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Grading Comics and the Difficulty of Doing So

Saturday, January 11, 2020 12:08:19 PM
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Recently I received two messages from two different buyers. One here on CCL and the other on eBay.

The buyer here exclaimed at how happy they were by my grading. Said it's nice to see someone pay attention to detail.

The buyer from eBay said that I had no idea what I was doing, the book wasn't even close to being VF. (Side note: I had six of those books listed, all in the same condition. The other five sold to different buyers with no complaints).

To me, the hardest part of this job that I have chosen is grading comics. As we all know, that is a very subjective skill to master. Before I started selling comics and was just collecting them I really had no idea what the grades even meant. I mean, I knew what they were but didn't really know the minutiae behind them.

Once I got into the business I didn't have anything to do with grading as we had people for that. I did start to learn some of the basics back then even though I did have a bad teacher at one point who taught me some unfortunate habits that I have since abandoned. I eventually got a better instructor and have been refining my technique ever since.

When I first started my own store I made a lot of grading mistakes. At first the store was just a hobby but eventually it became a prime source of income and my grading habits became better as well. A couple of years ago I went through my inventory and delisted all of the Gold and Silver Age books that I had because I had been noticing some of the grades weren't exactly correct. Since then I have been slowly regrading and relisting them to be more accurate.

I have noticed that some were wildly off and I'm like, "What was I thinking?" but some were right on. The majority were close, either a grade to a grade and a half off, in either direction. I'm glad I did it even though I'm still not done because now at least I feel more comfortable with their grades.

I love pretty much everything about being in the comic book selling business. Give me a box or 12 of unsorted comics and I can whip right through them. Give me two or more sorted collections and I can merge them in no time flat. Heck, I even like putting bags and boards together. Grading however, gives me the heebie-jeebies.

That's definitely the reason why it takes me so long to list new comics, because I spend so much time trying to get the grade right. Sometimes I will agonize over a book, "Should I go with VF or VF-?". Then I usually go with the lower grade. I very rarely list anything in the NM range anymore because it makes me nervous. The book has to look spectacular for me to do that.

The process I use to grade is thus:

I always have a Grading Guide open just in case. I've read the descriptions hundreds of times but I still like to have it handy. Take the book out of the bag if it is in one. Get a first impression. Look at the front cover for creases, indentations, rips. Look at the corners, edges and spine for flaws. Turn to back cover and repeat. Flip through book taking notice of page color, dog ears, centerfold staples in particular. The entire time rounding my first impression either up or down.

I sit in a chair and have a lamp that hangs down so that the light shines just below eye level. That helps with determining glossiness, color breaks, etc. I try to take a break from grading at least once an hour. Get up, walk around, rub my eyes, get a glass of water, just relax a little. I try not to go too long. I find that if I sit here grading for 5-6 hours then I make more mistakes in the last hour than I should be. Also it starts taking longer because of fatigue, glazed eyes, neck pain.

Now obviously I'm not going to spend 10 minutes grading a dollar comic. I still look at it and try to be as accurate as possible but I'm not going to put as much time into it as something that I am going to sell for $100. Or $20. Or even $5. I still strive to be as precise as possible no matter the value.

Anyway, that's my spiel for now. I am always trying to improve and I think that I have. As always, if anyone has an issue with the grade of a comic that you purchased from me please let me know. I do accept constructive criticism and I want to know if I have made a mistake so that I can learn and grow from it.

Howie's Saying of the Week

It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it - Joseph Joubert

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Sunday, January 12, 2020 3:04:05 PM
Rank: Celestial
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We can thank CGC and the Comic Book Mafia for tightening grading standards to ridiculous levels. I used to think CGC tightening grading standards was just a pet conspiracy theory, but recently I found some old blogs from Chuck Rozanski from the early 2000's decrying pretty much the same thing.

Take a book and show it to several collectors and they may all agree it's around 8.0. Send it in to CGC and it comes back 6.0.

Basically you have two types of graders now. Those that still subscribe to the old ways of grading, and those "autere" collectors whon are all about slabbing and pressing.

The hard part is grading to appeal to both crowds while not devaluing your inventory needlessly. I've found most CCL buyers are agreeable to how I grade, while the ebay crowd is more likely to complain. Which is weird, because all ebay listings have pics of the actual comic. If they don't agree with the letter grade, just look at the picture and make up your own mind. But no. They buy the book and then complain it doesn't match the description (in their opinion), despite being able to look at the pics that may say otherwise.
Sunday, January 12, 2020 9:21:56 PM
Rank: Beyonder
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Grading is a pain. I never go over NM, but most of my stuff is NM or better and Inknow that, cause unlikena lot of you, this is all just my personal collection and not stuff that's changed hands a few times.

Of course, I'm the same as you Howie when I stumble over something that was missed while I'm packing an order. Doesn't happen much but once or twice a year.

At the risk of getting this thread off topic, I agree with Corey that CGC has made it all worse. Not only are there examples like he mentions of undergrading things, but inconsistently or outright incorrectly grading things.

While I get the concept in principle of a 3rd party grade on high value books, they have also created what I believe to be a horribly artificial market. The best example to me is what I've seen happen at valiantfans.com over the last 20 years.

That went from a site for fans of the old 90s books trying to get one of each and the handful of variants. Over the last few years, as these collectors have completed "raw" collections many have started working towards high grade collections of books otherwise worthless. Getting generic issues pressed and cleaned because most of the 200,000 copies of Ninjak #3 no one wants have made for lesser copies. To me, it seems like they have not only created a marketplace to sell this stuff but they also are the ones sustaining it. I struggle to believe there are numerous folks outside this group buying up high end versions of Rai #0 or Eternal Warrior #4 because of a garbage looking Bloodshot movie. They are just shuffling money between the same hundred people every month

So, yeah, grading has become an evil. Yes, I'd only like copies of book that, historically, 9/10 collectors would call VF or better. I never expect, nor care, that it will be a 9.8 slab. Sadly, that's what a lot of these "scalpers" are focused on.
Wednesday, January 15, 2020 9:38:15 PM
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Some of the items that I graded years ago I still have listed as NM, just because I've never gotten around to changing them. I never grade anything over VF/NM anymore, however, even if I can't find a single flaw.

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