Previously on comic book collecting: A little startup called Image unveiled several new titles (each one bound to be a collector’s item), and it wasn’t looking good for Batman after the maniacal Bane literally broke the Dark Knight. Meanwhile, Wizard: The Guide to Comics was flying off of shelves as its writers covered all the drama. So, yeah, for a lot of us quite a bit has happened between putting away our collections and picking them back up when the pandemic started. How much do you know about a slab?
From posts on comic forums to new customers filling out pull lists at their local comic shops, there’s no question the state of the world has prompted renewed or brand new interest in comics. If you fall into either category, this blog’s for you. From a once avid collector diving back in after more than twenty years away, I’ll be looking at how the world of comic book collecting has evolved and what we need to know (as I learn it) to get us up to speed. Today, we’re talking slabs.
No more GD, VF, or NM?
Throughout my many years of collecting, the term “near mint” was all anyone needed to hear to know a book was in as good a condition as it could be. That’s no longer the case. Sure, the term still exists. The whole scale from incomplete to gem mint still exists. In fact, GoCollect has a great list that gives a detailed description of what each term means. But there’s a lot more to it now. At least, there’s now a much more reliable way to be sure what you’re buying is truly “near mint.” It’s called slabbing. Well, not really, but that’s what everyone online calls it. I think the technical term is “encapsulation.”
So, what does that mean? Basically, it means a company looks over your book, assigns that book a grade, and then seals it up in a hard plastic shell to keep the book (and the grade) intact. When you come across a post online talking about a “slab,” it’s talking about the book in that plastic container.
I know, I know, most of you reading this are thinking, “Is this guy for real?” Yup. Like I said, I was out of the game for a long time. I’d never seen or even heard of a slabbed comic until this year, and while the vast majority of GoCollect readers probably view that as unthinkable, there are also plenty of people reading this who are in the same boat as me. That said, I’ve now purchased slabbed books, sent my own books off to be slabbed and now I’m blogging about it. Don’t worry noobs, there’s hope for us all.
The raw truth
There are two main companies that slab comic books. Certified Guaranty Company and Comic Book Certification Service. I’ve never heard anyone use the full names of either though. It’s just CGC and CBCS. I won’t go into it here, but there are pros and cons to both. All you need to know is that these companies make our books more sell-able. The reason for that is the grade they assign and the fact that encapsulating the book will theoretically lock-in that grade. While there was a time when “near mint” was sufficient to understand the condition of the comic you were buying, now it means a lot more to know you’re buying, say a 9.8 (near mint/ mint). The grading scale link I dropped earlier in this post explains the number grading system too.
In addition, slabbed books command a higher asking price than books that are simply bagged and boarded. Sure, that used to be enough for us old-timers, but now a book that isn’t slabbed is referred to as “raw.” You should have seen the genuinely grossed outlook on my wife’s face as I explained to my daughter that I’d just made a bulk purchase of raw Teen Titans for her. Gross sounding to some wives, sure, but a raw book sells for less than a graded or slabbed book. Plus, slabbed books look pretty cool.
To slab or not to slab? That is the question
Something I’ve learned since I started sorting through the old long boxes again is that my books are worth nowhere near as much as I thought they were. Not just because I bought up every new Image title hoping to laugh my way into retirement, but because locking in that high grade on a comic is tougher than I could have realized back when I was 14. In case you haven’t learned it yet, spine ticks are the little bends in the spine that indicate wear. In my day, we used to call them “crow’s feet.” Maybe that was just a regional thing, or maybe I just never heard them referred to as “spine ticks.” Who knows? The important part is, spine ticks add up.
I always took super good care of my books, so I was surprised to see the number of spine ticks on a lot of them when I recently exhumed them from the boxes where they’d spent the last two decades. Maybe it was all the moving from house to house. Or maybe I wasn’t as careful as I thought. Maybe I should have slabbed them…except, that wasn’t a thing then. It is now. See what I’m saying? The test of time gets a little easier to pass when you’re sealed in plastic. At least, that’s what my mom always says.
Can I get a slab with that?
There are a few reasons to send your books off to be graded…but before you do, you may want to get them pressed first. Yup, that wasn’t a thing back in the day either. If Covid-19 got you back in the game after a long hiatus, you may be surprised to learn that a lot of the minor damage on books can be pressed out. Think of it like ironing a shirt, except you don’t use an iron and you shouldn’t do it yourself. It’s not worth a whole post, so just Google “comic book pressing.”
Back to those reasons to slab…from what I’ve learned:
- You love the book. It’s your baby. The memories you have of it still bring a smile to your face and you want to preserve it.
- You firmly believe the book will be worth a pretty penny one day and you want to lock in a high grade for when that day comes.
- The book is worth money now and you want to preserve it.
Getting a book professionally graded and encapsulated is not cheap. It won’t break the bank necessarily, but once you add in the cost of shipping, pressing, grading, encapsulating, shipping again…it adds up. It’s an investment. The question you have to ask yourself is: Is it worth the investment to me? If the answer is, “yes,” slab it!
How I got here
I’m no expert. That’s kind of the point of this blog series. I’m learning as I go, but I also veraciously research anything I’m passionate about. I literally research things for a living for my day job (at night I’m a 5’2″ martial arts turtle with an attitude. You may have heard of me). So, I’m learning quickly.
I’ve already made some bad decisions, but I’ve made some pretty good ones too. It’s all part of the process. I’m glad I’m back in. I live in a different state than I did when I started collecting. I’m a grown man now. The shops are unfamiliar…but they smell the same as they did back home, back in the day. That’s familiar. So is the excitement I get when I crack open a new book or watch the selling price slowly climb on a book I’m speculating on. A lot has changed, but those things never will. So, I’m happy to be learning and sharing what I’ve learned with all of you.
Speaking of speculating, we should probably talk about that too. See you back here soon.
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