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Collecting for beginners

Are you sitting on a gold mine? That depends on a lot of things: What shape your comics are in, how old they are and how rare they are, whether they were or are a popular title sought by collectors.

With the help of Scott Kirk, owner of Bargain Comics in Colorado Springs, Colo., here's a lesson in Comics Collecting 101:

Q. How much are my comics worth?

A. Some comic-book stores offer appraisal services to help you judge your collection's worth. You'll likely be charged for that appraisal, but the folks at the store may be willing to give the collection a quick look first to see if it's even worth your while to have it appraised. It's a good idea to call first instead of dropping by unannounced with boxes of comics.

There also are various price guides out there that will give you some indication of what your books might be worth and that also provide a guide to grading your comics. (The higher the grade, the higher the value.) Grades range from mint (near perfect in every way) to fine (minor wear, relatively flat and clean) to good (readable but scuffed, creased or soiled) to poor (bad enough that probably no one will pay anything for it).

The granddaddy of the price guides is The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, which has been around long enough that even the old price guides themselves have become collector items. The 28th edition (Avon Books, $18), just released, offers hundreds and hundreds of pages of comic-book listings.

It also offers this important caveat: The price guide is just that, a guide. The true value of any comic book, the guide notes, is what someone is willing to pay.

Q. So where do I sell my comics?

A. A comic book specialty store is one avenue; look under comics in the Yellow Pages. You also can look for that individual collector who may be dying to get his or her hands on your particular comics and thus willing to pay a higher price. That collector likely will only want certain books, though, not your entire collection. Kirk says a comic book shop probably will be more likely to buy your whole collection, but again it'll depend on how much of that collection the store would be able to sell _ and how quickly.

Q. So where do I find that collector out there who just HAS to have my copy of "Superduperguy" No. 1 and thus will pay me the big bucks?

A. You can place an ad in the local newspaper, or try the classifieds in national comics-oriented publications such as the Comics Buyers Guide. The computer age has brought some new avenues: AOL, for example, offers a folder at its comics site where readers list books they want to sell or buy. And there are Web sites, such as /classifieds/ for the same purpose.