A crowd of Darth Vaders, Jedis and Princess Leias converged at Resorts World Casino in Jamaica, Queens, in early December for the Wintercon Comic Book & Sci Fi Expo, and the much-anticipated premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” added plenty of buzz to the gathering.
Calverton native Walter Yakaboski arrived at the expo Dec. 6. Inside his car, secured in a fireproof case, were items so valuable they hadn’t been removed from a safe deposit box in decades.
Mr. Yakaboski, 60, carefully placed the items in a satchel, walked through the metal detectors into the casino and passed the Star Wars fans to begin a process that he hoped would soon make him several hundred thousand dollars richer.
From 1979 to 1981, Mr. Yakaboski spent about $10,000 buying a variety of pristine, early-edition comic books. In 1980, for example, he purchased a $1,200 copy of “Amazing Fantasy” #15, a 1962 Marvel comic famous for marking Spider-Man’s first appearance.
That comic originally sold for 12 cents. Nowadays, it can fetch as much as $400,000.
“I believe in fate,” Mr. Yakaboski said Monday, the day before he and his son Adam were to fly to Dallas, Texas, for the Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction, which takes place Thursday, Feb. 18. “Hopefully it’ll go for more. The more the better.”
In addition to “Amazing Fantasy” #15, Mr. Yakaboski, who now lives in Middle Island with his wife, Patricia, is selling “The Amazing Spider Man” #1, two editions of “Fantastic Four” and “The Brave and the Bold” #28, which sold in 1960 for 10 cents. He has 38 more valuable vintage comics still safely tucked away in the safe deposit box.
None, though, quite compares to “Amazing Fantasy” #15, a premier item at the three-day auction, organized by Heritage Auctions. A picture of Mr. Yakaboski’s comic is prominently displayed on the inside cover of a thick book describing all the items for sale.
“The highlight of the show,” Mr. Yakaboski said.
His decision to sell now, he said, is simple: It’s time. He’s stored the comics for more than 30 years, rarely even touching them.
“The less you touch something, the better it is,” he said.
Patricia Yakaboski, who said her husband has a tendency to procrastinate, helped nudge him toward the decision to finally sell. She said he was taught the value of a dollar from an early age. His father, John, who lived to be 101, made a living potato farming in Calverton. Mr. Yakaboski, who has two brothers, began working when he was 12 and scraped together enough money to buy the comics in his early 20s.
“He went into this comic book as an investment,” said Ms. Yakaboski, 63. “And he was right. He knew what he was doing, even back then.”
Mr. Yakaboski worked at Waldbaum’s for about 27 years, most recently as a baker in Rocky Point. Not long ago, following the grocery chain’s sale, he was laid off.
The journey to the auction — and a potential windfall — began in September, before Mr. Yakaboski knew his job was in jeopardy. To sell for substantial money, a comic first needs to be officially graded. Mr. Yakaboski joined CGC Comics, which grades comics on a scale of 1 to 10 and seals them until they are sold. But the company’s Florida location presented a problem. He wasn’t about to mail such a valuable item and cross his fingers that it would arrive safely.
A friend told Mr. Yakaboski about Wintercon and said CGC would be there, giving Mr. Yakaboski an opportunity to hand the comics over in person rather than mail them.
Before his comics were graded, Mr. Yakaboski agreed to pay CGC about $7,000 for a light restoration, which could increase their grade. “Amazing Fantasy” #15 came back as a 9.4, or “near-mint.”
Next, Mr. Yakaboski had to decide which company should sell the comics. He settled on Heritage Auctions and CGC sent the books to Texas via armored car, he said.
Greg Holman, a director of pop culture at Heritage, said in a YouTube video promoting Mr. Yakaboski’s comic that “books like this rarely come along. Sometimes just once in a generation.”
In 2011, an “Amazing Fantasy” No. 15 sold for $1.1 million through ComicConnect.com. Mr. Yakaboski said he believes that copy was graded slightly higher than his.
A promoter at Heritage encouraged Mr. Yakaboski to share his story to help drum up interest in the comics. An Associated Press story appeared last week in newspapers and websites across the country, turning him into a minor celebrity.
“It’s surreal,” he said. “I understand why they’re making a big deal of it. They should be focused on the book, not me.”
Mr. Yakaboski rarely reads comics anymore, which he admitted “makes little sense.” He still buys new editions every three months or so at Long Island Comics in West Babylon, but he stopped purchasing high-value comics after getting married in 1984. By that point, he said, he just couldn’t justify the expense.
Mr. Yakaboski imagines the collector who purchases his pristine “Amazing Fantasy” will be someone who can display it properly, in a way he never could. It’s unlikely he’ll ever know that buyer’s identity.
Mr. Yakaboski hopes to eventually use the proceeds from the sale, from which taxes and a 10 percent auction company fee will be deducted, to maintain family ownership of 17.9 acres in Calverton that Yakaboskis had farmed since the 1920s.
He and his brothers inherited the property in October 2014 and John Jr. still lives next to the house where they all grew up.
The property holds sentimental value for Mr. Yakaboski. It’s a link to his family’s history that he hopes to preserve.
As snow fell late Monday afternoon, Mr. Yakaboski sat at the kitchen table in the small home on the farm where he was raised, reflecting on the past and looking toward the future.
“You can’t hold on to something forever,” he said.
Top photo: Walter Yakaboski, whose family has longtime roots in Calverton, owns a rare ‘near mint’-condition copy of the comic book ‘Amazing Fantasy’ #15 that will go up for auction Thursday in Dallas. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)