You perhaps heard of the lucky Minnesota man who found a copy of Action Comics No. 1 in the walls of a home he was rebuilding. The beat-up comic book, featuring the first appearance of Superman, went on to command $175,000 at auction.
Before you rip out drywall or cash in your retirement to go shopping at at a comics convention, realize that only 100 copies of the original 250,000-issue run of Action Comics No. 1 are known to remain, which means your odds of hitting the comic book lottery are about as good as hitting the actual lottery.
Or are they? As it turns out, widespread interest in Walt Disney's (DIS) Marvel movies and similar films from Time Warner's (TWX) DC Comics has spawned surging interest in rare comics. Dallas-based Heritage Auctions sold $30 million worth of comics and comic book art in 2013 alone.
Since most of the 40,000 lots that produced those millions included comics you've likely never heard of, we asked Barry Sandoval, manager of Heritage's comics division, to give us his picks for lesser-known books that are making some sellers rich. Do you own any of these? Check your attic, consider Sandoval's advice and before you do anything else, revisit our advice for assembling the perfect portfolio of investment-grade comic books.
7 Less-Known but Very Valuable Comic Books
Why collectors want it: First appearance of the "Silver Age" -- or post-World War II -- version of The Flash, a key member of DC Comics' Justice League. Actor Grant Gustin is set to play the scarlet speedster when The CW airs "The Flash" Tuesday nights this fall.
Recent Heritage Auctions high bid: $179,250 for a copy professionally graded 9.6 out of 10.
Sandoval's advice: "It's the most valuable Silver Age DC comic for good reason. The Flash's costume hasn't changed much in the last 60 years, which is a good thing if you're thinking about the potential demand in years to come. We usually only handle about five copies a year, in any grade, making it much tougher to find than the key Marvel books of the same era."
Why collectors want it: First appearance of the Silver Age Green Lantern. Even though a 2011 movie starring Ryan Reynolds as DC's ring-slinger failed at the box office, Warner reportedly plans a big-screen team-up with The Flash timed for the 2017 holiday season.
Recent Heritage Auctions high bid: $59,750 for a copy professionally graded 9.0 out of 10.
Sandoval's advice: "This book seldom turns up in 'very fine' (8.0) or better condition. Since there's no text on the cover indicating that this is the first appearance of a new character, I bet there are copies of this in some attics or basements because people don't realize it's so valuable."
Why collectors want it: First appearance of Wonder Woman, though she neither appears nor is mentioned on the cover. Gal Gadot will play DC's Amazon powerhouse in May 2016's "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice." She's then reportedly due for a July 2017 solo film. Older fans will remember Lynda Carter from the "Wonder Woman" TV show that ran from 1975 to 1979.
Recent Heritage Auctions high bid: $56,762.50 for a copy professionally graded 8.0 out of 10.
Sandoval's advice: "It's the first appearance of a major character, yet it's not one of the 20 most valuable 'Golden Age' (i.e., World War II and earlier) comics. I can understand why some would see that as a buying opportunity."
Why collectors want it: First appearance of Superboy, although you wouldn't know it from the cover. Instead, his debut is reserved for a five-page insert drawn by Superman co-creator Joe Shuster. Superboy has since headlined the long-running TV series "Smallville" and appeared in civilian form in "Superman: The Movie" and "Man of Steel."
Recent Heritage Auctions high bid: $28,680 for a copy professionally graded 9.6 out of 10.
Sandoval's advice: "At the risk of stating the obvious: Superboy is just Superman when he was younger, which is why some don't see him as a separate character. But a lot of kids wanted to be Superboy, and that makes them passionate about collecting his appearances. The cover is nondescript, so you have to know comics to recognize this one as a key issue."
Why collectors want it: First appearance of Groot, the tree-like "Monarch of Planet X" who goes on to become a key member of the "Guardians of the Galaxy." Actor Vin Diesel voices the character in director James Gunn's upcoming adaptation, which opens on Aug. 1.
Recent Heritage Auctions high bid: $1,123.30 for a copy professionally graded 3.5 out of 10.
Sandoval's advice: "You want to invest in characters that have staying power, and you'd really have to be a riverboat gambler to place your bet on Groot. Personally, I would say take whatever you are thinking of spending on this book and put it toward the best copy you can afford of Hulk No. 181, which features the first full-length comic book appearance of Wolverine."
Why collectors want it: First appearance of Rocket Raccoon, another key member of the Guardians and arguably the star of Gunn's film. Bradley Cooper voices the gun-toting varmint while Skottie Young is writing and illustrating a new solo comic book featuring the character.
Recent Heritage Auctions high bid: $621.40 for a copy professionally graded 9.8 out of 10.
Sandoval's advice: "Lots of people hoarded Marvel Comics from the 1980s, so this book can't be considered rare. Also, for a character that's been around 30 years, the only comic book series he has ever headlined was a four-issue series in 1985. So how broad can his appeal be?"
Why collectors want it: Reprints of Charles Schulz's world-famous comic strip had appeared in other titles, such as "Tip Top Comics" and "Fritzi Ritz," but never before had a comic book simply dubbed "Peanuts" reached newsstands. What's more, this one contains a number of rare reprints from the earliest days of the strip, according to author and comic book historian Dr. Michael J. Vassallo.
Recent Heritage Auctions high bid: $13,145 for a copy professionally graded 8.5 out of 10.
Sandoval's advice: "This one is legitimately hard to find, and you could argue that the Peanuts characters are as popular as Superman or Batman. The Peanuts newspaper strip literally ran for 50 years, a great track record."