains only Marvel, DC and Archie at this juncture, beginning with books cover dated 10/82 and ending with issues cover dated 9/88 for DC and 8/86 for Marvel. Key issues in the top ten include Batman #357(3/83), Swamp Thing #37(6/85) and Amazing Spider-Man #238(3/83), the latter key issue burdened with an insert, an unusual conundrum.
Early Marvel Direct Sale Editions are scarcer and sell for an average of 200-500% of regular newsstand editions according to Doug Sulipa; such books were sometimes erroneously referred to as “Marvel Whitmans” due to their simultaneous distribution in department and drug stores in Whitman bags. Early Marvel Direct Market Editions have a duality of purpose, and thus have the unique honor of being “special market editions” that required a secondary market to help justify the cost of their existence in smaller print runs. The Direct Sales market was in its infancy, and Marvel wanted to monitor retailers’ return credits, hence the confusion surrounding the odd but necessary difference in appearance between such books and their newsstand counterparts. Short gaps in production occurred from 2/1977 to 5/1979, as it cost less for Marvel to roll the dice against bogus returns than over-produce books erratically purchased by chain retailers. All early Direct Market Editions were produced except for the cover dates 1-3/1978, 7/1978, and 3-4/1979, and such comics are sought after largely by hardcore Marvel completists.
First printing Type 1A single priced Australian price variants exist for Marvel comics published between October 1990 to January 1994 and February 1996 to November 1996 inclusive; 1147 comics out a possible 1702 have been confirmed to exist based on 101 known titles. The majority of titles produced by Marvel during this period are believed to have Australian priced copies. The confirmed range for Amazing Spider-Man is issue #341 to #384, #408 and #410 to #417. A $4.75 Australian priced annual #27 also exists making 54 books for that title alone. The Australian copies produced 1990-1994 have amended cover dates that are three months later than their US counter-parts to account for the shipping time to Australia. The indicia are unchanged, meaning the Australian price variant for an issue published in October of 1990 will carry a cover date of January; an issue published January 1994 will carry a cover date of April. CGC catalogs the variants by their cover dates instead of the indicia dates but also mentions the indicia date on most labels. The Australian price variants were printed on the same presses at the same time as their other first print counterparts, so this catalog date versus actual publication date disparity should hopefully not create the false impression that the price variants with different cover dates are reprints. The later 1996 price variant copies meanwhile have the same cover dates as their US counterparts. The Australian Type 1A price variants are as legitimate as their Canadian and UK Pence price variant cousins. Although they are less well known with relatively few collectors currently seeking them out, I expect that to change. People collect what they know about, and Marvels are the most pursued comics in the hobby. Three example Australian Type 1A keys are New Mutants #98(2/91 indicia; May cover date), Amazing Spider-Man #361(4/92 indicia; July cover date), and Iron Man #282(7/92 indicia; October cover date).
For those of you who collect Type 1A pence price variants, here’s an update on Silver and Bronze Age gems from UK researcher Steve Cranch who is in the process of documenting all known first printing pence price variants for all US published comics. Seven publishers are known to have pence variants as follows:
• Archie – 24 issues confirmed of a potential 46 issues within the date range of March 1960 to August 1960 inclusive. All issues have 9d printed prices. 11 titles confirmed.
• Charlton – 476 issues confirmed of a potential 833 issues within the date range of April/July 1960, January 1961 to December 1963 inclusive. All issues have 6d or 9d printed prices. 75 titles confirmed.
• DC – 840 issues confirmed. The inclusive date range is July/August 1971, February 1978 to September 1981. All issues have 5p, 7 1/2p, 12p or 15p printed prices. 75 titles confirmed.
• Dell – 212 issues confirmed of a potential 424 issues within the date range of April 1960 to July 1961 inclusive. All issues have 9d, 1/- or 2/- printed prices. 40 titles confirmed (where Four Color and Dell Giants represent one title each).
• Gold Key – 120 issues confirmed of a potential 171 issues within the date range of April 1973 to November 1975 inclusive. All issues have 6p, 7p or 8p printed prices. 8 titles confirmed.
• King Comics – 20 issues confirmed of a potential 24 issues within the date range of August 1967 to November 1967 inclusive. All issues have 10d printed prices. 6 titles confirmed.
• Marvel – 3,019 issues confirmed, with only one or two more expected to exist. The inclusive date range is May 1960 to December 1981. All issues have 9d, 10d, 1/-, 6p, 7p, 8p, 9p, 10p, 12p, 15p, 20p, 30p or 40p printed prices. 118 titles confirmed.
Another new Type 1A group of books has surfaced — L. Miller indicia variants. Such books fall under the expanded type 1a category as they are cover price variants and non-cover price variants with a unique indicia with regional or otherwise limited distribution. When Marvel pence priced copies first began in May 1960, all copies were previously assumed to have been distributed by Thorpe and Porter, carrying T&P indicias accordingly for the first 4 years. It has since been discovered that the UK distributor L Miller & Co also distributed a handful of Marvel titles from May 1960, and these books have unique L Miller indicias.
Steve Cranch initially contacted me to discuss these 26 previously unknown L. Miller Silver Age Marvel comics in 2018. The books range from May 1960 to August 1961 inclusive and 24 out of a potential 26 have been proven to exist, with the remaining two expected to be proven. L. Miller (a UK distributor) indicia variants are currently confirmed to exist for Amazing Adventures #1-4(6-9/61), with Kirby and Ditko art, Gunsmoke Western #58(5/60)-60, (#61 awaiting verification) 62-65(7/61), with #59, 62-65 sporting Kirby art, Rawhide Kid #17(8/60)-23(8/61), all with Kirby art, Two-Gun Kid #54(6/60)-57, (#58 awaiting verification) 59(4/61), with Kirby art in #54-55, 57-59, and Wyatt Earp #29(6/60). The title Kid Colt Outlaw, from the same time period, was skipped entirely by L. Miller despite being the only other major Western title of the time. All 9d copies of Kid Colt Outlaw in the L. Miller date window have Thorpe & Porter indicias.
Uniquely, the Type 1A L. Miller variants with cover dates 5/60 to 8/60 are priced 9d and those dated 9/60 to 8/61 are priced at 10c instead of 9d. The latter books are identical in appearance except for the indicia. All confirmed issues of such Type 1A variants were printed in the U.S. and with the exception of Two-Gun Kid #55, carry an additional line of indicia data indicating that the books were “Exclusively printed for L Miller & Co. (Hackney) Ltd. 342 & 344 Hackney Road, London, E.2.” My speculation is that Marvel probably didn’t bother with changing the plates for the price change, or just forgot, hence the 10 cent covers for later L. Miller issues.
Marvel pence variants – understanding the differences: There are no known Marvel books with printed pence prices prior to May 1960. With the exception of the aforementioned L Miller copies, every Marvel pence variant from 5/60 through 11/64 inclusive, plus every Marvel pence variant from 1961 (with the exception of August 1961 for some depraved reason), plus every Marvel pence variant from 1962 to 11/64, are all going to have some variation of the Thorpe & Porter line included in the indicia. Some have the entire cents indicia removed and replaced with a Thorpe & Porter line, some have the Thorpe & Porter line in an added sentence, and some have it as an added paragraph/line.
Amazing Fantasy #15(8/62), the first appearance of Spider-Man, exists as a Type 1A 9d cover price variant with a missing cover date and a Thorpe and Porter indicia, and there are three differences to the cents/regular edition: (1) the cover price difference (9d for the pence version), (2) the date omitted (no “Aug” on cover) from the pence version and (3) the indicia of the pence version does not match the regular edition, because the pence version has the line about Thorpe & Porter included. The indicia on both the regular and pence copies say September in the indicia, although the regular edition has an August cover date. There are many examples from the Golden and Silver age of mis-numbered and contradictory dates. CGC lists the pence edition as September due to the missing cover date, essentially defaulting to the indicia. Both versions were printed on the same presses at the same time, so this disparity should hopefully not create the false impression that the pence copy is a reprint.
Other new Type 1 variant finds as of 2018: Steve Cranch has documented some modern Marvel newsstand cover price variants as well. During the months of October 1999 to February 2000 inclusive additional single price $2.29 and $2.49 variant covers of regular $1.99 newsstand books have been found to exist, making three different prices of newsstand copies. A total of 32 variant $2.29 / $2.49 copies have been found to exist covering six titles. The current titles with one or both variant prices confirmed are Amazing Spider-Man #10-11, 13, Cable #72-74, Fantastic Four #23-24, 26, Hulk #8-10, Mighty Thor #17-19, and X-Men #93, 95-96. The $2.29 / $2.49 price variants only appear to exist where the regular newsstand price was $1.99 – the regular $2.99 double sized issues within the range have no variant prices confirmed, hence the breaks in sequence. Such variants indicate a further Type 1 variant market test by Marvel in line with the more widely known 30 and 35 cent price variants.
Vast numbers of Type 1C cover variants are published today, and are fare for many titles such as The Walking Dead (now completed). Modern cover variants can bring serious money, some of which are slabbed 9.8 signature series variants. Variant comics are now used to entice completists as well as provide options for a “favorite” cover when collecting a title, and many popular artists contribute to that end that do not normally create material for the various titles. A myriad of publishers employ this strategy to boost their bottom line as the term “variant” is now a household term to most collectors. There are more variants (mostly Type 1C) published today than at any time in comic book history.
Happy hunting to collectors and completists everywhere!
A History of Publisher Experimentation and Variant Comic Books, 2021 Edition, By Jon McClure
Published within the pages of The Overstreet Guide to Grading Comics, Sixth Edition,
Jon’s newest article updates his 2010 epic about different kinds of variants (which to date marks the longest article ever published in the Overstreet Price Guide — it appeared in OPG #40, p. 1010-1033). The 2021 Edition of Jon’s article is a 50+ page variant reference guide complete with an A-Z list of variant publishers and their history, encompassing every known variant published up to 1990. A powerful tool for investors and treasure hunters alike! Take home your copy today.
A quick note from Ben, publisher of the Rare Comics Blog: Hi everyone, I am excited to be publishing the incredible story of the Wawa Collection, as shared by the team who discovered and acquired it: Craig Foxhoven and Philip Standhart. This collection is practically “famous” in the CPV niche, because it encompassed the full 1980’s price variant window, and is thought of by many as the first “pedigree” ultra-high-grade CPV collection to ever hit the market — many of us were lucky enough to acquire CBCS-graded copies which were consigned to MyComicShop. When Conan Saunders of MyComicShop joined our CPV price guide team last year, he was able to put me in touch with Craig & Phil. I commend them for not only recognizing what a once-in-a-collecting-lifetime-type opportunity they had come across, but having the guts to seize the opportunity and having the fortitude and follow-through to see it across the finish line! What follows is their amazing story, followed by a “Q&A”…
The Wawa Collection
By Philip Standhart and Craig Foxhoven
Craig and I worked together and were both comic collectors. I suggested the idea of buying raw books off Ebay and sending them for grading. We combined some cash together and picked a couple of key books to bid on. We won a few from the same seller, one of which was X-Men 141. We graded 2-3 of the books and all came back 9.6-9.8.
Craig suggested that we email the seller to see what else he had. I started an email conversation with Clarence, the owner of the collection to see what else he had. He told us he collected all different titles over 40 years and had almost anything we were looking for. Then, the bombshell – he had about 50,000 books!
Craig and I asked if we could fly up and see his collection to buy more from him. Clarence agreed and 2 weeks later we were on a flight to Detroit.
After an 8 hour car ride north from Detroit into Canada, we arrived at the small town of Wawa, Ontario. (The Wawa Goose Monument pictured at right is a landmark there).
We walked into a modest single level home and Clarence took us into the basement. He had built a room there complete with de-humidifier to protect the books. When he opened the door, Craig and I were speechless.
Inside the room, There were 4 rows of shelves with books stacked on either side from floor to ceiling! We went crazy!
Craig and I spent 2 days going through literally thousands of books and hand picked about 200. Some of the gems were Conan #1 and Luke Cage #1. As a token of his appreciation, Clarence gave us Incredible Hulk #271 with Rocket Raccoon. (That graded 9.8 later on.)
We returned to Florida with our short box of treasure and took it to Steve Borock who recently started CBCS. We sent those books off to be graded and started discussing options for a return trip. After negotiating back and forth over phone and email, we struck a deal to buy the ENTIRE collection.
We prepared by ordering plastic bags and boards along with long and short boxes for the transportation of the books. 4 weeks later, we flew back to Detroit and had a panel truck rented to collect our loot. Back to Wawa we drove and spent 3-4 hours the first night loading boxes. That night in our hotel room, Craig and I celebrated by looking at about 15 copies of Ms. Marvel #1 and Star Wars #42 while putting boxes together.
We went back the next morning and began packing. 144 long boxes and 10 hours later, we left Wawa and got to the border. We waited inside customs as the truck was x-rayed and inspected, all the way to the back of the truck, middle box on the bottom row!
We spent the night in Sioux St. Marie and left at 6 am the next morning because of snow. We drove 17 hours and spent the following night in Atlanta. Sunday, we made it to CBCS. Many thanks to Steve Borock, who allowed us to store the collection at the CBCS offices.
Over the next 6-8 months, Craig and I went through each and every book looking for the best books to grade. Once all the boxes were gone through, Craig went through many of them again to make sure nothing was missed. I was posting graded books and many raw runs on Ebay in the meantime and doing a lot of packaging.
The whole project took about 3 years. In the end, we graded approximately 10,000 books and moved the rest raw.
We went to many local comic cons including Tampa Con. At one point, I knew some of the books went as far as Australia.
The highlights of 50,000 books? Some overall highlights included two 9.9s of Uncanny X-Men #153 and #181, a 9.6 of G.I. Joe #21, a Daredevil #66 double cover graded 9.6, and a lot more. 95% of what we graded were 9.6s and 9.8s.
Here are some of the CPV highlights specifically, first from DC:
Batman 354 9.6
Batman 357 9.4
Batman 358 9.8
Batman 359 9.8
Batman 366 9.6
Batman 368 9.8
Batman 386 9.8
Batman 400 9.6
Batman 404 9.6
Blue Beetle 1 9.8
Brave and the Bold 200 9.2
Detective Comics 523 9.8
Detective Comics 525 9.8
Detective Comics 566 9.6
Doom Patrol 1 9.8
Flash 324 9.8
Jonah Hex 92 9.4
Masters of the Universe 1 9.8
New Teen Titans Annual 2 9.6
Suicide Squad 1 9.2
Saga of the Swamp Thing 20 9.4
Saga of the Swamp Thing 21 9.6
Saga of the Swamp Thing 25 9.8
Saga of the Swamp Thing 32 9.8
Saga of the Swamp Thing 37 9.6
Tales of the Teen Titans 44 9.6
Some of the Marvel CPV highlights:
Amazing Spider-Man 238 9.6
Amazing Spider-Man 239 9.8 x2
Amazing Spider-Man 252 8.5
Amazing Spider-Man 265 9.6
Avengers 257 9.8
Fantastic Four 281 9.8 DOUBLE COVER
Ghost Rider 81 9.8
G.I. Joe 21 9.6
Marvel Movie Showcase 1 9.6
Marvel Movie Showcase 2 9.6
Marvel Team-Up 141 9.6
Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars 8 9.8
New Mutants 1 9.8 x8
New Mutants 25 9.8
New Mutants 26 9.8
Power Pack 1 9.8
Punisher 1 9.4
Punisher 2 9.8
Rocket Raccoon 1 9.6
Star Wars 68 9.8
Star Wars 81 9.8
Thing 1 9.8
Thor 337 9.4
Transformers 1 9.8
Transformers 8 9.8
Web of Spider-Man 1 9.8 x3
Wolverine Limited Series 2 9.8 x4
Wolverine Limited Series 4 9.8 x3
X-Factor 6 9.8
Uncanny X-Men 181 9.9
Uncanny X-Men 201 9.6
Outside of Marvel and DC, a CPV highlight was Voltron 1 9.8
Notably missing from our list of graded copies were Batman 423, Booster Gold 1, Legends 3, and Unknown Soldier 268. These were probably there in the collection but were not selected to be sent for grading by CBCS (my gut says they were there in the collection but I couldn’t find them listed on any invoices).
Here is a sampling of pictures of some of the CPV highlights mentioned above:
I know for Craig and I, the Wawa collection was the comic find and adventure of a lifetime. At one point, we thought we wouldn’t do it again, but I bet if an opportunity arose, I could talk Craig into it!
Philip Standhart & Craig Foxhoven
Q: Thank you guys, so much, for sharing your incredible story! And I appreciate the opportunity for this Q&A. Can you share anything about Clarence and how he came to collect comics?
A: Clarence, the original owner of the collection, worked at a copper mine up in Canada. He began buying comics in the late 60’s and planned that those would be his retirement plan. He started posting individual books on Ebay, and we bought them up. After seeing the condition in person, we scheduled our first meeting with him!
Q: You mentioned he had collected for 40 years; what were the approximate start and end dates of the collection?
A: The start/end date of the collection is 1969-2009 ish.
Q: From the CPVs we saw consigned to MyComicShop, it seemed like Clarence acquired 100% of his comics from a local newsstand: Is that true, or were there direct editions in the collection too? [What makes CPVs so relatively rare as a percentage, is their newsstand exclusivity, crossed with Canadian exclusivity, plus the fact that most collectors in the 80’s were taking home and preserving direct editions from comic shops — it seems Clarence may have been the exception to that norm and preserved newsstand comics even well into the 80’s?].
A: Clarence acquired at least 90-95% from the newsstand during those years from 10/82-9/88. He bought everything that was available to him which means he had multiple copies of these newsstand issues, sometimes up to 15-20 ea!!! That’s how he ended up with 45,000+ books.
Q: Was the collection newsstand all the way through to the 2009 end?
A: Almost all of the collection was newsstand, so basically yes it was nearly all that way, through to the end.
Q: Was the collection mostly intact when you acquired it (did you catch him at the beginning of his online sales) or had he already sold off substantial parts of it by the time you found him?
A: The collection was mostly intact and he was very particular and had everything cataloged. I tried to get those log books from him but surprisingly he would not part with them. I even took pictures of the contents because it was so interesting to me. He priced every book according to Overstreet and gave the “mint” books a 9.2 price which as you know is not indicative of the true market value of these gems. He had sold off some key books such as Batman 232, Amazing Spider-man 129 and Iron Man 55 for example. We caught him near the beginning of his online sales.
Q: I’m wondering whether all Marvel and DC titles of 10/82 to 9/88 were represented in the collection — were there any noteworthy titles absent that you recall?
A: All Marvel and DC titles were represented and I don’t recall any titles that were absent.
Q: Do you know if every issue number was represented in the collection for the titles he collected, or were there any issues absent that he missed that you noticed?
A: Mostly every issue number was represented that I recall. What we did was box every book as carefully as we could and brought approx. 140 long boxes from his basement up the steps and onto a rental truck in the course of one night and the next morning. Time was of the essence because a winter storm was coming and Clarence said we would be stuck up there for awhile!! This was the end of October 2014. As a result the books and titles weren’t as neatly cataloged as he had them. We also separated them according to grade, etc for encapsulation.
Q: I’ve got to ask about one specific issue that we believe should exist but has still never been confirmed to date after all these years: Did he have a Zatanna Special #1 CPV (with $2.85 cover price) from 1987?
A: No, he did not have the Zatanna Special #1.
Q: In the CPV niche many have observed that there are more Marvel books out there than DC; was that reflected in Clarence’s collection? Do you have a sense of roughly what proportion of the collection was Marvel and what was DC (and did he also collect books from other publishers as well)?
A: You are correct that there are more Marvel CPV’s than DC. Approx. 60/40. He had extensive Charltons and Gold Key as well.
Q: Was the collection considered “too modern” to be an official pedigree at the grading company level?
A: It’s funny because I pleaded with Steve Borock to get the WAWA pedigree on it but he shot it down every time. Because the scope of the whole collection was not high grade which was the only thing keeping it out of pedigree status. In the beginning I think neither of us had a clue of the CPV goldmine we discovered. In hindsight the CPV aspect of this collection would easily have garnered pedigree status. I believe Doug Schmell from Pedigree Comics, who has the remaining books from the WaWa collection, is working on getting what’s left some designation.
Q: Can you share a little bit about why you chose CBCS over CGC for grading?
A: We chose CBCS because they were a startup and Craig knew Steve Borock, one of the founders of CGC (and CBCS). They offered us a deal on their services and let us store the books there.
Q: Can you share a little bit more about yourselves, and what you do for a living?
A: Craig and I are both physical therapists who grew up with a love for comics. My older brother Ed taught me how to read with comics and I was hooked ever since – especially Spider-Man because I felt I could associate with a teenager like Peter Parker! Craig’s brother actually owned a comic shop at one time, so Craig had access to a lot of comic swag and even original art. He’s more a DC guy, I’m the Marvel guy. Both of our wives start to sweat when we start talking comics, especially after the Wawa find!
Q: So did you guys sell everything from the WaWa collection, or did you keep a few books for yourselves?
A: Yes of course we held onto a few of the books! The beauty of the Wawa collection was there were multiple copies of many of the titles, allowing us to keep some.
Q: Thanks so much Craig and Phil, I really appreciate you opening up about this incredible adventure, sharing your story, and answering these questions!
By Benjamin Nobel, August 5, 2020 — this post is for readers of the 2020 CPV Price Guide and features pictures from the collection of 1984 Whitman CPVs generously shared with us by Stefane Bellec. Stefane spent the last decade+ hunting all of these down, and we believe this is the full list of Whitman’s 1984 CPVs that exist (but let us know if you find others!). Huge thanks to Stefane for making this page possible!
As Doug touched upon more fully in the market report quoted above, there were a number of Whitman variants published over the course of time, including their 1984 batch of CPVs carrying 75¢ cover prices (versus the 60¢ cover prices on their regular counter-parts). [For even more Whitman information from Doug, see this inventory page on dougcomicworld.com]
Today we are presenting those variants from 1984, which occurred from publication dates 2/1984 through 7/1984. Interestingly, rather than the “direct edition versus newsstand” distribution circumstance that we’re used to with other 1980’s publishers of Canadian Price Variants, in this case with Whitman, every single one of these 75¢ variants looks to have been distributed in multi-packs like this example pack:
With bar codes on the outside of the bag itself, there was no need to have printed bar codes on the actual covers. Notice also the “Imported By” line on the bag, giving information about the comics being imported into Canada (from the United States):
This “Imported By” line is a great reminder about one of the “big picture” points that is so important for collectors to grasp about Type 1A Price Variants: even while the target market for distribution was outside of the USA, these books are in fact US-Published; they are from the USA. [If these Whitman CPVs had been from Canada, then they wouldn’t have needed to be imported into Canada, would they?]
Something else that strikes me about the above pack is that it contains two 75¢ cover price comics, for $1.49 — “a whole penny” of savings against the combined cover price. But meanwhile the packs sold in the US were much more of a bargain/discount; for example here’s a pack with two 60¢ cover price comics inside, a “$1.20 value” but with the whole pack priced at 99¢:
Here’s another pack I found with 60¢ cover price comics inside, this time a 3-pack, for $1.39:
So although they carry 60¢ cover prices, averaging the cost of a pack over the number of comics inside, US buyers were effectively paying about 46¢ to 50¢ per comic, whereas buyers of the $1.49 CAN pack were paying practically the full 75¢ each. I find this interesting in the context of the cover price hike to Canadians from other publishers in 1982 from 60¢ to 75¢ (where publishers started to charge 75¢ north of the border but left prices at 60¢ in the US) — at the time of that 1982 hike, Canadians saw the cost of comics increase 25% from the 60¢ they had been used to… By 1984, Canadians were used to paying 75¢ cover prices; but I still find it interesting that the 1984 Whitman packs effectively cost not 25% more but a full 50% more (1.49 CAN per two-pack versus .99 US per two-pack)!
An example indicia page is shown below shared by Stefane, from his 75¢ variant copy of Daffy Duck #144:
As you can see, the variants were published by Western Publishing Company, New York, NY, USA. No “expected” cover price is mentioned in the indicia, and aside from copyright dates there is no publication month or date specifically listed (which seems to be the case for most of these), making these issues harder to date — but Overtreet has dated nearly all of them, with publication months from 2/1984 through 7/1984. And just like the other Canadian Price Variants we are used to, the indicia on variant copies is a 100% match against the regular cover priced version: here below is a 60¢ copy I found on eBay with an indicia picture included, and as you can see it is the same as what we saw on Stefane’s copy.
Looking at the regular non-variant guide values in 9.2 from the Overstreet #49 guide, for the universe of Whitman 1984 issues the “typical” regular non-variant value is around $20-40, with an average of $31.25. The Uncle Scrooge issues appear to be stand-outs, with 9.2 values listed at $55. There were a couple of issues with “low print run” notes: Donald Duck #245, and Porky Pig #109. Mickey Mouse #218 has a note about being mis-dated 2/82 (and I noticed some others that have weird CGC census entries dated 1982 — so this may not be the only one that is mis-dated; or maybe with no month or year in the indicia CGC just entered the latest copyright date shown). For Bambi #1, Oversteet dates the issue to just the year 1984. Stefane notes that he suspects that Bambi #1 and Peter Pan #1 may have been packaged together given how difficult both of those issues are to find (these were the toughest find for him among all Whitman CPVs, but he notes that the distribution may have varied by region making different issues harder to find region by region).
Looking at the CGC census, as of the date of this writing there are a grand total of 440 of these 1984 Whitman issues that have been through CGC’s doors to date, 402 of which are denoted as regular 60¢ copies, and 38 of which are classified as the 75¢ type. That breaks down to approximately 91.4% regular to 8.6% variant — this is a higher variant percentage than we’ve seen for the 1980’s price variants from other publishers like Marvel and DC, which makes sense, given that we’d expect the rarity breakdown in this case to be driven by the difference in market size, i.e. with no bifurcation of the Canadian market into newsstand::direct edition for Whitman (recall that with other publishers like Marvel and DC, the variants were exclusively found on newsstands while the direct editions sold in comic shops throughout Canada were the identical ones sold in comic shops in the US).
Here below is the full list of 1984 Whitman CPVs — click any thumbnail to bring up a full-size picture.
Both of the comics below are 1st print copies of Ultimate Fallout #4 (1st appearance of Miles Morales), in the same grade, and their original owners both paid $3.99 for their copies in October of 2011. I pose this question to you: are the two copies below different or the same? (It’s like that old spot-the-differences game! Hint: it has nothing to do with colors, or the artwork.)
If you said “the same” you just made a $6,700 mistake. But that’s not your fault. The Overstreet Price Guide (considered “the Bible” to many comic collectors and dealers) does not differentiate them in their guide as two distinct versions (instead they have just the one entry for the issue number), with just one guided value (with NM- listed at $80 as of guide #49). So there’s no “heads-up” in the guide that would even make you think that your copy might possibly be anything special or different from the rest:
But while Overstreet fails to differentiate the two versions shown before with their own separate value entries, Mr. Market meanwhile does differentiate them as having vastly different value: the copy you saw earlier at the left side of the picture is the one in the below screenshot which was bid to $8,100, whereas the one at right in the picture you saw earlier is the one below it that sold for $1,400:
As you can see from the above screenshots, both copies had the same grade assigned by CGC at 9.8 and both were sold around the same time, in June of 2020. So what made one of them worth a full $6,700 more than the other?!?
The answer: The $8100 example is a “NEWSSTAND” copy: its printed bar code says “Newsstand” on it — meaning it was the returnable type sold in places like Barnes & Noble, whereas the $1400 example is a “DIRECT EDITION” copy: its printed bar code says “Direct Edition” on it — meaning it was the type sold in comic shops (where the comic shops ordered them at a discounted but non-returnable basis).
But it isn’t these words themselves that drive the value difference (although sharp-eyed readers may also notice that the newsstand version of this issue has the neat quirk of being “mis-identified” by its UPC code as the “Black Panther” title), rather, it is the difference in rarity between the two types that Mr. Market is paying attention to.
And there was also a stark contrast in the typical survival characteristics of comics sold via the two different distribution channels: direct edition copies were sold in comic shops where the proprietors handled them with great care (treating them as collectibles) and where the typical buyer was a collector who took great care to preserve them, typically in a plastic bag with a backing board.
By contrast, newsstand staff treated comics like magazines (something to read, not something to be handled with great care), and then the typical buyer of newsstand comics was a reader who most likely spent their $4 on a comic in 2011 in order to actually read it. A collector preserving newsstand comics was the exception, not the norm.
Thus, as a general rule, surviving copies of modern age comics in the coveted 9.8 NM/MT grade tier are much more likely to be direct editions, than newsstand copies. Said another way, 9.8 newsstand copies are in much lower supply and thus much harder to find… and market prices all boil down to supply versus demand. I recently studied the newly-released CBCS census and found that as the decades progressed, the 9.8 newsstand census numbers were drastically lower compared to 9.8 direct editions:
But amazingly, even with all the growing newsstand awareness out there, to this day I still see newsstand comics listed on eBay all the time that clearly show a newsstand comic in the listing’s picture, but are not identified as being newsstand books in the title or description (and where the owner quite often prices them for sale at the going rate for the issue number in general). For example I saw a “mis-listed” newsstand copy recently for Venom/Deadpool: What If? #1. In my imagination I draw a mental picture of the owner of the book opening up their copy of the latest Overstreet guide, finding the right page to look up its value, and seeing this:
Here again, there is just the one entry, with NM- at $185 as of guide #49. [Notice the cover price cited at $2.99]. Seeing this guide entry, what would prompt the book’s owner to even think there is a possibility that their copy was anything different or special? And here, I find the guide’s “newsstand omission” even more egregious than in the case of Ultimate Fallout #4, because with this 2011 comic we are also dealing with the newsstand version being a cover price variant of the issue number:
As you can see above, the newsstand version is indeed a cover price variant of the issue number — the original buyer paid $1 more, at $3.99, versus the original buyer of the direct edition who paid $2.99. There’s a chance someone might notice the cover price difference on their own, but most collectors looking up their comic’s value are probably not scrutinizing the UPC code box to notice whether the cover price on their copy matches the cover price information in the guide.
If Ultimate Fallout #4, as an example 2011 key comic, guides for $80 in NM-, and a CGC 9.8 newsstand copy of that issue fetched $8100 sitting here in 2020, then what might a CGC 9.8 newsstand copy of Venom/Deadpool: What If? #1 fetch today, what with its guide value at $185 in NM-? I wish I could tell you, but I’d only be guesstimating… I’ve had various discussions about this book since the time of my 2017 post about it, yet in all these years I haven’t once seen a 9.8 newsstand copy of the book hit the market.
Not exactly strong odds of seeing a CGC 9.8 newsstand copy hit the market, with census numbers like these! And unfortunately that’s the case for a great many highly-sought-after newsstand comics. Here’s the $3.99 newsstand census entry for Hulk #1 (2008; 1st Red Hulk), also showing a mere TWO in CGC 9.8:
The other day I looked up the current census for one of the most sought-after 1990’s Spawn newsstand comics that I know of, one which currently stands as the one-and-only example that I know about of a newsstand-exclusive title from one of the big publishers (please tell me if you know of another example!): Spawn/The Savage Dragon #1. And I found that there is just one 9.8 copy on record today:
How can we possibly guesstimate where a 9.8 newsstand copy would sell, with census numbers like these? If the one owner of the 9.8 wants to hold onto it, and the next 9.8 doesn’t appear until far out into the future, then we can kiss any potential near-term 9.8 sales data goodbye!
One way to get at least a ballpark sense of where an elusive 9.8 might sell, is to find the highest grade sale we can, and then find some other book that is “very close” with full sales data all the way out to the 9.8 tier, and then use that information to extrapolate. I’ll walk through what I mean by this. For example, the most recent sale of a CGC graded copy of Spawn/The Savage Dragon #1 was a CGC 9.4:
Another comic that we could use as “something very close” to Spawn/The Savage Dragon #1 in terms of its characteristics, could be newsstand copies of Spawn #1 — also from the 1990’s, also an important Spawn book, also a #1, and also coveted in newsstand. And for this book we do have recent example sales of newsstand copies of Spawn #1 in CGC 9.8 (and CGC 9.4 as well):
From there, our extrapolation would have the 9.4 Spawn/Savage Dragon #1 (and a 9.8 question mark) on one side of the equation, and the two above Spawn #1 sales on the other side, and then we cross-multiply and divide (462.99 times 298, divided by 186.99) to extrapolate the missing 9.8 number… coming to a rounded $738 for the ballpark value of Spawn/Savage Dragon #1 in CGC 9.8. Who knows what it would actually get in the marketplace, but, this exercise does give us some “rough sense” of the potential — and to show you that this estimation method has the potential to sometimes work very well, suppose it was the Spawn #1 newsstand 9.8 that was missing sales data, suppose we had only the 9.4 sale example for the book, and suppose we chose regular direct edition copies of Spawn #1 as our “something very close” example to use. Here below are recent direct edition sales examples for Spawn #1:
If hypothetically we had been missing the Spawn #1 newsstand 9.8 data, but we did have the $186.99 sale data for the 9.4 newsstand copy, then using the above direct edition sales we could use the same extrapolation trick to compute an estimate: 110 times 186.99, divided by 44, equals (rounded): $467 as our estimate for a 9.8 newsstand copy.
Comparing this extrapolated estimate of $467 against the last actual sale at $463, we didn’t hit an exact bullseye but we’re remarkably on-target! So potentially, this type of extrapolation can give us a sense for where more-elusive newsstand 9.8’s might sell, in cases where sales data is itself elusive (while, naturally, the very fact that they are elusive could argue for the possibility of bidding wars and thus unpredictable market values).
What other newsstand books might hit $8000 next?
The $8100 sale for Ultimate Fallout #4 is a big newsstand milestone. What other newsstand books are chasing just behind in the horse race? I checked eBay for high recent sales under the “newsstand” keyword, and found a big 1990’s book which (fortunately) has recent CGC 9.8 newsstand sales we can look at: the Harley Quinn key Batman Adventures #12, published in September of 1993 by DC. There are two recent newsstand sales in 9.8, one just happened and the other was back in May for $3000:
This compares to recent (and May) direct edition comparable sales examples I found below at about $1700-1900:
And moving backwards in time into the 1980’s, Amazing Spider-Man #300 has a recent CGC 9.8 newsstand sale at $4500 (by the way, to find the below I had to search with “newstand” [one ‘s’] which is a good trick to know about in order to find newsstand books on the marketplace that others might miss by searching only with the correctly-spelled “newsstand”):
This compares against $2500 as the current going rate for direct editions in 9.8:
Moving even further backwards in time in the 80’s we hit the 1980’s newsstand “cover price variant window” where instead of printing newsstand copies that had prices for both the US and Canada (as, say, “60¢ US, 75¢ CAN” on the whole newsstand print run) like they eventually did, for the period from 10/1982 out to 8/1986 Marvel printed two distinct single-price newsstand batches (other publishers did this too; learn more about CPVs here)! Amazing Spider-Man #238 is one of Marvel’s biggest keys falling into this window, and a 75¢ variant newsstand copy in CGC 9.8 sold back in March for $4650:
Like with the $3.99 price variants, CGC also “breaks out” the 75¢ variants on census on account of the cover price difference, so this census visibility helps us to see what other big 1980’s keys are in the “elusive 9.8” newsstand category. One example that comes to my mind immediately is G.I. Joe, A Real American Hero #21, a raw VF-range copy of which recently sold for $589, and where the number of CGC 9.8 75¢ cover price newsstand copies on record (which they “break out” as “Canadian Price Variant”) is… drum roll… one:
If a CGC 9.8 75¢ variant newsstand copy of that book ever hit the market, it is bound to fetch a huge number at auction. I mentioned that other publishers beyond Marvel have 1980’s newsstand price variants too — from Archie, the big Cheryl Blossom key Archie’s Girls Betty & Veronica #320 has a 75¢ variant that could deliver a huge number at auction in 9.8, and from D.C., Saga of the Swamp Thing #37 has a 95¢ variant. [Here’s a top 50 list for the 1980’s CPVs]. And guess the number of CGC 9.8 copies on record for that Swamp Thing #37 variant? As of today, the answer is zero… a 9.8 for that 95¢ variant newsstand book is still a hypothetical!
Clearly, for any important copper age or modern comic book you own, it is worth knowing if yours is a newsstand copy, or, just a prevalent direct edition. [Here’s a separate post to read if you need help learning more about how to tell them apart: Comic Book Newsstand Editions: Understanding The Difference]
Can you imagine if you had spent $3.99 in a Barnes & Noble in the year 2011 on a copy of Ultimate Fallout #4, if your copy has survived in NM/MT shape, but in the whole nine years since you bought it you never actually realized that you owned a newsstand copy? You could easily leave $6700 on the table without this knowledge!
And many people do leave money on the table by pricing their newsstand comics for sale at a buy-it-now which they set by checking the going rate for the issue number in general, either by checking the price guide or checking recent sales online for the issue number and clicking on direct edition sales examples. Don’t be one of the too-many collectors who own these treasures without realizing it!
Ask yourself this question: for any of the key books you’ve heard me touch upon here today (or any other copper or modern age keys you can think of), that you know you definitely own (somewhere deep in those long boxes of yours), can you answer right now without looking whether it is a direct edition or a newsstand copy you own?
Clearly the newsstand versus direct edition distinction is becoming more and more important to Mr. Market as time passes; it should be equally important to you too!
With the release of the CBCS Census (aka “Population Report”) there is a treasure trove of new data we can study that goes beyond what we can study over on the CGC census; in particular, CBCS elected in 2017 to start differentiating between Newsstand vs. Direct Edition comics (unfortunately only up to the year 2000 but we’ll take what we can get), and with the release of the population report, all of that Newsstand vs. Direct Edition census data is now available online! 🙂
Today I will investigate how the Newsstand vs. Direct Edition rarity currently shows up on the CBCS census for Marvel by publication year, studying three of Marvel’s biggest titles — and how that census data compares against the newsstand rarity discussions & estimates we’ve seen from industry experts. Here are some of the expert estimates we’ve seen for Marvel newsstand percentages versus direct edition, for the percentage sales split at time of initial distribution:
Here’s how those percentages look graphically when charted, for the CBCS-relevant years 1979-1999, making it easy to see the big-picture-trend (with newsstand shown in blue and direct edition in orange — after the mid-1980’s the orange really “takes over” the comic book market):
Newsstand vs. direct edition estimates, for the percentage sales split at time of initial distribution
These estimates above are incredibly helpful to illustrate how direct editions took over in the 80’s and then dominated the comic book marketplace into the 90’s-onward, but the estimates were presented as being intended to measure the newsstand vs. direct edition sales difference at the time of initial distribution — and therefore these numbers wouldn’t capture the survivorship differences between the two types through to the present day. Direct editions were sold in specialty comic shops and purchased mainly by collectors (who kept them generally very well preserved), versus newsstand comics which were purchased mainly by readers and were therefore less likely to survive through to the present day in collectible condition.
The CBCS census, although still young (with smallish numbers at present), can potentially help give us some interesting insights into the surviving percentages by type, year by year. Although the sample size is still very small, we’re comparing newsstand versus direct edition numbers among the sample — which can still potentially give us important insights, much in the same way that the New York State Covid-19 antibody survey only tested a small sample of the total population but teaches us important information about the relative percentages among the sample. So let’s take a look at the CBCS census and examine some newsstand versus direct edition data! 🙂
A few caveats before we proceed, for us to keep in mind about the characteristics of the data sample we’re about to examine. I already mentioned the very small sample size of the CBCS data; here’s some further perspective on that: Consider for example Amazing Spider-Man #252. According to my copy of Standard Catalog of Comic Books, in the entry for ASM #252 it notes, “Avg. print run 470,527” (which refers to the average for the title, for the prior year). [Print run for issue #252 specifically may have been considerably higher than surrounding issues as such a “big event” issue, but let’s consider that 470,527 number as our reference point]. Compared to that number, as of today we see 12,394 copies appearing on the CGC census which works out to about a 2.6% percentage. [And keep in mind, these 12,394 CGC census copies are not a “random sample” of the total population of #252 copies still in existence, but rather, this CGC group was a sample selected for grading (as the CBCS group will be as well).]
And how does the CBCS Newsstand and Direct Edition sample size compare to these CGC numbers? The number of copies denoted today as either as “Newsstand Edition” or “Direct Edition” for issue #252 on the CBCS census totals to… drum roll… just 421 copies. In total. That’s practically a “rounding error” in contrast to the 470,527 print run average — and so we must keep in mind that as of today, with CBCS still very young, and the change to delineate newsstand versus direct edition taking place only a few years back in 2017, the size of their census data when it comes to this information is still very small indeed, sitting here in May of 2020.
Next caveat: I’m going to focus my time today looking at just three of Marvel’s biggest titles — Amazing Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men, and Incredible Hulk. So I’m looking at a “sample within a sample” here, not at the complete universe of Marvel titles on the CBCS census.
Finally, as I mentioned in my prior post about the new CBCS census, the data they present is a little bit “tricky” to work with, because there are all the “old way” entries presented together with the “new way” entries meaning there are more census variations than there are actual variations published — and this includes the Type 1A price variant newsstand comics which also have their own “old way” entries named with “Edition” and “new way” entries named with “Price Variant.”
Also: It was brought to my attention that recently-graded CBCS slabs have been spotted out there that still fall under the “old way” notation — i.e. books that should have been denoted either “Direct Edition” or “Newsstand Edition” but the slab had no variant indication either way (even though the book was graded well after the 2017 label change announcement). This observation could be an indication that even post-2017-announcement about their labeling change, that CBCS does not always go out of its way to actually delineate between the types when the submitter has not taken the step of penciling in the variant name on their own, on their submission form. Thus the behavior of the typical CBCS submitter could exert an influence of unknowable degree, on the ultimate census data we see in the population report — i.e. if the submitter wanted their label to read “Newsstand Edition” or “Direct Edition”, or wanted neither designation on the label, that preference could skew the census data in favor of those submitter desires, as opposed to the data being a more natural sample of what’s out there that has been submitted to CBCS.
So with all of these caveats, we can see that the CBCS data is far from perfect; and the multiple census entries under the various “old way” and “new way” categories make it even more difficult to make comparisons… For instance if we have a combined count of price variants under Canadian Edition as well as under Canadian Price Variant we’d need to compare that combined count against the grand-total that includes all the “old way regular” copies (no variant name; direct and newsstand regular-cover-price copies “lumped together”) plus the “new way regular” copies (“direct edition” or “newsstand edition” actually denoted). In the prior post I sampled a bunch of price variants and did some extrapolating to combine the “old way” and “new way” entries together, and I found that the price variant percentages for the sampled books ranged from under 1% to 1.8%.
For today’s exercise, ideally I’d want to include those newsstand price variants together with the regular-cover-price newsstand copies, when computing a newsstand total versus a direct edition total. But that requires the introduction of assumptions when combining the entries, plus it creates a lot more work, and so for today’s exercise I’m going to simplify the workload by ignoring the “old way” entries and ignoring the price variants altogether (as a tiny percentage they won’t really move the needle too much anyway so I’ll just drop them from today’s exercise to keep this census study down to a simpler job to perform).
Thus, all I’m doing today is going through the CBCS population report, entering just the title (e.g. “Amazing Spider-Man”) and the year (e.g. “1982”) into the search fields, and then I’m going through the search results and tallying the “Newsstand Edition” entries and the “Direct Edition” entries across all books for that entire year. I’m doing this for Amazing Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men, and Incredible Hulk. (I’ll share the raw data at the end). In this way, I’m gathering a grand-total count by publication year, for how many copies CBCS has specifically denoted as Newsstand versus how many copies CBCS has specifically denoted as Direct Edition, across these selected titles. This ratio will most certainly be interesting to see, albeit imperfect because of the caveats just discussed.
I’ll first do this exercise for each of the years seen earlier in the chart of estimates (1979, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1995, and 1999) so that we can directly compare the census results against those newsstand estimates. To start, I’ll tally the totals of all graded copies, and then later I’ll look at just the 9.8 counts.
Here’s the result of total Newsstand Edition count by publication year, versus Direct Edition count, on the CBCS census as of May 15, 2020, for ASM, X-Men, and Hulk:
Direct Edition Percentage
And here’s how it presents graphically:
CBCS census study: May 15, 2020 Population Data — total newsstand versus direct edition by year, for Amazing Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men, and Incredible Hulk
Wow! So looking at this census data chart, the “shape of the curve” is relatively in-line with the insider estimates we reviewed earlier, i.e. what with newsstand dominating the results in 1979 but then dropping off in the 1980’s and then representing an even smaller percentage into the 1990’s. [Note that there exist non-newsstand comics pre-1979 but I’m not covering them in today’s study; CBCS does not denote them in their census with the same terminology either as direct editions, e.g. Spectacular Spider-Man #27 is denoted “3-Pack Variant” — see my separate post entitled No Month Variants / Pre-Pack Editions / Whitman 3-Pack Variants for a discussion].
The survivorship difference between the types really shows through when comparing this chart against the chart of estimates at time of distribution that we saw earlier, with the CBCS data showing lower newsstand percentages compared to the chart of estimates. And this makes great sense, because in order for a collector to pay money for a comic book to be graded professionally, we’d expect that the book in question would be in collectible grade condition — or thought about another way, the market value of a given comic in its surviving condition had better be high relative to the cost of grading, otherwise why bother paying to get it graded? And if newsstand comics are less likely to survive in collectible condition, then naturally it would be less likely for the newsstand type to actually be sent in to CBCS: when we move from looking at the “total population” of a given issue, and drill down to “grading candidates” among that issue, then the newsstand numbers should start to “melt away” from their original distribution numbers.
And if this theory about typically much-poorer surviving newsstand condition holds, then we’d expect to see an even greater census difference between the types when we move up to the NM/MT grade tier: since newsstand comics were handled so poorly relative to direct editions, we’d expect the 9.8 newsstand percentage to be an even more stark difference. Does that theory hold true? I repeated the same CBCS census data exercise as before but this time I examined just the 9.8 counts and found the following:
Direct Edition Percentage
Here’s how the above data charts graphically:
CBCS census study: May 15, 2020 Population Data — NM/MT newsstand versus direct edition by year, for Amazing Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men, and Incredible Hulk
Bringing the three charts together side-by-side for comparison, below are (1) the chart of expert estimates (left), (2) the total newsstand versus direct edition CBCS census data chart (middle), and (3) the NM/MT newsstand versus direct edition CBCS census data chart (right):
Newsstand vs. direct edition estimates, at time of initial distribution
CBCS census study: May 15, 2020 Population Data — total newsstand versus direct edition by year, for Amazing Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men, and Incredible Hulk
CBCS census study: May 15, 2020 Population Data — NM/MT newsstand versus direct edition by year, for Amazing Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men, and Incredible Hulk
You can really see how when moving up to 9.8, the newsstand percentages melt away even further. So even with all those caveats we reviewed, I’d say we still ended up with some very interesting data to look at!
Here’s something else that is interesting, which I observed when I went back and “filled in” the other years that weren’t part of the chart of estimates and when I got to 1984: the “big event” books truly skew the data and need to be thought about uniquely. I mentioned ASM #252 earlier — this is a book I’ve written about in the past regarding the mystery of its higher price variant percentage (it has the single-highest CPV census count among any issue I’ve seen and also its price variant percentage, even while very low on an absolute basis, is still higher than other keys). It is also a book we’ve discussed from time to time in the blog’s comments forum — for example in a great discussion with Andrew Paquette he noted: “According to my database, ASM 252 was auctioned 385 times by Heritage at the time I checked. Of those, 201 were newsstand versions, making it more common than the direct version. This was true of 9.2 and up copies (167/163) and below (34/21).”
Amazing Spider-Man #252 was truly an “event book” — Spider-Man has a new costume, we’ve got the Amazing Fantasy #15 cover swipe, the cover saying “The rumors are true… introducing the new Spider-Man” … it clearly was an important issue that would have been immediately treated as something important to collect. I picture the line of kids at the local comic shops, and I wonder if the direct editions sold out very quickly. If collectors couldn’t get their fill at the comic shops, it makes great sense that they would have turned to the newsstands.
And over on the newsstands, a key variable we always have to keep in mind is a given issue’s individual sell-through versus the typical sell-through. Earlier, I mentioned the 470,527 number, for average print run listed for Amazing Spider-Man in 1983 (I just looked up 1984 too and it was similar at 461,691). There was typically a huge difference between the number of issues printed and the number actually sold — recall that the newsstand model called for comics to be sent to the newsstands, and unsold copies could be returned. Not knowing how many would sell and not wanting to under-produce, it was typical for publishers to print many more copies than actually sold through — and against the average 470,527 print run number, Marvel reported 222,090 copies were later returned unsold on average.
That means 47% of the print run was typically returned unsold in that year!
But that’s the average ASM issue of the time… and depending on how big of a “hit” each individual issue was, that 47% buffer gives us a huge potential variance that could tilt the newsstand:direct edition sales ratio issue by issue, depending on sell-through at the newsstand. What about a mega-event hit issue like ASM #252? If the demand for such an individual issue was huge, then it is highly likely the sell-through on newsstands was way better than the average. And if collectors couldn’t get their fill of ASM #252 at the comic shops (where they would have taken home direct editions), it definitely makes sense that some of those collectors would have turned to the newsstands to collect their copies.
[Side note: the average percentage of the ASM print run returned fluctuated but generally moved down over the years as direct edition sales (which were non-returnable) became more dominant; in 1985 the average percentage of ASM print run returned was 34%; in 1992, 17.4%.]
How does this all express itself in the CBCS census data for ASM #252? It is actually quite remarkable: Excluding Amazing Spider-Man #252, the CBCS census data for the year 1984 looks like this: 16.9% newsstand (31/183) versus 83.1% direct edition (153/183). But then for ASM #252 itself, there are a full 291 Newsstand Edition copies listed on the CBCS census, versus 130 Direct Edition copies! Factoring in the “old way” copies and price variant copies, the break-down looks like this for ASM #252:
I find this rather remarkable to observe… Rather than following the normal newsstand versus direct edition breakdown of other 1984 books, ASM #252 as an immediately-heavily-collected “event book” skews the other way with the vast majority of CBCS census entries showing newsstand copies for the issue! This issue must have sold exceptionally well on newsstands!
This example illustrates how important it is to consider issue-by-issue variations — because of differences in sell-through, the “typical” newsstand versus direct edition split for a given time period isn’t necessarily going to hold for each individual issue and is only a broad guideline for big-picture thinking.
And for the earlier part of the 1980’s especially (before direct edition sales overtook newsstand), it isn’t safe to conclude that newsstand is always going to be the more-rare type. But because we have a price variant window from 1982-1986 for Marvel, it is safe to conclude that the newsstand price variants are going to be the most-rare type, thereby providing a newsstand-focused collecting approach that brings us the kind of extreme rarity we newsstand-focused collectors like to look for — and for ASM #252 which was published in 1984 and thus falls directly into that 1980’s price variant window, the 75¢ price variant newsstand copies of issue #252 are going to be the most-rare type, accounting for just 2% of the CBCS census total for the issue, as of the May 15, 2020 data.
I noticed a similar occurrence (albeit less extreme) in the 1992 numbers with ASM #361 (Carnage Part One): Excluding Amazing Spider-Man #361, the data for 1992 looks like this: 17.4% newsstand (97/557) versus 82.6% direct edition (460/557). But then for ASM #361 itself, we find a full 40% of the CBCS census copies labeled as Newsstand Edition (379 copies) versus 60% labeled as Direct Edition (563 copies). While still skewed towards direct edition prevalence, the newsstand percentage for this issue is notably higher than the rest of 1992 ex-ASM-361, and this may once again tie back to the “big event” nature of the issue (part one of Carnage) — perhaps collector demand did not get filled at the comic shops with direct editions, leading collectors over to newsstands to gather and preserve more copies of issue #361.
But like with ASM #252 which had a newsstand price variant — in that case a 75¢ Canadian Price Variant (1st print Type 1A variant copies sold on newsstands in Canada) — here again with ASM #361 there is a newsstand price variant we can choose to collect and it makes up a minuscule fraction of total census copies of the issue: the $1.80 Australian Price Variant (1st print Type 1A variant copies sold on newsstands in Australia).
[And since this post covered 1979-1981 I’d be remiss if I did not mention that there exist U.K. Pence Price Variants during those years, e.g. X-Men #141 (notice below how rather than carrying a bar code, it has a Spidey-head logo counterpart to direct editions).]
With that I’m going to bring this post to a close… I hope you found this to be an interesting peek into the newsstand versus direct edition CBCS population data, and you can delve further into the CBCS census yourself at the following address: https://www.cbcscomics.com/population-report/
Happy Collecting, and below is the raw data itself that I collected from the CBCS census for this post.
All “Newsstand Edition” and “Direct Edition” counts found by publication year, for ASM, X-Men, and Hulk, as of 5/15/2020:
On Thursday of last week, CBCS announced their long-awaited census — or “Population Report” as they are calling it — revealing the counts and grades for each of the books that have passed through their doors since the time they first appeared on the scene as CGC’s primary competitor in the comic book grading business.
For newsstand-focused collectors such as myself, this new research tool is going to provide a treasure trove of data that CGC hasn’t been able to give us, because ever since April of 2017, CBCS has been distinguishing newsstand versus direct edition on their labels and in their records (at least for books up until the year 2000; unfortunately after that arbitrary publication date we’re out of luck). And, from the beginning CBCS has been distinguishing Canadian Price Variants as well, as distinctly-labeled census variants — initially denoting them as “Canadian Edition” and then since October 2018 denoting as “75¢ Canadian Price Variant” (and similar, depending on actual cover price).
All of this data in turn is now available in the new population report! Yippee!! 🙂 But given all the changes to their labeling over time, the numbers revealed in the new population report are a little tricky to work with when it comes to issues with US newsstand and CPV variants because there are more census entries than there are actual variants of each issue.
To illustrate this trickiness, and to lay out how I think it makes sense for us to look at the CBCS census data when exploring relative rarity, consider Amazing Spider-Man #238. Marvel published three different “triplets” when this book was manufactured, i.e. three versions manufactured on the same equipment with identical indicia and interior pages, and with the exact order of birth among the triplets unknown (thus all three have equal claim on being 1st print copies).
But instead of three matching entries in the CBCS census report, they give us five entries: there’s an entry with a blank variant field for books where the US newsstand versus direct edition distinction wasn’t recorded for 60¢ cover price copies (the “old way”); there’s the old “Canadian Edition” entry for 75¢ cover price copies (the “old way”); there’s the new “75¢ Canadian Price Variant” entry for CPVs graded after October 2018; and there’s the “Direct Edition” and “Newsstand Edition” entries — the “new way” following their April 2017 announcement:
Much like television ratings, election polling, and Governor Cuomo’s recent Covid-19 antibody testing in NY all are done by taking a sample (a small portion of the population) to determine relative percentages among the sample, I believe that looking at the census data from CBCS can give us excellent information about the relative rarity among the three types of ASM #238 comics published, even though CBCS-graded books are just a small sample of the total copies out there in the world.
So: Is there a way to look at the new census data for the above 5 census entries for this book and translate that data down to the three actual types published? Here’s how I approach this question:
• First, I want to look at the 60¢ cover price copies and see the ratio of newsstand to direct edition copies using the “Newsstand Edition” and “Direct Edition” census entries. Unfortunately the sample size is still pretty small because CBCS is still young, but, let’s work with the data we have for now, and keep an eye on the population report numbers over time as more data accumulates. And the data we have for now, as of the May 9, 2020 population report for ASM #238, shows 141 direct editions against 102 newsstand editions. That’s 58% direct edition : 42% newsstand.
• Next, I’m going to apply that 58:42 ratio, against the “old way” census count from when the two types were still lumped together, i.e. let’s assume for this exercise that the ratio we see will be similar to that of the “broken out” copies that were graded post- April 2017. I recognize that this is an assumption, and we don’t know for sure; not only are the numbers smallish, but submission behavior might have actually changed as a result of the label change once it happened… but we have to work with the data set we have, not the ideal data that we want. So we’ll make the assumption and we’ll extrapolate. This extrapolation breaks the “lumped” census entry into 118 direct editions and 86 newsstand editions, bringing the “extrapolated total” to 259 direct edition : 188 newsstand edition.
• Finally, we can add together the “Canadian Edition” and the “75¢ Canadian Price Variant” counts: this gives us a total of 8 price variants across the two differently-named entries.
• So now we can input our three pie slices, revealing the relative rarity difference between the three types using the CBCS population report, as of the May 9, 2020 data:
So that’s ~1.8% for the 75¢ variant of ASM #238 as a percentage of the total — and to think about such a percentage in the context of “modern variant terms” it is worth noting that “1:50” as a percentage is 1 divided by 50 which is 2%, so that’s good context for wrapping our heads around the price variant relative rarity level seen on the CBCS census today for this issue. Meanwhile the US newsstand version made up 41.3% and the direct edition made up 56.9%.
So that “walk-through” above is how I’m approaching the CBCS census data. Performing this same type of exercise should be interesting for many other books as well; it will be interesting to study how the rarity numbers trend for certain titles compared to others, and also for later years compared to earlier years (not to mention publisher vs. publisher).
There are thousands of books to potentially study ultimately, but for a quick look at some interesting keys and to satisfy my own curiosity for today, I performed the same exercise as done with ASM #238 above, for a number of other comics.
First, I took a quick glance at the universe of Canadian Price Variants through time, using some of my favorite Marvel & DC CPVs by year, picking one key book for each year from 1982-1988; I found the following relative rarity data (again this is all using the May 9, 2020 data from CBCS, which for the table below is for a total of 5,179 submissions, and we’ll have to see how the numbers fill out as time passes and more data accumulates):
Wolverine #2 (1st Full Yukio)
ASM #238 (1st Hobgoblin)
Secret Wars #8 (Symbiote Origin)
Web of Spider-Man #1 (1st Vulturions)
X-Factor #6 (1st Apocalypse)
Batman #404 (Year One Part I)
Batman #423 (Todd McFarlane Classic)
Over in our CPV price guide intro section we presented survivorship estimates for 1980’s Marvel & DC CPVs as a group, estimating ~80% direct edition, ~18% regular newsstand, and ~2% newsstand price variants, and in the detailed explanation page we talked about how the percentage of total sales shifted towards direct edition prevalence sometime near the middle of the 1980’s; since the variants were a newsstand-only phenomenon, this would drive the variant percentage to be higher towards the beginning of the variant window, and lower towards the end of the variant window, all else equal. The CBCS census data will no doubt help with researching newsstand percentages in more detail, not just by year and by publisher, but issue-by-issue.
And moving into the 1990’s and another section of the world of cover price variant comics, I was also curious to look up CBCS census data for Marvel’s two big APVs: the New Mutants #98 $1.50 Australian Price Variant and the Amazing Spider-Man #361 $1.80 Australian Price Variant. As it turns out, CBCS has only graded one of each variant to date, but it is still interesting to see the direct edition : newsstand : price variant ratios on census as of today for these two mega-key comic books:
New Mutants #98 (1st Deadpool)
ASM #361 (1st Full Carnage)
Here are a few other books of the late-1980’s and 1990’s, ones that don’t have Type 1A price variants but where I was still interested to see the direct edition : newsstand percentage on census:
ASM #300 (1st Venom)
Hulk #340 (McFarlane Classic)
Uncanny X-Men #266 (Gambit)
New Mutants #87 (Cable)
Batman Adventures #12 (1st Harley Quinn)
Unfortunately CBCS decided only to break out the newsstand vs. direct edition difference through the end of the 1990’s (hopefully one day they’ll extend that, because ending at the year 2000 as they did is completely arbitrary, and the newsstand rarity discussions and estimates really have the newsstand numbers falling off a cliff into the 2000’s so it would have been great to measure those later newsstand books too). [Fortunately, CGC meanwhile does break out some of the newsstand comics of the 2000’s when they are cover price variants of the issue number, such as the $3.99 cover price newsstand comics whose direct edition counterparts are priced $1 lower at $2.99, so we can study census data over there at CGC for those.]
But while CBCS’s new census doesn’t help us study relative rarity data into the 2000’s through to the end of the newsstand distribution era, it can help us see some data for the beginning of the direct edition era, which is also a quite fascinating period to look into. Some of the estimates out there for the very early direct editions have the year 1979 for example at 90-94% newsstand at time of distribution. Even after layering on the notorious newsstand destruction rate (with direct editions meanwhile tending to be purchased by collectors and carefully preserved), surviving direct editions from this “early” time-frame sometimes seem much harder to find out there in the marketplace; will they show up with smaller numbers on the CBCS census? Let’s check a couple of big keys.
I consider any direct editions with the bar-code strike-through instead of a graphical logo (like the Spidey Head) to be “early” direct editions [if you are unfamiliar with the newsstand vs. direct edition difference, see Comic Book Newsstand Editions: Understanding The Difference]. One example key with a bar-code strike-through being Amazing Spider-Man #194 (1st Black Cat). And before 1979 there are the No Month Variants / Pre-Pack Editions / Whitman 3-Pack Variants like Spectacular Spider-Man #27 which has just a blank box in place of a bar code (on CBCS’s census, instead of calling them “Direct Edition” CBCS uses “3-Pack Variant”). What is the newsstand : direct CBCS census breakdown for these early direct-sold examples? Here are the current numbers (once again based on the 5/9/2020 CBCS census data):
Spectacular Spider-Man #27 (1st Frank Miller Daredevil)
Amazing Spider-Man #194 (1st Black Cat)
* I don’t know if “3-Pack Variant” tracking began at CBCS at the same time as the newsstand/direct break-outs, or if it began from the beginning; there are 4 books classified “3-Pack Variant” against 30 “Newsstand Edition” and 36 without a designation for Spectacular #27; in the above I have counted the 4 against only the “Newsstand Edition” copies yielding 4/34=11.8% but the proper comparison might also be to add in the 36 unclassified copies if “3-Pack Variant” dates back to the beginning, in which case it would be copies 4/70=5.7% — either way the 3-pack variants are clearly the more rare type on census.
And the final book I looked up today is Wolverine Limited Series #1, published in 1982 when we’d expect to still be seeing mostly newsstand copies dominating Marvel’s sales, and yet, much like we see when studying marketplace availability for this issue, the bulk of CBCS graded copies of the issue on record to date are direct editions — about 3 of every 4:
Wolverine Limited Series #1
The newly launched CBCS census is a great research tool for newsstand-focused collectors; there are soooo many other books we can check out, and it is also fascinating to drill down into the 9.8 grade and compare the types surviving in that coveted NM/MT condition, but for now I’m going to end this post here [5/16 update: here’s another post, studying CBCS census newsstand rarity by year]. If you’re curious about other books yourself, here’s a direct link to the new CBCS census: https://www.cbcscomics.com/population-report/