How to Identify a CGC 9.8 Candidate When Grading Comic Books
Grading comics isn't easy, and getting a 9.8 is proving to be more difficult as CGC tightens its grading standards (and hires new graders). While some techniques can help distinguish between a CGC 9.8 and lower grades, there are still no guarantees. You can have a comic that looks perfect, but it can still get a 9.6 without any real explanation (CGC provides graders' notes only at the discretion of the grader). While there are no sure things with grading, we've made a guide on how to identify a potential 9.8 candidate when grading your comics using CGC (or CBCS).
When looking for a 9.8 comic book, you need to be thorough. You might not see some defects immediately, but if you look at the book under a light, you'll spot tiny spine ticks or corner dings (the most frequent culprits that prevent 9.8 grades in comics). This is why a flashlight can be handy, however, we find it easier to stand under a strong light source and angle the book with both hands to reflect the light off the comic. Certain angles will make it easier to see the tiny defects that wouldn't be easy to see under normal circumstances. Also, be sure to remove the comic from any bag before accessing the condition.
We're going to provide some examples to help understand the difference between a CGC graded 9.6 and a 9.8. These will show some of the most common defects that can prevent a comic from getting a 9.8.
Note that any advice we offer here is just our opinion, and should not be used as your sole means of research. You should always consult multiple sources when grading your comics. Also, note that we offer any personalized opinions you might need, however, WE WILL NOT GRADE YOUR COMICS FOR YOU. We've mentioned before that there are no guarantees when grading comics and grading a comic book from a picture is probably the most unreliable way to access the condition.
That being said, let's get on to our list of how to identify a potential CGC 9.8 candidate.
Defects That Can Prevent a Comic From Being Graded a 9.8
Spine ticks/stress lines. These are by far the most common defects we see with higher-grade comic books. This can be due to several reasons. One is that they were bound or tied during the initial shipping process which put stress on the spine. Another could be because of the way they were displayed on the shelves. If the comic wasn't upright (or didn't have some kind of a rigid backing board to hold it up), then there's a chance that it would slump and cause a spine tick in some areas. If you go to certain bookstores or comic book stores you will see good examples of this.
Spine ticks can vary in size, and the more you have and the larger they are, the more the grade of the comic book drops. A comic that has 1 or 2 tiny spine ticks will most likely get a CGC 9.6 grade. A book that has 3-4 smaller spine ticks will possibly get between a CGC 9.4 and 9.2. And a comic that has 5-6 smaller spine stress lines might get between a CGC 9.2 and 9.0 grade. These grades are estimates and grades can vary based on the size and severity of the spine ticks (big spine ticks will deduct more). A comic with 1 very tiny spine stress line can get a 9.8, but there are no guarantees (we consider these comics to be borderline). Use our example below for what we consider to be very small spine ticks.
It isn't hard to see that this comic (which was graded by CGC at 9.6) has a couple of tiny spine ticks that are very faint. We used the flash on our camera and angled the comic so that the spine ticks would be easy to see. Under natural light, the stress lines on the comic were not as easy to spot. This is why you need to be thorough if you're looking to get that 9.8 grade. We're using a comic that's already graded as our example, however, you should always make sure to remove comics from the bag before doing any kind of evaluation. Also, be sure to wash your hands before handling any comics (gloves can be useful, too). CGC deducts for fingerprints.
Corner creases. Here is another defect that can cause a comic to drop in grade. Believe it or not, we see these quite often and this can cause an otherwise perfect comic to drop from a 9.8 to a 9.2 or 9.4, depending on the size of the crease. This Eternals 1 was otherwise a 9.8 copy, but with the corner fold, it came back as a CGC 9.4 (which some might consider generous). These small creases can develop very easily, but we notice that they usually happen more often if a comic is stored without a bag. It's much easier for a comic without a bag to get tiny corner creases due to the way they're stored.
A tiny corner crease can reduce the grade of a comic by quite a bit. A comic book that was otherwise a 9.8, would drop by a few grades. If the crease is larger, then the grade drops even more. We've had comics that were otherwise perfect that had a large corner crease of about 2 inches that came back as a CGC 6.5 (which is expected).
Corner Bends/Dings. This is another common defect with comics. Sometimes, a comic ends up with a corner bend or ding due to the box it is being stored in being moved improperly (and the comic being thrown around within the box). This can happen in the initial shipping process or after. Storing a comic using a bag and board can help prevent this. Note that the example that we provide has a comic that has a bindery tear (which normally doesn't deduct from the grade), which looks to have gotten worse. If you look closely you can see some extra creasing on the corner, which indicates that the comic was dinged at some point.
Other defects can prevent 9.8 grades, but those are the most common. Some other defects that can be present in comics that look to be in high grade are stains, browning/foxing (this is usually in older comics), edgewear, and fingerprints. Some of these can hurt the grade quite a bit, so keep your eyes peeled.
While there are plenty of defects that can prevent a comic from getting a 9.8, note that page quality doesn't hurt the grade unless the pages are brittle or slightly brittle (which only happens in very old comics). Also, any defects that came during the manufacturing process will not deduct from the grade. This brings us to our next section.
Common Comic Book Manufacturing Defects That Don't Deduct From the Grade
While it can be tough to find a nearly flawless comic, know that small manufacturing issues won't always deduct from the grade. This might include small bindery tears on the corners of the spine, tiny gripper holes on the bottom of the books, and minor ink overspray on the top of the book. We'll go over most of these defects individually.
Bindery tears are by far the most common manufacturing defects and know that in most cases, these tiny tears will not deduct from the grade unless they've progressed. This is because these small tears will develop on comics when they have been wrapped at the printing facility (the corners essentially tear slightly when the paper initially folds over). Since many copies (new and old) arrived with these defects, CGC decided not to deduct them from the final grade.
We've continued to use the same Uncanny X-Men 142 CGC 9.8 as an example here. If you look closely at the bottom corner, you'll see a very tiny tear, which is a result of a minor bindery tear. We'll be honest and say that sometimes it can be tough to distinguish between a bindery tear and an actual tear that came from reading the comic, so we advise doing some research. Bindery tears are usually very small.
The cut of the comic book is our next manufacturing defect. This one is a bit tricky as some comics are cut badly and some have actual edgewear that has developed over time (which will deduct from the grade). In the case of manufacturing defects, sometimes the facility that printed the comic would use a dull blade, which resulted in a bad cut (aka jagged edges). A good example of this would be Godzilla 1 (1977), which we have pictured below.
Many copies of these were manufactured like the example provided. This doesn't cause the grade to drop unless there was something in addition to the bad cut. The area to look at is the top of the blue area, which shows an ugly cut that is common in this comic. Be careful though. Don't assume that all comics with bad edges are because of manufacturing. It's quite the opposite. Many comics have bad edges because those are defects. Do some research and ask around if you're unsure of your particular comic because these are pretty tricky.
Gripper holes are the next manufacturing defect that can be tricky. It's honestly hard to figure out CGC's stance on cover gripper holes since we've seen some 9.8s with those present (CGC doesn't deduct for gripper holes on the interior).
So basically, when a comic book was printed, there would be a machine that would grip the book at the bottom and that area would essentially be cut off and not meant to be seen. In some cases, the machine would grab the comic in an area that wasn't cut, which would result in small holes at the bottom of the final printed comic. These are common on the interior pages of the comic, but you won't see too many books with gripper holes on the cover. It's unsure how CGC will grade cover gripper holes, but we've seen some 9.8 comics with small holes, so it's possible to get a 9.8 if it isn't too bad (or if it's progressed).
The wrapping of the comic book is next and it usually won't affect the grade, but some collectors won't buy a book with a bad wrap as the eye appeal isn't as good. When we refer to the wrap of the comic, we're talking about the white you see along the spine of the comic pictured below. This shows that the comic wasn't perfectly aligned when it was printed and the white should all be on the back cover.
Be careful with this though. A comic book can have a bad manufacturing wrapping, but still, get a 9.8, but a comic that has a genuine spine roll can have the grade drop drastically. A spine roll happens with bad storage and you'll usually know when you see it. It usually looks like the book has been shifted and the spine isn't in the same place as manufactured.
Ink overspray can be another tricky defect. Note that some older comics (mostly from the 60s and 70s) will have ink sprayed over the top of them. If this was done during the manufacturing process and is only at the very top of the book, then it won't deduct from the grade. If the spray has bled onto the front or the back cover of the comic, then it will deduct from the grade. The amount deducted will depend on the severity of the ink. We've had an otherwise great-looking book that had a mess on the back cover due to manufacturer overspray and it came back a CGC 7.0. You can look up examples of manufacturer overspray online to get an idea of what you're looking at.
Many manufacturing defects are out of the control of the collector. Note that these defects are essentially the reason why there aren't many CGC 9.9 or 10 graded comic books. This brings us to our next point.
The Difference Between a 9.8, 9.9, and 10 Comic Book
Some manufacturing defects are allowed with CGC 9.8 comic books, but those aren't allowed with CGC 9.9 or 10 comics. So what does a CGC 9.9 or 10 comic book look like? Well, this is easy. It can't have any manufacturing defects or any other problems. Essentially the comic has to be perfect (aka mint).
Getting a 9.9 or 10 grade for comic books can be extremely difficult. We've graded thousands of comic books and have only ever received 1 CGC 10 in all those years. This is because the comic needs to be flawless to get a 9.9 or 10.
You might be wondering what's the difference between a 9.9 and 10 comic, and we'd like to know as well. CGC hasn't outlined the difference between the two grades and getting one or the other is really at the discretion of the grader(s).
Here's a tip on finding 9.9 or 10 comic books. Books with a stiff cover stock have a better chance of getting those grades. A comic book printed on leather (ex: certain Lady Death comics) or some kind of tougher stock won't be as prone to manufacturing defects and you might be able to get 9.9 or 10. This varies by book, and as we've said, it's still extremely rare to get those grades.
While getting a 9.9 or 10 comic is rare, you can still get CGC 9.8s with the help of pressing and cleaning. That brings us to our next section.
Does Pressing a Comic Book Help Get a 9.8?
Does pressing a comic book help it get a 9.8? This one can be tough to answer because it depends on the book. If your comic book has color-breaking spine ticks (like the one on the X-Men 142 we pictured above), then note that those will NOT come out with a press. Pressing a comic book will not magically fix defects that are breaking the color. It will, however, help with defects that are faint and don't break color. That being said, a press can be the difference between getting a 9.6 and a 9.8.
We tested this out recently. We sent 17 copies of Madame Xanadu 1 to CGC without pressing any of them. None of the books have color-breaking defects, but we wanted to see how CGC would grade them (and if a press would make a difference). Out of the 17, we received 10 copies that came back 9.8 and 7 that came back 9.6. Almost all of the 9.6 comics had grader's notes which had defects such as "very light ripping to cover" or "light stacking bend". This means that the books would have most likely gotten a 9.8 if they were pressed.
Note that the story we provided above is just our experience and your experience might vary based on the books being submitted. Some comics don't benefit from a press, but in the end, many of them would. It can also spell the difference between a 9.6 and a 9.8 for some comics, so it's usually recommended to press a comic book if it's a high grade.
Generally speaking, if you want to become good at spotting 9.8 comic books, then we recommend becoming experienced in grading. You're not going to become a seasoned grader right away and it's going to take some trial and error. If you can, start small and do your best based on the research you do online (try to consult multiple sources or ask on forums if you need help). Over time, you'll get better at grading and while it's impossible to be 100%, you'll find that you'll be batting at a much better percentage once you've gotten into a good habit.
Note that any advice we provide (on our website or personalized) is just our opinion. You should always be very thorough when researching comic books. Consult multiple sources if you need advice (we definitely shouldn't be your only source of information). If you find yourself stuck, then ask at places like the CGC forum as there are plenty of helpful collectors that can point you in the right direction. We can try to help and offer some tips but note that we can't grade your comics for you. Grading using a picture can be very unreliable and it's easy to miss something.
If you ever want to sell your comics (graded or ungraded), then note that we buy all comic book collections. We travel to you and pay cash. If you want to cut out the hassle that goes with selling a collection of comics, then know that we pay fair, competitive prices. Be sure to give us a call, text, or email if you're ready to sell or if you need any advice. We would never pressure you to sell to us and will gladly do our best to help if you're looking to be pointed in the right direction.