Is there such a thing as a perfect comic book? Grading companies use a scale of 1 to 10 to describe the condition of a book when grading comics. Only a handful of graded comics have ever received a perfect 10. As a result, a 9.8 is considered the gold standard. But is it?
Why are comics graded in the first place? Blame baseball and other sports cards. PSA was the first company on the scene. They started in 1991 at the tail end of a boom period in collectibles. Prices were at all-time highs, and authenticating cards made sense. The side result of authenticating was giving a numerical value to a card’s appearance. The authenticating soon became less important than the actual grade a card received. The widespread adoption of the internet further fueled people to grade cards. The internet dispelled the myth that certain cards were rare. Getting a card graded was a way to add value back to a card. The late 1990s saw another boom in the card market. This boom spilled over into other collectibles. It wouldn’t be long until the comic industry soon jumped into the grading business.
PSA was the first company to jump into the authenticating and grading market. Other companies soon followed and they all agree on something that has thus far been missing in comic book grading: centering matters. Quite simply, is the card straight? Comic book grading companies do not care about centering. Centering is one of the 4 biggest qualifiers for sports cards. It is not even an afterthought for comic books. Lots of books in the 1980s have massive centering issues. There are thousands of books that have cover issues. For example, many books that are rated a 9.8 have part of the back cover visible on the front side of the book. How does a book like that qualify as a 9.8? There should be no part of the book’s back visible on display.
Take Star Wars #61 for example. There are currently multiple copies of Star Wars #61 available for sale in a 9.8. Every single one of them presents differently. Some of them have white from the back cover present on the front. Some of them have part of the comics code logo chopped off. There is no consistency among three of the same book in the highest grade. This is something that collectors need to keep a careful eye on. I have not yet noticed any effect on centering raising or lowering a 9.8 comic’s value. However, if collectors are looking for display pieces, they need to be aware of this. Older books seem more susceptible to this than newer issues. In fact, there are countless instances of books in a lower grade presenting better than in a higher grade. 9.8 should be the gold standard. No 9.8 should display worse than a book graded lower.
Presentation is Everything
9.8 is currently an imperfect metric when evaluating a book. Graded comics have differences in appearances and how they present within the same grade. Anyone looking to buy graded comics would do well to take a little extra time and compare copies when possible.