SALT LAKE CITY — Vincent Zurzolo started collecting comic books when he was a child. He sought and stored them from when he was in elementary school all the way through high school. Then, he started selling them.
“And everybody in school knew I was into this,” he said. “And they knew somebody in their family who had a collection or something like that.”
College didn’t change anything. Seek, store, sell. So he decided to embrace the practice full time. He sold 1 million comics in his first year. He would sell comics on the street. He’d slip through the tight streets of New York’s financial district and trade comic books to Wall Street investors, who also had interest in comic books. Some wanted to know what was happening with Superman that week. He’d package comic books together for deals, make some cash and move on. He’d visit conventions. He’d pick up rare items and trade them.
Now, Zurzolo has reached the peak of his profession. He’s the co-owner of Metropolis Collectibles, an online vintage comic book dealership. And he’s seen an uptick in people buying comic books right now.
But it’s not just so people can read about the latest Venom and Spider-Man battle. Some people are buying comics to invest — specifically, putting their money into something beyond money. They want something tangible to invest in that they can hold onto. Comic books provide one of those avenues.
“We’re seeing a tremendous influx and interest in pop culture memorabilia, specifically comic books artwork and video games,” he said.
Why people invest
Dennis Brennan, of Queens, New York, is a collector of comic books. He writes a wish list of comics that he’s looking for. He’ll reach out to dealers. They’ll tell him prices. They’ll negotiate.
“It is still fun and I enjoy meeting with dealers and seeing what new books they have,” he said. “You develop a relationship with people.”
One such relationship Brennan has is with Zurzolo. He met him at a convention when they were in college.
Brennan collects and invests in the books he enjoys . He does it because he has expendable income.
Investing in comics might not be a priority for many right now. More than 36 million Americans have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to The New York Times. But despite the economic stress, people have still been buying comics, Zurzolo said.
Why? For one, more people are at home. They’re looking at their own personal collections and wanting to improve them. They see what they own and want to add to it. They’re also spending more time online, which in turn leads to shopping.
And, according to Zurzolo, economic distress encourages people to look for “tangible assets” to invest in, like comic books. He said he saw the same trend during the 2008 economic recession.
People will call Zurzolo and ask him if comics are a good place to hold some money. Park your money in the investment and sell them to earn it back later.
A similar item is Funko Pop memorabilia, which are small little figurines based off pop culture characters. There has been some consideration among experts and media members that these figures will be worth a lot of money in the future. While the items are mass produced, some are made in small quantities and thus have increased value, according to MoneyWise.
But Zurzolo said he sees Funk Pop dolls as more of a Ty Beanie Baby bubble, where everyone invests so the market eventually crashes.
“I’m not saying it’s gonna happen with Funko Pops, and I hope it doesn’t,” he said. “I’m just saying that because it’s so young, and they’ve gone up so much in value, so quickly, it might not have the legs to survive if interest wanes.”
But convincing people to invest in comic books might not be so easy, especially during a pandemic. Less money to spend means less money to invest in products. And Americans are saving more right now. Americans are stockpiling cash and curbing spending during the pandemic, according to CNBC.
“There is a tremendous uncertainty and virus fear that is lingering and that is restraining people’s desire to go out and spend as they normally would,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, according to CNBC.
What’s happening to the industry
The comic book industry suffered a brief speed bump at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Stores across the country — including Black Cat Comics in Salt Lake City — saw a dip in distribution since Diamond Comic Distributors — the main distributor for all new comics books — stopped sending all shipments of new comic books to stores amid the coronavirus shutdown. More than 2,000 stores were impacted because of the stoppage.
No new books. No new Iron Man stories. Nothing new on the shelves of comic book stores for a brief bit of time. The industry had about $1.1 billion in sales for 2019, according to Forbes. Without new material, the number could have dipped significantly. But Marvel has since released new comics on a digital platform. And Diamond Distributors kicked back up in May.
Fans suggested that DC and Marvel team up for a crossover event since it would inspire high sales and could regain some of the money lost from the industry’s brief dip. But an issue existed there, too. A big comic book series like that would cost more money, and if people are out of work, they would struggle to afford it, Greg Gage, owner of Black Cat Comics, told the Deseret News.
“We have to think about these people that have been, you know, out of work or their hours have been drastically reduced,” Gage said. “They’re not going to have the money to come in and buy ... a big event thing like that.”
Gage said the future for comics includes building the industry back up slowly. Release fewer books. Let people buy them back at a slower rate and earn the money back slowly.
Slow growth could mean that weekly comic could be a rare product worth investment.
Tips for collecting
For those who do collect comic books and are sheltering at home, Zurzolo has a few tips.
For example, you can organize your collection. Put everything in alphabetical order, or group by series and title, publisher, writer or artist.
Catalog the collection. Put together a book or list with all of the books you own.
And then you’ll want to review the current values. The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide is a good resource for seeing how much comic books can cost, so it might be worth a review if you’re interested in investing.
But Zurzolo’s final tip has the biggest impact — dig into the history of comic books.
Above all, there’s value in the art form. And the lessons from comic books can help the industry, Zurzolo said.
“Sure, it’s helpful to know the backstory of your collectibles, but the history of comic books is fascinating in its own right, from larger-than-life characters to twisting plot lines,” he said.
“I think there’s so much to be learned from them in terms of reflections on society,” he continued. “I consider it the greatest American art form.”