Vintage Comic Collecting

From the days of newspaper comic strips, crime stories, and tales of suspense, to the reign of superheroes, horror stories, and adult themes, comic books have both chronicled and become part of pop culture history all over the world. If you are interested in collecting a particular comic ask yourself these three questions. Do I like it? Do I want it? Can I afford it? If the answer is Yes, Yes, and Yes then go for it.

Comic Book History - Collecting Comic Books - Value & Grading Comic Books - Storage of Comic Books

Comic Book History

Platinum Age of Comics (1897-1937)

Early in 1897 a book called "The Yellow Kid in McFadden's Flats" came out. The comic was 196 pages long, square bound, black and white, it cost 50 cents. It was published by G. W. Dillingham Company with permission from Randolf Hearst, whose paper carried the comic strip.

There were actually two Yellow Kid comic strips, R. F. Outcault was drawing the strip for The New York World, when Randolf Hearst lured him away to work for the New York Journal. George B. Luks began drawing the cartoon for the World after Outcault left. There was much competition between the two papers and often stories were printed about events that never occured so the two began to be known as "The Yellow Kid Papers", which was shortened to "The Yellow Papers" and eventually the term "Yellow Journalism".

In 1922 the first monthly comic book came out, Comics Monthly lasted 12 issues. It was cover dated January and had a price of 10 cents. They were done in 8 1/2 by 9 format, each issue was devoted to a popular comic strip character that was syndicated by King Features.

In 1933 Funnies on Parade was published, the first 7 1/2 X 10 format comic book, its 32 pages included Mutt and Jeff, Joe Palooka and Reg'lar Fellows. As a test for their product 10,000 were given out as premiums by Proctor and Gamble. This endeavour was the start of Famous Funnies that originally sold for 10 cents a copy, and remained in production until 1955.

Between 1933 and 1937, icons like Mickey Mouse, Flash Gordon, and Dick Tracy all made their mark, and artists like Will Eisner, Bob Kane, Jerry Siegel, and Joe Shuster all started their careers, ushering in the platinum age.

1937 marked the debut of themed comics such as Detective Comics focusing on crime and suspense stories and would eventually be the title to introduce Batman. Detective Comics would later shorten its name, keeping just the initials DC, they set the stage for the beginnings of the Golden Age of Comics.

Golden Age of Comics (1938-55)

The golden age began in 1938 when Action Comics introduced Superman, the first superhero. Inspired by Superman’s success, Bob Kane developed Batman, the darker superhero. While Batman had no powers, the dark tales and maniacal villains made the comics a success.

Superheroes flourished between 1938 and 1945. The Spirit, Captain Marvel, The Flash, the Human Torch, The Sandman, and many others were introduced in various publications. In 1940 war comics became all the rage with patriotic heroes making their debut. Captain America, created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, became the first hero to get his own title before appearing in a previous comic. In 1945, with the end of the war, the Golden Age of comics started drawing to a close and Science Fiction comics gained popularity.

Silver Age of Comics (1956-69)

With superhero comics sales continuing downward, horror comics like The Crypt of Terror, Weird Fantasy, and The Vault of Horror became increasingly popular during the silver age. However, by the mid-1950s superheroes like Superman, Captain America, the Flash, and the Human Torch were revived and given new titles and stories to play out.

Comics from this period featured modern slang, quirky personalities, and personal problems beyond saving the world. The Fantastic Four were the first in a new wave of Marvel heroes that also included The Incredible Hulk and Thor. However, it was Spider-Man’s appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15 that cemented the Marvel style.

This was also the era of the super group. The Avengers, a revived JLA, and the X-men all showed up. While superheroes rose to power, science fiction comics continued to be popular and Marvel combined them with the Silver Surfer.

Toward the end of the Silver Age, comic books looked very much like they do today: a plethora of heroes each with their own comic, and many characters that did double duty in a super group.

Bronze Age of Comics (1970-79)

Reflecting the times, Bronze Age comics began to address more modern themes. Although classic comic book heroes continued to be popular, new heroes such as Conan the Barbarian and stories such as Star Wars changed the rules and ushered in the modern age.

Modern Age of Comics (1980-Now)

During the ‘80s the rise of the graphic novel placed popular heroes in more adult settings that have become more common during the modern age. Notable among them are Alan Moore’s The Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

The ‘90s marked the splintering of comic book publishers. In an industry previously dominated by Marvel and DC, many independent or alternative comics, like Darkhorse and Image, came into being.

In the last 10 years comic books have sprung from a cottage industry to an entertainment juggernaut. Movies like Spider-Man, Batman Begins, and the X-Men have fueled the interest in this visual art form.


Comics have gone a long way from the classic “POW” “BAM” “BIFF” days of the Golden Age. Complex storylines challenge characters both physically and emotionally. With so many talented artists and writers involved in making comic books the artwork has never been better, it’s no wonder that collecting comics has become one of the hottest hobbies around.

Collecting comics should be enjoyable. Find a comics character you enjoy, one whose super-power, secret identity, or the world they inhabit interests you. If they are they part of a group are you interested in collecting more than one title at a time?

Value and Grading

The term grade is used to describe the condition a comic book is in. Comic book values depend on several factors, including how hard it is to find a particular issue and the condition of the comic book. It’s a good idea to become familiar with the grading scale used by most comics collectors to help ensure that your expectations are met when you purchase comics.

Comics guides like Overstreet and Wizard are great resources for collectors, not only providing the value of many back-issue comics, but often running articles about upcoming issues or events in the worlds of Marvel and DC.

The following comics grading scale is commonly used to rate the condition of comics. It includes the name of the condition, the symbol for the condition, and a numerical value.

Mint (MT) Comics, 9.9 to 10.0: The best example of comic book condition ever seen. Perfect, or as near to perfect as possible.

(CGC: 10-9.8)

(Overstreet: 100-98)

(Abbreviated as MT)

This grade is the most misused of all the comic book grades. Many people want their comic book to be better than it is, but few attain this high of a mark. Those comics that do, especially CGC graded books, can attain the highest possible market value that is out there. This will only happen if there is a market for your comic though. Most copies of Youngblood, West Coast Avengers, and X will never do as well as a highly sought after Spider-Man, Batman, or other mainstream comic book.

For a comic book to be considered, “Mint” it needs to meet the following criteria:


The Cover

There should be no creases.

The cover should have no fading and look like new.

The comic should lie flat and not roll or have curves.

The Spine

The Spine should be straight with no rolling.

Staples should be like new and not rusted.


The Pages

There should be no tears or cuts.

The color should be bright with no discoloration, or fading.

There should be no stains or marks.

Autographs are acceptable.


The Comic should look as if it came fresh from the store

Near Mint/Mint (NM/M) Comics, 9.8: Almost perfect. Only minor imperfections. Comic book is flat and shows no wear.

Near Mint (NM) Comics, 9.2 to 9.7: Nearly perfect with only minor binding errors allowed. Ink is bright and reflective, no cover wear.

Very Fine/Near Mint (VF/NM) Comics, 9.0: Outstanding condition. Slight cover bend apparent and wear is almost imperceptible.

Very Fine (VF) Comics, 7.5 to 8.5: Excellent condition. Relatively flat cover with minor corner wear. Paper is supple, not brittle.

Fine/Very Fine (FN/VF) Comics, 7.0: Above-average condition. Minor cover wear shows. Corners may be blunted.

Fine (FN) Comics, 5.5 to 6.5: Above average. Cover shows wear, but is clean with no creasing. Blunted corners common. Minor or moderate spine roll.

Very Good/Fine (VG/FN) Comics, 5.0: Above average, but obviously used. Minor cover wear with minor or moderate creases. Minor staple tear and minor rust acceptable.

Good/Very Good (GD/VG) Comics, 3.0: Used with substantial wear. Cover loose, or detached at one staple. Discoloration or fading apparent.

Good (GD) Comics, 1.8 to 2.5: Substantial wear, obviously read. Dull cover. Moderate soiling and staining.

Fair/Good (FR/GD) Comics, 1.5: Substantial and heavy wear. Cover lacks luster. Soiled, scuffed, and possibly unattractive.

Fair (FR), 1.0 Comics: Heavy wear. Lowest collectible grade. Spine split and roll common. Missing, rusted, or discolored staples.

Poor (PR) Comics, 0.5: Little or no collector value. Missing large chunks. Corners significantly round or missing altogether.

Comic Storage & Care

By taking a few simple precautions, you can protect your comics and enjoy them for years to come.

With the right materials, comic book collection storage is a simple and low-maintenance responsibility.

Things You’ll Need:

White, acid-free backing boards

Mylar comic book bags

Clear, all-purpose adhesive tape

Acid-free cardboard archival storage boxes

A cool, dry, clean, dark space for storage

Step 1:

Gather your materials. The best place to find backing boards and Mylar bags is at your local comic book store. They may also carry special acid-free storage boxes; but if not, you can find those at most office supply stores.

Step 2:

Inspect all of your comic books for moisture or soiled areas before storing them in bags. If your comics are in pristine condition, consider handling them carefully while wearing thin cotton gloves to minimize the transfer of oils from your skin.

Step 3:

Place each comic carefully into a fitted Mylar back with a backing board in place. Seal each bag with a piece of tape and arrange them neatly in your acid-free boxes.

Step 4:

Keep the boxes in a cool, dry, clean and dark space for storage. Interior closets are typically the best places to store comics in the home.

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Golden Rules of Collecting

Be informed, invest in reference material.

Buy the best quality you can afford.

Buy from reputable sources.

The earliest known comic book is generally accepted to be The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck that first appeared in 1837. There is debate if it is a "true comic" by some.

In 1754, Benjamin Franklin created the first editorial cartoon published in an American newspaper. It was an illustration of a snake with a severed head and had the printed words "Join, or Die." The cartoon was intended to encourage the different colonies into joining what was to become the United States.

Golden and Silver Age books are far more susceptible to yellowing and any detrimental qualities in the storage materials, due to the type of paper they're printed on (cheap newsprint). New books are printed on acid-free paper, so unless you expose them to light, water or fire on a regular basis, a tiny bit of care goes a long way.

Original Disney Patent Drawing 1930
courtesy Vintage Internet Patents

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