Travis Landry of "Antiques Roadshow" appraised a MARVEL-ous comic collection in Williamsburg
- Written by Gina Gambony
- Category: Featured - Radio
- Published: 09 May 2022
Travis Landry says he can "geek out" over vintage memorabilia for hours. His love for classic toys led to his position with Antiques Roadshow as an appraiser for Collectibles and Toys & Games. When Landry visited Williamsburg in September, 2021, he was delighted to come across a Marvel Siver Age comics collection. WHRV's Gina Gambony spoke with Landry about vintage toys and the rising value of comic books. The three episodes of Antiques Roadshow: Colonial Williamsburg will air on WHRO TV-15 beginning May 9.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Gina Gambony: Travis, I have to ask you about how this began. I know that you had a love of vintage things, collectible things as a child, and you even started working with that stuff in high school.
Travis Landry: Toys, comics, everything I've grown up with and what I have a passion for, it all started for me with Transformers, collecting them as a kid. And I was born in 1995, so my first Transformer was around 2003. But I received a 1985 Generation 1 Jetfire, and I was just like, this robot is so awesome. And it got me hooked right in. Thirteen years old, I took a $700 loan from my parents to go out and buy my first collection to sell. And ever since then, I was just hooked. I got the bug. You know, when it came to Antiques Roadshow at the time, the owner of the auction house at work, Kevin, he had been on another PBS show a while back called Market Warriors, which was like a tandem competition show to Antiques Roadshow. And one day, I said, "Oh, Kevin, I can't believe I don't see any of my stuff on Antiques Roadshow." He's like, "Oh, if you want I'll make an introduction for you." So we went out, I was introduced to Marcia Bemko, the executive producer and Sam Farrell, spoke with them, had lunch. And it was really cool. They had me do a mock appraisal of a Kenner Star Wars TIE fighter that was in one of the other producer’s offices. And that was it. I didn't really hear anything. And then a year later, I received a signup, “Antiques Roadshow season 21” signup sheet to select my cities. I was like, wow, this is crazy. And now we're going on six years later, and it's a dream come true. Being on the show is almost surreal because I grew up watching the show with my parents. So all these appraisers I've watched over the past 20 years … when I finally came to the show, I was like, this is amazing to be here with them.
GG: That's great, and just the fact that you have a job that's related to something that you love so much.
TL: That is very, very true. Especially because my first two years in college, I was studying nuclear engineering at UMass Lowell. My brother is a PhD microbiologist/chemist, so I've really tried to follow that scientific route. And then finally, I was like, nope, I can't do this. After two years of all the chemistry, the calculus, I decided transfer schools, study art history, basically starting all over again. And that was that. Took the leap, graduated with art history. I was working full time while I was still living in my dorm room at Framingham State. And I'd be leaving class on a Tuesday headed to an auction and bring back whatever we bought to my dorm room. At the turn of the century, 1890 to 1910, there were these really popular lamps, they're called Newel post lamps, these huge figure lamps that would have been at the bottom of a staircase. I bought one at an auction and brought it to my dorm room, and it was set up in the common room all week, this big French figural thing with all these, you know, puffy, floral shades. People were like, what, what is that?
GG: I want to ask you a question about old toys, antique toys in comparison to today's toys. I mean, antique toys were pretty cool. They had some pretty cool stuff, though I know some of it was really dangerous in the past.
GG: I'm not a toy expert, but I look at toys now, and I think: they had some cool stuff before this.
TL: That is 100% true. You know, I look at toys that were made, even in the 60s, 50s. And I think, how did they make that for kids? Prime example, in 1964, Mattel, the company that created Barbie, later on they had He-Man Masters of the Universe. But in 1964, they had something called Make Your Own Fighting Men (Thingmaker). And literally on the box it says, "for all ages of kids." You would play with hot lead and make your own lead metal figures. It's like, this is insane. They're trusting kids back in the day to use hot lead. And you jump to today, you can't even have a missile, you know, like a firing missile out of a toy because it's a choking hazard. And that's why the Star Wars rocket-firing Boba Fett is such a highly coveted piece. And that's a toy today that could sell almost upwards of $200,000 depending on the condition, whether it's prototype, painted and whatnot. But I definitely feel that toys back in the day, we had a lot more faith and trust in our kids. Toys today, they are fun, but they just don't have that ... I hate to say dangerous or experimental edge that you can see of toys of 50, 60 years ago.
GG: When you went to Williamsburg back in September, was that the first time you'd been there?
TL: It was, yes. Going to Colonial Williamsburg and seeing the museum and going through the collection was such a mind-blowing experience. Just such an amazing group of artifacts and items that they keep there.
GG: This whole area, there's history here and so many attics with historic things.
TL: Just think, we're in the oldest part of the country, the East Coast. That's always one of the best hotbeds for finding stuff. But on the flip side--we talk about this all the time--with estates, attics, basements, we're getting to the point in time where estates have turned over once. So there may have already been some discovery 30, 40, 50 years ago. And now it's almost like the second generation of unearthing. What have people inherited, what could be discovered, what are they forgetting about in the basement or the attic that wasn't cleaned out the first round 30 years ago?
GG: Now, when you were in Williamsburg, there were many interesting objects discovered by the Antiques Roadshow team. I believe that you were involved with the Marvel Silver-Age comic collection. Did you get to interact with that?
TL: I did, yes. In Williamsburg, I got to appraise a Marvel Silver Age comic collection and a Bahne skateboard. The skateboard was not the one used by him, but it was the same model that Tony Hawk used as his first skateboard that he inherited from his older brother. So that was really, really cool, too.
GG: Tell me a bit about comics. How do you determine these comics are worth money? What's special about a Marvel Silver Age comics collection, or any other comic collection?
TL: I'll break it down for you. So comics in general, as a whole, today are literally one of the hottest categories of collecting. And it's something that compared to any other field of collecting, it's really like a universal global economy. Whether you live in Asia, Europe, America, you know, everybody knows what's going on with superheroes. There are people that just collect Batman, or they might collect Spider-Man, but most people collect all comics. If you're a fan of all superheroes, you're into anything that falls into the comic realm. But that collection in particular, when you hear "Marvel," and you hear "Silver Age" … the Silver Age of comics ranges from 1957 all the way to about 1970. And for Marvel, that is the real prime time. You have the Fantastic Four being introduced. You have Spider-Man being introduced. X-Men. All those great characters, Dr. Strange, that we're seeing on the silver screen in films right now. So the comic market is driven by all the media that surrounds the books, and that's what drives collector interest. Now, a dad who's in their late 30s or 40s grew up reading Black Panther comic books. They grew up reading Dr. Strange.
Now they're going to the movies with their son or daughter. They're like, this is awesome. My kids are into it. I want to collect comics. And the other thing with comics today: it's not just a collectible that people love and look at, but they are actually a commodity. Selling comics on the high-end realm of key issues--and what makes a key issue is a first appearance of a character, or a costume change, maybe a first issue like "Iron Man 1," not his first appearance but just as first solo title. Anything that has historical significance is going to be a higher value book.
Prime example: you can have a Superman comic from 1958, 10 cent book, right at the beginning of the Silver Age. Yet, it's only worth $22 because it's not a key issue. Then you can have a book, say, from 2014, Edge of Spider-Verse #2, for example, which is the first appearance of Spider-Gwen. That was really hot from the animated film that came out, "Into the Spider-Verse." So you have a 2014 comic, something that's eight years old, and it's $1,000 comic book. Yet, there are comics that could be eighty years old, and they're worth 20 bucks. So it all depends what happened between the pages, if it's an iconic cover by a really great artist, a cover everybody recognizes--that's a book that's going to be collectible.
GG: When you saw this Marvel Silver Age comic collection, was it a good one? Did they have any key issues?
TL: It was incredible. I mean, it was primetime. They had Strange Tales #110, which is first appearance of Doctor Strange. Very, very hot book today. They had an Amazing Spider-Man #20. That was first appearance of the Scorpion, a really good Spider-Man villain. There was an X-Men #12, which was first appearance of the Juggernaut, which is a super hot character, especially because he was one of the main antagonists in Deadpool 2 and people go crazy for the Deadpool films with Ryan Reynolds.
This is a prime example of showing the market. Prior to that film, X-Men #12, the first appearance of Juggernaut was still a major key issue, but it wasn't in the movies yet. It wasn't attracting your average collector to go research it. At one point in time we had an X-Men #12, first Juggernaut, graded 8.5. And what I mean by graded is, with comics, what you have to do to get the most value out of them is have them professionally graded and encapsulated in acrylic. So this was a CGC 8.5. At the time, it was estimated $500 to $800, and it's sold for I think for $775. And today, that's a $4,000, $5,000 comic book. So these books can really take 3, 4, 5 times leaps when you play the market. And you follow the films and you follow the Easter eggs, the little stories, tidbits. It's speculation. People speculate on comics just how people speculate on a penny stock or any type of investment, it's no different. Today, comic books are really an asset.
GG: If a person has a comic book collection, what should they do to find out what they have?
TL: You know, it's always best to have someone like myself. Work with an appraiser, an auction house, who can take the items on consignment and manage your collection. A lot of times, I see it all the time, where a person comes in, and they say, “Oh, I’ll just bring my collection to the local comic book store to get it sold.” Some people only have a small stack of books, but we deal with people's homes where they have 40 yard boxes, you know, yard-long boxes, each box can have 300 books. You're not gonna know what's in those boxes. You can bring someone into your home and they say they’ll pay $40 a box. But in reality, you can have hundreds of thousands of dollars in comic books.
We did a collection for a gentleman. I love telling this story. He took it to a local shop, they offered him $25,000 for the group of books. And out of that collection, one book alone--a Flash #105 DC Comics, first Silver Age Flash in his own title--that was a $20,000 book on its own.
But we put it through the process, we get them graded, we get them cleaned first before grading to get the highest grade possible. So that's why comics, you know, it's not funny business. Yes, they are funny books as people from yesteryear like to call them, "Oh those funny books in the basement." But no, you really want to consider your comic collection seriously. And again, 95% of comic books aren't going to be worth a lot of money individually, but it only takes one major book ... if you have a complete comic, or maybe it's only missing a few pages, but has part of the cover, it’s a grade 0.5. If you have an Amazing Fantasy #15, first appearance of Spider-Man in 0.5 condition-- it looks like a truck ran over it. It's horrible. But that's still a $15,000 to $20,000 comic right now. I mean, even coverless copies, just the book, no cover, you wouldn't even know what it is unless you actually read the fine print in the book, is still worth $6,000 to $9,000 today. So that's why it's really worth getting someone who works with you on a team effort to go through your collection and see what you have.
GG: Are you a comic book collector?
TL: I am --but not a comic book collector, I would say I'm a comic book investor. I probably have no more than 35 books at one time. I’ll buy them when I feel they're low, and then as I follow the market, I'll let one go. Sometimes I'm wrong. Prime example: we're just getting over the Moon Knight series that was on Disney+. Prior to the
series, everybody was going crazy for everything Moon Knight and I knew the series was coming out. So there's one book in particular, Marvel Spotlight #28. It's the first solo story of Moon Knight, and before the series and during the first couple episodes, I was like, wow, it was up to $800, $900. But as we got to the season finale, we found out the odds are he might not be back. Fans weren't happy with how it ended. So now that book is back down to like $400 or $500 within a three-week span.
GG: They're like stocks.
TL: They are 100% like stocks. There are websites you can use, like GPA Analysis, that's the one that I use the most. It tracks every sale of every book and every grade, you can see the graphs, you can see the trends of the market. You follow it like a stock ticker, you really do.
GG: Very, very interesting. It's an antique stock too, because it's physical, not online.
TL: Outside of even comics, you know, just through the pandemic, we saw a big change where--and I hate saying this because the pandemic was a really tough time for work for a lot of people--but for our industry, antiques, collectibles, a lot of people were home and they're saying, I don't want to put my money into the market. I don't want to use institutional investments. I want to put it in something physical, tangible, that is an asset that has a chance of appreciating, but it's also a cool thing. So that's why, for instance, watches, you know, luxury watches, Rolex, Omega, Patek Phillipe, things like that-- through the roof. If you were to go into a jeweler or watch dealer right now say, "I want to buy a new Rolex," they're almost going to laugh at you. Because there's nothing available, they sell the minute they get them in. Automobiles, Star Wars, toys, even artwork. I mean, we've seen a huge boom in contemporary art values over the past two years through COVID. Emerging artists. In 2019, 2020, these paintings were $2,500, $3,500. Now they're $25,000, $35,000 just because there's so much demand. People just really love stuff right now. And it's pretty interesting to see. I wasn't alive to see it, but in the early 90s, my boss says it was the antique craze, you know, you could sell anything, you could sell a teacup for $500. Pre-eBay. And we're seeing that return, a big return to collecting right now.