When discussing comic books you often will see certain terms thrown around to describe book’s condition; like “Very Good+”, “Near Mint” and “Fine”. When represented properly, they can be very helpful, especially when buying comics on-line and you can’t directly see what you’re getting. But without knowing the state of the comic they describe or the boundaries of each term, a word like “Good” is meaningless.
Let’s define the terms, so you can properly judge the comics you hope to buy.
Comics are assigned conditions that range from “Mint” to “Poor. I’ll start with Mint and work my way down to Poor. There are sub-categories, but I will limit myself to the major conditions. All the condition definitions in this article are taken from the Official Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide 2008, the most respected and widely used comic book price guide. (You should get a copy.)
Mint – This is the best, museum quality, perfect condition. This describes a comic that not only has never been handed, but was rescued directly from the presses and preserved. Overstreet describes near mint condition as:
Nearly perfect in every way. Only subtle bindery or printing defects are allowed. No bindery tears. Cover is flat with no surface wear. Inks are bright with high reflectivity.
The comic should not have any folds, impressions or dents. It should be bound securely, square and centered. Mint condition is an extremely rare, even in new comics, and is not a term that is liberally used by reputable collectors.
Generally, it’s wise to avoid comic sellers that say their item is in mint condition unless the book carries a professional grading stamp. Grading stamps can come from both grading companies and well known comic dealers.
Near Mint – Because mint condition comics are so rare, this is the more common and generally preferred condition of collectible comics for back issue collectors. Near Mint is described by the Overstreet guide as:
Nearly perfect in every way with only minor imperfections. Only subtle bindery or printing defects are allowed. No bindery tears.
Near Mint comics should not have the appearance of ever being handled. A large percentage, if not all, the back issue comics that are listed in Mint condition by on-line auctioneers are actually closer to Near Mint (or even lower.) Near Mint shows only very minor defects. Again, no folds, tears, dents, depressions or printing errors are allowed. Near Mint comics are also very rare. It’s safe to say that most people claiming their back issues are in Near Mint condition may be mistaken, or even misrepresenting, their comics. Some collectors feel that Near Mint is the best condition in which a comic can exist as no issue will ever be perfect.
Very Fine – The bulk of the comics that I have seen offered in Near Mint condition have actually been closer to Very Fine. Overstreet defines Very Fine condition as:
An excellent copy with outstanding eye appeal. Sharp, bright and clean with with supple pages. A comic book in this grade has the appearance of being carefully handled.
The key with every condition below Near Mint is that the comic appears to have been handled or read. As stated in the definition, a comic book in Very Fine condition has been handled with care. For example, the bulk of my collection is probably in Very Fine condition because I read my comics carefully and then store them appropriately. A comic in Very Fine condition can have a limited accumulation of minor bindery defects and only minimal surface wear on the cover and corners. Also, small creases of less than ¼ inch are allowed as long as the crease does not break the color of the cover. Most new comics on the stands are generally in Very Fine condition.
Fine – Fine condition is described by the Overstreet guide as:
An above average copy that shows minor wear but is still relatively flat and clean with no significant creasing or other serious defects. Eye appeal is somewhat reduced because of slight surface ware and the accumulation of small defects.
A comic in fine condition probably was read and then stored in a pile of other comics where it was not disturbed or damaged, but also was not protected from the elements or the weight of other comics. The ink and color is not as bright and reflective due to fading and slight browning or yellowing of the paper. There might be a slight spine roll, rounding of the spine, and slight spine splits. With spine roll generally comes small tears from the staples and blunted corners. Discolored or slightly rusty staples can be replaced on a comic in Fine condition without lowering the issues grade.
Note: Only vintage staples can be use to replace those on Very Fine to Near Mint comics. Mint comics must have their original staples.
Very Good – The average old comic book that is sold in back issue bins in every comic shop is in Very Good condition. Overstreet defines a Very good comic as having:
Some significant moderate wear but still has not accumulated enough total defects to reduce eye appeal point that it is not a desirable copy. The cover shows moderate to significant wear and can be loose but not detached.
Comics in Very Good condition are sometimes referred to as “Reader Copies” by collectors because of their many flaws and low price. Comics in this condition have not been stored correctly or handled with care and have cover tears, dimples, creases, minor water damage and even clear tape repairing small tears. Spine rolls, loose staples and corners that are blunted or even have small pieces missing are common in Very Good comics. The paper is brown but not brittle and their can even be a slight acidic smell present in these comics.
Good – Comics that are considered to be in Good condition are generally found in the 25 cent bin in most comic shops. That is not to say that all comics in Good condition are worthless. Very old key issues of comics like Captain America and Superman can still sell for upwards of $20.00 in good condition. Overstreet defines Good condition as:
[Showing] substantial wear. Cover may even be detached. Book length creases and dimples may be present. Rounded corners are present. Moderate soiling, staining, discoloration and foxing may be present.
The key to a comic in Good Condition is that it is not missing any pages and is still readable. Overstreet states that the comic can be missing up to a ½” triangle or a 1/4”square.
Fair – This is considered the lowest grade for a collectible comic because in lesser condition the book is incomplete or on the verge of falling apart. Overstreet defines Fair condition saying:
A copy in this grade shows heavy wear. Some collectors consider this the lowest collectible grade because comic books in lesser condition are usually incomplete and/or brittle. Soiled, faded, ragged and possibly unattractive. This is the last grade in which a comic remains generally readable.
Comics in Fair condition generally have very little or no collectible value. If you are an aspiring artist, comics in Fair condition are excellent for reference and character study. They are also great for younger kids.
Poor – This is the final grade and bottom of the scale. A comic in Poor condition is destroyed. The cover can be missing, pages loose or even unattached, holes, tears, water damage, rodent gnawed pages, all these imperfections, are the marks of a comic in Poor condition. These comics are the ones that sat in water during the flood or lined the canary’s cage for more than a month. Overstreet defines Poor condition as:
Most comics in this grade have been sufficiently degraded to the point where there is little or no collector value; they are easily identifiable by a complete absence of eye appeal.
During my tenure at the comic shop, I had to tell many a person that their books had been sufficiently degraded to the point where there was little or no collector value. That’s nicer than saying, “What you have here is garbage. “ Nobody wants to hear that their comics are worthless, but if not properly stored your comics will end up being easily identifiable by their complete absence of eye appeal.
However, just because your whupped-up comics are in Poor condition doesn’t mean they should get pitched. Comics in Poor condition can be recycled or used to start a compost pile. According to www.howtocompost.org worms love newsprint. Don’t trash those old comics; use them to grow a beautiful vegetable garden!
Now that you know a little more about the definitions used by collectors and professionals to grade comics you can buy and sell own your comics with a little more confidence. Keep in mind that grading comics takes a lot more than a good understanding of the Overstreet definitions. These conditions I discussed are merely guidelines used to determine a comics condition. Ultimately comic condition is a matter of perspective. Ask three different store owners the condition of a comic and you may get three different answers. Often, when people are trying to sell a comic, the condition can be greatly over exaggerated. This could be due to the fact that the seller is a criminal or they could just be really bad at grading comics. I learned to grade books by one of the sternest graders in the business and, after a decade, I’m still learning.
At the end of the day its best to let find someone whose grading abilities you trust and have them help you in determine the condition of your comics. And remember, if someone tells you their comics are in Mint condition, they probably don’t know what they’re talking about.