By Jaclyn Brandt
Many may not know it, but the Stevens Point area has been the home to one of the rarest, and most expansive, pedigreed comic book collections for decades. Maggie Thompson and her husband Don both began collecting as children, and when they were married in 1962 the collection continued to grow.
Don Thompson died in 1994, but Maggie continued to add new names to their library. It soon became a legend in the world of comic book collectors, and included first editions of “The Avengers,” “Journey Into Mystery” No. 83 (which introduced Thor for the first time), and the first issue of “The Incredible Hulk.” Comic book collectors the world over were all atwitter in mid-November as 90 issues of the Thompsons’ collection went up on the auction block.
“My collecting began so that I could have what I want when I want it,” Thompson said, explaining that the auction will allow her to buy even more comic books. But this time, books she can actually read.
The industry icon has been collecting comic books for nearly seven decades, in an industry that was in its infancy halfway through the 20th century. But it was her parents who became fans even before she did.
“I learned to read at age 4 1/2 with comic books,” she explained. “I had my dime allowance and every week I would take my dime to the newsstand on the corner. My mom told me it would take me an hour and a half [to decide]. And at my story time she would read me a comic book.”
In the early era of the medium, fans weren’t saving their copies. But Thompson did, and it turned into the collection she has today.
“The only way to have it is to keep it,” she said. “It was natural to hang on to them because if you lost them or traded them to your friends there wouldn’t be another copy. Even more transitory were the weekly visits of such favorites as The Shadow, Suspense, and Jack Benny. Gone. They could be no more than memories.”
So Thompson began saving, and she saved some of the most important comic books in the history of comic books.
“When you appreciate something enough to want it with you – to be able to have it if you want to check a fact or revisit an entertainment at 2 a.m. – you’d better collect it,” she explained.
After Don died, Maggie Thompson continued the Comic Buyer’s Guide, an industry magazine they ran. The magazine helped connect comic book professionals and fans, and gave a voice to admirers the world over. The magazine closed earlier this year, but Thompson’s passion continued.
She remembers a time when she and Don wanted to talk to the creator of Mr. Scrooge – a character you might remember better from Disney’s Ducktales. But Mr. Scrooge was a comic book character long before he was owned by Disney.
“[The author’s] entire career was anonymous,” Thompson explained. “My husband and I actually did the research and were among the first the first people to identify him.”
Thompson said the author didn’t realize how important he was, and the first time they wrote to him asking to profile his life and his art, “he thought the guys in the office were playing a joke on him.”
After the Thompsons spoke with the author, they reached out to Disney to ask for permission to use the artwork in their article.
“We contacted the Disney organization, we want to do this article and we’d like permission to reprint samples of his work,” she remembered. “And we got a letter back saying ‘you not only don’t have permission to reproduce artwork, we do not want you to do an article about this at all. The children of America think Walt Disney writes and draws his own comic books and we do not want to disappoint the children of America.’”
But after asking again, Disney finally agreed. It was their first widely-circulated issue of the Comic Buyer’s Guide.
Thompson is now 70 years old, and the auction helped her make an important move to help protect her books for years to come. She recently sold “Amazing Fantasy” No. 15, the book where Spider-Man makes his first appearance, as well as 100 issues of “The Amazing Spiderman.” The sale helped her build a secure addition on her home for the storage of all of her books, which are estimated to be in the tens of thousands.
Heritage Auctions came back for more issues. Thompson said they took around 4,000 of her comic books, and 500 were considered “pedigreed.” This means that not only were the books about major characters, or pivotal moments, but also that they were originally purchased at the newsstand by the person who still owns them.
The auction at the end of November was only the first in many upcoming auctions of Thompson’s books. Heritage Auction chose 524 items from her home, and in the first day (after selling only 86 items), $784,148 had been earned. “The Avengers” No. 1 went for nearly $90,000, “Journey Into Mystery” went for $77,675, and “The Incredible Hulk” No. 1 sold for $58,256.
Thompson explained that one reason for the auction was the growing pressure of housing millions of dollars of comic books in her own home, but also because “it was intimidating to have to care for them.”
“I always tried to take care of them but they are so fragile. That is the value of the things that I am selling at auction, I am going to replace them. But it make me nervous to have something so valuable in my house not being able to be rough with them at all. Not because I would treat them roughly but if an accident happened it would the condition of the issue.
“My job as the editor of the comic book guide I would go in my collection to scan and at one point I was holding down as issue of Fantastic Four and at one point I heard the tearing at the staple. My daughter said to me, ‘Why don’t you just rip up $100 bills?’ That became very sobering.”
The responsibility that comes with being the keeper of some of the most important history in the medium is a lot of pressure. And Thompson felt that, even though she had these comics, she still wasn’t able to enjoy them.
“I have been so nervous about having these key comic in my house. If there is a tornado do I store them in my basement, but then what if there is a flood?” she asked. “So the proper care and handling of these limited editions, the supply right now is pretty meager. I am happy not to have so many. Given that we are only temporary custodians of what we own, we should take the best possible care of our treasures – and then pass them on.”
And so she made that decision to pass them to the next generations of comic book fans and collectors. The sale will allow her to buy the same books, but those not in mint condition. With the money she made, she will be able to buy entire collections where one book once was.
The last item in November’s auction to go up for sale was the original cover artwork for Conan the Barbarian #4, which ended up selling for $73,000.