Acetategate Update

by Matt Kennedy

082522A-1-1024x536 Acetategate UpdateA recent Clayton Crain after-market Acetate Variant has been at the center of a controversy between Marvel, CGC, and Black Flag Comics. And just when it appeared to be done –the plot thickened!

Compounded Controversy

If you haven’t read my prior column about the C2E2 “Exclusive” Ultimate Fallout #4 Clayton Crain Facsimile Acetate Variant and the blowback to how it was announced, released and priced, I highly suggest you CLICK HERE.

In a nutshell, Black Flag Comics and Clayton Crain produced 750 unsanctioned variants of their previously released Ultimate Fallout #4 (Black Flag Comics Facsimile). These new acetate-wrapped versions were initially priced at $85 each but were raised to $100 each as supplies dwindled. The entire run was sold out to a group of only 50 or so collectors –many of whom are Youtubers and Whatnot sellers, and several of whom purchased quantities of 75 to 125 each.

These “Influencers” became the targets of the initial wave of internet hate, but when it surfaced that CGC had assigned Universal Blue-label grades of 10.0 to some of these after-market alterations, the focus of the Twitter mob shifted from the bulk re-sellers to the biggest grading company in the hobby.

When Marvel issued a statement reminding retailers that all variants need to be approved and CGC issued multiple statements doubling down on their grading decisions, the controversy some are calling #AcetateGate hit a whole new level of comeuppance.

Screen-Shot-2022-08-25-at-7.45.26-AM-1024x713 Acetategate Update

Posted by Nomasss Comics at 8:51 AM, 8/6/22


While the first wave of backlash was leveled primarily at Black Flag Comics, the IG accounts of all the people listed above (and more than a few not pictured) were inundated with insults, accusations, threats, and ridicule. When several attempted to defend themselves, it just got worse and almost all of those posts were deleted.

Black Flag announced immediate plans to follow up this release with two more Clayton Crain Acetate Variants at Boston Fan Expo, but in the wake of everything I outlined in my prior column, those comics were not offered to the public and sources report that large quantities were (again) sold directly to a very small group of exhibitors.

The big beef in fandom with the “influencers” was that some were observed to have cut the line. There are conflicting reports about actual line-hopping and the shape of the line making it appear as if some volume buyers had not waited (though they actually had). Joe of Doyle Comic Art made it known to me that he had popped into line only for the photo op, and walked off immediately afterwards –which may have looked to people further back in line that people were cutting-in-line.

A photo from C2E2 posted by Nomasss Comics shows many comic book-collecting social media personalities waiting in line at 8:51 AM, mere moments before the convention opened to the public, and not long before the Acetate Exclusive SOLD OUT. Subsequent images from that same photo dump also clearly confirm the presence of several other Youtubers who had claimed (in social media posts that have since been deleted) to not have been there at the time.

As some accusations were revealed to be baseless (and Youtuber Whiteshadow issued a clarification video) the justification for targeting these Influencers with so much scorn shifted into a critique of the Whatnot platform, its paid partnerships with these Influencers, and how an over-saturation of variants was a new spin on the old pump-and-dump scheme.

Screen-Shot-2022-08-25-at-8.44.57-AM Acetategate Update

CGC and Whatnot are in business together

But the real sticky widget here is CGC. They issued no fewer than 4 different statements on their Chat Boards, several of which seemed to run counter to their own posted grading policies. This elicited a pile-on attack that has stretched to over 4100 comments in the CGC Forums. And as if that wasn’t enough, on August 16th –in a move that seemed tone-deaf to the accumulating backlash, CGC announced that they had partnered with Whatnot.

If people had been quietly aggrieved that CGC exhibited a conflict of interest by charging more for higher grades based on perceived FMV, here was a clearer example of benefitting on both sides of the deal: if they are selling books that they, themselves, have graded.

A Tale of Two Policies

Before we get to the strangest reversal of policy in recent years, here is the statement that Marvel emailed to retailers early in the morning of August 16th. This was under the signature of Marvel Publisher, David Gabriel:

Subject: Clarification of Exclusive variantsScreen-Shot-2022-08-16-at-9.52.19-AM Acetategate Update“As you all continue to expand your businesses, we want to thank you for continuing to explore exclusive opportunities with Marvel through our exclusive retailer variant program.

“By participating in our program, please remember that all cover artwork must be created and approved by Marvel. Once submitted and accepted, no retailer has permission to use these comics or art to create new products, edit, or change the published comic in any way. This of course pertains to all past and current comics. We have updated our deal sheets for all retailer variant cover requests moving forward to emphasize these points.

“As always, thank you for everything you do, and we appreciate your cooperation and continued support!”

And here is the Admin post by CGC Mike on the CGC boards later that same day, defending the CGC Universal Grade:

Screen-Shot-2022-08-16-at-10.14.26-AM-1024x681 Acetategate Update

“We feel it is important to provide transparency on how CGC arrived at our method of certifying Clayton Crain’s Ultimate Fallout comics with the attached acetate covers. For us, this was an unprecedented item to grade. After Mr. Crain spoke with us prior to C2E2, the rules we applied to his books:

The additional cover had to be created by an established artist in the industry.
The comic to which the cover was attached had to contain a cover by that same artist.
A copy of the comic with the attached cover had to be submitted to us for inspection prior to certifying any copies.

Given the recent circumstances, we have made adjustments to the labeling originally used for the Ultimate Fallout exhibiting the acetate cover. Going forward, any copies submitted to CGC will display in the label text: “In God We Intrust” Acetate Artist Cover attached with 2 staples after manufacturing. The books will still be allowed to receive a Universal label. This will also apply to Mr. Crain’s forthcoming copies of Ghost Rider #1 and Deadpool Nerdy 30 #1 that contain an acetate cover.” 

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This showcased in no uneven terms that Marvel and CGC are not on the same page. It also seemed to contradict prior claims that CGC had supposedly established a precedent for acetate covers, now claiming this situation to be “unprecedented.” Suffice it to say that this was the post that launched a thousand memes.

Just a few days later, CGC Mike was back on the Chat Boards with the final (thus) statement about these aftermarket acetates.

Screen-Shot-2022-08-25-at-10.24.12-AM-1024x383 Acetategate Update
“We appreciate everyone being patient with our follow-up regarding the Clayton Crain acetate covers. After discussions this past week, CGC will assign a Qualified Signature Series label to comics that contain an acetate cover by Mr. Crain, as well as his signature that has been witnessed by a CGC representative. This also applies to the Ultimate Fallout: Facsimile Edition #4 that sold in C2E2. The grade assigned will take into consideration the grade of the acetate cover as well as the interior book.  For members who have already submitted copies of the Ultimate Fallout issue to CGC, we will extend an opportunity to have Mr. Crain’s signature applied to their copies so they receive the Qualified Signature Series label. If a copy does not exhibit Mr. Crain’s witnessed signature, the book will receive a qualified grade. 

“Going forward, CGC will only certify artist-created covers that are first approved by CGC, and those covers must be signed by the artist through the Signature Series program to receive the Qualified Signature Series label. The cover must be created by a published artist.”

If you’ve never seen a Qualified Signature Series label, it is both Yellow and Green:
Screen-Shot-2022-08-25-at-10.38.10-AM Acetategate Update

“In God We In Trust”

And so the fate of the “In God We In Trust” Acetate Variant appears to have come to a close with no small amount of damage done in the process: to the goodwill of fandom, faith in the variant market, and possibly the reputation of the world’s biggest comic grading company. Since there are at least a handful of already graded pieces on the market, we can expect this “compromise” to drive up the prices on those 9.8, 9.9 and 10.0 Blue, Universal Label slabs.

It remains to be seen if anyone at CGC will be fired, but Steve Ricketts of CBCS Pressing issued a statement on that company’s Forum that capitalized on the controversy at his competition:

Screen-Shot-2022-08-25-at-10.42.42-AM Acetategate Update
“If a book has an acetate cover attached to it with staples, the grade it would receive from CBCS is based on the grade of the book if the acetate cover were removed. In the scenario discussed in this thread, the book would probably top out around a 7.0 because of the additional holes in the book created by the staples. The attached acetate cover and additional staples would be noted at the bottom of the label.

“This is, of course, if the book in question is a “manufactured variant” by a third party and not an actual solicited variant that was produced by the publisher. And I’ll add that the comic would be identified as the base comic. We would not give a variant name to a book that was not an intended variant produced by the publisher.”

The Great Comic Mulligan of 2022

The impasse here is that Variants are good business for the publisher. As long as they can boost circulation without risk they are going to keep doing it –and for continuously less consequential issues. The truth is that while collectors vocally oppose the engineered scarcity of variants, there are still enough of them purchasing them.

Every artist has a fanbase and that’s what fuels the viability of variant cover art. If a retailer gets stuck with overstock (as Black Flag clearly did) it should lead to a participatory decline in the retailer exclusive program as a referendum on the lack of interest. But because Black Flag went ahead and did this unauthorized repackage and made out so well on it, we are probably going to see an explosion of this sort of thing. 

The only way to punish companies for engaging in practices unbecoming is by hitting their bank accounts. Don’t give them your money. If people continue to buy these, we’ll keep seeing them. While it’s a common misconception that ALL variants drop in value soon after the FOMO wears-off, exceptions make the rule. There are many variants that have become very valuable.

A quantity sufficient to validate not wanting to miss out is the engine that powers viability. It’s further complicated by the fact that the only people in a position to end this business of artificially manipulated demand have a financially vested interest in continuing it.

  • Conventions draw more paid attendees if they can announce exclusives.
  • Publishers collect on a one-way sale of 3000 additional units per retailer variant (sometimes across dozens of different retailers).
  • Retailers attract new customers and repeat business from fans of the cover artist.
  • Artists make extra money at a higher rate for producing the cover art and get paid again when they sell the original illustration –which is more valuable as a published cover than a standard commission.

Case Closed?

While the multiple replies to this fiasco have been excoriated by fandom, the latest statement provides a path forward that I think most collectors can live with. I would, however, be naive to assume that we have seen the last of these aftermarket shenanigans. How many retailers sitting on hundreds of overstocked exclusives are thinking of new ways to turn each of those relatively worthless comics into the next must-have $100 exclusive?

We’ll all know soon enough, I suppose.

Keep up with more industry analysis:

This blog is written by freelance blogger Matt Kennedy: Matt Kennedy is owner of Gallery 30 South and author of Pop Sequentialism: The Art of Comics. The first comic he bought on the newsstand was Werewolf by Night #32 which he somehow managed to keep in good enough condition to get it graded 9.0 forty years later. Please follow him @popsequentialism on Instagram & Twitter and visit his website:

AAA-Matt-Kennedy-Blogger-Footers Acetategate Update*Any perceived investment advice is that of the freelance blogger and does not reflect advice on behalf of GoCollect

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Daniel Burtis August 29, 2022 - 10:21 am

I don’t remember CGC selling comics on WhatNot. They did 3 twenty minute shows full of giveaways. Jim Lee, Scott Williams, and Alex Sinclair each did sales from CGC on their own accounts. To my knowledge, CGC didn’t sell themselves.

Matt Kennedy August 29, 2022 - 11:37 am

Thanks for reading the post and for following my column, Daniel.
While (thus far) CGC may not have been selling directly on Whatnot, CGC does have their own marketplace where they sell comics that they have graded, so it’s probably only a matter of time before they use their preferred nation status on Whatnot’s platform to sell there as well. Adjustments have been made to the text for clarity.

Evocomics August 29, 2022 - 3:35 pm

CGC Grading their own comics and adding them to their own marketplace sounds like a conflict of interest to me? Hmmm let me grade these as 9.8’s and get paid. Why don’t they send to CBCS and let them grade them “FAIRLY” and then CGC can sell on their marketplace. (Worst suggestion ever)
These books with the acetate is an example of a house made of cards. W.C. Fields said it best “A sucker is born every minute”. Marvel hasn’t sanctioned any of these books and yet CGC goes ahead and validates why they graded them. I am guessing CGC knew they screwed up and now have to back up why they graded these books. Now they have opened up the floodgate for anyone to do whatever they want to a publishers book as long as the cover artist and the cover are the same. SAY WHAT!!!!! That’s major F#@king BS. Pull up you britches and admit that this was a royal screw up. Own up to it. One would never see anything like this in any other collectible field. First off, part of the Problem is that Diamond distributors does not take overstock books back. You buy them you own them. Retailers and bulk sellers get stuck with them and don’t know what to do with them. Now we know what they can do to them and CGC has put their seal of approval on this. I hope collectors decide to put their money into something more lucrative instead of an overstocked piece of junk. This is just like buying junk bonds.
The games people play. Its all about getting the fans/collectors hard earned pay. The real loser here is, obviously us, the collectors. Well I for one will stick to the blue chips of collecting. Good luck to the rest of you who are chasing variant covers. Its the same story as the many other covers available. If you want to pay 30k for a book that is less than 10 years old god bless you. I could show you what you could collect for 30k and make great money in the immediate future. Artists come and go and there are a lot of great comic artists out there. You have a favorite new artist? Spend your money on getting original art from that artist and watch as your collectible increases in “Real Value”. There is no such thing as a sure thing but I am betting that great new original one of a kind artwork from a favorite artist over a comic that is mass produced is a better investment. You need to get in on the ground floor though. I own McFarlane, Adams, Byrne and other top notch art and bought at low prices. Crayton Cranes art was out there but I am sure it is very expensive now and in the hands of the Auction houses that churn out the big payoffs. Wasn’t before. Lets not continue to ruin the industry I have loved for so many years by greed. It happened before in the early 2000’s. The whole industry almost collapsed.
Sell the books to those who have come to the conventions for at least 1 copy. After these fans saw these re-sellers take their stacks then they wound up buying in bulk as well again not caring about others who have waited in the same long line. I am thankful that there are Respectable comic stores who sell and limit 1 copy per person of a low printed comic to as many customers as possible so they can own at least one copy without having to go online and pay 4 to 5 times the inflated price. Black flag Comics is not one of those sellers who I care to do business with if that’s how they are going to sell these books. If you have deals with re-sellers please take care of that business before the doors are opened. Then let the fans feel that they have not waited in vain for a copy. The excitement that one gets from getting that copy goes a long way for repeat business. The pump and dump leaves a very bad taste in ones mouth. To the resellers who justify what they do please don’t try and con us. that doesn’t go over well either. “Once more unto the breach, Dear friends, once more”.

Matt Kennedy August 29, 2022 - 7:45 pm

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I think many of the points you hit are concerns for most collectors. There are massive conflicts of interest in this hobby –which is a big reason why investors got into it and why influencers and savvy shops have taken an investors stance: there is no penalty for spreading rumors for financial gain nor is there any penalty for benefitting from insider information. But the sliding-scale pricing for grading is really egregious.

Nick August 29, 2022 - 6:26 pm

The whole thing is just rotten. Chiefly, I blame CGC for grading any altered comic book as if it were unaltered.
A published book with an acetate or other cover is always stapled with the book, and they obviously know that. They just saw the opportunity to do a quick business deal. In the end, it probably cost them at least that in short term business. Then I blame Clayton Crain for making this stupid deal with Black Flag. He’s going to lose a lot of business over it. It’s an awful cover without even getting into the business side of it.

Matt Kennedy August 29, 2022 - 7:53 pm

Thanks, Nick. I think we all agree that the order of most responsible is probably 1st: CGC. 2nd: Black Flag Comics. And in a distant 3rd: Clayton Crain (because he is apparently a Black Flag partner). I’m going to stop the list there. The influencers or flippers that bought those books took advantage of a crummy release policy (and then posted some tone-deaf responses) but they were also spending almost 20x the cover price for an acetate add-on and buying in bulk to the tune of several thousand dollars. That was not without risk and we’ll see how well they make out now that nobody is going to want to get those raw books graded. The blue labels that Crain submitted are the only books likely to maintain value –and mostly as an oddity. CGC should be making public the quantity of those on the marketplace, but that will, unfortunately, add to their demand.

Redskydigger August 29, 2022 - 9:53 pm

Sorry Matt,

The Influencers are just as bad as Black Flag and Clayton Crain. It’s a story of GREED. They were all looking at the Benjamins’ and not giving a sh-t about the comic industry or other artists. This is what starts killing the industry.

What I cannot fathom who at CGC is buddy-buddy with either Black Flag/the influencers and or Clayton Crain. If I was on the board of Blackstone (the owner of CGC) I would start cleaning the house. This is the start of cronyism and that will kill the comic industry.

And if I was Marvel, I would start bringing out the lawyers ‘cease and desist’ to CGC, Black Flag and Clayton Crain. It’s about protecting the Marvel intellectual property and the brand.

As for Diamond Distribution not taking books back. Then the LCS should not order too many. It’s as simple as that.

As the Grandfather of Comics stated

‘Nuff Said’

Matt Kennedy August 30, 2022 - 9:34 am

Thanks for reading and for your comments. I demonize the resellers less because they didn’t create the situation that allowed them to gobble up all those comics. They took advantage of it, but that is a lesser violation in my estimation. In a way, those influencers may have done a lot of fans a favor; since it is now impossible to get one of those raw books graded in a universal blue-label slab, the prices and resale value are going to drop drastically and they are going to be stuck with large quantities. That’s how the market punishes greed, right? Bummer for anyone that paid the crazy prices from last week, but there’s a great lesson in the dangers of FOMO.

There are a lot of Clayton Crain slabbed and autographed books, so he’s clearly generated a lot of business for CGC over the years. It’s apparent in CGCs first replies that they were attempting to provide justification for the fact that they didn’t investigate the legitimacy of this acetate variant before grading it. As a “Guarantor,” admitting to not researching something’s legitimacy is about as big a failure as can be. When the backlash came swiftly and prodigiously and then Marvel released a statement condemning it, they had to switch gears. But we can read between the lines that they have NEVER put a lot of research into books that have been submitted directly by artists.

I don’t expect Marvel to C&D anyone. They already released their statement as a warning and that should be enough to dissuade any artists or retailers who want to continue working with Marvel. In the case of Clayton Crain, his variants have made Marvel a lot of money. Just think of how many Crain Variants there are and multiply that number by at least 3000. Like I wrote above –that’s a significant boost in circulation, and Marvel benefits from that more than anybody else in this scenario. I’m sure Mr. Crain has had to offer his Mea Culpa to Marvel and they’ve probably already come to a new understanding –including about the subsequent acetate variants that were supposed to debut in Boston that we can safely assume were also returned with Blue Labels.

This is not “the start of cronyism,” as you stated; this is just the latest reminder of it.

Intensive Care Bear (@Timothy14974363) August 30, 2022 - 8:16 pm

Matt unless I missed it you did not mention the high percentage of copies graded at 9.9 & 10. The fix had to be in for so many grades over 9.8 on comic that had a new cover stapled on an existing cover.

Matt Kennedy September 1, 2022 - 4:12 pm

Thanks for reading and for your comment!
It appears that Clayton Crain pre-screened his submission so that only 9.8 or above got slabbed, and according to the CGC census there is only one 10.0, four 9.9s and five 9.8s. considering that there were 750 of them and that this is a very recent comic, those quantities don’t sound impossible (aside from the obvious fact that a stapled-on cover should have never been considered for such high grades). But where it gets suspect is that there are no 9.9s or 10.0s of the non-acetate editions –you know, the ones that didn’t sell out resulting in this version. And since CGC doesn’t keep track of cracked, resubmitted slabs, these acetates with high grades could not have been taken from prior submitted (and previously graded) 9.9s or 10.0s. One would think that in choosing which copies to send in to get graded that Black Flag and Clayton Crain would have selected the very best copies to submit back when their Facsimile Variant first got published last year.

Jay diggs August 30, 2022 - 10:24 pm

Now cgc just put out their own exclusive Death of Superman! I don’t get why that ain’t a conflict of interest!! These companies and some artists are ushering in the ’90s again just for some Fast Cash! It’s pathetic that Clayton crain has to do stupid stunts like this he’s such a great artist! It just ruins his reputation! And him and Black Flag already charged arm and a leg for one of their exclusive not to mention the thousands of dollars they make off signatures and witnessing! They’re just greedy and it just shows even these artists that go to these cons and stand in line for the exclusive so they can resell it for triple the price to their fans! Like that fake artist Javon Jordan that photoshops album covers and acts like they’re exclusives or original!! He was one of them supposedly influencers that was in the front of the line buying up all the UF4🤷‍♂️ And then come to find out Black Flag Clayton crain had his new Predator cover on deck the whole time!! That’s how you know they’re soo greedy and have no love for the fans or the community as a whole. And cgc might as well just come out as a comic book store now🤔 cuz how are you going to trust them not to be biased to your books or another company’s books? If they’re now competing against them and you!!!No hate all love just a fan💯🤓✊✌

Darryn Pope September 1, 2022 - 3:01 pm

Great article – compelling and well-written. Thank you.

Matt A. September 20, 2022 - 10:23 pm

Say what you want about Marvel and their history with creators, but they do in fact MAKE the comics. CGC is a parasite that invented an industry that would, frankly, make money off the work of others.


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