CGC: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly


Ever buy a comic by mail and realize that once you inspected it, itís not exactly the grade advertised? Ever try to sell a comic and get into a debate with the buyer if the book was NM- or VF+? Well, a new company offers an opportunity for both buyer and seller to achieve an amicable solution. The company is Comics Guaranty LLC (CGC), the newest independent member of the Certified Collectibles Group of companies.


Who is the CGC?

The Certified Collectibles Group is an umbrella organization consisting of Numismatic Guaranty Corporation of America (NGC), a grading service of rare coins, Sportscard Guaranty LLC (SGC), which grades sports cards and now CGC which began operations in grading comic books earlier this year.

CGC is headquarted in Parsippany, NJ and is headed by president Steve Eichenbaum. Their website can be found [www.cgccomics.com] or you can call them toll-free at 1-877-NM-COMIC. CGC has a unique policy which does not allow its employees to engage in the commercial buying or selling of comic books. By doing this, CGC remains impartial with no vested interest other than serving clients through accurate and consistent grading.

When a book arrives at their facility, it is opened under a high-res digital camera to guarantee no damage has occurred during shipping or when removed from itís packaging. The book is labeled, entered into a database, and then goes into a climate controlled safe, a room-sized secure area that is the central holding area for all books being certified.

When the book is ready for examination, it undergoes an initial page count, content and restoration check, description of the bookís notable characteristics, and finally is given a CGC grade. The grade is a compilation of three graderís opinions which is finalized by primary grader, Steve Borock. The book is then encapsulated (or slabbed) with a color-coded bar (restored books get a label of a different color than non-restored) and label with information regarding the bookís condition, contents and restoration state.

CGC uses a ten point grading scale:

10.0 (Mint)   9.9 (Mint)   9.8 (NM/Mint)   9.6 (Near Mint+)   9.4 (Near Mint)
9.2 (Near Mint-)   9.0 (Very Fine/NM)   8.5 (Very Fine+)   8.0 (Very Fine)
7.5 (Very Fine-)   7.0 (Fine/VF)   6.5 (Fine+)   6.0 (Fine)   5.5 (Fine-)
5.0 (VG/Fine)   4.5 (Very Good+)   4.0 (Very Good)   3.5 (Very Good-)
3.0 (Good/VG)   2.5 (Good+)   2.0 (Good)   1.8 (Good-)   1.5 (Fair/Good)
1.0 (Fair)   0.5 (Poor).

What sounds like a safe and effective way to guarantee grading, may actually be a three headed viper. One being good, the second being bad, and the third ... ugly.


THE GOOD...

Each comic graded adheres to CGC standards, preserving the integrity, quality, and confidentiality of the grading process. Their durable tamper-evident holder utilizes cutting-edge technologies to provide the best protection for your books. It is lightweight, making for easy storage, and displays comprehensive info about the book and its grade.

The two key benefits CGC offers to the consumer are:

  1. A consistent market standard which will allow both buyer and seller the ability to trade with more confidence by mail, phone, or via net, because they'll know what to expect of a CGC graded comic.
  2. A thorough restoration check. When detected, restoration is specifically noted on the grading label, or visible through a different colored label.
Mark Wilson of Worldsfinest Comics, a charter member of CGC, agrees:
"The restoration check alone is worth the money. What does a collector get? A book that has been inspected thoroughly. Checked to make sure all pages are there, no coupons cut, checked for any type of restoration, and graded to an acceptable standard."
He continues:
"...new collectors are entering our hobby who have NO clue how to grade or spot restoration. This is THE TOOL they have been waiting for before they would enter."
Indeed, a universal grading procedure would eliminate fraud, miscommunication, and ill will between the buyer and seller. These are some of the positives one can expect if CGC becomes the industry standard.


THE BAD...

Comic dealers (no matter how devoted a comic enthusiast) are business people. The primary goal of a business is to turn a profit. Very basic economics. CGC and itís associates have certain financial goals to attain and it is the consumer (the fan) who is there to help these businesses meet those goals.

CGC offers five service levels. Prices and estimated turnaround times are: Modern $14 (14 weeks, no maximum value, minimum submission of 4 books), Economy $20 (22 weeks, comic up to $250 value, minimum submission of 3 books), Standard $35 (8 weeks, comic up to $1,000 value), Express $55 (6 days, comic up to $5,000 value), and WalkThru $95 (same day, no limit).

*NOTE: Turnaround times fluctuate depending upon demand. As of this writing, times were substantially longer than normal. CGC will notify you of current estimated turn times when they receive your submission.

In order for a comic to be graded and slabbed by CGC, one must submit their book(s) through one of CGCís dealers or Internet partners such as Amazon.com Auctions, eBay, and Wizard. When CGC offered limited charter membership in July '99, it took only a few weeks for retailers and dealers to fill the one hundred slots available. Some of the most well-known names in fandom are on-board: Sotheby's, Diamond, Wizard World, PCE, Motor City, Harley Yee, Four Color Comics, Metropolis, Motor City, Harley Yee, World's Finest, and Gary Dolgoff.

With such a stable of industry well-knowns, a degree of acceptance comes to CGC. The more the merry, they always say, and as more retailers become CGC friendly, the more it becomes an accepted way to do business in the industry. Many fans, on the other hand, donít see it this way. They believe CGC graded comics are unnecessary and nothing more than a costly showpiece.


Comic Mummification?

"...it's fine for baseball cards and such (seeing as you can still fully enjoy the 'slabbed' card), but comics are an entirely different matter. If the comics community wishes for comics to be treated as actual reading material as opposed to objects, Then nothing good can come from comic mummification," states a concerned comic reader.

If youíre familiar with sports cards or even if youíve watched those home shopping channels (the one where the announcers scream a lot), youíre probably familiar with the term "psa."

PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator) grading for sports cards has become quite the rage of recent years. Like CGC, they follow a ten point grading scale and seal their product in plastic. Like CGC, one must go through an authorized dealer for a fee to have their product graded. The similarities end though with the product itself. While it makes sense for sports cards (or stamps/coins) in becoming encapsulated and put on display, a comic book is more than just itís cover.

Roger Stern (Avengers/Superman) states:

"I buy comics for entertainment and/or research. When I was a boy, I used to read 'em until the covers fell off ... and then, I read 'em some more. I have no personal use for comics that are so sealed away as to prevent their being read."

So if a CGC graded comic is purchased, how does one read it? Thereís two answers. One, you do not. The purchaser would be primarily an investor and not interested in seeing the contents or, two, the comic is removed from the plastic holder.

What? Remove the comic from its holder?

Yes. The CGC holder is designed to allow optimal observation of the comic book inside but they have designed it so it can be opened carefully, allowing safe removal. Problem here is, once the seal is cracked, the CGC holder cannot be resealed and loses its official CGC grade. In order to resell the comic as "CGC graded," one must take the comic back to their offices for re-certification.

When re-certifying the comic, the inner label needs to be returned to CGC for a five dollar re-certification credit. Yes, you read that right. Open the seal and you must pay another fee to get it graded again.

On CGCís website, they have this to say about opening the holder:

"Collectors should remember that the process of certification is designed primarily as a tool for buying and selling that establishes standards in grading consistency for the hobby. Over the years, we believe more collectors will be content to leave a comic in its holder for its protection, and to enhance its liquidity if they decide to sell. Leaving the book in its original CGC holder would prevent the need for re-certification and retain the protective strengths of the holder."

"Enhance the liquidity if they decide to sell?" These comments sound more for the individual who buys comics strictly for a future monetary gain; not the average fan. Asked what he thought about the issue of CGC grading, "X-Men" writer Fabian Nicieza responds:

"I really have no opinion, since it is more a retailer/back issue consumer pricing issue. When I buy back issues, I get Ďem as cheap as possible in crappy condition because they're usually for reference, not for collection or resale."

While there are plenty of valuable comics that should be kept from prying fingers, many modern comic books (of little or no monetary value) are being slabbed and fetching exorbitant prices. This situation leads us to the third aspect of CGC grading.


... THE UGLY

Some may see CGC as a godsend for sellers for they can have an independent third party grade their comics and then get a good price for them. The problem is CGC is not confining itself to "investment" issues. People are getting even poor issues graded by CGC and then in turn are charging higher prices for old beat up back issues that are preserved in a nice glossy package. Many others are encapsulating comics barely in circulation but are promoted as a "collectorís issue" because of a special cover or other novelty.

"CGC? I'm all for it. Think of it this way: slabbed comics can't be read. Comics that get slabbed are almost all bogus "collector's items" from recent years. Almost all of said "collector's items" oughtn't be read. It'd be perfect poetic justice to watch all these execrable comic books annihilate themselves in a final spasm of greed," states an anti-CGC comic fan.

While greed might be a harsh term to use, the lure of more $ for the same product has prompted dealers and individual sellers to bump up prices for comics that have been slabbed. Bumped up? Perhaps thatís an understatement. Letís take a look at some sample transactions that have been occurring over at eBay recently:

  • CGC (9.9) Pitt # 1 sold on eBay for a whopping $92. On average, you can find a NM/M copy for about $5. Same comic in every way except it was "slabbed."
  • CGC (9.8) X-Men # 1 (Ď90 series) = $89! (Street value = $5)
  • CGC (9.8) X-Men # 2 (Ď90 series) = $54!
  • CGC (9.8) Wolverine # 10 = $127.50!
  • CGC NM+ (9.6) F.F. # 1 V2, variant cover = $37!
  • CGC Mint Spider-Man # 1 = $310!   And yes, thatís the Ď90 McFarlane version which, depending on the cover, goes for about $10.
  • CGC (10.0) Spider-Man # 321 = $565.00!   A perfect copy yet w/o the slabbing and you could pick this book up for $5.
  • CGC (10.0) SPAWN # 1 = $810!!   Visit Spawn article.
  • CGC (10.0) Spider-Man # 1 = $931.01!!   (Featured in Wizard 2X (8/00 and 10/00) in their "Perfect 10" and "Magnificent 7").
And itís not just modern books. Key books from the 70ís, which are much scarcer and worth upwards of several hundred dollars, are fetching 3 to 4 times their value:
  • CGC NM+ (9.6) Capt. America # 100 = $700!
  • CGC (9.6) Giant Sized X-men # 1 = $1,825.00!
Unbelievable, you say? Log on to eBayís website and type in the letters "CGC" in the search box. Youíll find a crop of outrageous bids on some very common books. Youíll also discover many other comics for sale which list as "CGC?" meaning the seller believes the book would make a great candidate for "slabbing." This type of advertising is saying to the public: "Never mind what title or issue it is, buy the book, slab it, and make a mint!"

Yes, make a mint ... from a mint. Certainly there are many Golden and Silver Age books that should fetch a few extra dollars for being slabbed but where is the logic in paying $810 for a book which you can get for $10-20?


Has the industry become a marketplace of Bulls and Bears?

This type of price gouging is reminiscent of the spec craze of a decade ago where investors started buying up hordes of comic books, believing they could turn them around for a quick profit. When these new investors realized this wasnít the stock market, they dumped their product and flooded the marketplace with tons of worthless comics. A perfect example would be the Valiant comic line started by Jim Shooter. Copies of Rai # 3 and # 4 were fetching upwards of $80 at one point. Nowadays, you might be lucky and come across those two copies in the quarter bin.

A CGC charter member (who wished to remain anonymous) was asked: "Is it possible that the industry may be hurt as CGC graded books drive prices up (creating a similar spec craze like the early 90's)?"

Their response:

"I don't think the industry will be hurt, but there will be an adjustment period, and we already see that happening. Yes, you will have speculators coming in and buying up CGC graded books and driving the prices up - that's inevitable."

But what drives the speculator? Is it the lure of a big return on their investment? Is it really the greedy consumer who is at fault here or is the retailer just as guilty? Upon inspection of a comic retailerís website, the following CGC graded books were offered:

  • Amazing Spider-Man # 238 (1st app. Hobgoblin) NM+ CGC 9.6 $195
  • Captain America # 100 NM+ CGC 9.6 (off-white pages) $950
  • Fantastic Four # 48 (1st Silver Surfer appearance) NM+ CGC 9.6 $3500
  • Iron Fist # 14 (1st appearance of Sabretooth) NM- CGC 9.2 $275
  • X-men # 266 (1st app. Gambit) NM+ CGC 9.6 (white pages) $195
While the consumer might be adding fuel to the fire, every fire has its origin. Itís interesting to note that this website belongs to a charter member of the CGC.

So can the industry stomach another spec frenzy fueled by CGC graded books? Are they truly a collectorís item which will someday merit the high prices they boast? Several industry pros donít see this as being much of an issue. When asked about the CGC grading question, Walter Simonson (Thor) responds:

"I don't really do comics with the expectation that they will become a collectors' item. I just do them so readers can read them."

Kurt Busiek (Marvels) answers along those same lines:

"I have zero interest in collectibility. All I care about is reading the comics themselves, so I just don't care about condition. If the book's falling apart, that might be a problem, but I love finding a book in good condition except that someone's written on the cover or something. It lowers the price, without hurting the part I care for."


The Wizard Connection

While many industry professionals have never heard of CGC (or have zero interest in collectibilty or value), many fans have. The majority of which are quite skeptical of CGC because of its affiliation with Wizard.

"Any organization that's gotten into bed with Wizard is immediately suspect. The traditional grading system has served the industry for decades, why change it?" states a concerned collector.

When CGC first entered the comic arena and wanted to start slabbing comics, they licensed the Wizard name so they could call all modern age books, "Wizard Age." This idea was quickly dropped. Gary Colombuano (Overstreet adviser) expanded on this tale in a post at [www.comicon.com].

He stated that while attending the Baltimore Overstreet conference last year, the CGC principals were introduced and got to do their sales pitch. They wished to refer to modern-age comics as "Wizard-Age" comics and have the term printed on their plastic holder. They were almost laughed out of the conference for it never occurred to them that it would be considered a negative to have Wizard's "seal of approval" on their plastic holders.

A retailer in PA, who is not completely anti-CGC, elaborates on why Wizard and CGC do not make good bed partners.

"CGC is fine for higher priced, older or key issues. But considering Wizard is pushing books like Youngblood #1, Darker Image #1, and other schlock that you can get in 5 for $1 boxes, to be slabbed, shows what their real agenda in this is. For something that could really be used for older, key books, Wizard is sure promoting it for the wrong reasons, and pushing to slab the wrong books."


Final Thoughts

Is CGC the answer to our grading needs or is it just another beginning to a spec frenzy in which the fan will fall victim to an over-inflated supply & demand scenario?

As one retailer states:

"What CGC can do is eliminate the mis-grading of books - what they can't do is eliminate the mis-pricing of books."

So, itís basically a game of dominos. If a small group of fans show interest in CGC graded books, it will create the need for retailers to have more of their inventory CGC graded to meet the growing demand. As more consumers create more demand, more CGC books will enter the marketplace. Five or ten years down the road, one of two things will occur.

The integration of CGC grading will create a "legitimacy" to the art of grading and the comic industry as a whole. CGC graded comics will become the norm and non-CGC graded books will fade into oblivion. The other possibility is that the high markup of CGC graded comics will create over-inflated guide prices and when the bottom drops out, the consumer will be holding onto a product that will never achieve the value of its original purchase price. The general public will continue to dissociate itself from the industry and the marketplace will be glutted with many worthless comics in neat, shiny holders.

While the average fan might feel thereís nothing they can do, that they are a small cog in a vast machine which dictates the marketplace, they do have a choice. They have the power in deciding what to buy and what not to buy. They have the choice to not fall prey to overpriced books. They have the choice to buy comics for their original purpose - to read.

Joe Quesada (Marvel Editor-In-Chief) states:

"I'm really not into the whole grading aspect of comics. My concerns are more with the content than the collectability."

Ah yes, the content. Will Eisner once said, "the reading of a comic book is an act of aesthetic perception and intellectual pursuit." They exist to entertain and to enlighten us. Now, thereís the real value of a comic.

© Terrence J. Brady


About the author
Terrence J. Brady is a twenty year collector/reader of comic books and is the webmaster of THIRD MILLENNIUM entertainment. He welcomes your comments regarding this article and/or CGC in general. This article was written and interviews conducted in Aug/Sept 2000.

UPDATE: DEC 2001
"CGC: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly," as well as, the CGC: Hall of Shame page were featured in the Comics Buyer's Guide # 1464 (Dec 7, 2001; pp 42).

UPDATE: FEB 2003
By popular demand .... the CGC Hall Of Shame page has moved to Kevin Smith's MoviePoopShoot.com site where a new article is featured every first Monday of the month.



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