Comic-book sale sets a new record

Collectible:Steve Geppi, a Baltimore-based comic-book dealer, fetches $350,000 for a 'Marvel Comics #1.'

January 09, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach

Back in November 1939, the artists responsible for the first issue of Marvel Comics were paid about $15 a page for their efforts. The book itself, which introduced the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner to the world, could be purchased at newsstands for a dime.

What a difference 63 years can make. Last week, a nearly flawless copy of that magazine, in pretty much the same condition as the day it came off the presses, sold for an astonishing $350,000 M-y a new record for a single comic book.

"In many ways, I feel like I sold it way too cheap," said Steve Geppi, president of Baltimore-based Diamond Comic Distributors.

After owning the book for about 15 years, he sold it Jan. 2 to Kansas City-based Jay Parrino's The Mint, a dealer in high-end collectibles.

Carl Burgos' Human Torch, a flaming android, would become one of the most popular characters of World War II-era comics. Bill Everett's Sub-Mariner was a water-breathing lord of the sea, who would later team with the Torch to battle the Axis powers in the comic's pages.

(The Sub-Mariner actually debuted in an earlier magazine, Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1, but that book was never put into circulation.)

Both characters would lapse into obscurity in the 1950s but would be revived in the early 1960s in the pages of The Fantastic Four.

But what makes this particular copy even more desirable is that it's the so-called "Pay copy." Obtained from the estate of the man who compiled the book for its publisher, this copy contains pencil notations of how much the creators were paid for each page.

"Books don't get any more important than this," said Parrino. "When I got into comics, I immediately started looking for this. It's just a book that we aggressively went after."

Geppi, who owns seven other copies of Marvel Comics #1, said he was loath to part with his prize, purchased in the mid-'80s with a copy of Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1.

He paid $40,000 for the pair. Putting the book on the market, he said, should benefit both him, as a comics dealer, and the hobby in general.

"My owning everything doesn't help the market all the time," he said. "When the [collectibles] market is flying high, like it is now, it's good when I can augment it by putting books back into circulation. It helps to get people to pay attention, and to generate interest."

Parrino, who says he hasn't decided yet whether to sell or keep the book, said he's already got a handful of people ready to make an offer. If he waits long enough to sell, one of those people may be Steve Geppi.

"I know, as I sit here," Geppi said yesterday, "that one day I will own that book again, and it will cost me a helluva lot more."

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