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CGC Comics Grader Notes Guide: Substance Defects




This category involves foreign objects becoming affixed to the surface of a comic, usually the cover. Because it distorts or blocks the paper, ink, and sizing all at once, it is considered an aesthetic defect. Some substances can cause further damage over time, like old tape that stains the paper underneath. Other substance examples include soiling, distribution ink, writing, fingerprints and stickers.

Color Copy

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Color copies are often used as a cost-effective solution to replace missing covers, wraps, or pages in valuable Golden and Silver Age comics like Batman #1 or Amazing Fantasy #15. While they allow for the enjoyment of the entire comic, missing parts replaced with color copies are still considered missing, resulting in a downgrade in grade. To ensure authenticity, color copies must be identified during grading, as they differ noticeably from genuine comic paper in thickness, glossiness, texture and image reproduction. CGC will certify comics with color copy parts only if they are attached using original staples, tape, or restoration methods. However, if used in restoration, color copies must be smaller than 1/3 of the front or back cover or 1/2 of an interior page to avoid a restored grade. Detecting color copies is usually straightforward due to differences in paper color and print quality.

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Distribution Ink

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Distribution ink, commonly found on comics from the 1950s to the 1970s, is not a printing defect but rather an identifier applied by distributors before shipping to newsstands. This ink splatter, usually on the top edge, marked the location of distribution centers. While typically innocuous, it can vary in size and may cover the entire top edge or even extend to other edges. Comics with distribution ink are usually not downgraded below 9.8 unless the splatter is excessive, impacting aesthetic appearance. Collectors may seek out copies without distribution ink, affecting desirability.

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Fingerprints

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Fingerprints, caused by oils or dirt transferred from hands during handling, can mar a comic book's cover. They may appear as substance, affect gloss, or stain the paper, especially if they come into contact with colored areas. While removable substance has a slight effect on grade, stains or ink smudging can lower it to between 8.0 and 9.2, with extensive damage resulting in further downgrade.

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Ink Transfer

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Ink transfer between comic book covers can result from various sources. The first type occurs during printing and distribution when comics are bundled before ink fully dries, causing ink to transfer from one cover to another upon separation. The second type happens with modern comics due to unstable inks, where rubbing causes ink specks to lift and transfer between covers. These transfers are often slight and removable. The third type occurs over time in storage, where prolonged stacking without a barrier leads to ghosting of one cover's image onto another, especially visible in white areas. These transfers typically do not cause ink loss and are common on Golden Age comics.

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Lamination

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Lamination involves permanently affixing a plastic film to comic book covers (and sometimes interior pages) using heat and pressure. Although it provides protection against fading, creasing, soiling and water damage, lamination is irreversible. It is rare, except for instances like the Q Collection, where key issues were individually disassembled and laminated page by page for preservation. A complete comic with a laminated cover typically receives a grade of 1.5 or lower, considering other defects. If both cover and pages are laminated, the highest possible grade is 0.5. Individual laminated pages or covers are authenticated with a grade of CVR or PG.

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Married Wrong

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Sometimes, missing pages, wraps, or coupons are added to comics, but occasionally, the added part doesn't belong to that specific book. This can happen intentionally or accidentally, often with back covers lacking unique elements. Front covers should match the indicia on the first page and interior pages can be compared to adjacent pages' content. Wrong parts may be disconnected, taped, glued, stapled, or added through restoration. CGC removes disconnected wrong parts and grades the remaining ones; if attached, they note the error. If the cover doesn't match the interior, CGC doesn't certify the comic.

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Name Written on Cover

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Before CGC's Signature Series program, collectors typically had creators sign comics on the first page. With CGC, signatures moved to the front cover, becoming more visible once encapsulated. However, many signatures were not verified through this program, leading to them being considered defects. The impact on grade depends on factors like size, placement and the comic's overall condition. Signatures usually affect higher grade comics, potentially lowering the grade to 8.0 to 9.0 for a universal grade if unverified. Multiple signatures or signatures on the inside cover may have a greater impact, but those on interior pages don't affect grade.

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Soiling

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Soiling can refer to a number of things that affect the surface of a comic book’s cover or interior pages. Because soiling usually occurs from direct contact, the cover is most often affected. The most common type of soiling develops from comic books stored back-to-back with no bag or protection, a common practice in the early days of fandom. Dust or ink will transfer from one cover to another over time, causing patterns of dirt, which are most visible on the white areas of the cover. Soiling can also occur from handling with dirty hands, or prolonged exposure to dust. Light soiling is common on vintage comic books and only has an adverse effect on grade if moderate or heavy in nature, or if the book is in near perfect condition. Most kinds of soiling can be removed with dry cleaning, particularly the white areas of a cover.

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Stamp

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A stamp on a comic cover or interior is an image applied using ink-coated devices for various purposes such as distribution, institutional identification, subscriptions, or ownership. Typically appearing once and often on the front or back cover, stamps may also serve for pedigree identification. While small and unobtrusive stamps only prevent a comic from achieving the highest grades, larger or multiple stamps can lower the grade significantly, potentially as low as 8.0. Stamps on interior pages usually have minimal effect on grade.

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Staple Extra (after manufacturing)

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Extra staples, added post-distribution to a comic book for various reasons such as reattaching loose covers or pages, can impact its grade depending on factors like the number of staples and the comic's overall condition. Typically applied with a traditional stapler, extra staples are inserted either through the closed book, piercing both front and back covers, or through the spine while open, mimicking the original binding process. The more common method of stapling through the closed book tends to be more noticeable but easier to identify. The impact on grade varies, with even one extra staple potentially lowering the grade to around 7.0, while additional staples further diminish it. Any reattachments facilitated by these extra staples are disregarded in grading. Although removing extra staples may slightly improve the grade, the creation of new holes still affects it and CGC discloses the number of extra staples added to a comic. If original staples are removed and replaced with new ones, it's considered an enhancement classified as staples replaced.

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Staple Rust

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Staple rust, a common issue on vintage comics due to poor storage conditions, occurs when metal staples are exposed to moisture and oxygen, leading to corrosion. Typically found on the outer part of staples on the cover, rust can also affect the staple prongs if moisture enters the comic. Rust can worsen over time, causing the staples to cake and stain the surrounding paper and in extreme cases, lead to paper detachment and staple disintegration. The impact on grade varies depending on the severity of the rust. Slight discoloration may prevent a comic from achieving the highest grades, while moderate rust can lower the grade to 9.0 or 9.2. Heavy rust with significant paper damage may result in grades between 6.0 and 7.0, especially if staples detach or disintegrate. The grade impact is milder if rust is limited to one staple or only affects the staple prongs at the centerfold.

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Sticker

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Stickers applied to comic books serve various purposes, such as distribution, subscriptions, authentication and identification and can vary widely in size and location. UPC barcode stickers, subscription labels, price stickers and COA stickers typically range from 1/2” to 2” in size and can affect grade, particularly if attached to the front or back cover, lowering it to between 8.0 and 9.0. Larger stickers, like library stickers, may cause a more significant grade drop due to their size. However, stickers applied by the manufacturer, such as the 15 cent sticker on copies of the 1939 New York World’s Fair, may not impact grade. Sticker removal is common but can be challenging, with success depending on factors like adhesive type and paper age. Additionally, storing comics in a safe over extended periods requires careful consideration to avoid moisture accumulation, which can accelerate staple rusting if ventilation is inadequate.

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Substance

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Substance defects involve foreign material adhered to comic paper, such as fingerprints, soiling, rust, shadows, distribution ink, tape, stickers, writing and stamps. Unlike stains, substance typically affects only a portion of the cover and varies in size and severity. Its impact on grade ranges between 6.0 and 9.6, rarely lowering a comic below that range. While some substance can be lightened or removed, it may lift ink or paper, or cause staining over time, especially if it contains harmful agents like tape residue or rust. Stains caused by substance are factored into the grade separately.

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Tape

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Tape is a common foreign substance found on comic books, used for repairing tears, splits and detachments, or as reinforcement along the spine or edges of a cover. While tape serves a functional purpose, it's classified as a substance defect rather than restoration due to its prevalence. The impact on grade depends on the amount and functionality of the tape. Small pieces may only slightly lower the grade, while large amounts, like a strip along the entire spine, can significantly reduce the grade to around 4.0. Tape removal, often done during restoration or conservation, can cause additional damage such as lifted ink, paper residue, or faded inks.

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Tape Reattachment

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Tape reattachment on comic books is a common method used to reattach detached parts like covers or pages. However, in grading, these repairs are considered as if the part is still detached, impacting the overall grade. For instance, a detached centerfold may receive a 7.0 grade by itself, but if reattached with tape, the grade may lower further to 6.0 or 6.5. CGC discloses such tape reattachments, which can significantly affect the grade, especially if they obscure any degree of splitting or reattachment. Additionally, tape repairs to defects that were not fully detached are classified separately, with each having its own individual impact on grade.

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Tape Residue

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Tape residue on comic books, often left behind when tape is removed, impacts grade depending on its size and type. Scotch tape residue is usually small and has little effect on grade, typically between 8.0 and 9.4. However, cellophane tape residue, more common and covering larger areas if large amounts of tape were applied, can substantially lower a grade, especially below 6.0. Sticky residue poses risks, including pages sticking together or the comic adhering to its bag, potentially causing further damage. Due to these risks, CGC does not encapsulate comics with residue that could adhere them to the inner well.

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Writing

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Writing on a comic book cover, whether in pencil, pen, marker, or other media, impacts grade depending on the amount, location and type of writing, as well as the overall grade of the book. Writing on the front cover, especially in marker, has the most significant effect on grade, potentially preventing a comic from achieving high grades like 9.6 or 9.8. Large amounts of writing, such as tracing or scribbling, can lower the grade further due to their impact on aesthetic appeal. Writing on the first page or interior panels may have less of an effect on grade. Arrival dates, commonly found on covers, usually do not impact grade and can be used to identify pedigree comics. If a creator's signature on the cover is not verified through CGC's Signature Series program, it is treated as a writing defect but is separately classified as "name on cover."

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