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Signing a Comic

To sign or not to sign, that is the question…

Autograph hunters and collectors can be found chasing all sorts of merchandise and memorabilia, including comics. Whether you’re a lifelong fan or see it as an investment, the autograph is supposed to increase an item’s value, separating it from non-autographed copies. But does it?

Simple answer, maybe

And it’s not that simple. The reality of whether a signature increases (or decreases) the value of an item depends on a few points:

  • Is the signature verified (e.g. does it have a COA)?
  • Is the signee related to the project (e.g. are they of interest)?

If you pick up a comic signed by Stan Lee, you’ll probably believe he signed it as Stan wrote across thousands of comic book covers (among other things). If it was signed by someone less public or more reluctant to sign (e.g. Ringo Starr), the signature is rarer and might require more validation. However, fake autographs are common in all kinds of memorabilia and collectibles, particularly with famous signatures like Stan’s.

Now, if you looked at a comic signed by Mike Richardson, you might ask, ‘Mike who?’ Mike is the current President of Dark Horse Comics. So yes, he’s involved in the industry. Still, his autograph isn’t likely to increase the value of a Star Wars, Ninja Gaiden, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Aliens, or Terminator comic book.

So, the not-so-simple answer is that perceived value depends on the comic, its relationship to the signee, and what that significance means to that comic’s actual owner (or potential purchaser) because a significant portion of a signature’s value is contextual.

What affects the value?

Ask yourself, is ‘that’ comic valuable without a signature? There’s a difference between getting Superman #1 (1939) signed and Superman #1 (2023) signed. One is worth over six figures; if a signature increases the value by 1%, it’s a significant increase. The other is a $5 book, and the signature is nothing. Although technically, a signature will increase the value of even a $5 comic book. Many professional artists, writers, and comic creators charge for their autographs. Many collectors deem that to be a direct value-add (e.g. if you spend $25 to get a $5 comic signed, you need to sell it for at least $30 to make any profit).

Is the signature noteworthy?

When it comes to signatures and signing, Stan Lee is Australia’s version of cricketing legend Don Bradman. For decades, Stan was one of the biggest and most recognisable names (and faces) in comic books. Much like ‘The Don’ and cricket memorabilia, ‘Stan the Man’ signed just about everything there was to sign, from comics to Funko POP!s to six-figure-plus comics to unique movie props. Stan’s signature holds some inherent value because of who he was. Still, it’s only contextually relevant to specific items – the characters he created and the stories he wrote are where his value is most appropriate (e.g. Spider-Man).

Today, comics are made by teams of people. You have the writer(s), copyeditors, artist(s), inkers, colourists, and designers. Multiple individuals are working on every page. It’s one thing to get the artist’s or the writer’s signature; it’s another to get a signature from the inker or the editor. An exception is the ‘whole team’ signature – getting the comic signed by everyone involved in making it. Although, this is more a labour of love than a cash grab.

Another factor here is how noteworthy the people involved in the comic are. Getting a comic signed by a big name like Steve Ditko is one thing; getting an indie comic signed by an author who wrote three comics and quit because they weren’t prevalent is another situation.

Is the signature authenticated?

Anyone can sign memorabilia and write anything they want on a comic. Someone could (and no doubt has) spend a few hours practising the proper motions to add the right flare to a signature to make it look authentic, even though that person is very much not the person whose name they’re signing. Popular opinion has created the impression that a ‘handwriting expert’ can examine a signature, authenticate it, and declare it real (or fake). You can analyse signature elements and declare them fake or otherwise. Examine it closely with a loupe; if it’s printed, it is counterfeit. Examine the ink involved, and if it’s a chemical composition that didn’t exist when it was supposedly signed, it’s probably fake.

But the idea of being able to analyse handwriting and validate a signature is pretty well debunked. With a lot of training, two samples can be compared, and a reasonable guess can be made, but that’s across larger writing samples, not signatures. Something as small as a signature can be much more complicated—to the extent of being impossible—to validate after the fact.

The process of signing a comic book

Today, verifying a signature involves one of three things.

  • Photographic evidence of the person signing the comic.
  • A validated certificate of authenticity for the case of pre-signed memorabilia.
  • A grading authority present who can instantly slab and label a validated comic.

Point three is what most people who want signatures for investment purposes do. A representative from a company like CGC usually attends conventions where signings occur. They witness the signature, take custody of the comic, and bring it back for grading, giving it a Signature Series label. One exception is the PSA DNA service. It examines signatures after the fact to attempt to validate them. However, the service is well known for denying valid signatures, so it’s not a reliable option.

What if you want a comic signed but don’t want it slabbed? Well, you’re essentially out of luck. You’ll know it’s valid, but no one else will necessarily. You can take video evidence, but beyond that, you won’t have much proof. As a buyer of a signed comic with unknown provenance, you will be sceptical.

For your information, provenance is the item’s history: where it came from, who has owned it, when and how it has changed hands, etc. The provenance of a comic can be a big part of validating a signature; if it has changed hands numerous times, there’s no telling where that provenance originated. For this reason, some high-value items have logs of their past owners.

Is the signature personalised?

There’s also a difference between a comic with ‘Frank Miller’ written on the cover and a comic with ‘To Bruce, from Frank Miller’ written on the cover. Personalisation is excellent for the person whose signature is being personalised. Many comic authors even include small customised sketches for precisely this reason.

The personalised signature

The trouble is, if the comic is being sold later, that personalisation potentially even loses value. If you’re not Frank, do you want a comic personalised to Frank as part of your collection? Maybe you value the signature enough to say yes, but you don’t. Even if you are named Frank, you might feel weird about a comic that’s personalised to someone with your name who isn’t you. Then again, you may think all your dreams have come at once.

The exception here is if the signature is personalised to someone also noteworthy. The story alone can be worth an untold amount of money… ‘To Winston Churchill, beast wishes, Jerry Siegel’—but that’s only if that story has provenance and validity. It’s rarer than a regular autograph and barely worth considering.

Personal collection, investment or resale

A big thing about autographs is that they are not about the autograph itself. They’re about the personal experience of a fan meeting a creator they love, talking to them in person, interacting with them, and coming away with a story to tell. When a thousand people line up to shake hands and exchange pleasantries with Stan Lee, they don’t have a whole lot of unique story to tell; his name carries weight, but he also flooded the market with his signature, so it balances out. It’s much more meaningful when it’s someone you don’t see everywhere and can spend more time talking to. It’s about the personal connection.

Signed Comic Books

If you want to get an autographed comic for your collection, by all means, go for it! Resale value later should be the last thing on your mind if you’re in it purely to increase the value of your investment, though it is worth reconsidering.

Is there a market for that signature?

Ask yourself, who is buying this comic? High-value key issues signed by the writer and artist can be a huge value add. $5 comics signed by the editor and inker aren’t likely to have much of an audience. Most collectors aren’t looking for signed copies of the comics they want. The audience for autographed comics is already smaller than that for the same comic without the autograph. When you factor in all the other considerations, you can see why it’s not easy to say whether or not a comic will be more valuable with an autograph than without.

Comic book buyers

In the end, it all comes back to one thing: demand. The value of a comic is only what you can get someone to pay for it, so if there’s no demand for that comic, that signature, or that combination of comic and signature, it’s not worth anything. A glance through social media echoes this sentiment. Many people have opinions like ‘an autograph should be for sentimental value’ and ‘I don’t like signatures, so I wouldn’t buy one, let alone for a premium.’

Of course, a quick scan through comic resellers and eBay listings can show you signed comics listed for – and sometimes even selling for – values higher than an unsigned equivalent. An autograph can add value to a comic when all the factors are right. Even so, it’s a risk; you might not be able to sell, or you might be able to sell for what you feel it’s worth, or it might just take a long time to find the right buyer.

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