I've been collecting comics for twenty years now. I love the hobby and would go to the local comics store regularly picking up weekly/monthly issues from my pull list. As I progressed further in the hobby, I started to make more friends that started collecting “key” comic issues.
What we mean by the term “key” is that the issue is significantly important in that it might contain an event that can shock a storyline prompting collectors to collect those comics. Events such as Secret Wars, Civil War, The Infinity Gauntlet, Death of Superman and more recently the death of Wolverine are some examples. These are key events and collectors will scramble to get the best copies, variants and also aim for the best possible “condition” of the book available.
Key comic books also means that it is the first time a hero/villain/character has appeared in the publisher's books. Normally these books will be highly sought after especially if that character turns out to debut in his own series. Some really notable first appearances include Superman, Spider-Man and Batman. Collectors generally will go after these books and will also pay top dollar for a high grade issue which brings us to the problem in the hobby. How do we decide how good a “condition” the book is when we want to sell it to a fellow collector? Everyone will disagree on the grading on a book. Grading of a comic book comes in these terms. The grades come in a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest possible condition of the book available. This scale is taken from the Overstreet Guide to comic book grading.
- MT 10.0 - ABSOLUTELY PERFECT - HAS NOT ONE SINGLE FLAW
- Mint - 9.9 (Only 1 very very subtle Bindery defect allowed )
- Near Mint - 9.8 (Only minor imperfections (such as an almost unnoticeable interior page tear (under 1/32 of an inch) or a small inconspicuous date stamp (must be very well hidden almost unno-ticeable)
- NM+ 9.6 - Same as 9.8 but with small almost imperceptible inden-tations allowed and/or slight staple discoloration.
- NM 9.4 - Same as 9.6 but with an up to 1/16 inch bend without any colour break (no white showing through the colour) also ever-so-slight blunting of the corners and a few VERY SLIGHT stress lines.
- NM- 9.2 - Same as above but page colour may be off-white to cream in colour and that 1 cover crease can be 1/16 to 1/8 inch with no colour break allowed.
- VF/NM 9.0 - 1/8 inch bend with no colour break, very minor fox-ing allowed, small amount of cover wear, several date stamps and or small hidden initials allowed, slight staple tears allowed - Minor Accumulation of stress lines allowed and some very minor interior tears allowed.
- VF+ 8.5 - 1/4 inch cover crease with no colour break allowed, Minor spine split with some minor colour break allowed, Some slightly more noticeable stress lines allowed and paper can be Cream to Tan but must remain supple.
- VF 8.0 - Same as 8.5 but with some very very minor spine roll -- Must lay almost completely flat.
- VF- 7.5 - Same as 8.0 but cover can have light cover soiling and some interior pages can have corner slight tears - Also cover can have some corner wear.
- F/VF 7.0 - Moderate reduction of cover reflectivity - minor creas-es allowed, minor foxing, interior cover yellowing, date stamps - initials - and store stamps are allowed, Slight rust migration allowed, Blunted corners, minor margin tears on interior pages allowed -- More and deeper stress lines allowed.
- FN+ 6.5 - up to 1/4 inch spine split or severe colou break are allowed -- Minor spine rolls allowed and cover can have minor discoloration, staining and/or foxing as well as minor to moderate cover creases.
- FN 6.0 - same as 6.5 But with a loose but attached centrefold.
- FN- 5.5 - Same as above but with some Marvel Chipping present as well as some bundling ridges and minor abraded edges - also light pencil marks possible.
- VG/FN 5.0 - Low cover gloss possible minor to moderate dimples and creases Present, up to 1/2 inch spine split, Moderate Rolling of the spine - May also have the beginning of an acid oder.
- VG+ 4.5 - Cover wear is moderate to significant - cover may be loose... Cover may be faded staples discoloured, moderate staple tears up to 1" spine split, moderate stress lines moderate interior tears minor oder minor repairs and up to a 1/4 inch triangle or 1/8 square missing (must not effect story) + Pages can be brown but not brittle.
- VG 4.0 - same as above but with heavy spine wear and brown staining on cover - also some pen and/or pencil writing is common but should not be excessive.
- VG- 3.5 - same as 4.0 but with frayed edges, Oxidation shadows on the cover and Larger cover creases - with many dimples and abraded corners.
- G/VG 3.0 - Very low or no cover gloss, cover may be detached on one staple, 1 1/2 inch spine split, Interior tears and larger up to 1/2 inch chunks missing (must not effect story) - staples may have been replaced and book length creases may be present.
- GD+ 2.5 - same as 3.0 but may have detached (but present) centrefold or cover and rounded corners.
- GD 2.0 - up to 2" spine split, Significant cover ware heavily rolled spine, rust migration on to the book, Acid oder -- BUT MUST BE FULLY READABLE.
- GD- 1.8 - Major writing, heavy staining and light water dam-age possible.
- FR/GD 1.5 - Cover - Creases tears and folds, May be de-tached and with considerable wear and staining - up to 1/10 of the back cover may be missing - one missing staple is acceptable and massive rust migration.
- FR 1.0 - Cut Coupons (may effect story slightly) Chunks of cover missing centrefold may be missing, pages may be brittle, many tears and folds and creases are very large and many - Cover may be crumpled
- PR 0.5 - Massive water damage, Major damage affecting most of the book (i.e. Dog chewed it) Running ink and Coverless books belong here.
As you can see from this grading guide, there are many grades afforded to the condition of the books that we love and when we want to trade/sell these books to another comic book fan, it is important that we can come to an agreement on what our books are actually worth because let's face it, if you were to grade your own books, no matter how impartial you are and as fair as you try to be, you would still give a favourable grade to your own books and we would most often end up having disputes due to the buyer insisting your book is a lower grade. A 4.0 graded book can be seen as a 3.5 by a prospective buyer. This is where grading companies come in and solve this problem. They will grade your book for a fee and then put that valued book into an encapsulated, state-of-the art, tamper-evident holder, providing superior protection and stability for long term preservation. These third party grading companies will grade your book so that there will not be disputes between a buyer and seller as to the grade of the book. Another key reason for going to them would also be because old golden age/silver age books has a chance to be restored by a professional restorer of comic books, you would have no idea a book has been restored.
A lot of fellow collectors I speak to agree on this one thing. We would hate to know that our treasured book has been modified and restored while thinking that book is an original. Comic book grading companies would ensure that books that have been restored have a different coloured label to make sure that collectors know that book has been restored. As a key comic collector that spends thousands every month on comics, this is especially important to me because I would not want to spend top dollar and end up having disputes with my regular sellers resulting in poor relationships with my dealers most of which are in the United States.
The holders these comics are placed in look great and also makes for great displaying purposes from a glass cabinet to showcase your collection. You also would not be worried your friends would touch your comic and damage it because it is already in a plastic holder which is definitely harder and better protected than just the standard poly bag and backing board method of storing your comics. Unfortunately, once a book is encapsulated, you can no longer read it which is why I normally buy a readable comic book in a poorer condition to be able to continue reading it. This way, you would not have to miss out on reading the book that you encapsulated. You can also opt to purchase a digital version of the story online from the comic book publisher. These are now widely available for a small fee. Comic books first and foremost are still meant to be read so for unimportant is-sues (those that do not contain first appearances), I do not purchase or send these books for grading as I enjoy reading my books. I hope this article helps people understand why there is a need for slabbing and grading comic books and I hope it clarifies a lot of misunderstanding about slabbing and also comic book grading (which is why I provided a grading scale guide in this article).
There are currently a few com-panies doing comic book grading. The three most notable companies would be CGC (Certified Guaranty Company), PGX and CBCS (Comic book certification service).
To conclude, slabbing provides a piece of mind to a trader and fellow collector that he is getting his prized book at the grade he wants and it eliminates the need to have disputes which can turn ugly sometimes. Happy collecting!