Schrödinger’s App: On Key Collector Comics and its Place in the World of Comic Book Speculation

There are few things I enjoy more than looking through long or short boxes I find in antique stores, thrift shops, flea markets or wherever else, hopeful something special will reveal itself. I’ll be honest: it’s rare something does. They are typically loaded with variations on the same formula – the usual mix of The ‘Nam, inessential ’80s issues of Batman and Detective Comics, and I’m pretty sure every copy of New Universe related titles in existence – but my quest has always been in pursuit of one comic: The Incredible Hulk #181. You know…the first appearance of Wolverine? 9 Over my lifetime, I’ve looked through hundreds – probably thousands! – of long boxes, hopeful of uncovering my comic book holy grail.

Yet I’ve always come up empty. I’ve found plenty of other worthwhile comics, with my rather shoddy but beloved copy of The Avengers #1 that I discovered at an antique store near Seattle for $10 leading the way. But The Incredible Hulk #181 has escaped my grasp. #183? Many times. #179? Ugh, cruelly, yes. I’ve even found plenty of issues from that period with a similar red color at the top with The Incredible Hulk written in the same white as #181 has, but those were just heart-stopping misdirections.

Even though I don’t really buy back issues anymore – except when I find something that’s impossible to ignore – I still look through long boxes, eternally hopeful for that shocking, unforgettable find. That’s a feeling many comic fans chase. It’s a hard one to shake. There’s a certain segment who have something wired in their brain that makes slogging through every 90s comic ever in hopes of finding that one comic a worthwhile usage of their time.

I know that for a number of reasons, but I saw it first hand when I hosted my first comic book garage sale in 2018. In just the first day, nearly 60 people came through and went through a lifetime of my comic book collecting, looking for their own version of The Incredible Hulk #181. Many found plenty to buy, as multiple customers left with an entire long box in their hands. It was a heck of an experience, and one that often made me wonder whether I was making a mistake selling some of my comics.

That weekend was when I first discovered Key Collector Comics, an app loaded with searchable information about basically every “key” comic – which, for those that don’t know, are essential or notable comics with first appearances or momentous occasions being qualifiers – and prices for varying qualities of condition on each. This app was a lifesaver, as it helped limit those aforementioned mistakes, namely, selling a valuable comic for 50 cents or less. 10

It, in some ways, is like Wizard Magazine’s price guide, except instead of being bogged down with the minutiae of comic book history, 11 it focuses on keys to keep things straightforward. That simplicity made it irresistible for me as a comic fan. It was a uniquely powerful tool, and one that scratched an itch in me that hadn’t been reached in quite some time.

Since that weekend, the comic industry has seen some surprising shifts, as there has been a frankly shocking resurgence of speculation, 12 and it’s hard not to connect an app like Key Collector Comics to that phenomena. As someone who both enjoys the app and is curious about comic industry trends, I wanted to get a better understanding of what exactly Key Collector Comics was all about, and how the app’s creator Nick Coglianese views its position in the current marketplace. So today, we’re going to be doing just that, as we dig into its origins, where it fits in comics today, and more, while examining the tension the industry has at the intersection of reader, collector and speculator.

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  1. Although he did appear in The Incredible Hulk #180, that technically counted as a cameo, which I always found to be strange. He appeared first there, didn’t he?!

  2. For example, did you know that Cassandra Cain’s first appearance was in Batman #567, and that I apparently bought three of them for some reason?

  3. Wizard listed everything, even if some of it was listed as a chunk of issues of the same value.

  4. As I covered in my recent retailer feature.

  5. Although he did appear in The Incredible Hulk #180, that technically counted as a cameo, which I always found to be strange. He appeared first there, didn’t he?!

  6. For example, did you know that Cassandra Cain’s first appearance was in Batman #567, and that I apparently bought three of them for some reason?

  7. Wizard listed everything, even if some of it was listed as a chunk of issues of the same value.

  8. As I covered in my recent retailer feature.

  9. Although he did appear in The Incredible Hulk #180, that technically counted as a cameo, which I always found to be strange. He appeared first there, didn’t he?!

  10. For example, did you know that Cassandra Cain’s first appearance was in Batman #567, and that I apparently bought three of them for some reason?

  11. Wizard listed everything, even if some of it was listed as a chunk of issues of the same value.

  12. As I covered in my recent retailer feature.