28 February 2006

Wizard, the CGC, and You: How Comic Grading Is Sending the Industry Towards A Second Cardiac Arrest

As you are here I’m going to assume you have an e-mail address, and if the e-mails are to be believed you have a forty foot long penis and you're fucking hot underage girls hopped up on free herbal medicine while staring at the diplomas on your wall that would make you legally qualified to be God. You may also have noticed that you have received offers from many members of the Nigerian royal family, and that you become a transferrer, if you choose to accept the deal, you will soon be filthy rich.

Of course this is run by the Nigerian mafia, and if you follow this scam you will end up losing all your money, and if you fly to Nigeria you will be brutally beaten and/or murdered after landing. Or you will become one of those guys who believe it wasn’t a scam and give money over and over hoping it was some kind of error, becoming more desperate hoping to get some money back before you end up sucking cock for beer money.

Welcome to the land of the scam.

What any of this has to do with comics is quite simple: comic grading is a scam and a throwback to a dumber time in comics; namely, the extreme and investor filled nineties. It is a well documented story how many people invested in comics after the realisation that classic comics were worth thousands of dollars, the highest being Action Comics #1 which can go for $1000000 with the right buyer, and that this was an untapped market of wealth. So the industry started releasing more and more alternate covers which served two purposes: get the limited edition covers that would be worth a fortune in a few years and to boost comic sales. Of course, as we now know, the reason those other comics were worth so much is that there was a demand for those comics because they were so rare, old and iconic. Once the boom died the comic industry was nearly flatlining and it was a very dark time for publishers.

Luckily the comic industry managed to keep itself a steady low heartbeat and has been slowly building its empire from the ashes of the ninety boom with, strangely enough, a good supply of actual good stories instead of relying on pretty art which goes hand in hand with the emphasis nowadays being on who writes the story rather than who draws it.

This is where Wizard comes in and proceeds to fuck everything up.

If you bother to read beyond the Wizard articles in the monthly magazine (hint: don’t) you will find that nearly half of its 100+ pages are a comics price guide. Now there have been many articles written on how this guide is flawed on a fundamental level, but I won’t go into that now. I want to point your attention to the thing that that section spends most of its time plugging: "CGC-ing," or comic grading.

Wizard owns the CGC, so it’s easy to understand why they want people to use it, and it kind of makes sense: have your comics graded against other issues to see which is the best. For example if you own a Spider-Man #1 and yours is a 7.9 and someone else’s is a 3.2, you'll be able to sell yours at a higher price than he will be able to sell his. Sounds good right? Well that’s where the good ends, because Wizard have instead changed it to grading any comic, to the point where through Wizard you can order comics to go from the publisher straight to CGC to be graded. Now what I’m getting at is that they are grading things straight from the publisher, irrelevant of what they are and as Wizard shows it can boost the price by 1000% versus the recommended retail price! Think that Green Arrow issue is worth cover price? Hell no try $72 if it’s a CGC of 9.0-10, and as it’s going straight from the publisher to CGC, chances are you are investing in the big time money booster.

If you can’t see the problem I’ll spell it out: it’s the nineties all over again.

Boosting the prices of comics that are not noteworthy, rare or have any other significant detail that can alter the price is a return to the same thing that killed the industry in the nineties. To just add economics to this, the exact problem is this: there is no buyer. In a market you need a buyer for the comic otherwise the grading is just a pretty box around your comic that prevents you from reading it.

Who, really, wants to own a CGC rating of 9.8 NYX? Not even #1… #3. http://www.cgccomics.com/gallery/details.asp?IDComic=2075 to see for yourself.

To extend this even more take the recent New Avengers #1, which even I will admit is a collectable. Think about this: signing boosts a price, but as most comics readers these days go to cons, especially those with an interest in comic grading, can get Bendis to sign it there. Rarity? Sure they may run out of the printing of #1 but these days the real money is to be made in trade paper back sales, especially with the fact that Bendis likes to tell his stories over several issues with each issue being a chapter to a greater whole. Even then demand for a comic means they will reprint second, third of forth printings (probably with alternate covers) so the ones who really want an issue can get it then. This of course leads to grading in which the quality of the issue is graded and then placed in a plastic box to prevent evil human hands from touching them (the best gradings go to issues that haven’t been touched by humanity, so it’s not odd for people to buy two issues: one to read, and one to grade). Of course why stop there? Buy every printing and grade those too, the alternate covers are collectable now and if you get them all signed you’re in the money.

Of course everyone else is too, so you are once again left without a buyer.

So we have alternate covers, buying of multiple copies boosting sales, and people paying for a service that appears to make their comics worth a lot more than the cover price, when in fact all they are doing is losing money to the graders. If this continues, it will truly be the nineties all over again, this time with a heart attack the industry may not recover from.

Except Avatar Press, they can continue printing as many alternate covers as they like. If I don't get twelve versions of the same issue of Brian Pullido's Lady Death every week I get the shakes.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice article. I don't collect nowadays, but have thought about getting back into it. I remember trying to explain the price inflation to some friends and other collectors in the nineties. The Overstreet or Wizard price was what the retail store would sell it to you for, but good luck finding a market if you wanted to sell any of your 3 special cover #1's that 1000s extra were printed. When I heard about the new scam- slabbing, I thought it was a joke at first. But yeah, people are stupid, and collectors are more gullible when they get greedy, instead of just enjoying the story and art.

1:47 PM  
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