Friday, August 01, 2008

A Terrific Comic Book Grader

I think I've referred to this topic in previous posts, but I stumbled upon this article on prepping your comics for CGC and I decided to bring it up again. Basically, CGC is a company that grades and "slabs" your books for collection purposes.

I don't remember there being a CGC type slabbing service when I worked in a comic book store in the early 1990s. In those days, to put the comic in a mylar sleeve was considered a big deal. I think after the mylar sleeve came the sturdier sleeve or "case" -- the predecessor to the "slab" we all know and love today.

I still look for copies of comics that are in "mint condition" when I am at the comic book store. This is an unconscious search, habit, an automatic reaction built from my earlier comic book collecting experience. I never pick up the first copy of an issue on the rack -- I always reach in the stack and try to get a "fresh" one. Yes, just like one might do with a bag of Wonder Bread. The irony is, once I take it home I bend the cover back, toss it by my bed side, the cat steps on it, I step on it, etc.

My first assignment at the comic book store I used to work at was to accompany a co-worker to an-off-site grading session. It was basically the fabled story you heard so many times you believe it's just an urban legend: early runs of Marvels in decent condition kept in some guy's suitcase and found by accident. First Spider-Man, a run of Fantastic Four from issue #1, etc. Crisp, bright covers, non-yellowed pages, probably read only once and socked away in the suitcase.

And so started my strange, complicated, long-term relationship with Mr. Sid Lonesome. The first day I had to meet up with Sid to do the grading with him, he was late. Then I saw him coming down the block and the bus was coming. I hopped on the bus and motioned to him to pick up the pace and catch the bus. He didn't catch the bus. I got off the next stop and waited for him. I watched him make several unsuccessful attempts to light a cigarette in the face of a direct blast of wind. Then we went to the house to grade the comics.

We were both impressed at the collection, to say the least. Sid was instructed by his boss not to gush over the comics but keep a poker face; he gushed anyway. This of course made the bargaining harder. The owner of the books was an antique dealer, so he was no dummy. He just didn't know comics, didn't deal comics.

Sid: "Oh my God...X-Men #1 in near mint''s beautiful."

The way the deal went down, we paid through the nose for some of the "keys" in the collection -- Fantastic Four #1 etc. -- and then bought some of the lesser books, like early Tales of Suspense and Daredevil, for cheap.

Me and Sid finished the day by going to a big Chinese restaurant, the suitcase of comics resting on the floor beneath the table. We already devised how we would mark some of the really lesser books at fives and dollars and then just buy them ourselves. Our boss was paying us largely in comics anyway, either right-off-the-bat or when we turned around and spent our pay on them.

I determined that day that I really liked Sid, but I wasn't sure how. Many, many, years later, I was still at that stage of our relationship; I really liked him, but I wasn't sure how. And then we went our separate ways, touching base only occasionally. But I'll always remember -- he was a terrific comic grader. A terrible buyer, but a terrific grader.


  1. Great story. I'm sure most of us that have had any sort of comics or retail life (or worse, comics retail life) have a story like that but yours is told better and has the cool Sid character. One thing that strikes me is how much things have changed in just 10 years. Back before I left book retail I had a guy bring in a box of his late uncle's comics and ask me about value. He had the first dozen or so X-Men and the second dozen or so Spider-Man. Bunch of other great books. Maybe 80 comics. All from the first few years of Marvel. Back in the day I would have been excited but instead I felt bad for the guy. I knew he was going to get screwed. I told him that the people that would tell him what they were worth and pay him what they were worth don't exist anymore. That he was on his own. I tried to coach him through an Overstreet guide and suggested he sell them himself on ebay. I had to coach him through ebay too. I don't know what happened. I hope he either kept the books or managed to at least get half of what they were worth. Latter on I would find out that I knew some of the guy's family and that he had drug problems so my fear is that they were sold off for next to nothing.

  2. This has a funky Will Eisner vibe about it! And that's pretty cool!