Brooklyn-born Levi Brennan was working for a Wall Street credit card processing firm about a decade ago when one of the clients he was assigned was Manhattan’s legendary Midtown Comics.
This was no ordinary store and Brennan, while waiting for some needed receipts and papers, began reading some of the stock, including The Amazing Spiderman.
“The three locations are still massive — Times Square, Grand Central Station and Downtown,” Brennan said. “They gave me comic books to read while I was waiting for what I needed, all day and every day. The numbers of books they sold was amazing.”
Brennan’s job was eliminated by the Great Recession. So he packed up what he had and came to Philadelphia, making his growing avocation with comic books his profession as he set up shop in 2010 in his residence, from where he still operates.
“I opened an online store and figured out the business, what’s worth money and what’s not,” Brennan said. “The niche items [rare covers, statues, signed items] are really exclusive. I decided I would sell those online.”
Then came his break and a famous partner.
“I started going to shows, where I met and began working with Stan Lee, who would sign some of these items,” Brennan said. “It all grew from there.”
Born Stanley Martin Lieber to Romanian-immigrant Jewish parents, Lee died at 95 on Nov. 12. He was a key figure in the transformation of Marvel Comics from a small publishing house to a media conglomerate.
He revolutionized the comic book industry. Spiderman, Hulk, Daredevil, Fantastic Four and others had emotions, drew the reader in more and changed the level of stories told. Lee retired from Marvel in the 1990s, but continued to work creatively and at shows until his death.
Brennan and Lee struck up a friendship over the course of dozens of shows each year.
“Stan didn’t talk much about his childhood, but he wouldn’t work on Shabbat,” Brennan said. “Say we’d get to a show on a Friday, Stan would disappear late Friday afternoon and we wouldn’t see him until Saturday evening. It was that way at every weekend show.”
Brennan got involved in acquiring and selling a line of Stan Lee Funko Pop, which are figures created by the artist. They are still sold, with some fetching $25 or $30. But some offerings signed by Lee have price tags of $5,000 or more.
A set of two bobblehead-like Funko figures was recently advertised online for $60,000.
“The prices vary by market as well,” Brennan said. “Stan had his own line of comics and figures. My market with them is on eBay, as there wasn’t enough traffic online with a website. … Many are unique, and collectors will often pay top dollar for them. I deal in a lot of Stan’s niche items.”
There are comics signed by Lee that sell for affordable prices, but ones that are rare, what Brennan aims to sell, can reach six or even seven figures. For instance, the original Amazing Fantasy issue introducing Spiderman in 1962 sold for $1.1 million. The Incredible Hulk No. 1 from 1962, which cost 12 cents at the time, sold for $320,000.
Collectors seem to enjoy getting their hands on all the renditions of Spiderman, which runs from 1963 to the present.
“Every time Marvel brought it out as another series, it was another entire set for collectors,” Brennan said. “Stan continued to sign a lot of those each time there was a reissue. It’s a series that has lasted over 50 years.”
Comic books and covers have a rating system.
“Mint is 9.9-10, with 9.8 and 9.6 ratings what collectors like to see,” Brennan explained.
While Marvel, DC and others offer digital comics, print comics of old held their own before slumping in 2017, according to Comichron, which tracks such sales. In 2017, digital and print comics accounted for $1.015 million in sales.
“You can still find a lot of familiar titles like Superman and Batman in bookstores or comic shops,” Brennan said. “There are about 30-40 titles on a weekly basis. Orders are placed in advance and new comics are shipped to vendors each Wednesday.”
While Lee and many of the other artists and illustrators were Jewish, Brennan says the business itself and the collectors are not.
“It’s funny how it is, but I would not call this a business that caters heavily to Jews,” Brennan said. “I don’t know why that is.”
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