Making The Grade:

To Slab, or Not to Slab Your Comics

by Jeremy Waldorf

Should I slab my books?

I’m a hobbyist when it comes to comic books. I’ve been reading and collecting since I was a kid, and I’ll be the first to admit I collect way more than I read. I love flashy covers, variant art, bronze age runs, and even the “flash in the pan” speculation books. My absolute favorite part of comic book collecting is the hunt – the thrill of the chase makes me feel like Kraven the Hunter (except without the cheetah tights).

Kraven the Hunter

Comic Collection Supplies

Supplies to protect and sell your valuable comic books, Bags, sleeves, storage boxes, mailers and Display supplies.

Of course I’ve been burned by the quick sell speculation game a bit, but even so, I still manage to pay for at least part of my comic book habit with quick flips and sales. And yes, there’s a part of me that’s still attracted to the grading aspect of comics, but I’m not a professional when it comes to grading and slabbing. I tried it again a couple of months ago, and while I know I’ll take criticism for doing things wrong, or not knowing enough… I feel I’ve learned some lessons worth passing along to others who may be a little bit like me. This time I targeted a mixture of classic bronze-age books, modern “hot” titles, and some speculative books. What follows is my latest experience and adjustments in the field of graded comics vs. alternative displays.

Now follow me back in time a couple of months…

So, after a quarter year of gathering key books online and in stores, waiting for them to be professionally pressed, and agonizing over which ones I should actually send to CGC for grading… I’ve concluded there may be a better alternative (in some cases) to grading comics that will remain in my personal collection.

Yesterday I finally sent off a box of ten books to be graded. Even down to the literal last minute I had some tough choices to make. Now I had several books in the batch that I bought with the intent of grading them and selling them for some profit. Those books were relatively easy to justify the cost, assuming they would come back a 9.8 (which is almost necessary for modern comics you’re trying to “flip”). But what about all the books I have that I know will stay in my collection? Will I actually spend $35+ per book, just to have them sit here in my home? Adding to that, once graded they will never be touched again to be read by either myself or my five-year-old boy when he gets older. I began to think about alternatives and choices in this context and wondered if I’m making good use of my money and my collection.

There is a theory among comic book collectors that having books from your personal collection (that will stay in your personal collection) is a “complete waste of money.” I will admit I don’t wholly subscribe to this idea. I have a couple signed Stan Lee comics, one that I bought raw and had graded on site when I met Stan at Motor City Comic Con here in Detroit. I also love the idea of knowing the actual condition and value of a comic book by a third-party grading company. The look and feel of a slab is very cool. It makes the book more of a product and a valued item to me. But as I’m looking at my copy of Amazing Spider-Man 300, I’m seeing some spine dings and other issues that didn’t come out with a professional pressing, and I’m wondering… do I REALLY want to pay the money to have this book sealed up, to come back with a lesser grade than I want and never actually see a bump in value after all of that? I decided to venture into the world of toploaders.

Toploaders for Comic Books

Ultra-PRO® Comic Book Toploader. 7-1/8 x 10-3/4 x 1/8″ thick (inside dimensions). Made from 16 gauge crystal-clear rigid vinyl. Displays 1 comic book.

I now have on hand some of the Ultra-PRO® Comic Book Toploaders and INVISIBOARD® (crystal clear) Comic Backings, as well as standard and Mylar sleeves. I’ve taken that first appearance of Venom that I decided to keep out of my CGC shipment, and loaded it into one of these toploaders to see how it compares in both appearance and cost to professional grading. I started with the bag as usual, but I used one of the Invisiboard clear backers instead of the regular white backer. It is very cool being able to see the back cover of some of these collectible books, especially the wraparound covers and store variants. It’s a real shame that most of my raw collection have back covers that are hiding behind a whiteboard in the back of the bag. The artwork on so many modern comics extends to the back side, and we just don’t see them once they’re bagged and boarded.

Next, I slip the bagged comic into the toploader and cap the top with a clip style top closure; This results in a beautiful comic holder that is semi-flexible through the center, and very rigid around the edges and top. The feel throughout the case is not as solid as a graded slab but still has a very firm frame and allows me to see both sides of the book in crystal clear detail. Additionally, the toploaders still fit in my normal comic storage boxes with no problem which is a very convenient feature. As I mentioned before, when it comes to comics from my personal collection, this is a great option to add some appeal to these books without dropping a ton of money on them, and if I want to hang them on the wall, I can do that as well.

Flash forward four weeks…

I have a notification that my graded books had been shipped, they arrive at my door in a big box, and I couldn’t be more excited. I know I need to keep my expectations low, but when I open the box I am quite surprised… and not necessarily in a good way. Even though I had them professionally pressed, and while I thought I had selected excellent candidates for slabbing, the majority of the books came in well below what I’d thought they would. In fact, most of my profits for the books I’d planned to flip, would be a wash because of the less than ideal grades.

Now as I said, I only sent about ten books so I couldn’t do the pre-screen option (because I’m a hobbyist and not made of money), and as I said with modern comic books, most collectors and investors know it’s essentially 9.8 or bust. Many of the hot books I sent came back 9.4, some even lower. It was a huge disappointment, to be honest. My plans didn’t work out, and now I was stuck with several books that would sell for just about as much slabbed as they would if they were raw.

POLYESTER (Mylar) Sleeve 2mil with 1″ flap

7-1/4 x 10-1/2″ Use for Standard / Regular Comics 1970s-1990s.

In the past, I have sent in quite a few books that I didn’t even have pressed and they came back 9.8’s. However it seems in a cycle of sorts the graders seem to get VERY strict, and you get a batch back that makes you scratch your head and say “huh?!”. I had one modern book that had notes that said “staining on back cover.” I honestly could NOT see the staining for the life of me, even today looking very closely. But apparently there’s a lesson in this experience somewhere, and I am not good at the “grading and flipping game.” Fortunately, the one book I was most concerned with out of the batch was my X-Men 101, the first Dark Phoenix. It came back a wonderful 8.5, which I was very surprised and pleased with. This grade boosted the value quite a bit from raw, but again this one is staying with me, and it has an especially good backstory on how I acquired it. So if it remains in my collection, how much does the increase in value actually matter? It’s kind of like home equity – until you actually sell, it doesn’t matter that much.

So, what do I do with this experience? It brings me right back to the original question: Is it worth the time and money having books graded for your own personal collection? My official answer is – sometimes. But in those times where I just want to see my books in their shiny glory, for a total of around $5-6, I can get a great result and avoid the stress and expense of having them graded. Enter my newest items from

Here are my ingredients:

Now I took several of my favorite books, slipped them in the acid-free sleeves and into the Ultra-PRO® Comic Book Toploader. The 16 gauge vinyl has a great look and does compare well to the slabs visually, especially with the crystal clear backers. These toploaders have a 5-star rating on Bags Unlimited, and it’s obvious why. It’s worth noting also that the polyester sleeves are archival quality, which means they won’t degrade your books long-term. If you are a fan of mylar bags, those are available also.

All Protected with Toploaders and Polyester (Mylar)

To complete the look, I used the Toploader Closure Clips. The description says the clear plastic clip is used to: “create a dust-free environment for comics stored in our comic toploader APP711. Just slides onto the open end of the toploader and keeps airborne pollutants from coming in contact with the stored comic”. I must say the results are outstanding and at just a fraction of the cost of professional grading. Hangers are also available so you can mount them on the wall for display.

Toploader Closure Clips. 1/4″ wide; 9/16″ tall.

7-3/8″ long Use this clear plastic clip to create a dust-free environment for comics stored in our comic toploader APP711. Just slides onto the open end of the toploader and keeps airborne pollutants from coming in contact with the stored comic.

My Amazing Spider-Man #1 Tyler Kirkham wraparound variant cover is a perfect candidate for the Crystal Clear backer boards. Getting quality pictures of slabs and toploaders can be a real challenge with the lighting but as you can see in the photos, everyone is here in plain sight – Venom, Spidey, Red Goblin, Black Cat and Mary Jane. It would be a real shame to hide this back cover in white cardboard. Even if you don’t prefer the toploader, it looks fantastic in the 2 mil polyester Mylar sleeve with a 1″ pre-folded flap.

Next, I was able to compare my Secret Wars #8 first appearance of the Black Suit Spider-Man CGC graded copy to my newly toploaded copy, and you can see the differences. Obviously there is no label, and that’s the most significant difference visually, but otherwise, it’s a very nice comparison. Some slight waves of the bags can be seen on certain covers, but the Bags Unlimited toploader display shows the vibrant colors of the art and frames the classic cover beautifully. It’s rigid and comfortable to handle, and best of all I can take it out at any time and… actually, reread it! Yes, I think many of us forget at times that comic books were designed to be read; This is the best of both worlds in my opinion. I can display and archive my books, and also read them when I want to.

InvisiBoard® Crystal Clear BACKING Boards for New Comics

InvisiBoard® Crystal Clear BACKING Boards for New Comics. CRYSTAL-CLEAR PETG material. 6-11/16 x 10-3/8″ x .030″ thick.

At the end of the day, each collector must decide which is best for them when they want to go beyond the standard bag and board. Investing the money into grading their personal books is sometimes the right choice, but if you are simply displaying them in a beautiful toploader style holder you can not only save money, they can also be enjoyed and read for many years. If you choose the latter, Bags Unlimited has you covered. Product links are below, and at about 10% of the cost to have a book graded, you can try some different combinations and see the difference for yourself.


Slabbed VS Toploader w/Mylar