Robot 6

Derf launches ‘one-man crusade’ against CGC grading, slabbing

DSCF0064Comic books are made to be read. But along the way they’ve grown to become a collectible in the minds of some, leading to an interesting bifurcation of fandom: collectors and readers.

My Friend Dahmer cartoonist Derf Backderf is a longtime fan who, while downsizing his collection, wandered upon the uniquely placed Certified Guaranty Company (CGC). The avowed comic fan who followed his hobby into a career was shocked at the degree to which comics collecting had subsumed the readability of comics, especially given that “true collectors” would hermetically seal their comics in CGC “slabs,”  leaving them unable to be read — you know, the original intent for the comic.

“For someone who has devoted his life to making comics, and who takes several years to painstakingly craft each one … to be FUCKING READ! … this is an abomination,” Derf wrote in a long post on his blog. “For baseball cards, fine. because you can still read everything on the card. With a comic book, 90 percent of the contents are lost forever!  Most of these “collectors” wouldn’t know the difference between Wally Wood and Wally Walrus. They’re just collecting a number. It’s an affront to everything I hold dear.”

Derf, who has been reading comics since the mid-1970s, covers the growth of the secondhand comics market and the rise of collectability through the Overstreet Price Guide and now through CGC. Because of this severe leaning toward collectability limiting the readability of comics, the cartoonist has started what he calls a “one-man crusade against slabbing” by buying CGC books and “then free[ing] them from their plastic coffins.”



Well, I don’t really have a dog in this hunt, as I wouldn’t care to slab my books but I wouldn’t have a problem with other people doing it. I guess my only thought is, most of these books have been reprinted elsewhere, so slabbing an original doesn’t prevent people from reading the contents elsewhere…

Good for him.

If a idiot wants to buy a sealed book, tho, you can’t really stop them…. and they ain’t gonna be the type to read the book ANYWAY.

Here here! Got nothing against a bit of bagging and boarding for those special issues, but that’s to keep them good for reading.

There’s a cgc place literally down the road from me charging thirty quid for heroes reborn cap’ #1, purely because it costs them 20 to send it off and get it graded, and they think it’s worth 10. You can find it near mint for 50p. It’s all just a big weird joke.

Most hard core collectors buy a CGC copy and a reader copy. I worked for an online retailer for years, and most of the time when we would sell a high-grade collector copy or a CGC book, the buyer would also pick up a lower grade cheaper reader copy. If you don’t seal those up, the air exposure and light exposure can really mess them up over time. I don’t really think this perspective makes much sense.

It’s seems the smartest thing to do is put old comics online, there is no longer any value to the publisher once the comics initial sale is over, leaving only the collectible market.

Each comic can be archived online so the original can be protected and displayed with a qr code/bluetooth device linking any device to the online archive. You can then have the best of both worlds.

I have been reading comics since the 60’s , I repeat reading them .. I place them in plastic with card board to keep them straight and in the comic box for reading at my convenience. Protection is different than sealing to preserve. A comic is for reading , and you protect what you read not seal it in a bag forever …Just my thoughts

Derf…youre an idiot…i cant stand people who still hold on to this ancient ideal of comics are meant for reading..sure dude they are, we get that, BUT THEY ARE ALSO MEANT FOR COLLECTING. You act like there isnt enough comics for everyone or you act LIKE WE DONT LIVE IN AN AGE OF DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY WHERE YOU CAN READ THE COMIC FOR LESS THAN THE COVER PRICE!!

Now im not a big tree hugging environmentalist but i recognize the fact that hey if we can save some trees why not. I feel like print comics are no longer just about reading them. there are just as many people who love just collecting them and never even opening or reading them. What that make you angry??? Awwwww poor baby. Mr. Derf is angry cause he cant read a comic…AWWWWWWW let’s everyone hold his hand so he doesnt cry….k??

YOU BABY..Bitching about CGC, you know what the real problem is?? NOBODY READS YOUR COMIC AND YOU NEED A WAY TO GET ATTENTION. Im willing to believe that more than your whole wannabe indiana jones crusade…You know what happened to Indiana Jones???? ALIENS. And that is not as ridiculous as your CGC gripe… If you dont like CGC dont buy CGC…Why are you acting like you dont have a choice…?

I agree with Derf,slabbing comics is ridiculous, I understand the collectibillity is better & you can get it in a reprint,but I prefer purchasing & reading it then I’ll bag it;never slabbed.You pay as much or more to get a CGC as it can be worth.I’ve been buying & reading comics since I was 10 & never thought about the collectibility until the early 90’s.With a collection of approx. 10,000 I’m looking to sell most of them.They’re all bagged not slabbed & a lot are boarded also.

@Jim — Publishers won’t put a comic online if there is even a minuscule chance that they can still make a profit off of it. DC and Marvel still make plenty of money off graphic novels of past issues. Think how much money DC would not have made if they had posted Watchmen online.

The reading experience in the old comics is never the same as a reprinted edition, in last case all material is not included.
What I enjoy most of my reading experience or Mavel’s Silver Age is the Soap Box and the letter section, the interaction between fans and creators is unique and is plenty of new ideas that later were exploted.
The only reprinted edition that includes all this material is the omnibus but you can kill a person with that heavy book!!!!
Floppies are the best but the price is so high and are hard to find that when you got a cgc comic you think a lot to open it.
What I like the most about grading is the waranty that your are buying a comic as described and it tends to homogenize the market prices.

Isn’t this what TPB are for. If I were ever able to buy a slabbed copy of Action Comics #1, I sure as hell am not gonna rip open the plastic case just to read it, I am going to get me a TPB that contains it to read and save the slabbed version for investment reasons.

The books I’ve had graded, I ended up either getting trades or, in the case of my Birds of Prey Ongoing v1 #8 (date between Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon) which has never been reprinted in a trade, acquired a digital copy.

I agree comics should be read, but if you can get a reading copy, nothing wrong with preserving an investment (I do not buy and an investment but if I find a book I have is worth money…)

@d, I agree. If I purchase an Action Comics v1 #1. That is an INVESTMENT. I would do everything to keep it is as good of condition as I could which means I would never open it except to put it in better protection.

while i love and believe in, and that there should be a collectors market, i do not believe in having customers pay full price for digital, when you usually have to view the comic you paid for on a site, & cant own the file on your hard drive. “if” one company would ever go digital, it shouldn’t charge for paper, ink, shipping, or distribution. & you would be able to own files on your own computer of what you paid for. comics for $3.99 would then be $1.25.

..also: digital files can be hacked, stolen, fragmented. & if on a kindle, dropped and irretrievable until another copy is purchased. a bank wont insure first print digital anything. how then does a collector make money on their digital collections? -they wont. -. non-petroleum based plastics. -research these. they can be used like paper, and no trees are then harmed. –thats how environmentally friendly companies can continue to print for collectors. this all readers only b.s. needs to stop. this medium of comics is both for readers and collectors and needs to stay for both in order to survive. no collectors buying multiple copies of one issue per month, = companies not being able to pay art teams and writers. this means there’s no money for characters like the atom, moon knight, or minor characters. then we only have big named characters like batman and spider-man in comics…there’s no fun in that when its all the time.

if you cut out collectors, it will be the final nail in the coffin for the comics medium. you fans that buy to just read, do not buy one of “everything.” collectors do, as they never know which will eventually make them or their grandchildren a return investment. they also buy in bulk, more than one copy per title. once DC and marvel and others aren’t getting those sales, the output will shrink in number of titles they can pay to put out.. you have no idea how the medium works if you say they are only for reading. good luck with only reading about batman at one company, and only about spider-man at the other. you wont see you’re faves at all. even team books will die out without the collectors.

@Frank, you do know that DC and Marvel also publish all their current comics and a lot of their back catalog online these days, right? They even have a system where they’ll sell some comics with a code that unlocks the digital copy for your account on ComiXology. That sounds a lot like the system Jim is suggesting.

Ive got copies of FF#1 and Amazing Fantasy #15 CGC’d. No way in hell am i cracking those things open to read.Ive got omnibuses and trades for that.

CGC is a joke anyway. The only few books worth preserving are the older ones and I’m happy with a digital archive.

@Shawn Defiant The printing costs are a drop in the bucket. I’d rather pay the creators more money with a digital issue and encourage investment in digital by paying full price. The bulk of the costs of producing an issue is mostly paying creators. With how many issues get printed, the costs are extremely low. Do you really think Marvel or DC are going to give the same rate to creators and charge less money for a digital issue? You live in fantasy land. The entire great reason of having a company like Comixology is so that when something does happen to a device, I don’t lose my comics. The only way Comixology is going under is if the entire industry is going under. It’s in the best interest of comic companies to keep it running at this point. It’s how people think Apple is going to eventually crater and everything on iTunes will be lost. Apple is not going anywhere. Amazon is not going anywhere.

Oh, and slabbing is the dumbest thing I have ever heard of or seen. Will never understand it.

[note: my comments are largely limited to the collecting of golden, silver and bronze age comics]

When most transactions for comic books occurred face to face (shops and at cons) it was far easier to assess a books condition and value. Well schooled collectors could also do a visual check for most types of restoration (color touch, tape, tear seals, etc). In that era, a service like CGC would have very little need in the market.

But now most comics that are “collected” (GA/SA/BA books of value) are bought and sold online. Very hard to fully evaluate a comic based on a few scans or photos. Having books evaluated by a 3rd party like CGC is handy when buying from someone you dont know. The fact that they also do restoration checks is a major bonus since the market currently values unrestored comics at many multiples of restored copies of comics.

I own slabbed comics, I own raw comics, and I own trades. Last year I read over 1500 comic books. Backderf’s comments are at best uninformed, and at worst sour grapes.

i am all for bagging and boarding but not slabbing.

I don’t CGC anything but why the fuck does this guy care what people choose to do with their books and money? Dude seems like a total self-righteous asshole.

I can understand both sides but I read and collect comics. When it comes to the CGC, I personally get some of my collection graded because I do want to preserve them but I will definitely read them first. I also don’t buy a book already graded. I prefer getting a book CGC’d after I’ve read it because it it’s a little more special to me. Of course I don’t grade every comic I have (because that gets pricey) but I’ll pick a few out of the bunch I really like and yes, they are worth being sealed.

If anyone wants to read the story over and over in today’s age, you can either get them digitally or buy them in reprint form so you can read it until your heart’s content. In my opinion if a book has been CGC’d, one shouldn’t go out to buy it in order to release it from it’s seal because there are collectors out there who would like to purchase them at their own risk.

As long as CGC can buy ad space from the comics industry publications to inflate sealed books’ values, there’s going to be demand for slabbed books. I don’t think I’d waste the money to buy them up and “free them” or whatever, but to each his own.

I think my one previous post was on a shelf-porn article where I railed against people leaving toys in their packaging after purchase. So, I definitely am against slabbing of comics on principle.

However, if someone happens to be in possession of a vintage (silver-age, golden age) issue in really nice condition that they choose to get graded and slabbed for preservation, I don’t see anything wrong with that.

I wholly agree though that seeing brand-new issues or even ones that are a few years old that have been slabbed is just ridiculous. That copy of {insert random recent comic issue here} is not inherently more valuable because someone graded it out as a 9.7 and entombed it in plastic.

All that being said, I certainly wouldn’t pay the premium to acquire one of those slabbed issues just to open the seal and free it.

Common Observer

January 21, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Seems like a trivial crusade. It’s a waste of money for him to do it, and it’s a little judgy for him to tell collectors how to enjoy their collection. I’d imagine many who obtain a certain issue do so because it’s special to them. Like many have said before, it’s likely folks own a collection or “reader copy” of the book that’s locked up for safe keeping.

It’s really just an extension of the speculative investing in comics that really gained steam in the 90’s and almost destroyed the industry. If he wants to crusade against slabbing, then he should encourage someone to publish more specific guidelines for grading comics than the guidelines published by Overstreet. There’s nothing worse for a new collector than to buy a book some shop owner has labelled as NM only to find out his book doesn’t really meet the criteria for NM.

First off, I love Derf’s “My Friend Dahmer,” it’s a fantastic book that gives a unique perspective of the kid that would become one of America’s most infamous serial killers. It is thoughtful and respectful but not doesn’t cross the line and make Dahmer a sympathetic figure. It was easily one of my favorite reads of last year if not the best book I read last year.

Now that the fanboy has gushed out of me, on to the subject at hand.

I fully understand Derf’s point of view. I used to share it. Let’s face facts, whether you consider yourself a reader, a collector, or a hybrid of the two, there is no way around the fact that comics are made to read. They always have been and (debatably) always will be. If you’re a reader though, do you care if you are reading an original Fantastic Four #1 or the Marvel Milestones reprint? It is the same story, same writer, same artist, same characters… they are one and the same. You still get the same story and the same enjoyment regardless of which copy you read.

As a collector, does it matter if you have the 1961 book or the Marvel Milestones edition? YES! It’s a huge difference! Odds are, you are not buying the original 1961 edition just to read it. You are buying it because you are a fan, because you want a complete set, or you want to have the true first appearance of the Fantastic Four. You may love the book, the creators, the characters, or the medium. Why you want it is irrelevant, but if you have sought out this book, you want the real deal. You want an original copy that is worth the hard earned dollars you plop down or, more likely, send floating magically across the internet. You don’t want a FF #1 cover wrapped around the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man or an original copy under a reproduction cover. You don’t want to pay for a very fine copy and receive a fair copy. That’s where CGC comes into play.

With a CGC graded book, you know that it has been evaluated and assigned a grade by someone other than the person trying to sell you the book. Now, either you, the seller, or both may disagree with that grade. You may think the actual grade is lower. The seller may think the actual grade is higher. Either way, CGC has spoken and you have a solid starting point for bargaining or haggling. Plus, they detect restoration that many collectors would not catch. They do it under controlled circumstances that could not be easily duplicated on a show floor or in a shop. So, once again, you are certain of exactly what you are buying. No trick of the light, no careful cropping of a photo of the book, no ignoring that coffee ring on the back cover that runs six pages deep. You know what you are getting and it has been verified by an independent third party.

Now, I know what you are thinking, “I can grade! I’ve been collecting for X years!” Oddly, that is exactly the same argument the guy on the other end is going to make. With CGC there is an independent third party to take the guesswork out of it. Once graded, though, how can we know that the book hasn’t been damaged, whether it is in shipping, or handling by the seller? It is encapsulated (slabbed) so that the book’s current condition is maintained.

CGC slabs are not tamper-proof, they are tamper-evident. If you want to remove the book, it is easy to do so without damaging it. There are even notches on the hard plastic outer shell to make it easy to open. Presto! You can now read the book. Having a book graded, certified, and encapsulated does not prevent anyone from reading anything. You want it out? You got it! If you are a genuine reader/collector, you probably don’t care if the book is in the slab or not as you plan to keep it from now on. That is fine, enjoy it! It is your book, after all. If you are an investor or dealer, the slab makes it easier for you to sell the book when you are ready to do so.

I do have a problem with the price bump involved with slabbing a book. To me, the price increase should only be the cost of grading and maybe shipping. I am amazed that sellers ask and routinely get large amounts over guide. I am not mad at them, just like someone cracking their books out, it’s theirs and they can do as they please. I’m just shocked that they get what they ask so often. Maybe the price guide needs to be rethought.

There is one particular place that CGC books are more valuable. CGC Signature Series is different. CGC SS means that a company authorized witness watched the book be signed and then immediately took possession of the book so that it is in the hands of CGC (or their agent) until it is encapsulated. This means the signature is 100% authentic. There are a variety of hoops to jump through to obtain the CGC SS label, but this is done to protect the integrity of the signature. Now, many of you a snickering since it seems an unlikely thing to have someone fake a signature of a comic creator, but some creators are notoriously tough to obtain, making a certified signature all the more rare. Just as with any other book submitted to CGC, the book itself is graded and encapsulated in their tamper-evident case. Then there are celebrity signed books that also command a premium because the signature is authentic without a doubt.

I seriously doubt I have changed a single mind with my post, but hopefully those so adamantly opposed will at least see the other side. I really and truly did start at the same place as the nay-sayers when I saw my first slabbed book. I did my own research and found that it is not such a bad thing.


Excellent post, thank you. That was exactly my stance on this and you said it very well.

I have one CGC’d book, though I might do a few others (best of my collection). I would likely acquire a reading copy. All-Star Superman 1 signed by Morrison and Quitely is the one, btw.

If you want to read collectible back issues, buy trade paperbacks. Pretty much everyone I know buys new issues, reads them, then packs them away. This article is stupid. What kind of dumbass is constantly handling their collectible comics when they can buy non-collectible trades to read? None.

Only a self-important narcissist would care, let alone obsess over how other collectors choose to buy their comics.

Here is a crazy concept for you. If you don’t want your comics in a slab, by them raw or buy them in a slab and remove them. Done! Problem solved, right?

Many buyers, myself included, like to buy high-end comics but don’t have the time or the local resources to always find what we want. This is why much of the buying and selling has turned to the Internet. Even the most knowledgeable of collectors cannot grade a comic without having it in hand, and the vast majority of collectors can’t spot restoration even if the comic is right in front of them.

It is for this reason certification companies have caught on, not just in comics, but for other collectibles as well, such as coins and sports cards. And let’s quit kidding ourselves. People have been paying exorbitant prices for collectible comics for many decades. Not to read, to have. This isn’t some new thing.

I have all my comics bagged and boarded, but not slabbed…but I suppose if I had spare change for a collectible maybe, but I don’t buy comics to NOT read them. Some say CGC is going to far in terms of the speculator market…which may be true…as I know what the 90’s looked like when speculation went nuts…but in terms of preservation I appreciate the CGC…as we know so many Golden Age comics are non-existent because of the lack of intent to preserve them. THIS IS LITERATURE, MAN!! But, yeah comics are meant to be read and ogled.

I don’t even individually bag my books anymore. Have you ever re-bagged 16 long boxes of comics? The time and money alone…. I put 25 issues in a Magazine bag and only have to go in the box 4 times to read an entire 100 issue run on a title. As far as CGC… I own 3 of them – FF #258, Capt Am 25 2nd print and ASM vol 2 # 36 (9.6 was like $20 less than the 9.8 was. All are favorite issues of favorite books.

“…most of these books have been reprinted elsewhere, so slabbing an original doesn’t prevent people from reading the contents elsewhere…”

Problem is a lot of the “most collectible” (due to their rarity) books will never be reprinted since the few copies that remain have been slabbed and there’s no way to access the contents without unslabbing them, thereby reducing their value on the market!

Case in point: Green Giant Comics #1, one of the rarest Golden Age titles!
Overstreet calls it “rare,” while Gerber terms it “very rare,” signifying that only six to ten copies are thought to still exist.
Overstreet also notes that the book was distributed only in New York City, and says that even the book’s publisher “believes the book never reached the stands.”
Heritage has only offered two copies (both slabbed), and I’ve seen one (slabbed) in a friend’s collection.
The insides have never been imaged for decent reproduction.
(The Digital Comic Museum has a cbz from microfiche.
Poor quality, but far better than nothing at all.)

How much of the Golden Age (and some of the Silver Age) is entombed in plastic, never to be unearthed again?

Atomic Kommie,

The vast majority of collectible comics can be found raw, but for those ultra rarities your best chance is to include online auctions and other Internet resources. If you buy online wouldn’t you want a 3rd party to have examined the comic, checked for resto and give you an opinion on the grade?

Again, nothing is stopping anyone from removing the slab.

Someone should point Derf to this thread. Not sure he would care though

I believe as Americans we have the right to decide to or not to slab our comicbooks.I’ve been collecting for 35 years and don’t have any slabs.I may slab some at some point ,but like all of us we have spent a lot on some of our little beauties ,so if you wanted to slab some of them as an investment for your retirements or will them to family I see nothing wrong with this , If you choose not to that’s fine too. I’ll end this like this paper life is about 300 years so slabbing in a sense is a good thing just remember if you open a slab the grade is nullified.I do believe in preservation but the bottom line is we are talking about this passion we all share so whether we slab or not we all care about comicbooks some express themselves differently.

I like the idea of getting them slabed to collect and display. I always buy a second low grade copy to read, that way other people can enjoy them and I dont have to wory about if they are being careful with them. Works well for me so far. I also like to just buy a combined collected works volume to read and let people enjoy.

“Comic books are made to be read. ”

Okay – well then coins are meant to be spent, so everyone with coin collections should crack open their FN/NM quarters and dimes from the 1920 and 30s and drop them in vending machines for a soda!

And toys are meant to be played with, so everyone with MIB action-figures from the 60’s and 70’s should rip open the packages and start playing with them or donate them to poor children to play with.

Your disdain for what other people collect and how they collect them is just plain narrow-minded.

I bet most people who slab whatever issues they want to slab probably also have reader copies or reprints of those same issues that they can always pull out and enjoy… the “correct” way.

To each his own!

As a childhood collector, someone who inherited a large silver age collection in the eighties, and now a father who wants to share his experiences with his son: I couldn’t agree more with Derf.

My most fond memories of collecting was the effect of an old comic book on my senses. The smell of musty old pages, the touch of brittle paper from a different era, and the old ads that gave you an idea of what appealed to kids back then (remember Sea Monkeys and a foolocker of Army men?)

There was a point in my teens when I became obsessed with the collecting aspect of Comic Books (this was around the Dark Night Returns era when mass production was rampant), and I would buy books without any intent to ever read them, but just to “have them”, so they would be as valuable as Action Comics #1 some day.

Twenty Five years later, I have resurrected my collection from my parents attic with the realization that these comics (which are all sealed in bags with boards) are only worth a fraction of what I thought they would be when I stopped collecting. However, the true value lies in pleasure I will have showing my son that Daredevil was a badass superhero long before Ben Affleck made him popular to the masses.

I will also teach my son how to care for these comics, so that his son can enjoy them as well. The best part will be the evidence of aging these comics will show through generations, so the sensory effect will be heightened with age. That’s something that encapsulated comics will never be able to do, and that makes them not as cool!.

Kevin Barthelemy

February 7, 2015 at 7:18 pm

As someone who started collecting comics in the early 70s…not speculating in, but actually collecting them, I couldn’t agree more with Derf. Speculation causes prices to skyrocket. It puts them in the hands of people who don’t give a damn about them, other than what they can make from reselling them. I had to stop buying comics, for the most part, when I was still young, due to personal obligations. I’m finally to the point where I’d like to get my hands on certain books that I missed, but now so many people think that reading reprints is sufficient, that I shouldn’t want to have those originals to hold and read. They don’t understand what those books mean to me, and personally, that doesn’t matter…they don’t matter. What matters, is that with my current low, fixed income, you “collectors” (yeah, I mean you twits who see comics as investments) have priced them out of reach. Derf, I highly appreciate your actions.

The part that makes CGC a scam is the point that they’re charing a variable rate based on value of the book. That inherently makes them suspect since they have an inherent motivation to overgrade. It takes no more time or energy to rate a 50 page coming from 2015 than it does a 50 page comic from 1940.

It’s a racket just this side of organized crime – because if you want to play the game, you must pay whatever they decide you should.

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