The following is a reprint of the seventh edition of "The Pop Culture Collective," my column that appears monthly in AntiqueWeek:
Action Comics #1 Breaks Auction Record
It was bound to happen sooner or later.
In an eBay auction that ended Aug. 24, a comic book—Action Comics #1 featuring the first appearance of Superman—broke the $3 million dollar mark. To be precise, the primo periodical, which was released in 1938 with a cover price of 10 cents, sold for $3,207,852.
For the eBay listing, the seller, Darren Adams of Pristine Comics near Seattle, Washington, wrote a convincing description of the Holy Grail of printed popular culture, calling it “THE comic book that started it all…this comic began the super-hero genre…the finest graded copy to exist with perfect white pages…significant superior eye appeal, extremely vibrant colors.”
The issue, which Adams calls the “Mona Lisa of comics,” was graded 9.0 by the independent third-party grading service Certified Guaranty Company (CGC), the same grade granted to the previous record holder: Nicholas Cage’s copy of Action Comics #1, which went for $2.16 million in 2011. According to Adams, his copy of Action #1 “blows the other 9.0 out of the water.”
When I first heard about this astonishing sale, several things went racing through my mind, including how the auction shattered the previous record by more than $1 million.
I also reflected on a conversation I once had with an older collector, who told me about the time he saw a copy of Action Comics #1 for sale at an early (circa late 1960s) comic book convention. The dealer wanted the princely sum of $100 for the nicely preserved issue, which drew scoffs and retorts from several attendees, who felt that was a ridiculously high price. By the end of the one-day show, the comic sat there unsold.
Another topic the auction brought to mind was my dad, who died this past December. In 1938, when Action Comics #1 hit newsstands across the country, he was six years old and in first grade. Along with listening to radio shows, such as The Shadow and The Lone Ranger, my dad read comic books, which his parents bought for him at the local drug store.
Based on several things my dad told me over the years, such as one of his earliest memories on the schoolyard playground, when he and his friends were “talking excitedly about the new, colorful adventure hero,” I’m about 90 percent sure that he—or at least one of his friends—had a copy of Action Comics #1. Even if they didn’t have the first issue, they certainly had several of the early issues, which themselves are worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Unlike my dad, who only read comics when he was a kid, I read them all through high school, college, and early married life, and I still read them today. When I was a teenager, although he was too kind to say it, I’m sure my dad thought I was childish (or at least weird) for riding my bike to 7-11 every week in order to scan the racks for new issues of Green Lantern, The Flash, The Amazing Spider-Man, and, yes, Action Comics.
My dad and I never really connected on a fan level. Although we watched certain genre TV shows together, such as The Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman, and although he saw two of my favorite films—Forbidden Planet (1956) and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)—at the drive-in back in the day, he seemed mystified by the fact that I make a living writing about movies, music, video games, and the like.
Where my dad and I did connect, however, was with regards to finances—he passed on to me his frugality and the idea of (almost) never paying retail. If he were with us today, he would be shaking his head with disbelief over the $3 million+ Action Comics sale.
As someone who still reads and collects comics, I kinda get the high price. After all, Action Comics #1 is “THE comic book that started it all.”
NORMAN, OK--If you attend OAFCON, a comic book show taking place Oct. 25-26 just south of Oklahoma City, you probably won’t come across a copy of Action Comics #1, as only 50-100 copies are known to exist. What you will find, however, are thousands of other Golden and Silver Age comics for sale, along with related material, including pulp magazines, movie posters, original art, and vintage science fiction novels.
OAFCON is hosted by the Oklahoma Alliance of Fans (OAF), a comic book club co-founded in 1967 by Bart Bush, an early mover and shaker in comic book fandom and retailing. Bush grew up in Oklahoma and, according to Bill Schelly, author of Founders of Comic Fandom (2010, McFarland Publishers), first heard of fandom through a plug for Alter-Ego in Famous Monsters of Filmland.
Founded by Jerry Bails in 1961 and taken over shortly thereafter by the prolific Roy Thomas, former scripter of such comic book as The Avengers and The Uncanny X-Men, Alter-Ego was one of the first comic book fanzines and, after an extended hiatus, is still being published today as a slick newsstand magazine with glossy covers. Amazingly, Thomas, who, along with Schelly, resurrected the publication during the late 1990s, is still at the helm of the publication, editing each issue for TwoMorrows Publishing.
After discovering Alter-Ego, Bush saw a mention of Rocket’s Blast Comicollector (RBCC) in Justice League of America #30 (Sept., 1964), giving him a source to purchase back issue comic books. This helped fuel Bush’s interest in such series as The Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and Dr. Strange during what is now known as the Marvel Age of Comics, when these characters were new and jockeying for position on the newsstands with Batman, Superman, The Flash, and other DC heroes, who seemed a little stodgy in comparison.
“Oh, god, I loved Marvel,” Bush told AntiqueWeek back in 2011. “Everybody went crazy trying to get Marvel; they were exhilarating for all of us…kids could relate so much better to the Marvel characters,” which were hipper, younger, and had such lifelike problems as family squabbles, insecurities, and financial troubles. This was in stark contrast to the white-bread DC heroes, who, during the 1960s, were squeaky-clean-perfect.
According to the “Bart Bush” chapter in Founders of Comic Fandom, OAF dates back to 1967 “when a group of 14 Oklahoma fans met to form a comic book club.” Bush told Schelly, “On this cold March day, the garage where we met held the esteemed beginnings of a group that would call themselves the Oklahoma Alliance of Fans, or OAF.”
OAF published a comic book fanzine, which Bush edited from May of 1968 to Sept. of 1970. The small press publication was noteworthy for its offset covers, which featured art by the likes of such fine craftsman as Reed Crandall, Vaughn Bodē, and Virgil Finlay.
“In 1970,” Schelly wrote, “Bart and other members of OAF (such as chairmen Robert A. Brown and Don Maris) launched Multi-Con, the first major nostalgia show in Oklahoma.” And in 1974, Bush co-founded (with Maris) Down Memory Lane, the first comic book store in Oklahoma.
Bush is looking forward to this year’s OAFCON, an annual tradition he plans on continuing for as long as possible. “As always, we have an amazing group of memorabilia dealers,” he said. “Our show has one of the best selections of Golden, Silver, and Bronze Age collectibles in the country.”
In addition to shopping in the museum-like vendor’s room, OAFCON attendees can meet and greet local authors and artists. This year’s guests include: Donnie Pitchford, artist of Lum & Abner; Jack and Carol Bender, artist and writer (respectively) of Alley Oop; Rachel Caine, author of The Morganville Vampires book series; and John Wooley, who wrote Shot in Oklahoma: A Century of Sooner State Cinema.