Thursday, April 8, 2010

A single comic that can pay for college

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman
includes an illustration of a man looking at Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman and therefore the most valuable comic book in history. (Of the 200,000 printed in 1938, only 100 are known to still exist.)

Whenever I speak to students (or any group, really), I show that scene followed by a picture of the actual cover:

Then I suggest that kids get permission to look through their grandparents’ attics and basements. If they find an original copy of it, I urge them to call a lawyer (if they don’t live with one) because that one comic will pay for college.

On 4/1/10, I was honored to speak at Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island, for the second time in two months. It was a different presentation but at one point I did (re)show Action #1.

A boy who had seen me present the first time raised his hand.

He said he’d done what I’d suggested. He looked for that rare comic. And, he claimed, he’d found one.

It did not seem to be an April Fool’s joke.

The room itself suddenly felt adrenalized.

In front of the whole group, I asked him questions about it. He said he’d come across a pile of old comics and Action #1 was one of them. I asked if he was sure and he said yes.

After my presentation, I spoke privately with the student and the Head of the Lower School. I asked the Head if I could contact the family to find out just what they’ve got. If it was indeed this Holy Moley Grail of comics, I’d be happy to refer them to a trusted contact at a comics assessment company. The Head graciously put the family and me in touch.

The boy’s family had given the comics to his uncle but his mom kindly e-mailed me a photo of one of the issues, presumably representative of the bunch. I was not surprised to learn the reality. The comic is from 1969 and it’s generally worth between $5 and $20:

(That plot looks like an April’s Fool joke.)

The mother said her son wasn’t clear on just what he’d found. But I understand. And I love that this eager young man really did go on my treasure hunt.

Even though what he turned up didn’t turn out to be newsworthy, it is still a great story. And that, of course, is something I’m always interested in.

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