Comic Books: “To Grade or Not To Grade?” How to decide…

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Professional comic book grading and preservation has been around for less than a decade, but since being introduced in early 2000, it has revolutionized the way collectors buy, sell and protect their comic books.

In circumstances where the condition of a comic book is an important aspect of a transaction, there is very little room for differences of opinion. What one collector considers a minor, insignificant flaw, another collector may consider a serious defect (Of course, one’s opinion tends to vary, depending on if you’re on the buying or selling end of a transaction). To eliminate this dilemma, many comic book collectors rely on third party, professional grading.

By using predefined, established standards, a third party grading company can remove much of the subjectivity out of evaluating a comic book’s physical condition, and provide collectors with an unbiased, impartially graded collectable. And as an added bonus of the grading process, comic books submitted for grading are protected and preserved in a tamper-proof, clear case (also referred to as slabbing).

Clearly, professional grading is a valuable and necessary component of today’s comic book collecting market. But is grading always the best option for collectors?

The purpose of this guide is to help you decide if professional grading is the best option for the comic books in your collection.

Professionally Graded Comic Books and eBay

There’s no question that professionally graded comic books have surged in popularity as a direct result of eBay sales and other transactions where a buyer is unable to personally examine a book before committing to a purchase.

There are currently two companies that provide professional grading and slabbing services:

  • Comics Guaranty, LLC (CGC)
  • Professional Grading eXperts, LLC (PGX)

Both companies offer similar services. Both companies also appear to use similar standards in grading. However, as evident from the thousands of graded comic book listings that can be found on eBay, currently, a preference within the comic book community tends to favor CGC. At any given time, eBay users are likely to find more listings, higher bids, and more successful listings for CGC graded books as opposed to PGX graded books (As a result, this guide will focus primarily on CGC grading).

Why Submit Your Comic Books To Be Graded?

The answer to that question can be broken down into two basic motives that drive collectors to submit their comic books to be professionally graded:

  • Grading to raise the value of a book and prepare the item for sale
  • Grading to enhance and protect a collector’s personal collection

Both motives are valid reasons to submit a comic book for professional grading. BUT... That being said, not all comic books are good candidates for professional grading.

Grading to raise the value of a book and prepare the item for sale

Professional grading can add hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to the selling price of a comic book. But at $15 - $79 per book, professional grading can be a costly and unnecessary expense if a book receives a less then desirable grade. This in no way implies that if a seller thinks a book is going to get a low grade, the book is not worth being professionally graded.

For example:
Copies of rare books such as Action Comics #1 or Amazing Fantasy #15 are desirable in any grade.
But a copy of any heavily-distributed book released within the last year, graded below 9.6, has pretty much no resale value to the average comic book collector.

Desirable in any grade...

Sellers should always self-evaluate the condition of a book and determine if the guesstimated grade, in combination with other criteria, are enough to make a book a good candidate for professional grading.

Guesstimate the Grade before Seeking Profession Help

A guesstimated grade can be determined using a 10 point scale such as the grading scale referenced in the eBay Comics Buying Guide. Sellers should always be extremely critical when judging the condition of the books they intend to sell. Any flaw- no matter how small- should be evaluated. This will provide the seller with a best educated guess as to the professional grade the book may receive (due-diligence in self evaluating a comic book will also allow a seller to list an ungraded item with an honestly evaluated description).
Sometimes, a book’s potential grade may be all the information a seller needs to determine whether to move forward with submitting a comic book for grading. Books published within the last 20-25 years typically will only benefit from grading if the book receives a high (9.2+ average) grade. The book may still be desirable in a lower grade, but having the book graded will most likely only eat into profits (due to the costs of grading) rather than increase the book’s selling price.
But even if a book published within the last 25 years is likely to receive a high grade, this does not automatically make the book desirable. Potential high grade books from the last 25 years, and older books (at any grade), should be evaluated further to determine their desirability.

Will buyers want it?

Assessing a likely grade is only part of the process in determining if a book should be professionally graded. To be considered desirable to potential buyers, a book should also have one or more of the attributes below:

Rarity- A book is usually considered rare due to low initial circulation or shrinkage of the supply available to collectors due to passage of time. One way to gauge the rarity of a book is by looking at previous eBay sales. If a book doesn’t appear on the market very often or if it sells consistently well, this may be an indication of rarity (or it may be an indication of high demand- another plus in favor of having a book graded).
A book can also be desirable due to a short supply in higher grades (the census for all graded books can be verified by using the census search feature found on the CGC website,
Age can be a contributing factor to a book’s rarity- In most circumstances, due to readily available product, a new release (comic book published within the last five years) with a guesstimated grade below 9.6 will not benefit from professional grading. Also, due to the glut of product in the ‘80s and ‘90s, most of these books are only desirable in higher grades. Older books are more readily acceptable in lower grades.
Whatever the reason for a book’s short supply, rarity is an important criterion in-favor of having a book graded.

Collectible Significance- A book has to have a degree of importance to collectors. Significant attributes include:

  • First appearances
  • First issues
  • Death of a character
  • Numerical milestones (i.e. issue #100)
  • Involvement of popular creator(s)
  • Variants

1st app. Ras Al Ghul

Books having these attributes tend to raise the interest of collectors, and are usually good candidates for grading.

Current popularity- Books from a particular series (i.e. Civil War), featuring certain characters (i.e. Moon Knight) or trends (i.e. Zombies) that are experiencing a surge in popularity may be grade-worthy. But sellers need to be careful. The demand for popular or “hot” books can have a short shelf-life. As a result, by the time a book is submitted, then returned from the grading company, collectors may have already moved on to the next “hot” book.
Under ideal circumstances, a seller would be able to forecast the likelihood of an increased demand for a particular comic book and, as a result, would get a book graded, returned, and listed to coincide with the peek of this demand.

Something to Consider…
If a seller was unable to predict demand for a book he/she owns, but still wants the book graded quickly, to allow for quick placement on the seller’s market, the seller may want to consider PGX as an alternative to CGC. At the time of this writing, PGX’s advertised turnaround time (17 days for modern books) posted on their website is shorter than CGC’s advertised turnaround time (20 days for modern books). This could give a seller an edge when reacting to an unexpected demand for a “hot” book (Of course, there’s always the issue of PGX’s lesser name-recognition among collectors that may offset a seller’s desire for quicker service).

Be Ready- Forecast Future Trends

Because of the costs involved, most sellers must be selective with the books they choose to have professionally graded. Unless a book is an obvious classic such as The Incredible Hulk 181 or The Amazing Spider-man 129, it can be difficult to decide what books to submit for professional grading until a current catalyst sparks a trend- making a book a “hot” buy for collectors. Savvy sellers are able to recognize these catalysts and have their books graded and ready for sale as buyers begin to react to the trend.

Fan websites such as,, and are great sources of daily information about the comic book industry. And monthly magazines such as Comics Buyer’s Guide and Wizard: The Magazine of Comics, Entertainment and Pop Culture are wonderful print sources of comic book news. Both magazines have price guides that include listings for CGC graded books. Both magazines also include articles filled with industry news.

An astute comic book seller should make use of the news from these websites and magazines to help gauge collectors’ interests and forecast which books may be good candidates for grading. At the end of the day, all sellers want to turn a profit from the sale of their books. If none of the criteria mentioned above are present to warrant current demand for a particular comic book, and there is no indication of future demand, then having the book graded would simply be a waste of money.

Grading to enhance and protect a collector’s personal collection

If you’re interested in grading as a means to enhance or protect a private collection, without intentions of selling items from that collection, then the selling criteria above is only as relevant as you feel is necessary for the type of collection you wish to build. Without concern for a return on investment, collectors can feel free to have their books graded at-will.

Some collectors take pride in having a high-grade collection of a particular series or individual books. Other collectors are interested in preserving books that have nostalgic or sentimental value. The tamper-proof, clear slab used to preserve the condition of a professionally graded comic book is a great way to enhance and protect your collection. (Note: Though slabbing can protect a book from damage as a result of handling, slabbed books are still susceptible to fading due to exposure to light. As a result, these books should always be stored, out of direct light.)

In the case of grading as a means of protection, collectors may want to consider having their books graded by PGX. With lower prices, PGX could be more economical than submitting books to CGC. In today’s market, PGX graded books may not be as popular as CGC graded books, but as far as protection is concerned, the two companies offer similar (negligibly distinguishable) services. And as more collectors discover and use PGX, the company may soon become a viable grading alternative for sellers, as well as, those interested in grading private collections.

One Little Problem…

The one obvious drawback with professionally graded and slabbed books is the fact that once the book is encased, it can no longer be opened and read without voiding the assigned grade. For many collectors, forfeiting the ability to read their favorite comic book, to preserve its condition, is an unappealing trade-off. But there’s always hope…

   Miracleman 15 graded                               ungraded                               Trade Paperback       

If costs and/or availability are not an issue, collectors can obtain ungraded, reading copies or reprints (single issue, trade paperback or hardcover) of their slabbed comic books. This will allow collectors to continue to enjoy the story and admire the art now encased between the pages of their slabbed books.

The Decision Is All Yours. Choose Wisely…

Because there are so many factors that go into the decision to grade or not to grade a comic book, each comic book needs to be evaluated individually. I hope this guide is useful in helping you decide whether your books are good candidates for professional grading.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, and be sure to read my blog and other guides.

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