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Comic Culture: To Grade or Not to Grade?

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By a show of internet hands, how many of you have heard of graded comics? If you are reading this column, then I am going to go ahead and assume that most of you have. So, here’s another question though: how many of you own, or have purchased graded comics? That number might be a little smaller, and in my opinion, for good reason. Graded comics are a curious beast, and thus, one I would like to examine this week.

When I went to my first convention 10 years ago I had never heard of graded comics, seen them, or had any knowledge of them. After being thrown to the fire (so to speak), I was quickly convinced to jump on the bandwagon and paid to have a few books graded at a company’s booth right at the convention. All of the books I paid to have graded were signed by creators at the convention, so it felt like a good idea at the time to preserve them. As I alluded to before, at this specific point in time I had no real knowledge of the specifics of the whole grading process. So as a courtesy, here’s a quick primer for the uninitiated.

In a nutshell, you pay a service provider like Certified Guaranty Company (CGC) or PGX Comic Grading Services a set price per book you want to have graded; this fee depends on the age of the book as well as the value of the book. The cost per book can be anywhere from $10-$100 and if you need to ship your books to them, then you have to pay a shipping and handling fee as well. In return, they grade your book on a scale of 1-10 using a decimal system, and also vacuum package it in a hard plastic case for safe-keeping. A grade of 10 is considered mint condition, and is almost near impossible to find. Even most books that come right off the presses don’t get higher than a 9.8 or maybe a 9.9. There are also three different classifications to grading, each with different standards. They are the Universal Grade (most common), Qualified Grade (more rare and special books) and the Signature Series Grade (a representative needs to be present at a signing to authenticate this classification). No matter the grade or classification, either way, having your comic graded definitely increases the value because it proves the quality and authenticity of it. In my case my gut was right and I made the right decision to have those comics graded at the convention. Not because I wanted to sell them, but because I wanted to preserve them. It was also very convenient to have that option right at the convention, so in the end, it just made sense.

Grading companies are few and far between and more often than not you’re going to need to ship your books to have them graded. This idea leaves me a little leery, especially if you may be shipping some really old, rare, or expensive books. It’s not that I don’t trust the Post Office, Fed Ex or UPS but we could be talking about a lot of money here. So, my first bit of advice is this: if you want to get some books graded and you have the ability to do it at a convention, DO IT. This will save you potentially large shipping and handling fees as well as give you peace of mind that your books aren’t lost in transit somewhere. The other bit of advice I can offer is that if you are going to get comics graded at a convention, make sure to do it at the beginning of the convention. These companies only take a set number of orders per convention and they do fill up fast. As the convention continues they will occasionally still take orders, but it becomes harder for them to get them graded in time for you to pick up at the end of the convention. This brings us back full circle to my apprehension with shipping books.

CGC vs PGX

“Incredible Hulk #116” graded by both PGX (top) and CGC (bottom). Notice the label differences.

With those things in mind, some of you may be wondering when it makes sense to get some comics graded. That’s the most important question that needs to be asked, as well as answered. Well, in my honest opinion, there are only two reasons to shell out the money to get a book graded and they are as follows:

  1. It is rare, old or valuable and you want to sell it to a buyer.
  2. It is rare, old or valuable and you want to preserve it for yourself.

For my money, those are the only two reasons to get a book graded. Because getting a book graded is not cheap, it’s hard to justify spending x dollars on your Issue #19 of Chew which is probably only worth face value. Yes, as I stated before, getting a book graded will inherently increase it’s value, but if the book’s not rare, old or valuable in the beginning then it won’t increase by that much and you probably just threw money down the drain when you didn’t need to. Getting books graded is also not easy; it takes time and effort, so please make sure whatever you want to get graded is worth the trouble. Lastly and most importantly, with any situation, make sure you know what you are getting into, especially if you decide to ship your books. Ultimately your books will probably make it there and back just fine, but there’s always that chance that something could go wrong. And sometimes, it does. That’s just the way it is.

Before I sign off for this week I wanted to give you the links to the two largest and most reputable grading companies. Please feel free to check out their sites and poke around a bit. I have had the most experience with CGC, who put out a great product, but have also heard great things about PGX. In the end, you’re probably fine using either.

Happy grading and happy reading.

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