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Comic book collecting a source of childhood nostalgia and side income for dealers at Madison Comic Book Convention

December 16, 2018

For many comic book collectors, the hobby is nostalgic. Adults with 9-to-5 jobs can look back at an issue of “The Amazing Spider-Man” or “Batman” and remember their childhoods.

It’s also a hobby that could bring in some cash.

Dealers at Saturday’s Madison Comic Book Convention set up thousands and thousands of comic books, each issue neatly placed in a plastic sleeve with a piece of cardboard to prevent bending.

Many books were priced for just a few dollars. Some cost even less, but a handful were priced much, much higher.

It wasn’t the type of event many people have come to expect when thinking of a “comic con.” Instead of a large spectacle with celebrity meet and greets, newly produced toys and attendees dressed as realistic versions of their favorite characters, this was a more low-key event catering to collectors looking to pick up their favorite comics on a weekend afternoon.

There are generally two types of comic book collectors: those who love to read them and those who invest in them, attendees said. Both types thumbed through comic book dealers’ boxes in the small meeting space in the Hawthorn Suites hotel in Fitchburg, comparing the books available to their lists of issues that would fill holes in their personal collections.

Certain popular or rare issues, known as key issues to collectors, come with significantly higher price tags than others — ranging from a few dollars to tens of thousands. There is even a pricing guide printed each year to help dealers identify which of their issues will go for what prices, similar to the Kelley Blue Book used for cars. As with cars, comic book prices can fluctuate based on condition and popularity.

With a steady stream of blockbuster superhero movies, comics featuring those characters have become more popular. Collectors have come to expect a price hike for books relating to newly released movies.

“When the movies come out, those characters get hot,” said Rob Siebert, 58, a collector and dealer from Marquette County.

Collecting and dealing comic books comes down to timing, said Jason Latko, 48, of Chicago, since the comic book market can be volatile and change week to week. That could mean waiting for a new movie to come out to drum up more interest or just biding your time to find a purchaser willing to pay the price. He’s lost some money on some books over the years, but with others, he’s seen price increases in the thousands of dollars.

Latko said he started seriously trading comic books about 15 years ago. He looks for books that have had their condition professionally graded — mint-condition books are worth significantly more than those with wear and tear. He brought two graded copies of “The Incredible Hulk #181,” which is the first appearance of Wolverine — each costing more than $2,000, and he had a more valuable copy at home.

“I realized I could buy and sell these as an investment,” Latko said. “I don’t know anything about the stock market, but I know about this.”

Chris White, 54, of Rock Falls, Illinois, said dealing comic books has become a way for him to make some side money off of a hobby he’s had for years. He would go with his parents to flea markets, which is where he first started selling or trading the books he collected about 40 years ago.

About four times a year, White hauls a few thousand books to different cities to sell. He chooses to go to smaller conventions because some of the bigger conventions, such as Wizard World, can charge a few hundred dollars just to set up a booth.

“Unless you have a big inventory of a lot of expensive books, it’s not affordable for small-time dealers,” White said.

Stacy Foard, 42, and her husband, Patrick Foard, 41, of Tomah, both like to read comics, but they were at Saturday’s convention to find books for their 15-year-old son, Gordon, who had made a list of some issues he wanted for Christmas.

Patrick Foard was the one who got the family into comic books, his wife said. Their son fed off his father’s love for the books.

“We have a comic-book room in our home,” Stacy Foard said.

Patrick and Gordon are different types of collectors, she said. Gordon was hoping for higher-quality and popular books — ones that he could potentially sell for more money later on. Patrick said he looks for books to read, and he’s drawn to books for their art style and storylines.

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