There are two “camps” of comic book collecting: those who slab and those who don’t. I readily admit, I am in the first group and I’m perfectly happy to stay put. “Slab” or “slabbing” is collector slang for “comic encapsulation,” otherwise known as “grading.” Since 2000, impartial thirty-party comic book grading has been available thanks to Certified Guaranty Company, known in the industry as CGC. Several knock-off/bootleg grading companies have emerged, but none of the CGC quality… until last year. More recently, Comic Book Certification Services (CBCS) launched, and CGC finally as a worthy competitor. I have used both grading companies and, to be honest, I like them equally. CGC corners the market; they have been around for 15 years and are an industry icon/standard. CBCS was founded by some of the folks who started CGC. They have a similar business model and offer competitive services to CGC, except they offer less expensive service. One last plus to CBCS is the general public can submit comics to them directly, whereas CGC requires either a paid membership or submission through a third-party.
Okay enough about that. So you have decided you want to submit your books to CGC or CBCS. You believe you have a rough idea regarding the potential grade your comic(s) will earn, so you pack up your book(s), ship to one of the graders, and wait the 6-8 months it takes for your submission to go through the grading cycle.
Why have your comic book graded? Because it increases the value of your comic and thus increases the value of your collection. Here’s an example:
In 2003 The Walking Dead sold for $2.95. By 2015, the inaugural issue is worth $1,600 raw (not slabbed). A 9.8 (near mint, slabbed and graded) copy of The Walking Dead Issue 1 is valued at $4,300. I say no more.
You have submitted what you believe to be near mint books expecting a grade between 9.6 to 9.8. Low and behold your book(s) returns to you and–to your surprise– with a lower grade than you anticipated.
As I’ve mentioned in my “about me” post, I am a collector/hobbyist. Therefore, the joy of the hobby comes first. Value or speculations of “it might be worth something/it’s a good investment” comes in a limp second. I like slabs. I think slabs look awesome on display, and I do like that graded comics add value to my collection. Feels like a win-win. I preface the following with “I am not a professional comic book grader,” I am offering my advice on the topic just to share.
I have self-submitted over 100 comics (okay that’s not a lot, but still). I have received grades that range from 9.6 to 9.9. During my early submitting days, 9.6 appears to be my average. Over time, however, I have learned to really pay attention to the physical details of the books I submit and have improved my average to 9.8. Though, admittedly, I have seen a lot more 9.9 than I expected (let’s hope that trend continues).
Okay let’s grade some comics – amateur style. Dirt and oil from your fingertips can cost you grading points in the end. I recommend using gloves while you assess your book. I have experience with cotton and latex. Both types of glove seem fine, though I recommend staying away from latex gloves that have powder in them, as this substance can be introduced to your comic and it will cause damage. To properly assess your comic, you must be able to view the front and back of the book. If bagged and boarded, remove your book (be gentle). Good maneuverable lighting helps with assessment, as changing light angle can show defects or discrepancies. Have a clean work area to perform your assessment, and get right to it. First, look at the corners of your comics. Are the corners crisp or blunted? If one or more of the corners is blunted, not at a point, points are deducted from the grade. Be very critical. It is better to assess your book lower than to assume a higher grade. Next, look at the spine, and pay attention to the staples. Are there any creases in the spine? What about staple tears, including those from the printer? Again, small dents and dings cost points, and any blemish can make the difference between 9.8 and 9.4. Okay, so you’ve looked at the corners, reviewed the spine. Now, lay the book flat and determine if there are any scuff marks on the cover. Once you assess the outward condition of your book, give the pages a flip, and do so from cover to cover. Here you are looking for folded page corners or manufacturer defects. If the book looks sharp and clean, give it your best grading guess. Remember, be critical. If you think it is a 9.8, consider 9.6. If you think it is a 9.9, consider 9.8.
What’s the point to all this? Having an idea of the potential grade of your comic should assist you in making the decision to invest in grading your comic book.
I applied this assessment method to this reprint of The Walking Dead. I’ll post a follow up in about 6 months as to the grade it received.
*** UPDATE *** January 2016 ***
The above comic has just arrived from CBCS. It was graded 9.8 and I am quite pleased. And for the record it took a little over 4 months, that some great turn around time I say!