When the first issue of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead hit comic book stores in 2003, it didn't immediately cause a huge stir. An interesting and gritty story, sure, but it was one dozens of small titles to debut that year, most of which have long since died out.
But now that The Walking Dead is one of cable TV's most-watched shows, that first issue - with a cover price of $2.99 - regularly sells for $1,000 or more, and a pristine copy went for $10,000 on eBay last fall. That's one hell of a return on investment.
The effect movies and TV shows have on the value of the comics that spawned them can be swift and profound. A well-preserved copy of 1973's Iron Man #55, valued at about $3,500 early last year, recently sold for $9,000 at auction, largely because the issue marks the first appearance of Thanos - the villain glimpsed in the post-credits scene at the end of The Avengers, speculated to be the chief baddie in next year's Guardians of the Galaxy movie - and Drax the Destroyer, a member of said intergalactic super-group.
"The Thanos thing was a perfect storm," explains Jay Bardyla, co-owner of Edmonton's Happy Harbor Comics. "What the audience saw was just enough to make them think, 'That's cool, that looks like a badass villain, let's find out more.' And that tends to be the thing that will really drive up prices."
And when it was revealed Bryan Singer's upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past would be adapted from the 1981 Uncanny X-Men story arc of the same name, those issues suddenly spiked in value. They'll probably keep rising, too.
"When the (Days of Future Past) trailer hits, millions of people will see it and they'll say, 'Hey, I want to know what's going on in this movie before I see it,' " says Kevin Hickey, co-owner of Stadium Comics in Brampton, Ont.
But before you cash in your RRSPs to buy stacks of comics, beware: the comic book investment landscape is shifting, says Rob Spittall, co-owner of Ottawa's The Comic Book Shoppe 2.
"The investor market is poised in my mind to have a major crash coming in the next couple of years," says Spittall, likening it to the sports card collecting boom of the early '90s, and its subsequent collapse.
Still, who can resist the idea of spending $3 on a comic and selling it a decade later for a cool 10 grand? If you're looking to try your luck, here are 10 comic books that are likely to rise in value on the backs of movie and TV adaptations. But if they flame out, don't come crying to us. Predicting the future is not one of our superpowers.
Uncanny X-Men #141 and #142 (1981)
Current near-mint value: $125 and $100 respectively, according to comicbookrealm.com
Why it might go up: Next year's X-Men: Days of Future Past will be loosely adapted from these issues. "Once we see a full trailer, the value on these books will skyrocket," says Stadium Comics' Hickey. (For casual fans simply interested in the story, these two issues - like many other valuable comic books - are available in so-called trade paperback editions for a fraction of the price.)
Marvel Preview #7 (1976)
Current near-mint value: $65
Why it might go up: As Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy movie continues to draw buzz in advance of its 2014 release, the comics that introduced the various characters will likely rise in value. This one gave us the gun-toting, spacefaring Rocket Raccoon.
Y: The Last Man #1 (2002)
Current near-mint value: $100
Why it might go up: The long-in-gestation movie adaptation is getting closer, with Man of Steel and Batman Begins screenwriter David S. Goyer saying it could go into production next year.
The Amazing Spider-Man #9 (1964)
Current near-mint value: $3,250
Why it might go up: It marks the first appearance of the villain Electro, to be played by Jamie Foxx in next year's The Amazing Spider-Man 2. "It will take a pretty significant jump, even though the Electro in the movie is going to be different," says Happy Harbor's Bardyla.
Chew #1 (2009)
Current near-mint value: $200
Why might go up: The on-again, off-again TV adaptation is back on again (for now.) Also, Image Comics is the hot publisher du jour. "I would look primarily at DC and Image titles," says The Comic Book Shoppe's Spittall.
Captain America Vol. 5, #6 (2005)
Current near-mint value: $4
Why it might go up: It's the first appearance of Cap's longtime sidekick Bucky as the Winter Soldier, the chief villain in next year's Captain America sequel.
Peter Panzerfaust #1 (2012)
Current near-mint value: $225
Why it might go up: BBC has bought the TV rights to this critically acclaimed series, which mixes Second World War action with themes from Peter Pan.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #4 (1986)
Current near-mint value: $20
Why it might go up: A quote from this issue of the Frank Miller miniseries was used to unveil the Superman vs. Batman showdown in Zack Snyder's upcoming Man of Steel sequel. If some plot elements are drawn from the comic, demand could increase.
The Avengers #55 (1968)
Current near-mint value: $250
Why it might go up: This issue introduces Ultron, set to be the big-screen baddie in 2015's The Avengers: Age of Ultron. "There's still time to get in on this book at a pretty respectable price before the general public becomes aware of the importance of this character's first appearance," says Hickey.
The Amazing Spider-Man #121 (1972)
Current near-mint value: $450
Why it might go up: The lovely Emma Stone, who plays Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man and its 2014 sequel, hasn't signed on for the third and fourth film. And this is the issue in which Gwen Stacy dies. Form your own conclusions, true believers.
3 MOST VALUABLE COMICS
As comic book investors are fond of saying, a book is only worth what someone will pay for it. Here are the three most valuable comics in existence. On paper, anyway.
Action Comics #1 (1938)
Current value: $2.89 million
Superman made his first appearance in the pages of this book, and the value of a near-mint copy has spiked considerably as of late (because of Man of Steel, maybe?) according to collector site Nostomania.com.
Detective Comics #27 (1939)
Current value: $2.57 million
This issue introduced us to the Caped Crusader himself, Batman. The value is academic, though... while a few well-preserved copies of Action Comics #1 exist, there are no known near-mint copies copies of Batman's first appearance in existence. Check your attic.
Superman #1 (1939)
Current value: $715,000
The first issue of Superman's own series has seen its value spike by nearly a third in the last three months, and we're definitely pegging that to the Man of Steel effect.