Who Pays $3.2M for a Superman Comic, Anyway?

It's a bird, it's a plane … it's a whole lot of money

The most obvious question to ask the men who plunked down $3.2 million on eBay for a comic book is, "Why?" The simple answer: it's their job.

Vincent Zurzolo and his partner Stephen Fishler, owners of Metropolis Collectibles in Manhattan, set a new record for the nearly pristine Action Comics No. 1 Superman comic book last week. For the owners of the world's largest dealership for vintage comic books, it's not lunacy — it's an investment.

"We feel very confidently this was a good price and that we will be able to sell this for a profit. We really believe in the strength of the comic book market and that it has a long way to go," Zurzolo tells The Hollywood Reporter. While declining to say how high they would have taken the bidding, he adds, "All I can say is we were determined to buy it."

Metropolis has set previous records as both buyer and seller, and in 2010 their online auction house Comic Connect first broke the $1 million barrier with a deal for another copy of Action Comics No. 1. 

Zurzolo has come a long way from a kid growing up in Rockaway Beach in Queens, plundering his parents' couch for quarters, nickels and dimes to buy as many comics as he could. "I remember looking at comic books before I could even read," he says.

By the time Zurzolo was 15, he was buying and selling comic book collections at conventions. After college, he worked the streets of Manhattan's Financial District on Broadway, between John Street and Maiden Lane.

Zurzolo figured he had a choice: "I could work in Manhattan and get up super early and hop on a train and spend an hour going into the city and an hour on the way home and probably make peanuts," he said. "Or I could work from my apartment, and on the phone and at conventions and probably make a lot more money. And do something I really love."

With the goal of becoming the biggest comic book dealer in the world, Zurzolo set out against dealers with more cash, inventory and connections. In 1999, realizing he couldn't beat Fishler, Zurzolo joined him. Metropolis now owns a collection valued in the tens of millions of dollars, although Zurzolo won't name a specific number. 

In contextualizing the record fee, Zurzolo invokes comparisons to escalating prices snagged by fine art pieces. "Look at the impact Superman has made on the world. If you stood on any street corner in any city in the country and held up a picture of Giacometti's 'Walking Man' [which sold for $104.3 million in 2010, including fees] and held up a picture of Action Comics No. 1, I would say nine times out of 10, people would know the Action Comics image before they knew what 'Walking Man' was all about. I don't think $3.2 million is a lot of money for a comic book of this importance. Over time you'll see comic books selling for tens of millions of dollars and, who knows, one day maybe hundreds of millions of dollars," he says.

These $3.2 million pages in question launched the age of superheroes as we know it. Penned in 1938 by Cleveland teenagers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman introduced a hero to Americans living through the Depression. They would eventually sell the Superman rights to DC Comics for $130, part of a $412 payment for several stories. Metropolis sold that physical $412 check for $160,000 in 2012.

The record-setting book's condition, rated a 9.0 out of 10.0 on the Certified Guaranty Company scale, guaranteed a sale in the millions. It was sold by Darren Adams, a collector who owns Pristine Comics in Washington state, who paid seven figures for the work. Several dozen unrestored books are thought to exist — and of those just half a dozen are believed to hold a grade of 6.0 or more. 

Citing the rise in popularity of comic book conventions and television and film properties, Zurzolo remains bullish on the investment value of comics. Ever the salesman, he says, "In the last recession the stock market crashed, the real estate market crashed and even to this day, you can't make any money off your money in the bank. The only place I see the comic book market going is up, up and away."

Email: Soo.Youn@THR.com
Twitter: @lalasoo