Hello fellow comic collectors and lovers. I like to write articles once in a while about things that affect the comic collecting community. My previous (and actually first) foray into this was about local comic shows. This time, I want to talk about comic grading.
Many collectors have heard of companies like CGC, CBCS, PGX, and the qualitative and quantitative system of grading from NG (No Good) to NM+ (Near Mint Plus) and .3/5 (I believe CBCS gives a .3 now) - 10.0. These notations allow for one to understand the condition of their book. Companies that do this for a fee start at a 10.0 and for every defect, go down a notch. Putting a numerical or qualitative grade on a book is not new; it's been around for a long time and has progressed as collectors have come to value (literally) their comics more. Companies such as the aforementioned CGC, CBCS, and PGX offer the opportunity to have professionals objectively grade your book and then encapsulate it. Prior to this, you might have your local comic shop dealer give you an estimate of what they thought your book would grade by using the well-known Overstreet Price Guide (here's a little history on pricing and grading.) Thus, the grade of a book correlates to its price and vice versa.
I digress, as I am not an expert on grading nor am I an expert on the history of grading and pricing. There is, however, a great new group on Facebook (not even a year old and already climbing to 800 members) called Making The Grade that allows its participants to post a book's pictures and seek out what other members think the grade might be. The group's main administrator, Greg Ciraulo, even keeps tabs on books that members have graded, and that have subsequently been submitted to a grading company, to show the results. It's pretty cool (I'm a moderator for the group, so maybe I'm a little biased.) That said, I asked Daniel Soto, one of the group moderators, some pointed questions about the group and grading itself; I'll let his answers do the talking.
Michael Austerlitz (MA): Can you explain what your group does?
Making the Grade (MTG): The purpose of the group is to help people identify how to grade their comic books. Using as many up-close pictures of things such as the spine, corners, and edges of the book, members will do to the best of their abilities to assign a grade from .5-10. While not a perfect system since only the original poster has the actual book in their hands, the group is able to provide a pretty fair estimate based on online visual examination.
MA: Can you explain grading comics for those who may not be aware of it?
MTG: Comic book grading has been around for decades and used terms such as Poor, Fair, Very Good, Very Fine, & Near Mint. Over the years the grading of a comic has evolved into what is known as the 10-point system ranging from 1.0 (the lowest grade) to 10.0 (the highest). Each comic book starts out at an assumed grade of 10.0 and decreases in grade for every defect that is then found on a book. Most comics that are bought right off the newsstands are never going to be a 10.0. The ability to assign an accurate grade to a comic is invaluable when you are trying to sell. For some books a 9.8 could mean hundreds to thousands of dollars in difference from the exact same book in 8.0 graded condition.
MA: Describe how collecting comics ties into a love for reading and vice versa.
MTG: Collecting comics and my love of reading go hand in hand. When I was younger we didn't have the television options we do now, and I only got a few channels if that. Later at night when I wasn't playing outside, I would read and it would allow me escape for a few hours before bed. Comics were just a natural extension of that. The added illustrations meant I didn't have to rely on just my imagination; here I could now actually see what the danger room inside the X-mansion looked like instead of guessing. Since comics come out monthly, I developed a nice collection rather quickly and spent time learning how to take care of them so that I would always be able to go back and reread them.
MA: Why is it important for collectors to know how to grade their own comics?
MTG: Even if you never have any plans to sell your comics it is always very valuable to learn how to grade. No one can predict the future, and having accurate grades attached to each book can help loved ones in case something happens to you and they need to sell them. A lot of people have higher value books and will need insurance for their collection. If you need insurance, having accurate grades will help you get the most back when trying to file a claim for replacements.
MA: What tools do you use to grade?
MTG: There are many tools out there to help grading. The most valuable is going to be to find a reputable local shop and ask if they can help. Many shop owners/managers are very knowledgeable and are willing to help. The next would be the Overstreet Guide to Comic Grading. Made by the same people who do the price guide, this book gives very detailed descriptions of each grade and provides plenty of examples. There are also several apps such as "Spot on Grading" that help you by inputting information of the book into the app.
MA: Has your group helped people with grading?
MTG: It seems to be helping a lot of people. We have people who are new to comics in general and are unfamiliar with grading, and others who have been into comics for years that never bothered to grade because they just liked reading. We are growing nicely and have a ton of experienced graders who are willing to give wonderful advice.
MA: What are your thoughts on grading companies? That is, do you think they’re good for collecting? What do you say to people who think they ruin the hobby?
MTG: Grading companies are not ruining the hobby, and are an asset to the collecting industry. Back before third party grading companies, books had to be bought on the word of another. With the ability to detect restoration and assign an exact grade to a book, it has made selling things such as Golden Age books much easier. Restoration is an issue that many people are unable to detect especially when it gets into books being trimmed and color touched.
MA: Have you ever graded a book and had it come back from a grading company at that grade or better?
MTG: This happens all the time. While we can become accurate at grading it is a subjective skill. I might think that a book is 8.0, and the companies might give it a 9.0 or a 7.5. For instance, I bought a copy of Batman #232 that was graded a 7.0 from one company. I opened the case, got the book signed, and had CGC grade it. That book came back an 8.5. So there was a 1.5 grade bump up from one company to another, and this is without a clean and press.
So, there you have it: grading and pricing! Well, that's not all of it, but you get the idea. Join Making the Grade to help with your comic collecting knowledge.