On Monday, online comic book auction website Comic Connectsold an original, unrestored copy of Action Comics #1 for $1,000,000. It was the most expensive comic ever purchased. Until Thursday when someone paid $1,075,500 for an original copy of Detective Comics #27, that is. The previous owner had purchased that copy of ‘Tec #27 in 1960 for $600. Now (for the next few days, at least), it’s the most expensive comic ever purchased.
Both comics have been evaluated by collectors and assigned ratings by Comic Book Critics expressing their quality on a scale of 1-10 (each rates an 8.0). They are vacuum sealed in plastic, and barring another critical examination in the future to reassess their value, their pages will never be seen by human eyes again. There’s something not right about this.
I agree with Rick at Bent Corner, where I first read the stories of these copies of Action #1 and ‘Tec #27. He said he’s having a hard time relating to this. So am I. And it’s not the money, although it is a shitload of money that’s been dropped on comic books — have we fed all the hungry people, housed all the homeless, and I just never heard about it? It’s more the idea of spending a fortune to own something that you will never be able to enjoy. These comic books have essentially been laminated to protect them from further damage. They will never be read. They weren’t bought to be read; they were bought to be had. They are milestone publications each, one the first appearance of Superman as we know him, the founding document of superhero comics; the other the introduction of Batman, the only other character to rival Superman’s popularity these last seventy years or so. Because so many periodicals were shredded and recycled during World War II, they are also extremely rare. So they’re valuable. They attract collectors, they demand vast sums of money from anyone who wishes to possess them.
Yet at the end of the day, someone (two someone’s) has paid one million dollars to own a copy of a magazine. The purchasers of these copies of Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27 didn’t buy the original artwork drafted by Joe Shuster and Bob Kane, or the original scripts for those stories that came from the pencils or typewriters of Jerry Siegel or Bill Finger. They spent over two million dollars between them, and they own nothing made by the hands of the artists. They own mass-market reproductions that are valuable not for their originality, but for their scarcity, and because the corners are in good shape and the pages have relatively few creases in them.
Comic book pages are supposed to have creases in them! They are made to be read, not collected. When I dream of writing comic books (an indulgence I still allow myself every so often), I don’t dream of something I wrote one day being sealed in airtight plastic and sold at auction to some bloodless collector who’ll never even read it. I want to see my comics rolled up in some kid’s back pocket, or being read by someone in a subway, or collected into affordable paperback editions and sold at Borders. Comics ought to be read, not collected.
Nearly every comic book I’ve purchased in the last ten years or so has been a cheap trade paperback, a relatively worthless volume of reprints. I own both Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27 several times over. It’s just my copies are a lot more recent. And I can take them off my shelf and read them whenever I want. And if I lose them, or they’re damaged, I can buy new copies for a little bit of nothing, and be able to look at those classic stories all over again, and marvel at how something so modest, so silly, so crude, could still be directing the course of an entire industry. My copies of those old comics may not be valuable, but what’s in them — the artwork, the writing — the content . . . shit, that’s priceless.