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Why I Love Low Grade Comic Books

Image by Emilie Farris from Pixabay

I like my hash browns scattered, covered, and occasionally chucked and country. I also occasionally don’t mind if my comic books are creased, chipped, and ticked.

Comic books are graded on a scale of 0 to 10, with a 1.0 meaning there are significant issues like a split spine and detached cover, and a 9.8 being the realistic highest, meaning the average eye would spot no blemishes anywhere on the book. To move this along, let’s lump comics grading a 5.0 or below as low grade, mid-grade being 5.5 to about a 9.0, and high grade comics being anything above that. So, comic books with ticks along the spine, little chips of paper missing from the cover’s edge, and creases in the paper are low grade comics.

So, why would I enjoy low grade comics? Isn’t it weird to speak and think highly of a comic book that has chips, creases, and ticks? Firstly, you always want the highest grade you can get. That’s obvious. No one is saying you should go out and buy beat up comics for the thrill of it. Besides, any Modern Age comic (1992 or newer) should be high grade because Modern comics have several things on their side that raise expectations, the ubiquitousness of comic book “care” products like bags and boards, the upscaling of paper quality, and Modern comics are…well, new, meaning they’ve had less of a history to get banged up and poured over.

But it is different for older comic books from the Bronze, Silver, or especially Golden Age. When you are talking about comics books that are 40, 50, maybe even 80 years old, like many in my collection, you may never see another copy of it in the wild. Literally. These are very scarce books, so buy it when you see it, even if it is a low grade 2.0 that has more ticks than a deer in the Appalachian wilderness.

In fact, you may not see that book again, if you are interested in Golden Age books. Time is not kind to comic books, so it’s understandable that vintage books are lower grade. So, just get the book.

Lest you think I’m just towering the bar, asking you to accept a collectible of a lesser condition, let’s unpack this further. Remember, comic grading companies like CGC – who offers a service to professionally grade a comic and secure it in a secure plastic slab – are a relatively new phenomenon in collecting comics.

But as more and more CGC graded Modern comics are showing up in plastic slabs at a 9.8, it’s re-wiring the thinking of the comic book community. An unintentional side effect has become an unrealistic expectation that all comics from all time should be found in high grade condition. Sure, when you think about it logically, it is silly to associate Modern comic thinking to a comic 60 years old, but our brains are silly things. So, say it with me, “I can buy what I like and it’s OK if it is low grade.”

Low grades create an opportunity to own a comic that may otherwise be way over budget. It’s a low-risk, low-cost way to own a cool collectible that you think is neat. My Daredevil #1 is graded at a 2.5. Would I love to have it in a 7.0. Absolutely! But I own a Daredevil #1, which is really neat and I was able to get it at a price I can afford.

There an always a demand for key books. And there is also always a pool of folks that want that key book but don’t have thousands to spend. That supply and depend helps the book maintain value, even in low grades. In fact, those low grade books increase in value proportionally with the higher grades in the same book. So, needless to say, I’m stoked to own my Daredevil, even though it is a 2.5.

And a low grade doesn’t necessarily mean gnarly-looking. Sometimes a book is low grade and the cover is half ripped off and chunks are missing. Those types of flaws don’t – to use a term common in the comic community – “present” well. But a low grade book might have several bends, ticks, and minor tears and staining that justify a lower grade, but the book overall looks fine without close inspection. It presents well, in other words. Besides, it looks even better when you place it in Mylar.

Some people sit around wistfully hoping they will win the lottery. Other people realize that’s a long shot and take what material steps they can to advance their interests. Low grade comics aren’t typically seen as a good “investment,” yet prices don’t really spike until around a 6.0 or higher and we see compression seen in those lower grades. For example, what’s the price difference between a 3.0 and a 3.5? Not much, which allows a collector to scoop up a deal on a low grade and potential inch their way into a better quality.

And the great news is that as high-end books achieve sales records at auction, the rising tide lifts all ships and energizes those lower grade copies of that record book that the community sees going through the roof. That drives collectors to want to get the book, in any grade they can.

Finally, avoid the drama. So much YouTube content in the comic book community are folks who are speculating on slabbed comic books that they believe they can “crack” (meaning to remove from the plastic case), then press the comic in order to re-submit the comic in hopes of getting a higher grade that they can leverage for profit. It’s some hooey. Get comics you enjoy, that you think are fun, and that are affordable for you to keep and collect. Sure, if you are a speculator, speculate away and may Odin bless you with profits far exceeds the dreams of avarice. But, for the rest of us, we can just collect for fun, so don’t feel pressured by the interests of YouTubers. They are just eager to film themselves.

I enjoy collecting those great comics from 50 or more years ago. The first appearances of Black Widow or Hawkeye, great Neal Adams covers on Batman, Golden Age war comics, and more. But it’s cost prohibitive to worry about if they are a 7.0 or a 7.5 or whatever. I’m just happy to own them, even if it’s a worn 2.0.