Superheroes come in many forms, but sales of their traditional medium, comic books, have been in steady decline. David Steinberger, chief executive of Amazon's digital graphic novel service known as Comixology, said in a 2018 interview that the main reason the comic book industry was suffering was because of what he termed a binge consumption mentality from on-demand streaming services.
So with the likes of Netflix and Amazon's own streaming service Prime, and no doubt our digital 21st century life adding to the demise of the industry, comics are becoming rarer, and collectors are forking out jaw-dropping sums for some old editions.
Four copies of Action Comic, the holy grail of collectables where Superman makes his debut, have sold for in excess of $1 million each, with one edition alone achieving $3.2 million (€2.61m) in 2014, which was a fine return if you had only paid its original price of 10 cent.
The Incredible Hulk, who first appeared as a grey rather than green creature, is also on collectors’ radars, where the highest price achieved was $326,000 (€267,000).
"Their desirability is based on a number of factors. One of the most telling is whether the issue contains some significant event, like the introduction of a character, or maybe their death," says Stuart Purcell, head of collectables at Mullen's, which is selling a 1974 issue of The Incredible Hulk in the forthcoming Collectors' Sale on Sunday, June 13th.
“We first looked at this comic in January 2021 and valued it at €3,000 to €5,000,” says Purcell. “The value today is more like €7,000 to €10,000. These comics, once graded, are traded like commodities, and the market for them is very bullish. Prices have been climbing and climbing and, unlike Bitcoin, you can hold it in your hand.”
As always catalogues for collectors' sales make for interesting bedtime reading. Where else would you find a dainty velvet purse embroidered with dahlias containing an old note: "Bag made and embroidered by Constance de Markievicz for her sister in law Mary Sibell Gore-Booth" alongside a postcard of Elvis Presley in a western costume, signed by the king himself from the early 1960s (€500-€700)?
From Long Kesh/the Maze Prison, and a reminder of the Troubles, is a wooden life-size model of an M1921 Thompson sub-machine gun with a drum magazine. Made from a piece of a broom handle, a clothes peg and fencing wire by an inmate of the prison in the 1970s, it looks like something you’d see in an American gangster film. It comes with a photograph, taken inside Long Kesh, of a prisoner posing with this or a similar model (€1,000-€1,500).
Of interest to those with a penchant for Irish history from 1916 is what Purcell describes as a “probably unique” bronze prototype of the 1966 commemoration medal to mark the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the 1916 rising. Based on the 1916 Rising Service Medal itself, this prototype with a dying Cuchulainn was cast in bronze, but the final ones were eventually struck in silver-gilt or gold-plated silver.
“Though some proofs have sold in the past few years, this is the only one that I have encountered with the ribbon and clasp,” says Purcell (€1,200-€1,500).