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November 5, 2014

Interview: Vincent Zurzolo, co-owner of Metropolis Collectables

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Toward the end of August, the best copy of Action Comics #1 ever seen was sold for the price of $3.2 million. Bidding began at $1 million for the single issue introduction of Superman, which was awarded a 9.0 by the comics condition grading company standard, Certified Guaranty Company (CGC). Part of the sale benefitted the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation --- Christopher being remembered widely for his portrayal of the hero on the silver screen.

At this year’s New York Comic Con, the book’s buyers --- Metropolis Collectables, in tandem with ComicConnect --- were on hand to showcase the book alongside other gems from their collection. I got the chance to speak with Vincent Zurzolo, co-owner of Metropolis Collectables, about this record breaking sale.

Jeff Ayers of Graphic Novel Reporter: So just to start off, can you talk a little about Metropolis Collectables and Comic Connect?

Vincent Zurzolo: So, I have loved comic books since I was a little boy. Even before I could read, I would sit and look at comic books, and they would blow my mind. I had two older brothers, and I would read their books as well. My first issues of Hulk were #180, #181 and #182, [which had] the first appearance of Wolverine. My first X-Men comics were the “new” team, X-Men #94 through #100. I grew up with some really classic stuff, and when I was 12 years old, maybe 14, I got my first girlfriend and stopped collecting. Then I got my heart broken, and went back to collecting comics.

GNR: That is always the case!

VZ: [laughs] So, when I was sixteen, I started buying and selling comic books. I did that all through high school, I became the “comic book kid.”  Everybody in high school, if they had a relative with collections, they would call me and I would go buy their collection. I did this through high school and college, and when I got out of college I decided to do it full time. That was in 1993 --- I graduated from Saint Johns University. After that, I thought one day, “I want to be the biggest comic book dealer in the world. So how do I do that?” So I kept working hard to figure it out. In 1999, I merged companies with my current partner, Stephen Fishler, and he owned Metropolis Collectables, which was the biggest comic book dealer at that time. Together, we became even bigger.

GNR: Awesome.

VZ: So that’s how I got involved in comics. Since that period, I have looked at it as my job to be an ambassador of comic books in pop culture. Because a lot of people don’t realize that comic books are a great investment, a great art form, and they aren’t just something for kids. I think we have been able to help that to the point that now you see comics selling for seven figures. Where you see comics being made into movies that are not just for kids.

GNR: It has grown into a billion dollar industry.

VZ: Beyond how much money they generate, some thing[s] that connects with people of all ages are Captain America, Superman, Batman. These are all characters that resonate in the general psyche of society.  So I think that is really important to note that.

GNR: So this issue, graded at a 9.0 out of 10, is an amazing find. When you get wind of something like this? It is super rare. Do you think there are other gems like this out there?

VZ: Yes, there are an untold number of treasures out there, absolutely. They are getting harder and harder to find, and a lot more people are looking for them, but there are definitely lots of things out there.

GNR: Is there a bigger “Holy Grail” book than this issue of Action Comics, #1?

VZ: No. Action Comics #1 is the most important comic because Superman is the most important comic book character. He is the first superhero, the superhero that started the trend --- without him, there would be no Batman or Spider-Man, no Wonder Woman or any of that. To have a character like that, it really hit big, and [it] started a whole new comic industry, which was superhero comics.

GNR: Right. Speaking of Superman in the story, you probably have read Action Comics #1. There is a rumor that I have heard that Superman was based on a 1930 novel called GLADIATOR. Have you heard of this at all?

VZ: The thing I have heard, not really that, but that Superman was taken from a fanzine that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created in high school called Reign of the Superman. It was very different.

GNR: I have heard that. He was a bad guy in that.

VZ: Yeah, so maybe it was a combination of both GLADIATOR and Reign of the Superman.

GNR: Yeah. Superman is actually not too nice of a guy in Action #1, either.

VZ: No, Superman didn’t start off as this clean cut type of guy. He would take a villain who was killing people or something and fly him into the sky and say, “You are a bad man,” and drop him [to his death].

GNR: Because Batman and Superman are both revered as these iconic early characters, what is the highest grade Detective Comics #27 --- the first of appearance of Batman --- you have guys have come across?

VZ: The highest grade is probably this one right here, a 6.5.

GNR: But again, there are probably higher grades out there somewhere.

VZ: You never know. That is a tough book to find.

GNR: Do you guys deal in just comic books, or do you deal in art as well?

VZ: We buy and sell vintage comic books, as well as comic book memorabilia and original art. We hold the record for the most expensive piece of comic art ever bought, at $657,000, for Amazing Spider-Man #328 cover art (a brilliant image of Spidey punching the Hulk drawn by Todd McFarlane). We sold the world’s most valuable check --- the check that DC comics wrote to the creators of Superman when they bought the rights to the character. The total check was written out for $412 back in 1938, and what makes it even more interesting is that there is a line item on the check that says $130 for Superman. Even by today’s dollars that’s $2,100 they bought Superman for --- kind of a crime, but that is how it went. We sold that check for $160,000. We even sold a lock of Jerry Siegel’s hair for $1,000.

GNR: Wow. That is amazing. Do you think a piece of original comic art will hit a million dollars?

VZ: Yes, absolutely --- and I don’t think that is too far off.