It was announced recently that Archie Andrews, the freckled redhead and favourite son of fictional Riverdale, would die in the concluding issue of Life With Archie, an update on the classic comic book series. At the same time as fans say goodbye to the titular character, a Toronto resident – who coincidentally grew up in the Riverdale neighbourhood here – is parting with the most valuable parts of his massive comic book horde, which include a prized copy of Archie #1. We spoke to Donald Lem, whose Toronto Riverdale Collection is part of next week’s auction at comicconnect.com, in advance of this weekend’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival.
You’re auctioning part of your comic book collection, including a rare Spiderman issue and a scarce Archie #1, from 1941. Is the estimate of $19,000 for the Archie realistic?
That’s actually a very conservative number. The market price is probably three to four times that price. Where did you get that value?
From the Overstreet guide. Is it not reliable?
It’s outdated. There’s much more up-to-date information on the Internet.
I would imagine it has completely changed the collectables industry a great deal.
The accessibility for the collector and the exposure for sellers is much greater. It’s created a much wider audience and market, which is part of the reason prices have exploded in the past 10 years. Before, you had a limited amount of conventions, which is where the prices were set. Today you have online auctions and eBay and private sales.
You’re 40 years old, and you’ve been collecting since you were a kid. Was the idea of the comic books being an investment always part of the hobby?
I always knew there was a market. So, as I was buying and trading for them, I was protecting them. I didn’t really keep a tab on how much I was accumulating, but I knew what I was doing. I’d been collecting for 30 years and I needed a bit of money, so I did an evaluation. It was a pleasant surprise, how much it paid off.
Beyond the investment, though, you’re a fan. As I understand it, when you were suffering from cancer and depression a few years ago, you took comfort in some of your comic books, particularly Archie and the Peanuts strips by Charles Schultz. Can you talk about that?
There’s a certain innocence with those. Sometimes when life gets us down – we’re sad, we’re facing adversity – that sense of innocence is helpful. As an adult, you’re thinking logically, but at the same time the child within you is helping you cope with things.
And what is the effect the comics have on you, in those circumstances?
It brings a smile to my face. It brings back a time when things were good, your childhood moments. Sometimes, as an adult, you need that escape, back to the good old days.
Toronto Comic Arts Festival, May 10 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and May 11 (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Free. Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge St., torontocomics.com.
This interview has been condensed and edited.