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What Was the First Speculator Comic Book?

Comic Book Questions Answered – where I answer whatever questions you folks might have about comic books (feel free to e-mail questions to me at brianc@cbr.com).

My pal, Glen Cadigan, wrote in to ask me which comic book do I believe was the first comic book that was specifically targeted by comic book "speculators," that is, people who were buying the comic with the specific intent of it going up in value on the after market.

There is an obvious answer to the question and it was the one that Glen himself thought was probably the answer, but he wanted to know if I could think of an earlier example than the most obvious answer. Well, I am afraid that this is one of those instances where the obvious answer IS the answer, but at least it's not QUITE as simple as all that, so there's still some interesting stuff to discuss.

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By the early 1960s, it was understood that people were, in fact, seriously collecting comic books. Marvel got enough letters to know it was happening. So they began to make references to the concept...

With Stan Lee even using the idea of a book's collectibility being a factor in fans buying it. This was just 1964...

Right around the boom from Bat-Mania (but likely independent of Bat-Mania), comic book back issues were really beginning to become a "thing" (obviously, they had always been a thing, but a more mainstream thing now) and there were some collectors out there who realized the value of Marvel Comics and began to buy multiples of the books, with Fantastic Four #48 being one of the first comics where collectors would go out of their way to get extra copies of the book...

At this point in time, getting multiples often meant going to the distributor yourself or cutting a deal with your local retailer where they would order in bulk for you.

In 1968, Marvel released a number of "premiere issues" now that they were finally free of the onerous restrictions of their old distribution deal with Independent News (the distributor owned by National Comics). There were collectors who purchased multiple copies of these books...

However, it was few and far between that a comic book would really have collectors buying bulk copies with the express intent of re-selling the books when they went up in value.

In 1970, Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' run on Green Lantenrn/Green Arrow might not have attracted widespread sales overall, but there was enough interest in the books from the public that collectors began to buy these issues in bulk more than normal...

However, the tipping point came later in 1970. Conan the Barbarian #1 sold well for Marvel, but the real game change was the months LATER. The sales sort of plateaued for a while, with Stan Lee even ordering the cancellation of the series briefly before the later sales figures came in and showed that the book had exploded in popularity around issue #9 or 10...

Therefore, the relatively less-produced Conan the Barbarian #1 became a must-have item for collectors in the then nascent comic book collecting market and so there would be sales of the 15 cent Conan #1 for $20-50.

The success of Conan set comic book fans up to expect that the next big #1 book would ALSO have the same results, so when DC announced that it was licensing Captain Marvel for a new series, people paid attention. Everyone knew Captain Marvel. His comics use to sell as well (if not better) than Superman's comics and now he was back after a twenty year absence? This was a BIG DEAL and so 1973's Shazam #1 is the answer for the first comic book that people really speculated on....

Thanks to Glen for the question! As noted, Glen thought it was Shazam, as well.

If anyone else has a question, feel free to drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com!

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