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Check Those Boxes In Your Attic: Comic Books And Collectibles Have Doubled In Price

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We've reported a lot on the COVID-related supply chain glitches driving up the cost of things like cars, gas and building materials. Well, here's another product that has seen prices more than double in the last year - comic books. Abe Aboraya of member station WMFE reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS' "SUPERMAN - MAIN THEME")

ABE ABORAYA, BYLINE: It's the battle of the century - Batman versus Superman.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE")

TROY BAKER: (As Batman) 'Sup, Supes?

TRAVIS WILLINGHAM: (As Superman) Wow, it's Batman. What are you doing here?

ABORAYA: But this time, the Dark Knight versus the Man of Steel doesn't happen on the big screen, it happens on an auction block in Dallas, Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: The greatest comic in the hobby - Action Comics No. 1.

ABORAYA: At Heritage Auctions, bidding for the first appearance of Superman starts at $400,000.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: The biggie of biggies as far as this session is concerned - the first appearance of Batman - Detective Comics 27.

ABORAYA: Here is where Batman beats Superman. Batman's first comic book appearance sold for $1.1 million, more than twice as much as Superman's first appearance. During three days at auction, a record $22.5 million was spent on rare comic books, shattering the previous record that was set in April. The pandemic that put millions of Americans out of work hasn't caused them to have to liquidate their comic book collections and drive prices down, says Douglas Gillock with online auction site ComicLink.

DOUGLAS GILLOCK: In hobbies, we talk about, you know, death, divorce and debt as the three D's of why people sell.

ABORAYA: That's still true, but the average price of a comic book sold in April more than doubled from a year ago. The younger generation is now collecting comic books fueled by the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But also, more people are seeing comics as a financial asset with a pretty good return on investment.

GILLOCK: And in some cases, extreme, extreme returns. But they're also fun to own. There's pride of ownership.

ABORAYA: If you're proud of your comic investment, you'll probably send it to Certified Collectibles Group in sunny Sarasota, Fla., for authentication.

Comics.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Comics? Let's take a look, then.

ABORAYA: High fences, security guards, video cameras everywhere - CCG is the Fort Knox of comics, complete with an actual vault overflowing with pallets of comic books. Here, comics and collectibles are authenticated and given a grade by specialists like Vince Oliva.

VINCE OLIVA: This is a Fantastic Four No. 1.

ABORAYA: It looks pristine, but Oliva's super senses can tell that missing pieces of the cover have been repaired, the spine reinforced and the cover soaked and cleaned. It has been professionally restored.

OLIVA: And it's still a very valuable book, but instead of a half a million, now this might be - oh, gosh - probably something more in the $10-, $15,000 range.

ABORAYA: Once he's done, comic books are then slapped in carbonite - kind of.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLASTIC CLATTERING, HIGH-PITCHED RINGING)

ABORAYA: It's a hard plastic clamshell to prevent comics from being altered in ways that could affect their value. This whole operation - grading, authenticating, slabbing - takes hundreds of people. CCG President Max Spiegel says his company can't hire fast enough and is offering $2,500 hiring bonuses.

MAX SPIEGEL: At the start of the pandemic, we had 300 employees around the world. We just passed 500 employees. And I think by the end of the year, we could have 600 or 700 employees.

ABORAYA: So now, what before the pandemic was a two-month turnaround for comic books, is more than five months. A Pokemon card takes a year to get graded.

For NPR News, I'm Abe Aboraya in Sarasota, Fla.

(SOUNDBITE OF DATAROCK SONG, "FA-FA-FA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.