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The Wild World of High-End Comics Collecting

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When a person attends a comic book convention, there's an expectation of seeing people in Spider-Man T-shirts and brightly-colored Spandex costumes. However, at the Metropolis Collectibles booth in New York City, the dress code is more Wall Street than Wolverine.

Sharply dressed men in suits and ties engage in intense conversation, peering intensely at old comics safely ensconced in hard, clear, plastic cases. Some are those presented for consideration by hopeful sellers. At the other end of the counter, a man in who appears to be in his fifties quietly passes over a $3,600 check to purchase one of the offerings. No one at the booth appears to be younger than 40.

At the top of each of the plastic comic cases in bold lettering is a CGC grade. CGC (short for Certified Guaranty Company, LLC) is a third-party service that evaluates comic books and grades them according to their condition by specific criteria, just as a jeweler might grade a diamond. In diamonds, one looks at cut, color, clarity and carat weight. In comics, evaluation criterion includes cover, color and condition.

Everything is looked at during CGC's grading process. Are there creases in the cover? How white are the pages in areas that were not inked? Are there color breaks or misaligned staples in the spine? Does there appear to have been any restoration work done and what was the quality of that work? After evaluation, the comic is encapsulated in the clear, hard plastic protector and a grade from 0 to 10 is assigned, with "10" being assigned only to completely flawless comics.

On August 23, 2014, an Ebay auction closed after 48 bids at $3,207,852.00. What item would inspire a sales price that could have as easily bought a mansion? The Holy Grail of comic books: Action Comics #1, featuring the first appearance of Superman.

The purchaser was Vincent Zurzolo of Metropolis Collectibles. Zurzolo has collected comics since he was a child. "I believe comic books are the greatest American art form ever created and even to this day they don't get the respect they deserve. I want the world to know how great they are for escapism, for creativity and inspiration. I keep a box of comics beside my bed and every night I read comics. I love this stuff and it's not just a business for me."

Published in June 1938 with an initial print run of about 200,000 copies, only about 100 copies of Action Comics #1 are thought to have survived to this day. Back during the birth of comics, most people didn't consider them worth saving. Kids read them with varying degrees of care and moms threw them out when they were cleaning house. There were paper drives to support the United States World War II efforts and many comics were sacrificed to the cause. http://www.sarahsundin.com/make-it-do-scrap-drives-in-world-war-ii-2/

However, a prior copy of Action Comics #1 sold for a "mere" $2.2 million dollars. What merited a sales price of a million dollars higher? The condition, as graded by CGC, is a "9". CGC's description of a comic that merits a "9" is: "Very Fine/Near Mint".

Why did Zurzolo and his company make such a high-dollar purchase? "We wanted to make a statement about who we are and the strength of the comic book market. Our name is synonymous with Action Comics #1. In the last six years, we've sold more copies than the rest of the industry combined."

Zurzolo sees comics as being just as valuable, if not more so, as other forms of fine art. As a comparison, he has this to say: "Giacometti's 'Walking Man' statue sold in 2010 for $104 million dollars. Stand on any street corner in any city in the United States. 99% of people will know Action Comics #1. 1% will know Giacometti's 'Walking Man.' I think Superman's more important. He was the first superhero and the ultimate immigrant story."

Now that Metropolis Collectibles has it, what will happen to this nearly-pristine copy of Action Comics #1? "Eventually, we'll resell it," says Zurzolo. "Whether private sale or auction, we're not sure yet. We're entertaining a lot of different offers currently and we'll see if we get the right one."

Curious visitors will soon be able to see some of Metropolis Collectible's other prized assets. The company is planning to open a 5,000 square foot showroom in midtown Manhattan in the coming months. As far Action Comics #1 goes, it will likely remain safely housed in a bank vault until the next purchaser comes along.

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