STEVENS POINT, Wis. (AP) — Holy auction block, Batman!
Comic book collector and industry legend Maggie Thompson of Wisconsin has decided to put some 500 pieces of her personal collection up for auction over the next few months. Nearly 90 issues went on the block Thursday, including the first issue of "The Avengers," ''Journey Into Mystery" No. 83, which features the first appearance of Thor, and the first issue of "The Incredible Hulk."
News of the auction has comic lovers' wallets tingling. The books are in exceptional condition; auctioneers expect the total collection could easily fetch $1 million by the time sales wrap up next year.
Comic book collections going for $1 million aren't unheard of, said J.C. Vaughn, vice president of publishing for Gemstone Publishing, which produces a comic book pricing guide. But it's rare to find books from such a respected collector and in such good condition, he said.
"What is unique is to get a pedigree collection from somebody of Maggie's stature within the industry," Vaughn said.
Thompson, 70, has been collecting comic books since she was a girl in the 1940s. She married another comic book collector, Don Thompson, in 1962. Twenty years later they left Ohio, where Don Thompson had worked as a reporter, for Wisconsin to take over editing duties for an industry magazine, Comics Buyer's Guide.
They spent years working on the magazine. It grew into a paper-and-ink equivalent of a Facebook page, connecting comic fans, distributors, writers and artists across the country.
Don Thompson died in 1994, and CBG folded in January. But Maggie Thompson is still as sharp as Wolverine's claws. She blogs about industry happenings and can talk for hours about how comics have evolved from something parents abhorred to a part of mainstream culture.
"Everybody knows, 'With great power comes great responsibility.' They (even) have opinions on Loki!" she said, referring to Spider-Man's catch-phrase philosophy and Thor's evil adopted brother, who has grown into one of the most popular comics villains after he was featured in the "Thor" and "Avengers" movies.
She doesn't know exactly how many comic books she has but estimates it's tens of thousands. She used money from selling "Amazing Fantasy" No. 15, the first appearance of Spider-Man, and the first 100 issues of "The Amazing Spider-Man," to build a vault-like storage addition on her home east of Stevens Point.
Employees with Dallas-based Heritage Auction took 524 items from her collection in October. The auction house plans to sell them off in waves. Live and online bidding on the first 86 issues started Thursday in Beverly Hills, Calif. By the end of the day all 86 issues had sold, netting a total of $784,148. "The Avengers" No. 1 went for $89,625; "Journey Into Mystery" No. 83 sold for $77,675; and "The Incredible Hulk" No. 1 went for $58,256.
The last item in the first wave, the original cover art for the fourth issue of "Conan the Barbarian," was slated to go on the block Friday. It has already earned a $59,000 bid online.
"You almost never see (a collection) with this type of, basically, love behind it," said Mike Zapcic, assistant manager at Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash comic book shop and one of the stars of AMC's "Comic Book Men."
"She wrote the book on collecting. She knew what to do with them. Even if she pulled them out every five years to read them, they've been read maybe five times. Not a lot of wear and tear on these things," he said.
Thompson isn't going to part with the stories she loves completely. The auction house has agreed to sell her lower-grade copies of the issues she's giving up. She wants to read them and use them for research without worrying about damaging them, she said. Selling "Journey Into Mystery" No. 83 at $80,000, for example, would give her enough money to purchase that series' entire run at a lower grade, Steve Borock, the auction house's consignment director, said.
But she also wants to pay off a new car, perhaps remodel her kitchen, build a bigger retirement nest egg and care for her grandchildren, she said. And she's not sentimental about it.
"We are all temporary custodians," she said. "Until they work out that eternal life, fountain-of-youth thing, we only get to hold it for a little while. We get to hang it on the wall and say, 'Oh, that's fun.'"
Thompson's daughter, Valerie Thompson, said she was shocked to hear her mother was selling her comics. She said it's about more than money.
"She's now in a place where she's comfortable passing them on to the next generation," she said. "She's 70 at this point. Dad died 20 years ago. It's for the next generation of collectors to treasure these things."
Heritage Auctions' site for Maggie Thompson collection online bids: http://comics.ha.com/common/auction/catalog.php?SaleNo=7084
Maggie Thompson's San Diego Comic-Con blog: http://www.comic-con.org/toucan/categories/maggie-thompson
Maggie Thompson's personal blog: http://www.maggiethompson.com