Slabbing: The Results are In

It was a year ago that I went hunting for deals during Boxing Day. I end up with a handful of cheap keys, all purchased under $5. One of the books that I picked up, Adventure into Fear #19, was warped and stained due to moisture. At about the same time, my good friend Mike came over to trade some books. I picked up Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 and the Incredible Hulk #141 in a deal that I’ve come to regret. Once I took the books out of the bag, Luke Cage had a bend at the bottom with an over spray of distribution ink, and Hulk #141 was also moisture damaged. All three books were key and in fairly nice condition despite the flaws but I wasn’t sure what to do with them.

Soon after, I wrote about pressing and decided to hand the books over to Kevin, the Comic Doctor. Kevin is local, frequently sets up at shows and is much quicker than his US counter parts, which I saw as a bonus in terms of time and money. He did a wonderful job of flattening the books out but there was no practical way to remove the water stains. Our fellow compatriot, Mike Huddleston pointed out that no matter how nice a book looked it would be limited to a 6.0 at best. I double checked the Overstreet grading chart and sure enough the maximum grade that can be achieved was actually only 4.5 (with no details given for 5.0).

I didn’t want to pump any more money into these books but Luke Cage was better off slabbed. Also, I use to own an ASM #129 with really bad ink overspray that was certified 7.0 by CGC so I wondered about the water stains. Personally, I find mild water stains much easier to look at than a cover sprayed with ink and I was curious about how closely CGC follow Overstreet guidelines. So, I sent the three books to CGC along with a bunch of other books, including a higher priced Lois Lane #70. Almost six months later, about two weeks before Christmas, the books finally arrived. Here are the results:

A nice looking book.
Aside from mild wear along the edges, this Adventure into Fear #19 presents much nicer than most 4.5’s.
Suffers from a stain.
Unfortunately, signs of water damage is evident as light stain, and despite having been pressed, a slight rippling also remains.

Adventure into Fear #19
The first appearance of Howard the Duck received 4.5 with “white” pages

This is a very clean looking book. No folds or creases, very, very minimal spine stress and a cover that is squarely wrapped. In all honesty, I’ve seen worse 8.0’s but in my heart I felt it was about a 6.0 but hoped for a 7.0. However, the book received a 4.5 due to a light stain on the back.

Selling strategy: This book looks so much nicer than the grade it was assigned so I’m debating whether to break it out of its shell or sell it as is. However, it may be a moot point since the book isn’t worth much more than $50 USD in this condition whether certified or not. On the bright side, I only paid $5 for this book so after all that’s been said and done, this book is basically a wash.

A pretty nice looking Hulk #141 that I think display much better than other 4.5’s.
Turn the book over to reveal a small light stain, about the size of half a quarter. This book also has a couple of indentations at the top edge from having been bundled that pressing could not take out.

The Incredible Hulk #141
The first appearance of Doc Samson also received a 4.5 with “off-white to white” pages

Similar to Fear #19, this is also a very nice looking book but received a 4.5 due to a small stain on the back. I have about $120 CAD into this book, including the cost of grading. Market value for a 4.5 is only about $50 USD, which means this has been a losing venture, even with the current USD to CAD exchange rate. Interestingly, a VF or 8.0 copies of Hulk #141 is on record for having sold for over $100…

Selling strategy: I can cut my losses and simply try to sell this book as a 4.5 or break it out of its case and hope that someone would be willing to pay $120 thinking the book is an 8.0. It has no creases, no blunting, perfect centering and a solid spine so I think this book is nice enough to pass for an 8.0… but would this be honest? Let’s explore this in my next write-up… but for now, I think I will simply keep this book as is. $120 is not enough money for me to worry about and perhaps some news in the future will stimulate more demand for this book, such as a movie appearance. I’ve been saved on many bad purchases simply by being patient.

Luke Cage #1 does have some blue ink on the cover due to an over spray of distribution ink but is somewhat hidden by the dark cover.
The blue ink is much more visible on the white background of the back cover at the top and bottom corners of the spine. The ink also left its mark on the inside first wrap which is a turn off.

Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1
The first appearance of Luke Cage received 7.5 with “off-white to white” pages

This book came back exactly what I thought it would be. I’ve got about $350 CAD into this book which was a lot at the time of purchase. But two things happened since then. The US dollar has gotten stronger and Luke Cage is about to get his own TV show. As it stands, CGC 7.5 is currently valued at about $350 USD so I can look forward to at least getting my money back.

Selling strategy: The problem with this book is that it suffers from ink overspray. It doesn’t look too bad on the covers but the ink spills on to the inside pages. So I think this book is better sold encapsulated… but again, is this honest? Let’s talk about this too in my next write-up. In the meantime, I’ll hang on to this book until the Luke Cage TV series airs.

This Hulk #181 from a recent ComicLink auction received a 6.5 despite the heavy dose of ink splash right on the front cover. Interestingly, had it been a much less obtrusive water stain, it probably would have received only a 4.5 based on Overstreet guidelines.

I’m adding one more to this list because it’s an interesting case study.

Both the seller and I thought this book looked like a 7.0, maybe an 8.0 on the outset. But without any specific flaws that you could point to, it received at 9.4 grade from CGC.

Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #70
The first SA appearance of Cat Woman received a 9.4 with “cream to off-white” pages

I purchased this book for $70 CAD thinking that it was a 7.0 but hedged my bets knowing that it could actually be a 6.0. I took it around to the shows and aggressively priced it as an 8.0, which it could also have been. Everyone I showed it to passed on it so I decided to send it in to CGC. I was delighted and somewhat shocked to see that it received a 9.4! The last sale of a 9.4 sold for $1250 USD, so I’m way ahead on this particular book. Aside from me bragging and showing off, there are some interesting considerations here:

  1. Is CGC more generous with older books?
  2. White covers are more forgiving and explains the price discrepancy between such books as the lesser X-Men #94 versus the more “key” Giant-Size X-Men #1 in the same grade.
  3. This book was price by the store owner as a 7.0, which I agreed with but negotiated the price based on a 6.0, so despite what hardcore CGC board members may think, grading truly is subjective.

Selling Strategy: Despite the high value of a 9.4 grade, I’m also aware of the fact that this is not exactly a hot book. The only people interested in this book tend to be older collectors who can appreciate a somewhat “dorky” but nostalgic title such as Lois Lane, although there are some really great stories in the series. I can discount this book online for a quick sale but since it received a relatively high grade, I think I’ll add it to my collection so that I can brag and continue to show it off.

So what can we conclude from all this?

  1. Apparently, CGC does follow Overstreet guidelines very closely.
  2. Water stains bad, ink stains good… or better.
  3. Points are deducted for every quantifiable flaw. Outside of this, it becomes subjective.
  4. Lower grade books are generally not worth grading.
  5. Size matters. The same Lois Lane book that I wanted to sell, now I want to keep.
  6. Never question Mike Huddleston… ’cause he knows his stuff.
Charlie Kim
Charlie Kim

Charlie Kim is a designer who is currently transitioning into teaching. While working for various companies, he helped develop many international brands such as the Hong Kong Airport identity, Lenovo’s sponsorship program for the Beijing Olympics and Lavasa, a new city being developed in India. Locally, he's also worked on the 1998 campaign for the Canadian Opera Company, the Canadian Innovations stamp for Canada Post and the terrible Grand & Toy re-brand (hey, they can't all be winners). Charlie’s love affair with art and design all began with comics.

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Mike Huddleston
8 years ago

Thanks for the shout out Charlie.
That is quite a diverse group of results. A real score on that Lois Lane!
As a collector of books I used to buy quite a number of comics with water stains on the back cover. It was the only way I could pick up some good looking keys at a price I could afford. I think the grade punishment is over kill compared to other flaws however I am certain paper conservationists would disagree. Your ink post of Incredible Hulk #181 6.5 would be a prime example for my argument. That is ridiculous.

I’m working on a home for that Incredible Hulk #141 for you right now.

Walter Durajlija
8 years ago

I’ve always thought CGC stuck too close to their strict procedural principles of grading. It seems like they have these well defined parameters they try to cling to while common sense, aesthetics, the feel of the book, the squareness etc be damned.

Perhaps though the discrepancies produced by such a system have ended up being less that the discrepancies that would have resulted from a looser “this book has a VF feel” approach.

I’d throw my two cents in and say that the stricter approach works fine but that the inputs and parameters have to all be reassessed and their weight either increased or decreased based on a broader consensus.

I sound ridiculous!

Hey, was that a common flaw on Hulk #181s, I swear I had a copy like that once.

Great exercise Charlie.

8 years ago

Sorry to say but cracking a 4.5 out of a slab and selling it raw hoping that the buyer thinks it’s in better shape is not ethical. Be interested to know how you can justify?

stephen b. keisman
stephen b. keisman
8 years ago

the subjectivity factor . one example-i have always selected a comic book with a tiny sliver of white from the comic books spine as a more desireable copy then a copy with the staples placed on the covers actual art. To my eyes this really presents the entire covers artistic work.

Scott VanderPloeg
8 years ago
Reply to  John

You’re working under the assumption that CGC is 100% accurate and infallible in their grading. That’s not the case.

David Simon
David Simon
8 years ago

If you want more clarity, you could call CGC and ask for the grader notes. If you are the one that submitted the books, they should give them to you for free. CGC does make the grader notes available on any book, but there is usually a charge for them if you are not the submitter. There are some people out there who aggressively challenge the grades and speak with the graders to gain additional transparency — they will then crack slabs and resubmit multiple times, that usually makes sense with higher value books, but not so much on the lower value stuff. This is far more prevalent with coins and cards, but there are those deep pocketed enough to play the odds that grading is subjective and done by humans so you don’t always get the same results.

8 years ago

It’s interesting that after 45 years of the Overstreet Price Guide, we recognize it is a guide … after more than a decade of sold listings on eBay, we recognize those prices realized to be a guide in buying and selling … yet so many will take a very complex and, within broad grade ranges, very subjective exercise such as grading and accept as gospel a grade slapped on a book through no involvement of their own.
I don’t care what your slab says if I do not agree with what I can see through the acrylic.
The reference used by these services is the Overstreet Guide to Grading Comics, not the Overstreet Gospel to Grading Comics. Use it yourself; none of us is perfect and can all miss (or catch) things others may not.
However, what’s most galling about the services is the notion that they are independent, third-party graders. Sorry, but if your fee is not flat but is instead a percentage of final value (as on CGC books over a certain price point), you are not independent, you have skin in the game.

Stephen Redeker
Stephen Redeker
7 years ago

I’m late to this party, but I was searching for info about the “distributor ink” on the comics from the 70’s. I read a long time ago about how stores would splash ink on stacks of comics that didn’t sell so they could get money back from the printer…..something like that. I wanted to search for the truth behind why our beloved comics have that ink splashed on them (and how it’s crazy that these comics were just sitting on the racks untouched when they were new…because nobody knew they’d be prized). If anyone can post a link for more info, would be great. Thanks.

4 years ago