Comic Book Grading 101 – Part 1: Deciding to Grade
The next level in the world of comic collecting
You have just left your local comic shop with a book signed by your favorite comic book writer Robert Kirkman. Not only did you find this copy of Outcast #1 on the rack for $40, it’s also signed by Kirkman on the cover! After carefully transporting it home and gently slipping it into a mylar sleeve with a cardboard backing, you have placed it strategically on your shelf so that you can stare at it in awe while reflecting on how much of a steal you got it for.
Not enough, you think.
You really want to preserve this moment in time so that you can cherish this book forever, and sitting in its mylar sleeve doesn’t do it justice. You have heard a lot about “grading books” and think this could be exactly what you need, but have no clue where to begin. There is a lot to consider today when you’re thinking of submitting your very first book into one of the many available grading companies.
This process, also known as “slabbing” in the comic book community, exists to remove any subjectivity and ambiguity in judging a book’s actual condition. In this multi-part series, I’ll do my best to breakdown everything you need to consider when deciding to grade a book.
Why slab a book?
It’s important to understand the logic behind why you want to actually get your book graded:
Is it because it’s your favorite book in your collection and you really just want to own a preserved copy and hold on to it forever regardless of its condition or value?
Or is it because you feel that this book is so amazing that it has to be more valuable in graded form and one day you’re hoping you can sell it for some potential profits or let it marinate and increase in value a few more years?
Both are very valid reasons to get books graded but it’s critical that you know what that book is realistically valued at in its exact condition to ensure that the cost in money to complete the grading does not outweigh the value of the book. But if book value is of zero importance to you, then go for it! It’s a known fact that graded books sell for more than non-graded (aka “raw”) copies of the same book. However, this doesn’t apply to every book!
A great way to understand what a book’s true market value is by either searching completed listing sales on eBay or subscribing to an official stock ticker site for graded books like GPAnalysis or my personal favourite, GoCollect. These sites collect all completed sales data from all over the internet (private sales not included) and will provide you trends, refined search tools and approximate average sales values for all books on the market. GoCollect even offers a tracking system for your own books, watch alerts for books being sold and fantastic articles on speculation books to keep an eye on. They even have “What’s Selling?” lists for new, modern, bronze and silver age books. A great way to stay up to date on current trends!
What services exist for grading?
There are several companies that offer grading services today. Collectors have their own preferences as well most buyers and sellers. These preferences can be anything from the way one company does their labels, to the way they case their book or the reputation of their actual graders. Let me explain.
CGC Comics (Certified Guaranty Company) is currently the disputable champ and preferred grader for the majority of buyers and comic investors today. They have a very strong reputation and have been in the business for close to 20 years. All books go through a multi-tier inspection process. While this is not unlike other grading service providers, CGC seems to hold the top spot for having the best graders available and providing the most reliable and consistent grades and authentications. Books graded by CGC tend to hold the highest resale value.
Another popular choice is CBCS (Comic Book Certification Services). Also founded by a very reputable industry leader in grading, this company has been around for a substantially less amount of time but has already earned a top spot for collectors.
I’ve used both CGC and CBCS many times and found little to no discrepancies in either of their grading services. For the most part, it comes down to pricing and your personal preferences on the overall presentation and labeling of the finished product. I suggest you carefully examine both to see which one you prefer most.
Lastly, another company PGX (Professional Grading Experts) is far behind the big 2 but still grades a substantial amount of books today. They have been around for close to 15 years but have experienced backlash from collectors, and because of this most books graded by PGX tend to fetch substantially less than their CGC and CBCS competitors. Grades provided by PGX also tend to be the least reliable. Most books that leave PGX and end up getting graded by CGC or CBCS later on tend to end up with a lower grade. I have never used their grading services and likely never would for personal reasons. But again, it all comes down to personal choice. Do your research, and invest accordingly.
Have you understood the cost?
Pricing for slabbing your book will be determined by a number of factors:
Every company will want to know how old or new your book is.
How much do you think it’s worth?
How quickly do you want it graded and returned to you?
Do you want the book pre-screened first?
Do you want a fancy label for it?
Is your comic book actually a magazine and a little bigger than a standard comic?
Is your book already signed by someone?
Note: We will dig into signed comics in Part 2 of this series, as that will impact how grading companies will review your book.
All of these things will factor into the cost of services. Don’t forget that unless you’re handing the book off at your local comic con directly to one of these grading companies, you may be subject to shipping costs both ways. Most of these companies exist in the USA, so this is something you must keep in mind when you are cost-conscious.
The cheapest way to grade is handing it off to a rep from CGC/CBCS/PGX at a local convention directly. You’ll save on shipping it to them instantly. Plus save on the headache of packaging. Some 3rd party companies also accept books on behalf of grading companies at various shows, so you might want to look into that as well. Also, some comic stores in your town or city might offer the ability to drop books off to them to be sent away for grading. Take advantage of that whenever possible, as it will save you the headache of actually setting up your books for submission.
Part 2: Slabbed Results
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series where we explore the intricate details of the grading process including how to evaluate your comic, understanding the different grade levels and grading labels, the important factors around signed books and more. Be sure to check back in for those details.
Until then, ponder on whether that favourite comic of yours should get the next level, collector treatment.