Let's Talk Comics

 
 
Let's Talk Comics
With Rob Lamberti
Two gringos stare each other in the eye.
 
A drop of sweat trickles down the forehead of one hombre and it slowly curls its way into an eye. The salt stings, forcing him to make the first move.
 
Pow! That comic is a Fine grade.
 
Wham! No way, replies the other, it's a Very Good.
 
And that argument between those two grades is worth at least a 10 per cent difference in the market price of a comic book.
 
Grading is the crux of the comic collectables markets. I have been in enough “discussions” about grades and what to charge that I have made enough enemies to roster a storyline in a Bat-Man annual.
 
I remember almost exploding at a so-called dealer at a collectables show who was trying to peddle a very good Golden Age comic for the mint price, a difference of hundreds of dollars. I showed him the price guide, but he only shrugged his shoulders. I left wondering how many people he scammed over the years.
 
So, just how much is that comic book in the window?
 
Well, it depends on a lot of things, including overall condition and supply and demand. Of course, the secret dream is that at least one book a collector owns is worth a gazillion dollars.
 
Central to collecting any paper item like comics, stamps or trading cards, is condition. And comic collectors are among the most - how should we say this without being rude? - finicky and subjective.
 
There is a broad range of grades for comic books. In an ascending order, the list is Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good, Fine, Very Fine, Near Mint, Mint, Gem Mint. There are also graduations to the grades between Good and Mint, for example Good Minus or Good Plus. A Good Plus means the book isn't quite a Good/Very Good, which is lower than a Very Good Minus, but it's better than Good.
 
Confused? Don't worry, it takes time and practice to figure it out, but it is imperative to know and understand grading so you won't be ripped off when buying or selling a book. This outline is meant as a starting point to understanding the difficult business of grading comics, and expect to make a few enemies along the way to true enlightenment.
 
The comics trade bible Overstreet was probably the first to outline grade descriptions. As grading became more of a pseudo-science than an opinion, grades were codified, with 10 being the highest.
 
If you are going to get into this hobby, being well versed in grading is a must. Get an Overstreet price guide so that all of the grade variances are at your fingertips. Remember, when grading the overall condition of the book must be taken into account, inside and out. Some account may be taken for older books, but as Overstreet says, “take care not to allow wishful thinking to influence … the choice of grade.”
 
Let's take a brief look at some of the grades, starting from the top.
 
A 10, or Gem Mint, is like the Holy Grail; maybe it's out there, but it hasn't been found. There's always a fault to be found.
 
Mint, or 9.9, books are almost perfect. There is no wear, the cover is flat and the inks reflective, pages are white, corners are sharp, the spine tight, the staples original and the book is centred.
 
Near Mint-Mint. also described as 9.8, has only minor imperfections to prevent it from being listed in the higher category. Overstreet says “only the slightest interior tears are allowed.”
 
Near Mint Plus includes 9.6 and 9.7 and it allows for a single corner to be “almost imperceptibly blunted,” according to Overstreet. No bindery tears are allowed, although older books from the Golden Age have been given a bye among some collectors.
 
At 9.4 and 9.5, or Near Mint, comics have minor bindery defects. The older books can have some minor bindery tears, no more than one-sixteenth of an inch in Silver Age books and no more than one-quarter inch in a Golden Age book.
 
Near Mint Minus - 9.2 and 9.3 - is still almost perfect, but has enough defects that keep out of the higher graduations. It could include lightly penciled or stamped arrival dates placed by distributors, which was common before the 1970s, as long as they are in inconspicuous spots in the book. The spine is tight, but there may be some discolouration in the staples. Paper is off-white, maybe cream coloured. Dealers will ask for at least 100% of the guide price at this grade.
 
At 9.0, the grade is also known as Very Fine-Near Mint. This grade allows for a nearly perfect book, where the cover is almost flat with almost no wear. Very minor stress lines in the paper are accepted. While corners are sharp, some subtle blunting to the corners is permitted. Tiny tears around the staples are permitted.
 
Let's skip a few graduations to Very Fine, or 8.0. This grade has a number of minor bindery and printing flaws, but is well preserved and flat. The corners aren't sharp, but they are not rounded either.
 
At 6.0 is Fine, defined as having minor cover wear. Minor staining and inks are losing their reflective luster. It's at this grade where my pet peeve - loose centerfolds - may occur. I hate loose centerfolds. A Fine is about 30% of the Near Mint Minus (NM-) price.
 
Very Good is at 4.0. This is a well-loved, well-read comic. There are blunted corners, name stamps, dealer stamps, fading colours, foxing caused by sunlight, and some minor pieces can be missing from the corner of a page. Can be a spine split of no more than one inch. This is the grade where my other pet peeve can occur: the centerfold detached at one staple. I hate detached centerfolds. A Very Good is about 20% of the Near Mint Minus price.
 
Good, or 2.0, is considered a reading copy and is about 10% of the Near Mint Minus price. Very well worn, with significant wear and the cover may even be detached. I hate detached covers. Some dealers will allow tape repairs in this grade, others don't. I don't. I hate tape repairs.
 
Fair is also known as 1.0. Covers detached or torn, pages detached, creases, tears, dull-looking inks, soiling and stains. But the book is complete and is worth about 6% of the NM- price.
 
Poor at 0.5, is just that: poor. It has little or no collector value. Pages and covers could be missing, brittle paper and pieces of pages cut out.
 
From Rob's collection:
 
 
My copy of Fantastic Four 10, the third appearance of Dr. Doom in the series, is what I would grade as Very Good. There's a lot of stress, wear and some tears along the spine, but the book is intact. When opened, the pages lay flat. Colours are somewhat muted as the book has been well-read. In mint, the book would sell for more than $3,600 U.S., while a Very Good should be offered at around $280. Note there is a crease by the hand of Dr. Doom, disguised as being Mr.Fantastic. There is also a close-up of the spine.
 
 
My copy of Mystery in Space 37 is a very well read book and I would grade as Good. This comic is graced with artwork by comic greats Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane. The spine is well worn and there is a tear along the spine between the bottom and the lower spine, about 1 1/2 inches. There are also some creases.There are moisture stains along the bottom on the front cover and some on the back cover. There is a close-up of a water stain by the alien's three-toed foot on the lower right of the cover. The back cover by the lower spine also shows water stains and is blunted. There is a tear along the crease from the bottom to the lower spine. In Near Mint this book would sell for at least $525 U.S., while in Good, $24.
 
Next column: Crime comics
 
Let's Talk Comics with Rob Lamberti, who started collecting comics when the going price was 12 cents an issue and Peter Parker really was a teenager. He dabbled in the comic convention circuit in the Toronto area for a while, but stopped to concentrate on his career as a not-so-mild-mannered crime reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, where he hoped he managed to record a little bit of history the past three decades. You can reach Rob at lamberti@cogeco.ca
 
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