Imagine you’ve hit the jackpot and found a Hulk #181 in a box in your grandpa’s attic. After your happy dance (don’t fall through the ceiling), what should you do next? Any serious comic collector will immediately have Wolverine’s first appearance graded and slabbed. You want to know what exactly your comic is worth, and keep it that way, right?
Grading and slabbing, as means to assessing and protecting value, is obviously an important part of the collecting experience. Unfortunately, it can also be filled with jargon and nuance that can be intimidating, especially if you are new to collecting. In this series, we will explore this process by first examining what exactly grading and slabbing is in general, and then dig into the specifics of the three primary grading companies: Certified Guaranty Corporation (CGC), Comic Book Certification Service (CBCS), and Professional Grading Experts (PGX).
To begin, a grade, as the term is commonly used, is really a combination of two key pieces of information: the numeric grade (or potentially letter grade, in CGC’s case) and the label type/color. Together, these represent the overall condition and state of the comic, which implies its value.
For our purposes, we are going to consider the entire grade and slab process to be accomplished in three stages: assessment, grading, and encapsulation.
Your Hulk #181 has arrived in the hands of an expert at one of the grading companies. In the initial assessment stage, the comic will be evaluated for its authenticity--is it really a Hulk #181--and whether any restoration work has been performed. Rumor has it the grading companies all have specially trained glue-and-tape sniffing dogs looking for shoddy restoration work. As you might imagine, this step is absolutely crucial because this weeds out any sort of forgeries or other underhanded work. These will generally be rejected, while restored comics will continue to the grading step with notes about what repairs have been performed.
Grading is the second investigation a comic goes through, this time to evaluate the condition of the comic cover and pages. A grader must comb over a book in very minute detail, looking for myriad imperfections like wear, tears, rounded corners, marks, page color (e.g. fading or yellowing), and any other sort of damage. Once complete, the grade and label can be assigned to the comic using the data compiled during the assessment and grading evaluations.
Generally a book receives a number ranging from 0.1 (CBCS and PGX) or 0.5 (CBC) to 10. Why no 0? Don’t ask, the last person that did ended up making a deal with Mephisto to give up his marriage to undo the question. The scale goes from worst to best, in irregular increments of tenths (e.g. 1.0, 1.5, 1.8 etc.), with 10 representing a perfect comic, essentially hot off the press with minimal handling. Vintage comics, for example, are virtually impossible to find with a 10 due to aging and use over such a long period.
For a more detailed look at how grades are tied to condition, see https://www.comicburst.com/condition-and-grade.
Keep in mind grading is performed by humans and is a very subjective process. Two experts can and will grade a comic differently and none of the grading companies guarantee a comic would be graded the same way twice. Keep this in mind when buying or selling a graded comic, since the differences between a 9.6 and 9.8, for example, are slim and open for interpretation.
Labels and Colors
Accompanying the grade is a label color to denote additional information about condition, mainly qualifiers about signatures and restorations. We will explore each company’s specifics in the future entries of this series.
After your comic has been examined, used for bathroom reading material, graded, and labeled--we’re not 100% sure on that second part--your comic will be slabbed, or “encapsulated” as the companies prefer to say. The process is unique to each company, but basically the comic is placed in a protective, tamper proof case that acts as a sort of time capsule. As long as the slab remains unopened, the comic is preserved in the state at the time of grading, and the grade itself remains valid. A label with the identified comic, grade, color, grading notes (i.e. why the comic isn’t a 10) and possibly other information is included inside the protective case. The labels, like the slabbing process, is unique to each company, but generally include technology like like foils and holograms to prevent counterfeiting.
On a final note, this article has focused on the perspective of valuing a comic for your collection. Grading and slabbing is also important when buying or selling, because it gives each party a base for negotiation and an assurance of exactly what is being sold. Without the need to debate authenticity and condition, a graded and slabbed comic will be given a premium price over a “raw” comic and be quicker and easier to sell.
That is all for Part 1 of this series, join us as we take a look at the specifics of each grading company's labels.
Part 2 CGC’s graded comics labels
Part 3 CBCS's new updated label designs
Part 4 PGX's graded comics labels