The most difficult, contentious and eternally frustrating aspect of comic collecting is grading. For collector and dealer alike, it is essential to grade the condition of a comic fairly and accurately in order to determine its true value and worth.
Collectors in today's market seem to be more discerning and more knowledgeable, so accuracy on the higher mid grades and high grades becomes more important.
As grading is very much a subjective exercise, it is all too easy for the novice (and indeed experienced collector) to allow wishful thinking and optimism to influence the appearance of a comic and make it better than it really is.
It is always worth re-evaluating your own grading criteria from time to time in order to become the more expert. Accurate and consistent grading only comes with experience.
A useful exercise for any collector is to lay out one example of each of the main grades side by side for a direct comparison.
Where possible, The Guide will show illustrations of the same comic in different grades. This will be a slow process but you will find some examples in the database.
These principles can apply to both American and British comics.
1. Open the comic carefully and grade from the inside out. Lay it on a flat surface or hold it in the cup of the hand. Do not bend back or flatten out the comic.
Check that there is a centrefold and that it is attached by both staples. Check for missing pages, panels or coupons that may have been cut out. Check for tears in pages, writing, scribbling or any kind of water or ink stains. Check outer edges of pages for any signs of browning or brittleness. One may check the smell of the comic for any hints of acidity or dampness.
2. Check inside front and back covers, particularly opening the cover page to see how it strains against the staples which may have resulted in a slight tear at the staple. Check that the cover hasn't become detached at the top or bottom staple.
Older UK comics tend not to use stainless steel staples so rust is more prevalent. Rust can be so bad that the staples are practically disintegrating. This is particularly prevalent with British comics from the 1950s and early/mid 1960s.
Check for any unusual whiteness compared with the page colour as this may indicate cover-bleaching or stain removal. Check for any staple re-inforcement.
3. Check back cover for any tears and/or pieces out. Check for any wear or soiling along the back cover spine.
4. Check the front cover. This is the most important part of the comic as it is most seen when displayed and liable to the most wear or defacement. The areas of most common wear are around the staples/spine area and at the corners. Check for any cracks or chipping along the right-hand edge (more applicable to American comics than British). Hold the comic up to the light and check the depth of colour, the amount of cover gloss (more American comics) and any indentations. Check dark blue and black areas for any signs of colour-touch (more applicable to American comics than British).
5. Finally, assess the overall appearance of the comic, checking for tightness and squareness of trim. Many comics were mis-cut or had off-centre staples as part of the initial production process. American comics in particular can suffer from cover wraparound where some of the back cover is visible from the front, sometimes called white line or 'white spine'. On British comics look out for 'foxing'. These are orange/red spots that appear mostly on covers, sometimes quite light, other times quite heavy and very noticeable. These spots are spores in the paper, usually caused by storage in damp conditions. It can really spoil the 'eye-appeal' of a comic. Something else to watch out for - both US and UK comics can have 'dust shadows' across their covers. This is where a pile of comics has been exposed to some sunlight or accumulated a layer of dust. A line is left where one comic was lying across another one.
Be aware that eye-appeal is what can often influence initial grading but it is also a vitally important part of the final assessment.
Having followed all these steps, you should have a pretty good idea of the overall state of your comic.
Having been through the process of examining your comic, the hard part comes with arriving at an accurate grade.
As a beginner, you might find yourself being a little vague and saying it's roughly a VG/Good or Fine/Near Mint copy . Don't say it's very good for its age or If it had the covers, it would be Near Mint !
Consistency in spot-on grading comes with practice and after having graded hundreds of thousands of comics over forty years there are still opportunities for yet more learning.
If you are just starting out with grading, it is worth getting these approximations in your head:
|NEAR MINT||Nearly perfect|
|VERY FINE||Very nice condition|
|FINE||Quite nice, above average condition|
|VERY GOOD||OK, average condition|
|GOOD||Below average, condition a little worn|
Having got used to rough approximations, the next step is exact definition. The accepted grades of condition for comics are listed below.
Grading comics in this way is perhaps more applicable to American comics as they have the distinct advantage of all being (more or less) the same size.
British comics come in a bewildering array of shapes and sizes with consequent storing difficulties. In a sense there is more room for error in grading a British comic, although there are far less instances of restoration which is, overwhelmingly, an American comic phenomenon. More on restoration later.
MINT (M) Perfect and as new, REGARDLESS OF AGE with full cover gloss and lustre with white, crisp pages. The pages must be white. Off-white or cream will not do. No printing or cutting defects, off-centre covers or staples. No marks on the cover whatsoever, not even distributor marks or stamps.
As with coins or stamps, MINT really means uncirculated or untouched and would be those immediately encased for presentation in some way. The true rarity of this grade cannot be emphasised enough.
While there are many examples of Mint American comics, there are far less British comics that would qualify for this grade.
NEAR MINT (NM) Almost perfect, almost as new, with white or off-white pages. Tight, flat and clean with only extremely light wear around an edge or a staple. At first glance you might think it is Mint but a second, closer inspection may reveal a tiny imperfection. The pages should be uniform in colour with no discernible edge difference. No staple rust. Near Mint really does mean near to mint condition. For American comics, a discreet UK pence stamp is permissible. For British comics, a neat, newsagent name (ideally in pencil) written at the top is permissible.
VERY FINE (VFN) Very slight wear beginning to show around the staples and stress points owing to the comic being opened and read (carefully) two or three times and stored away with some care. For American comics, most of the cover lustre still remains and for British comics the cover should be flat, uniform creamy or off-white with only a few very minor stress creases at the spine. For American comics, only the tiniest spine wear at the top or bottom but no cover marks, no tears, no prominent creases (perhaps 2mm and quite hard to spot). The pages can be creamy or off-white but in no way yellowing and with no darker page edges. For Very Fine, think simply Very Sharp.
FINE (FN) The basic minimum for most collectors but depends on your budget! This is a comic with wear showing on the edges or stress around the staples. Still clean and flat with a small mark or cover writing but I do mean small. Pages may be yellowing slightly but no brown edges. Above average, read a few times and stored away with at least some concern. A staple may be detached but, if that' the case, the rest of the comic should appear Very Fine. For British comics, a little more wear on the spine and cover is permissible and there may be some corner curl evident. British comics are all shapes and sizes so corners and edges suffer more. Again, think that this is a comic that has clearly been looked after in its history.
VERY GOOD (VG) An average, second-hand, obviously read copy with marks and minor defects but still respectable and appealing. Printing lustre almost gone but not soiled or heavily stained and no tape evident, apart from a small piece of magic tape to repair a tear. There is noticeable wear on the spine and even the start of a spine roll and one staple may be slightly loose. The pages may be yellowing with the first signs of slight browning at the edges. The cover could have a tear or crease or the centrefold could have come away from the staples inside. NO PAGES OR PARTS MISSING. It must be complete in every way. For British comics, all the above applies though there will be slightly more edge and corner wear.
A large proportion of British and American comics that you see on eBay will be in VG condition or less.
GOOD (G) A well-read copy with minor tears or splits, slightly soiled and marked, slight rolled spine or creases but still complete and acceptable. Most comics that come out of garages and attics are in this grade and the damper climate of the United Kingdom may accentuate that musty comic smell with the pages very often browning (but not brittle in this grade). There may be a large price mark/bookshop stamp on the cover, some tape (but not excessive) and other repairs, corners of covers may be chipped or other small pieces missing but no more than about a 1" off the corner. Loose at one or both staples, but still quite readable. All the above applies to British comics but again there will be more general wear to the edges and corners. GOOD is basically quite a low grade.
FAIR (FR) Very worn and soiled with possible small chunks out of the spine or cover. Some tears or heavy creases and marks or writing on the cover/inside. There may be some water damage or staining throughout. There may be a small panel or small coupon cut but all pages must be there. Watch out for those Marvel Value Stamps in 1970s American Marvels and those coupons for free gifts in early 1970s Marvel Weeklies! The pages may be brown and the quality so low that the edges appear delicate. This is basically a very rough copy.
Missing parts are a serious defect. If a comic, British or American, appears otherwise very high grade, a missing coupon or panel would devalue it. A small coupon or story panel by at least a couple of grades, a half page out by perhaps three overall grades. Thus a Very Fine with a missing part should grade no more than a VG at best.
If you are a dealer or wish to sell, perhaps it is better to grade and evaluate the comic overall and then mention the extent of the missing part. Thus your comic may satisfy all criteria for a Fine copy and then potential customers can decide if they can live with a Fine comic with a piece cut or missing.
POOR (P) Well damaged and heavily soiled. Also incomplete and/or coverless comics. Not collectible unless it s something very rare or special. Very worn, torn brittle, water-damaged, basically a mess. There may well be a coupon cut, a panel or two cut out. If missing a page this should be noted separately (pin-up pages from American comics were often removed). All the above applied to British comics. This is basically a comic not worth having unless you feel it might be many years before you have a chance at purchasing another.