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CGC Comics Grader Notes Guide: Distortion Defects




The category of distortion encompasses the broadest range of defects among the seven classifications, involving both aesthetic and structural effects. Distortion defects are deformities that alter a comic from its ideal state with no material loss, but do not involve creases, tears or tanning. Many of them originate from printing. Examples include miscuts, miswraps, Siamese pages, blade pulls, ink smears, fading, rippling, and warping.

Blade Pulls

Red underlines

Blade pulls, a subtle defect caused by dull printer blades, result in curved wrinkles along the paper's edge during guillotine cuts. Usually no wider than ¼", they can extend the entire length of a cover's edge, sometimes affecting multiple edges. As they typically don't break color, they have minimal aesthetic impact and are often disregarded in grading. Blade pulls cannot be removed with pressing due to permanent paper distortion and are sometimes mistaken for bends. EC comics, especially the Gaines file copies, often show blade pulls.

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Butterfly

Red underlines

Cover flaring, a defect where the cover separates from the interior pages due to uneven moisture exposure, can also involve interior pages. Typically found in improperly pressed books or those exposed to moisture over time, it manifests as curling towards the more moist side. Identified by holding the comic up by its spine to observe if the cover and pages fan open, the severity depends on the degree of fanning and curling. While light flaring has minimal impact and is allowable in 9.6 or 9.8 grades, extreme cases can lower the grade to 9.4 or 9.2.

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Canvassing

Red underlines

Canvassing, resulting from improper pressing with a textured surface, resembles pebbling and manifests as cross-hatching patterns transferred to the comic cover through moisture and pressure. It may affect specific areas or encompass the entire cover. Best observed under a raking light, it's subtle and doesn't break color. With a slight impact on grade, depending on severity and coverage, most instances lower the grade to 9.0 or 9.2. Extreme cases affecting both covers may lower the grade to 8.0 but can typically be corrected with proper pressing.

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Cockling

Red underlines

Cockling, often resulting from improper pressing or exposure to humidity during storage, causes contortion and buckling in various areas of a cover due to uneven expansion and contraction of paper fibers. Viewed best under a raking light, it typically has a slight impact on grade, affecting either the front or back cover, or specific parts. Front covers are more susceptible due to varying moisture barriers created by different colors. While light cockling may only affect the highest grades, heavy instances can drop a grade to as low as 8.0, but can usually be corrected with proper pressing.

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Crushed Spine

Red underlines

Crushed spine, a pressing defect caused by extreme pressure to remove spine stress lines, results in an angled spine edge flattened to a point instead of a natural curve. It can worsen spine stress lines, making them appear sunken, particularly at color break points. Beyond its unnatural appearance, a crushed spine can compromise staple integrity and weaken paper, potentially leading to splitting or heavy staple impressions if staples are offset or paper is thin. Given its severity, this defect can prevent a comic from achieving the highest grades, even if otherwise near perfect.

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Fade

Red underlines

Fading refers to the loss of color from exposure to light, typically affecting a comic book's front cover, especially with prolonged display or storage in bright environments. Reds, blues and greens are particularly prone to fading, resulting in a washed-out appearance. While heavy fading is evident, lighter fades may go unnoticed, distinguished by areas shielded from light, like those covered by stickers on storage bags. Comparing colors between front and back covers helps identify fading. It's crucial not to mistake fading for light color strike during printing. Although it doesn't alter the structural grade, fading significantly impacts the cover's aesthetic appeal, with the extent of fade and amount of faded ink considered. Grading considers light, medium, or heavy fading, ranging from grades 8.0 to 9.4 for light fades to grades as low as 3.0 for heavily faded covers. Sun shadows, affecting only an edge, are classified under the shadow defect.

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Ink Distortion

Red underlines

Distortion in comic books, occurring during printing, involves anomalies in ink appearance not consistent with typical copies in a print run. This includes ink bubbles, small raised bubbles caused by air pockets during application, often found on Silver Age comics but more prevalent in modern ones. Uneven ink application, causing parts of a cover to appear faded due to varying depth of color strike, is widespread across all eras, distinct from post-printing fading. Off-register inks, another common defect, have their own classification.

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Ink Smear

Red underlines

Ink smears, occurring during printing, affect most or all copies of a print run, typically small in size and consistent in shape across affected copies. Examples include smears in specific areas of well-known issues like Incredible Hulk #181 or New Mutants #98. Different from fingerprints, ink smears' impact on grade varies depending on consistency across copies. If nearly all copies show the same smear, it has minimal impact, while variations may prevent a grade of 9.6 or 9.8. Copies with minimal or no smear are more desirable to collectors. Harsher grading applies to prints with smears affecting a small percentage, potentially downgrading to 9.0 or 9.4 based on severity and location.

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Miscut

Red underlines

Miscuts in comic books result from a distortion of the rectangular dimensions during the trimming process, typically caused by misalignment in the cutting process. This can create a parallelogram effect, impacting both edges and sometimes even affecting interior panel art. More common in Golden Age comics, miscuts may only affect the cover or extend to interior pages. Hand-cut covers, known as "remaindered copies," are also included, particularly prevalent in the '50s and '60s. Collectors are generally more forgiving of miscuts in Golden Age comics, with moderate ones still acceptable in the 9.0+ range, while severe miscuts may be downgraded to 6.0. They are less common in Silver Age and rare beyond.

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Miswrap

Red underlines

A miswrap occurs during the binding process of vintage comics when the cover is not correctly centered on the interior wraps before stapling and folding, leading to a shifted or crooked image. This can result in white space along the spine or the cover image extending onto the back cover spine. While minor to moderate miswraps typically do not affect grade, those with significant white space may prevent a book from achieving a 9.8 grade. Crooked miswraps, affecting all four sides, can lower the grade to 9.0 or 9.2, with extreme miswraps often considered manufacturing errors.

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Off-Register

Red underlines

Off-register printing occurs during the printing process when there is a misalignment of overlapping patterns of ink, resulting in color distortion on the comic book cover. This defect, caused by inconsistencies in the print cylinder or plates, can sometimes produce a 3-D effect. While off-register printing is common, particularly among vintage comics, slight misalignments usually have no effect on grade and are not noticeable unless closely scrutinized. However, extreme examples of off-register printing are rare and comics exhibiting them may be assigned a qualified grade or downgraded depending on the degree of distortion. This defect can lower a grade to between 6.0 and 9.8, depending on the severity of the misalignment.

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Pebbling

Red underlines

Pebbling is a pressing defect that occurs due to improper pressing, typically caused by using a textured surface against a comic cover. Similar to canvassing, pebbling leaves a subtle, bumpy pattern on the cover, which is transferred through moisture and pressure. It may affect specific areas or encompass the entire front or back cover. Pebbling rarely occurs naturally and is often the result of storing a damp cover against a textured surface. While it doesn't typically affect color, pebbling can be observed under a raking light. Depending on severity, it may slightly lower the grade, usually to 9.0 or 9.2. Extreme cases of pebbling may result in a grade as low as 8.0, but this defect can usually be corrected with proper pressing.

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Printer Crease

Red underlines

Printer creases occur during the printing process when a raised portion of paper is unintentionally folded and flattened between rollers during ink application, typically running horizontally from the outer edge of the cover. They are most common in vintage comics and often appear on nearly every copy of a print run, usually in the same location and shape. While they are generally ignored in grading and only prevent the highest grades of 9.9 or 10.0, long, multiple, or obtrusive printer creases may lower the grade to 9.6 or 9.4. Attempting to remove them can result in further damage, including exposed missing ink, leading to additional downgrading.

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Rippling

Red underlines

Rippling, resembling waves on a comic book's cover or throughout its pages, stems from improper pressing or storage, where exposure to moisture or heat causes paper fibers to expand and contract, creating tension and buckling. While often subtle and detectable only under a raking light, severe cases manifest as tight waves affecting interior pages. Its grading impact varies: light ripples may slightly downgrade high-grade comics by one or two points, while heavy rippling, especially across large areas or causing significant waves, can drop a comic's grade to the 8.0 range or lower. Despite not breaking color, rippling can usually be rectified with proper pressing, unless the paper fibers are irreversibly distorted.

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Shadow

Red underlines

Shadows, prevalent in vintage comics, occur when uneven stacking exposes the cover edges to light and air, leading to two types: light shadows and dust shadows. Light shadows result from a chemical reaction (oxidation) with the paper, darkening white areas and fading colors, notably reds and blues. Dust shadows arise from settled dust particles and typically don't affect color, removable via dry cleaning. Grading impact varies based on shadow characteristics; thin, light shadows may permit a 9.8 grade, while multiple or dark ones could lower it to 9.0-9.4. Heavy shadows, especially wide ones, may prompt further downgrades near 8.0. While more common in Golden Age comics due to extended exposure, they're less prevalent in newer comics with improved storage conditions.

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Siamese Pages

Red underlines

Siamese pages result from improper cutting during printing, causing interior pages to remain connected along their edges, typically affecting up to four pages at once. While it may hinder page-turning, collectors often overlook it as it doesn't cause loss or damage. Separating Siamese pages can impact grade, with clean slices having no effect, tears potentially leading to downgrades based on length and paper loss and cuts akin to trimming if extensive. Unlike cover damage, interior page issues typically result in less severe downgrades, often not falling below 9.0 due to the limited area affected.

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Signature Smudged

Red underlines

CGC's Signature Series program has led to countless comic covers adorned with creator signatures, but occasionally, signatures suffer from smudging or lifting, impacting their visual appeal and potentially the grade of the comic. Smudges can occur if the ink hasn't fully dried or if the cover touches another surface too soon. The extent of the downgrade depends on the size of the signature and the severity of the smudge, typically resulting in a grade reduction to between 9.0 and 9.4. Heavier smudges may lead to further downgrades. Un-witnessed signatures that are smudged may also influence the grade, particularly if the comic received a qualified grade for the signature's presence. However, if the comic was already downgraded for an un-witnessed signature or other reasons, the smudge may not further impact the grade.

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Staple Altered

Red underlines

Staple alteration involves intentionally manipulating staples, such as disassembly, reshaping, or repositioning, which can impact a comic book's grade. Repositioning staples to reattach a cover, for example, creates new holes and alters the comic's original state, leading to a grade deduction to between 6.0 and 8.0 if the grade is high enough. Bending staples, while less severe, can still prevent comics from achieving grades of 9.6 or higher if the paper remains unaffected. Disassembly, often done during restoration, pressing, or other enhancements, is a common form of staple alteration and warrants careful inspection, especially for high-grade comics.

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Staple Extra (manufacturing)

Red underlines

Occasionally, comics may exit the printing process without a cover, leading workers to manually affix a trimmed cover using extra staples, resulting in what are known as "remainder copies," particularly common among '60s comics like Marvels. These copies feature two sets of staples at the centerfold but only one set attaching the cover. The presence of extra staples added during manufacturing doesn't impact grade, but the manually added cover may exhibit overhang or fall short on the sides due to improper trimming, making high-grade remainder copies rare. Removal of extra staples later on also doesn't affect grade. It's crucial to distinguish between extra staples added during manufacturing and those added afterward, which can negatively impact grade. Additionally, some comics may have extra staples driven through during binding, but they typically have no effect on grade unless they bunch together and damage the paper or ink.

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Warping

Red underlines

Warping, which can result from printing, improper storage, or exposure to heat and humidity, refers to the misshaping of the entire comic book. Printing-related warping arises from uneven drying of ink after application, primarily affecting modern comics with slight buckling. Improper storage, particularly upright placement in unsupported boxes, leads to vertical sagging and spine stress lines. Exposure to heat and humidity causes paper fibers to expand and contract, resulting in varying degrees of misshapenness. The effect on grade varies: slight printing-related warping may only downgrade to 9.6 or 9.4, while physical warping from storage can range from 9.0 to 9.8 for light curls to as low as 6.0 for severe, circular warping. Heat and humidity-induced warping has a similar impact, depending on its severity.

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