by Jon R. Warren

Comic books, like coins, stamps, sports cards, movie posters, and everything else that people collect, are valued according to condition. Because human beings prize things that glitter, the more like new the book is, the more collectors will pay for it. Seems simple enough, right? WRONG!

Because talking about condition really means talking about money, buyers and sellers often have a hard time agreeing on the grade of a book. But, fortunately there are standard terms that everyone agrees on (what those terms mean is another story). Unluckily, it takes years of looking at thousands of variances of grade before you can really be a knowledgeable grader. So how do you know what grade a comic book is in if you are new at making the grade? Let me suggest that you start simple and then focus on the final grade.

First let's look at some general terms that could be used to describe the condition of a comic book, then we'll cover some specialized terms that dealers and collectors use.


We all know what this is, it's a book in brand new condition. When you go to the newsstand and pick the best copy you can find, that's probably a PERFECT, like-new comic book (unless it's mangled on the newsstand). The term for a comic book in perfect condition is MINT. Although some dealers will try to convince you that 30 or 40 year old comics aren't graded as strictly as new comics, I wouldn't believe it if I were you. When it comes to MINT, mint is mint, period.


If someone bought a comic, read it once or twice, and then carefully filed it away, it is in ABOVE AVERAGE condition. We refer to comics in above average condition as VERY FINE (abbreviated VF).


The term collectors use to describe a comic in AVERAGE condition is VERY GOOD (or VG for short). Since comics are supposed to be read and handled, books that have been read and handled are in average condition. Creased corners, little tears, stuff that you could expect from normal use is common in a VG condition book.


Comics that you owned when you were six years old are probably in BELOW AVERAGE condition because you probably beat the @@#$!! out of them. And they look it! The comic is still complete with all pages but the cover might be loose or a piece might be missing from the corner. You know what I mean...ROUGH ROUGH! Collectors describe comics in below average condition as GOOD. Actually, there's nothing good about it other than the fact that you have a copy to keep until a better one comes along.


A book that looks like it was rescued from the trash is in POOR condition. You know you have handled a poor condition book when you rush to wash your hands afterwards.

Now that you know the five basic ranges of condition a comic book can be in, it's much easier to focus in on exactly what the real grade is. Try it yourself. Take a stack of your books and grade them. Is the first one in the stack just like the day you bought it except for a tiny bend in the corner? Then it's not MINT, but you could certainly say it's ABOVE AVERAGE. Put it in the VF stack. Does the next one in the stack look read and re-read? Put it in the VG stack. Continue sorting the books in basic grades. When you are done, refer to the following grading descriptions. You can focus in on the actual grade by reading these fine-tuning grading descriptions. The one that sounds the closest to the grade of your book is the actual grade.

These are the terms comic book collectors use to describe condition. At conventions and your local comic book store you will see these grades and grade-codes used to indicate grade. Memorize them, learn what they mean, and then you can start making the right grade.


Many collectors use a point system for figuring the grade of a comic. Some collectors use a 100 point scale, others use a ten point scale. For our purposes we will use a 10 point scale for grading comparisons. A perfect 10 is Mint, while a 1 is Good.


A perfect 10 on a 1-10 scale. A flawless copy in the same condition as the day it was printed. The MINT grade is practically non-existent in pre-1970 comics. Golden age comics in MINT condition are an extremely rare find and fetch huge premiums over average copies of the same comic. When grading a comic mint, no consideration should be given to the age of the book. No printing defects can appear on a MINT comic. The cover should have full original gloss, and appear bright, with sharp corners and no imperfections of any sort. Minute color variations may occur during printing, and are allowed in the MINT classification. The inside covers and all pages are creamy white and fresh. The binding (spine) is tight, flat, and clean without wear or stress lines. Not the slightest blemish can be detected around staples, along the binding and edges, or at corners. Arrival dates pencilled (not inked) on the cover are usually acceptable as long as they are very small. When the surfaces of the front and back covers are held to the light, not the slightest wear, indentations, wrinkles or defects of any kind can be observed. As comics must be truly perfect to be in this grade, they are obviously extremely scarce and are seldom offered for sale.


Approaching MINT but with a very slight blemish of some sort. This grade is used interchangeably with NM+.


Top of the NM range. NM/M and NM+ are interchangeable.


9 on a 1-10 scale. A copy that is virtually MINT but for one or two very tiny imperfections. For example, a tiny (1/16th inch) edge tear is allowable in this category if no other imperfections are present. A very few tiny stress lines along the spine could bepresent. Pages and covers should be creamy to white, not yellow or brown. No color touch-ups, repair or restroation of any kind is allowed in this grade. This grade is very rare in books prior to 1970.


Bottom of the NM range.


8 on a 1-10 scale. Beautiful, glossy and excellent in every way with one minor imperfection keeping it out of the higher grades. One tiny corner crease of less that 1/8th inch length is allowed. A couple of tiny (1/16th inch) stress lines along the spine are acceptable if the appearance of the book is not gravely affected. Pages should be creamy white, not yellowed or tan. A common defect in this grade is a tiny spine tear at the upper or lower binding (spine) not greater then 1/16th of an inch in length. One or two tiny tears (1/16th inch) are permitted in this grade if the copy is otherwise flawless. An extremely tiny tear repair, color touch-up, unobtrusive arrival date erasure or other similiar invisible alteration, on an otherwise near mint copy, is permitted in this grade.


Top of the VF range.


7 on a 1-10 scale. Superb. An outstanding copy in an unusual state of preservation. Clean and bright with sharp corners and pliant interior paper. Slight cover wear is present; possibly 5 or 6 tiny wrinkles or stress lines at the staples where the cover has been opened a few times; still clean and flat with 80 percent of cover gloss retained. Interior page quality should be creamy to white, not yellowish or brown. A few tiny color chips or imperfections could be present. A faint 1/4" corner crease on an otherwise exceptional copy could be present in this grade. Very minor professional restoration or repair is permitted in this grade if noted and described.


Bottom of the VF range.


6 on a 1-10 scale. Above average. A clean, bright copy lacking the crispness associated with Very Fine. Pages can be slightly yellowed, not brown or brittle. Several tiny stress lines along the spine and cover can be expected. Several tiny color flakes are permitted. No subscription creases or spine roll allowed in this grade. Corners may be slightly rounded. Exceptional cover gloss remains (60 percent or more).


Top of the FINE range.


5 on a 1-10 scale. Slightly better-than-average copy with obvious aging and diminishment, but still relatively flat, clean and glossy without subscription creases, writing on the cover (except possibly an arrival date), brown margins or tape repairs. Typical flaws include: light spine wear, minor surface wear, a light crease (1/4" in length), minor yellowing/tanning to interior pages. Still a bright copy with 50 per cent cover gloss. A few stress lines around the staples and along the spine are normal in this grade, but not more than 1/8" in length. One small edge chip or several tiny chips (such as Marvel chips) are permitted in this grade. One minor tear is allowed on an otherwise FVF copy. A very minor spine roll on an otherwise clean and uncreased copy is permitted in this grade.


Bottom of the FINE range.


4 on a 1-10 scale. Better than VG+, approaching FINE but not quite sharp enough to merit the higher grade. Frequently, a FINE copy with an unusual flaw is lowered to VG/F.


Top of the VG range. Slightly below a VG/F copy.


3 on a 1-10 scale. Average. Ordinary signs of use. Appears used, but not abused. The common state of preservation of a comic book that has been used as intended. Significant diminishment of original cover glossiness. Noticeable discoloration or fading could be present. One or two minor markings on covers is permitted. Minor spine rolling may have occurred. Lightly creased along extremities; a faint subscription crease is allowed. The covers could have a minor tear or crease where a corner was folded under. The centerfold could be detached or loose from the staples. A small chip or piece from the covers, or a small piece from an interior page that does not affect the live area (artwork area), is acceptable. Pages and inside covers could be tannish or yellowed, but not brittle. A small tape repair could be present in this grade. Still, the appearance of the comic is such that many collectors find the book acceptable until a better copy can be located.


Bottom of the VG range.


2 on a 1-10 scale. Approaching VERY GOOD but with too many signs of abuse to be a solid VERY GOOD. G/VG and G+ represent a very slight variation in grade.


Top of the GOOD range.


1 on a 1-10 scale. Below average. A worn copy but complete with all pages including centerfold, which may or may not be loose. Creased, scuffed, covers lack gloss, faded. Pages could be brown and brittle. Although a copy in this grade could have white pages and covers, the accumulation of defects such as creases, tears, or chips and general wear prevent this book from any higher classification.


Bottom of the GOOD range.


Approaching GOOD, with too much wear to be a solid GOOD.


Heavily worn but approaching the good classification.


0.5 on a 1-10 scale. Used and abused. Extremely worn, creased, and dirty, with possibly loose pages or significant tears, but still complete. Possibly small pieces missing from the cover, inked markings, tape, etc.


0 on a 1-10 scale. A terrible copy. Damaged; extremely worn; dirty or otherwise unsuited for collection purposes. Pages could be missing. Could be coverless if noted.

Making the Grade is © Jon R. Warren and is reprinted here by his kind permission.