An antiquing era comes to an end
The beloved Mission Road Antique Mall will close at the end of this year
by Leigh Elmore
There once was a time, deep in my memory, when I could go to the neighborhood dime store or drug store and peruse the new monthly selection of comic books on a revolving rack. Some of the covers bore a simple statement: "Still 10 Cents," which in itself augured the prospect of an eventual price rise. And rise they did – from 15 cents to a quarter, to 50 cents and beyond. Way beyond.
While the average price of a new comic book today is about four dollars, the price for certain issues and for most vintage books can soar into the hundreds of dollars. So, while you don't need to summon your super powers to build and maintain a collection, nevertheless collecting comic books is not for the faint of heart.
Collect for fun, not profit
"People should buy comic books to read and not for investment," said Sid Smith, owner of the Pop Culture Comix shop located in Louisburg Square Shopping Center on Santa Fe Drive in Overland Park, KS. "Comic books are just something fun," he advises. And Smith has built a strong clientele of repeat customers in the 30 years that he has operated the shop. "Business is fine. I have no complaints."
Sid Smith owns Pop Culture Comix in Overland Park, KS. (photos by Leigh Elmore)
He acknowledges that interest in comic books and the myriad characters that leap from the pages has grown over the years especially since so many movies have featured the characters of the two most recognized comic book publishers, DC and Marvel.
"Interest in comics has grown. The movies have helped. Plus, there are better stories, which are aimed at adults not kids. The stories have really evolved," Smith said.
And just as the internet has severely diminished the public's interest in purchasing traditional newspapers and magazines, comic books are also experiencing flagging sales. While one can subscribe to comics on-line, "Most people like to hold a comic book in their hands," Smith maintained.
So as new editions are delivered, and despite the challenges presented on-line, the devoted comic readers will trek to their favorite comic books store such as Smith's, and dig through the new books looking for their favorite characters.
Charles and Curtis Koons display some of Curtis' favorite comic
The comic book store
The advent of comic book stores is a phenomenon in itself. Kids in the 1950s and '60s bought their books at the dime store, but now stand-alone comic shops rule the market. In fact, Clint's Comics, at 3941 Main St. in Kansas City, is thought to be the oldest operating comic book shop in the country.
"You have to go to a legitimate comic book carrier to get the best and most current issues," said Charles Koons, a collector and budding comic book artist.
"Clint's Book and Comics has been serving the collecting community since October 1967.
We have prided ourselves in being one of the best fantasy comic shops in the United States," states the family of Jim "Smokey" Cavanaugh, who was the owner of the shop since 1975 until his tragic murder at the shop last year by an apparent comic book thief. The murderer has never been apprehended.
A 100-page "Batman" comic from the 1970s from the collection of Curtis Koons.
Cavanaugh was a colorful character himself and influenced several generations of comic book enthusiasts, according to Curtis Koons, (father of Charles) who was a partner in the shop from 2001 to 2007. Koons has collected comics since he was a boy growing up in the Harrisonville area.
"Jim was a great guy and did so many things. He was concerned that the internet was drawing away the new generation of comic book readers," Koons said. He noted the sales of new comics dropped significantly between 2016 and 2017.
"The Justice League of America" is a platform for most of DC's super heroes.
The market declined 6.5 percent in 2017, according to estimates by Comichron, an industry analysis site. It reported that total sales of comics and graphic novels in the United States and Canada were $1.02 billion in 2017, down $70 million from 2016.
While, new comics may be hurt by the internet, collectors of comics depend on the internet to survive. That's where the big money will change hands. The comic book dealers are paying attention.
"I will buy and sell collections," said Smith of Pop Culture Comix. "I personally am into Superman and Batman."
And Curtis Koons, while no longer involved directly in a comics shop, actively seeks out collections.
"I bought a massive collection two years ago and also rescued 35 garbage bags from a dumpster that contained a huge collection of Silver Age books," Curtis Koons said. And that's how he began his business relationship with Cavanaugh years ago. "I put all my inventory in Clint's. And when I left, he bought me out with books."
The cover of "Action Comics" No. 1 from 1938, introducing Superman for the first time. A copy recently sold on eBay for $3 million.
The one that got away
"Comics have always been a part of my life," Koons said, noting that in his personal collection he tends to favor the DC characters rather than those of Marvel. He recalls an episode from when he was a kid in the early 1970s:
"Randall Hawkins ran a shop in Truman Corners in Grandview. When I was 13 years old Randall showed me a copy of DC's Action Comics No. 1. (This is the issue that introduced the character of Superman to the world in 1938) Even then, it was worth $500-$600.
"He agreed to sell it to me for $300 and let me make payments. I paid him about $20 a month for three years. I was ready to make one of the final payments and asked my father to give me a ride.
When he found out that the $20 was not for one book but a payment on one, he got mad and made me stay in the car, went into the store and got all my money back. When I finally got the money together to go back by myself, Randall had already sold the book."
A pristine copy of Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman in 1938, sold for a record $3,207,852 in an auction on eBay in 2014.
"That could have been my retirement plan," Koons mused.
A recently published panel that honored Steve Ditko, a long-time artist and writer for Marvel. The co-creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange died earlier this year at the age of 90.
Comics as a lifestyle
Koons has been involved in buying and selling real estate for his career. "Comics have always been a secondary income. Today I do more trading than buying or selling. I have about 250,000 comics in my collection."
He once took the proceeds from a real estate deal and bought a collection of "All Star" DC titles including some "Golden Age" issues. "Well, they all got destroyed in a flood," he lamented. "That investment was ruined." But the collecting bug will not be suppressed. "I still buy and sell collections, but they have to be vintage. I won't buy newer titles," he said.
Curtis's son, Charles Koons, has been immersed in comic culture his entire life. "My third word was 'Superman'," he said. "I was born on the day that Superman died in the comics, Nov. 17, 1992."
However, Green Lantern was his favorite comic character as a child and he focuses his collection there. "The house was full of comic books growing up. The hobby then wasn't quite as big as it is today."
Charles' goal is to obtain every Silver Age Green Lantern book (Nos. 1-100). "I have 70 so far," he said. "Then I will focus on No. 100 to the current issues."
He explains the "ages" of comic collecting:
"Golden Age comics date from the 1930s and '40s, the really old stuff." Pristine issues can demand thousands of dollars, if not millions (Action Comics No. 1).
"The Silver Age dates from the McCarthy Era, the early 1950s and into the '60s."
He noted that comics were in fact censored in a way during that time by the "Comics Code."
The Comics Code Authority (CCA) was formed in 1954 by the Comics Magazine Association of America as an alternative to government regulation, to allow the comic publishers to self-regulate the content of comic books in the United States. Its code, commonly called "the Comics Code", lasted until the early 21st century.
"DC had a lot of titles before that," Charles said, "but only five titles survived."
This edition of "The Flash" shows how writers regularly invent
What to collect?
Both Curtis and Charles Koons have favorite comic characters and have centered their personal collections around them – Superman, Batman and Green Lantern. There are several on-line sites that help collectors find and organize their collections. Both Koonses advise that condition is everything and there is a whole system of grading the condition of vintage books.
"Identify a character and its history and go from there," Curtis said. "But be careful. I bought a whole collection of Howard the Duck. It was a bad move. Interest waned to say the least."
"Some of the things to look for are the first appearance of a character or first editions of titles," Charles said. "Writers and artists are important as well. He follows specific artists and seeks them out in adding to his collection.
"There was the rise of Stan Lee in the 1960s and '70s. He drew and wrote. Bob Kane is very collectible; he was the creator of Batman. And Neal Adams in the 1970s and '80s completely revolutionized comic books and he championed the overly muscular looking characters."
"Superman and Spider-Man," a rare mash-up of DC and Marvel characters in one book.
Tools for collectors
There are computer programs and websites that are specifically designed to help the collector track their comics. These programs are powerful tools in the constant battle of keeping track of your comics. Here are a few of the programs and websites available today:
Comic Book Manager – This is a simple database program that will allow you to keep track of your comics. $10 to register.
Comic Book Millennium – This program boasts over 30 different reports and many other features including the ability to add monthly subscriptions.
Grand Comic Book Database – A grassroots comic book database that offers a free online comic book tracker.
Comic Book Database – A comic book database that allows you to track and see prices based on condition.
Stash My Comics – Track comics with another online database. It allows you to search your comic collection with a search engine type feature. Shows prices and value.
Lyria, The Comic Exchange – A website designed like the stock market. It offers free searching of comics for prices and has an index of "Blue Chip" comic books that tracks the most popular comic books.
Leigh Elmore can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Feature Stories Archive past articles