Finding a "Middle Ground"
I received a phone call late last week from my good friend Jeff (J.C.) Vaughn, Executive Editor of the new version of THE OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK GRADING GUIDE. Jeff had just read my CBG column of two weeks ago, in which I raised the issue that the Overstreet team might possibly be working with the graders at Comics Guarantee LLC. I speculated in that last column that the goal of this cooperation might be to revise Overstreet's grading guide to reflect the far more stringent grading standards that CGC unilaterally implemented when they began grading comics three years ago.
To my dismay, Jeff basically confirmed everything that I feared. The Overstreet team is in "negotiations" right now to find a "middle ground" on grading comics between the standards that Overstreet has represented for the past 30 years, and those that CGC decided more fit their marketing needs. Jeff sees the resulting dialog between the Overstreet team and CGC as a method for reaching a "political solution" to the current disparity in grading standards between Overstreet and CGC.
Why, might I ask, is this dialog being held? Who holds the power to determine appropriate grading in the world of comics, Bob Overstreet, or CGC? Why is the Overstreet team so willing to change the rules of the game? Tens of thousands of collectors have relied upon the Overstreet stands for three decades to make the determination as to whether the grading represented to them by dealers was appropriate. Now, after all that time, the Overstreet team is going to revise the standards because CGC tells them to move closer to their newly contrived standards? I find this all very difficult to accept.
I mentioned to Jeff on the phone that I feared that this negotiation had the potential to spark a massive class-action lawsuit. If I were a private collector who purchased a large collection of comics over the past three decades (especially since the publication of the original 1992 edition of THE OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK GRADING GUIDE) based on the standards declared in the original guide, I would be pretty hot if these newly revised grading standards dropped the book/market value of my collection by 30%, or more. Wiping out as much as $100 million in private collector's value (my conservative estimate based on a 10% decrease in the $1 billion in total comics collection value worldwide), simply to find a "political solution" with CGC, seems to exceeds the bounds of reason by a fair stretch.
All that having been said, I may be out of touch with market reality on this issue. Has there been a fundamental drift toward stricter comic book grading standards since 1992? Is CGC simply reflecting a trend that the Overstreet team has been remiss in recognizing? Jeff and I wholeheartedly agree that those questions can only be answered by the comics community. That's why Jeff has launched a last-minute campaign to solicit input about how much the grading standards should be revised in the new grading guide from the Overstreet advisors, and from dealers who advertise in the guide.
I know most of those dealers Jeff is contacting. I also know that their opinions on grading run the full gamut, even within that small population. There are some comics dealers who thought even the 1992 edition of the grading guide was too stringent, and that CGC is simply insane in their nitpicking. Others would tighten up comic book grading standards even beyond CGC's microscopic examination of every single issue. Which is the right path? It's beyond my abilities to call that one, and I don't envy Jeff his responsibility. No matter what he does, he is going to be hammered. I think that's why he's correct in stating that the best he can hope for is a "political solution."
Where I differ from Jeff is in the constituency from whom I believe he should be gathering feedback. In this case, I think the decision should be based on feedback from all comics fans and comics retailers, not just a select group of dealers associated with the price guide. It is, after all, your comics collection and/or comics inventory that is potentially about to be devalued (at least temporarily) by these new grading standards. My thought is that you should be able to also give your input to the Overstreet team. You can do so by writing to:
While I don't feel comfortable in giving out Jeff's personal e-mail address, if you're addicted to sending e-mail (like me...) you can send your pertinent comments on the subject of grading to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll immediately forward them on to Jeff. Please, however, don't just go off in your e-mail about your dislike of CGC as an entity, as that's not the issue here. CGC exists, and as I've stated before, I believe they serve a very valuable function in facilitating long-distance transactions between fans. Where I have the problem is with them setting themselves up as the all-new arbiters of all grading within the world of comics. It took an astounding degree of chutzpah for them to make that claim in the first place, and in my opinion, it will take an even greater degree of cowardice for us to simply go along with whatever they say. My position is simple: CGC is here to serve us, not to tell us how to change our standards. They've come into our world, and we've accepted them. It's time they accepted the world we built without trying to change everything to suit their own preferences.
Next week, I'll enter the snakepit of how I think comics should be graded.
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