Subterranean by Design: A look into the future of grading…


Greetings from the desert fellow CBSI members. Roughly once a quarter, I am going to bring you a new segment titled Clint’s CornerThis content will be a thinking man’s discussion on topics within the industry. It’s important as we evaluate current trends, there is a peek into the what the future holds as the pages of the calendar rip off at such a rapid pace. With the above mentioned I present to you the 1st edition of this new column…


Subterranean by Design:

A look into the future of grading…


I will start with this, take a good look at that above picture depicting how in theory, AI (Artificial Intelligence) works vs. a human mind. As society’s demands and technology grows, the expectations for perfection across many markets increases exponentially. Saints fans close your eyes, but take a look at the sports landscape. The thirst for replay, and subsequent changes in rules are never the more apparent. Some are challenging for reviews of every play or action. Others want to see the human element always stay intact giving it some type of purity.

On a macro level, we are watched, monitored, and recorded at a alarming level unbeknownst to us the majority of the time. The simplicity of life is disappearing. Good or bad, money plays a large part in this. An example of this is the juggernaut known as the entertainment industry. Sports, music, and movies all are a part of this runaway train. The push for greatnesses is seeded in the need for help beyond the human capacity.

Why look what some can do with people's voices now to sound pitch perfect. The green screen in film has become part of the household vocabulary. Finally, sports tech such as HD cameras have become so good, the play is almost robotic in nature. How’s that for a oxymoron? Alright so what does all this mean in our world of comics? Great question. I will preface the answer by asking which side do you stand on: Human with predicted error, or calculated science with zero deviation? Chew on that for a bit and have a look at this data.

Global app store revenue is predicted to increase to a total of $139.6 billion by 2021, with $33.3 billion coming from non-gaming apps and $106.4 billion from gaming apps. CAGR is compound annual growth rate which is initial investment value to ending investment value.



Okay let’s look more closely at our wheelhouse, comics. Remember I spoke to simplicity earlier? As kids we read comics, rolled them up in our back pocket and rode our bikes home from 7 Eleven with candy breath and sticky Slurpee hands cemented to our grips. Unfortunately, at some point this all got serious. Now we (well a great deal of us) emulate a crime scene when examining books down to the latex gloves. Although some will even argue those are not sufficient when handling the merchandise!



This article helps speak to the past and somewhat present subterranean design within this industry. What is meant by this as an example is the above 1st Overstreet guide was almost underground in nature. Sure, in its prime it was looked at as the Bible. However, what constitutes a grade or price didn’t come from a governing law etched in the fabric of our world. It’s a “guide”, and in its time was a dam good one. Trivia question, Anyone know the print run of the 1st edition? Good stuff for discussion over beers. If you have an NM copy, let’s just say you have some equity built up there. Anyways, as time has past, the current issues validity is non existent due to the fluidity of the marketplace. Now, it’s like a K-Billy's Super Sounds of the 70s piece of nostalgia.



What’s that famous DJ’s line?!

That was the Partridge Families Doesn't Somebody Want To Be Wanted, followed by Edison Lighthouse’s Love Grows (Where my rosemary goes)  as K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the 70’s weekend just keeps on… Truckin

Movie buffs, What’s that opening from? Sorry for digressing, the 70s rabbit hole will do that to me at times. Anyways, in today’s world we have people who grade books by a set standard that undeniably flawed due to human error. We joke about books receiving a specific grade due to the mood of a person looking at it, but this system does leave room for caution. This is not due to the fault of human operation, moreas a result from a perceived redundancy which is not always actionable and or repeatable.



Well, we all know what is coming right? Let’s put all of the above together. A $33B dollar app marketplace, evolving technology, comics becoming more of a lucrative resale business, and finally the lack of simplicity in life. All this adds up to at some point an app based program to scan books and give a grade. Don’t think this is possible? Here’s some more data form last year. We are becoming a complete digitized society for the good or bad.



With the marriage of digital use rising along with app development accelerating, the “e – based” grading system for lack of a better term, is on its way. Sure, there has been attempts with this, but no one has got it right…yet. The question is not if, but when? This leads to the dilemma I want each one of you reading this to think on and ponder. Is this something you want to see? Do you want your grading to be hollow of any kind of human imperfection?

There are some that say deep pockets from certain companies will stop this. Hell no, they will just try and monopolize this instead. If you can’t adapt, you will cease to exist or be bought out. People can get tailored for clothes with an app, even have a eye exam done using web based technology. A program written to grade books via a scan will happen folks, just curious to see who wins the race to the market with a legit product.

Here is somewhat of a parallel analogy. Remember TV guides on the coffee tables. Then how cool it was when the data displayed on the the screen vs a weekly book? Today, this is how we watch TV – it’s called streaming. I can hear the telephone book companies, stand up arcade palaces, and Drive In theatres screaming from the mountaintops.



The age of quote “Be careful what you wish for” has never been so meaningful. As this technology grows in stature and legitimacy, Jerry from slab company XYZ won’t be entering your graders notes in a system, AI #6373 will have that privilege. Ah, that borderline color break spine tick?

Yep, that bad boy is showing up in all its glory. Want another water cooler convo. Will pressing become even more of a valuable tool now? How will this if at all factor into the future of comic books when we enter this new era?  My money's on solid professionals who can do this the right way regardless of a books age profiting big time. Trust only a few in this process ladies and gents, it’s as much of an art form as the comics themselves to an extent.



All these above questions were the Genesis of this piece. It’s the process of getting us to think what the future holds for our hobby. Rest assured, it will not be status quo, I can promise you that much. The easy underground good ole days are shorter than longer in the path of life. Now don’t those comic spinner racks, Nerds candy, and Vision skateboards or Diamondback bikes look more appetizing for some of us right about now? Or however you got your Stranger Things groove on during this special time.



These quarterly columns are meant to generate conversations between the group. Not to denigrate the past accomplishments or those who played in this sandbox before us. I hope many of you let your voices be heard on the impact of technology and where this amazing culture will head towards in the next decade. Everything in life is cyclical right? Perhaps we can even have an app to bring back THE voice of radio from that one iconic station. Snaps fingers, what’s it called?

K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the 70’s just keeps on coming with this little diddy that reached up to # 21 in May of 1970, the George Baker selection…

“Little Green Bag”

Come on guys, let’s generate some real dialogue to these points! The popularity of grading continues to show its strength in numbers. What does the future hold, or in more relative terms, what do you want to see with this part of our industry? I could write all day long about theories, but your insights and opinions are what matters most!

Penny for your thoughts…

Talk soon,



  • A. J. Diesel

    Reservoir Dogs. Great article

  • Avatar

    “There are some that say deep pockets from certain companies will stop this. Hell no, they will just try and monopolize this instead. ”

    The “End of Encapsulation” ? Or with a handheld grading system abundantly available, will encapsulation be it’s own industry?

    Lots to analyze as we see everyday, things of yesteryear being replaced with breakneck speed.

    No international shipping fees to get books graded?🤔🤨😁😀 I’m liking this future!

  • Avatar

    don’t see an end to grading or encapsulating books for preservation and in my opinion it becomes even bigger. Nostalgia is huge and will get more important as we get more digitized and people will want these pieces of their childhood without them getting damaged by hands or time.

  • Avatar

    Interesting read and good points. I stumbled across some of the old CBSI grading articles just a few days ago – the 9.8, 6.0 mid grade ones that described just how many defects and summarized the common grader notes on each grade. Some of the best description I’ve found, especially the specific number of defects allowed.

    I’m not familiar with how CGC or PGX companies grade but I assume perhaps that they literally put the book under a microscope and measure with a ruler. I think I’d rather a computer do the measuring. Sure there will be some border line calls the computer can’t make, but I think you’d see far greater consistency in grades, at least the higher ones where it really does come down to the difference in a few spine tics and/or their length. I think pressing will continue to be important either way but yes, perhaps more so if computers find more defects than a human eye.

  • Mike Morello

    This was an amazing read. Lots to ponder. I think it is inevitable that an error-free grading system will evolve. Part of the reason I grade so few PC books is because of the subjectivity of it. I know what I have. I don’t need a number on it and never be able to enjoy the tactile experience of the book again in the future. That’s the trade-off.

    As for books I want to sell, well, grading can be an amazingly exponential money maker and it can also be a money suck. It’s often a tough call. The raw book market is strong, especially in the mid-grades. High grades should sell for a premium, but should a 9.8 sell for 5 to 10 times what a 9.6 sells for when subjectivity is at play? It’s rhetorical.

    Can’t wait for more of this stuff. Amazing job, man.

    • Clint Joslin

      Very well put and articulated Mike. I agree with you too on PC books. It’s a slippery slope with .6s vs .8s in Moderns. We do almost lose money if we are wrong. Hell the raw copy is of more financial value. Crazy hobby 😂

  • Ben C

    I have held my tongue about pressing for a long time, as it clearly has evolved over the years. I know a couple folks who press and I would trust with my books. That said, its an honest concern, especially from those done in the early days of pressing.

    What effect will this have on books? Introducing heat and pressure to these comics can not be good for the structural integrity of the comic right?

    Does anyone actually know the long term damage or deterioration we are going to see from this process?

    I know I know, the new guys and the best guys use low temp pressing and all that. But the question MUST be asked.

    As for grading, its always going to be subjective, though its a necessary evil for Gold Silver and Bronze, and an added premium for copper and moderns.

    Great column Clint, looking forward to future installments!!

    • Clint Joslin

      Ben thank you for sharing your expertise and observations. As a leader within in the older books we look to those as yourself for answers. These points you make further point out the unknown of the future within grading, and or ways to help the process.

  • Peter Renna

    I feel the human element is required for grading because for all the technical bells and whistles there will still be limitations. Will an auto-grader look at the interiors? How will a machine know to be more careful with a page that appears to be brittle? While they be able to detect a musty/moldy odor? Can it tell the difference between a printer defect and a manmade one?

    And sometimes a book just needs to pass the eye test regardless of the technical measurements and number of ticks, page coloring etc. Not all 2.5’s are equal.

    That said, I feel every book should have free grader notes and there should be more transparency as to what constitutes a 9.6 as opposed to a 9.8, etc.

    • Clint Joslin

      Thanks for your input Peter! You too make sound points that need to be taken in account. Will there be technology to sift thru the above mentioned inquired of yours? That’s the million dollar question, literally.

  • Dan Piercy

    I don’t really have a problem with a computer system grading, though if it would raise prices, I say boo to that. We are starting to see a little more transparency in how what flaw can mean what to what grade. Would like to see more.

    I fondly remember getting comics and those cool superhero plastic Slurpee cup from 7-11. I had a ton of those and wish I still had them.

    Thanks, Clint.

  • Avatar

    Great food for thought. I’m coming into the conversation late, but I confess that I’m just getting back into the world of comics collecting after being out for many years (I stopped back in the early 90s when the spec market led to mass hysteria and gajillion copy runs of McFarlane’s Spider-Man 1, Jim Lee’s X-Men 1, Four covers of Legends of the Dark Knight, etc.), and while a lot of those problems remain, a LOT has changed since then.

    Slabbing books is new (to me). Buying and selling online. Overstreet is still going strong, but in the age of information, their comprehensive data is QUICKLY outdated, forcing you to look at eBay sales for the last month or two to get more accurate estimates on average prices.

    Why did I get back into comics? Digital content. DCUniverse online, in fact. I’d never read online comics before, and with a free month’s subscription, found myself reading more comics than watching their impressive content (Titans is way better than I’d hoped, btw – can’t wait for Swamp Thing, and I’ll re-up when Doom Patrol has a full run to binge-watch). But I missed having the books in my hand, and the little thrill that comes with daydreaming about someday getting some return on your investment.

    Where is the future of the industry headed? It saddened me to learn that there are only around 3000 comic shops left in the United States, and that most of them are struggling to get by. It’s a lot like theater chains. Those that cant keep up with modern trends, and in the case of comics shops offer their wares in some fashion online, are in serious trouble.

    The big two (DC and Marvel) are trying everything they can to generate interest, and none of them seem to know if it’s all going to go digital, the same way Steven Spielberg is concerned that we might lose theatrical movies altogether in favor of cheaper and bigger home entertainment systems and streaming content.

    I heard a comic shop owner say that digital content is only helping his comic shop, and for the same reason that I got back into the habit – people can see and read comics online, but in ten years, you’ll have a different computer, might not be subscribed to that service anymore. Will you still have your comics on a hard-drive? And will they have MORE or less value? An actual comic WILL have value, and the value WILL go up. Old PC games sell on eBay for surprisingly decent prices sometimes, even without manuals or boxes, but… because they’re tied to a specific system, it’s a VERY small market. Comics are pretty universal.

    The price and quality of comics will keep going up. Readership may go down if online books are the cheapest way to gain access to all the stories, but because Marvel Studios has had such unparalleled success in the live-action realm, it drives an interest in the source material around the world.

    The future – the Undiscovered Country – is both tantalizing and terrifying because of inevitable “change”. Western comics and films – once all the rage, are “in” no longer. Crime books and horror comics aren’t as common as they once were. Superheroes could give way to generational fatigue and in their wake SOMETHING new will inevitably come along.

    Perhaps DC and Marvel should get into the slabbing/ grading game, and offer 9.8’s hot off the press, in-house, already signed by your favorite artists – for the price of a premium subscription?

    Maybe offer tiered pricing subscriptions that offer faithful (and more affluent) subscribers one slabbed book per year? I could drool imagining DCUniverse online offering pristine physical copies of books you want to buy – after reading them with your online subscription – or having one of whatever grade you can afford shipped to you at a discounted price.

    They could offer all the insider hubbub about which issues are likely to accrue the most value, offer trading similar to eBay… make “crossover” deals with Marvel so die hard fans could have dual-access services. I could see the comic book industry becoming similar to Hollywood, raising prices but also offering premium seating and Imax screens in addition to the standard tickets.

    People can be social online, but they’ll ALWAYS want to go out, so while Amazon and other online companies will continue to change the way people do business, I think there will always be a need for comic book/memorabilia shops.

    It’s an exciting time to jump back in, but like everyone from the 70’s and 80’s generation, it’s a bit frightening to see how rapidly things can and do change. Stand up arcades, you mentioned. Comics heating up like Inhumans back when Vin Diesel was going to play the title role, only to see the bottom fall out when the deal went sour, it went to television, and… on the bright side, those books are now pretty cheap, lol.

    I’ll stop talking now but the takeaway is this – great article! Great food for thought. And in the end, I have no idea, but it’ll be amazing to see it happen one way or another. I lived in the time of stand up arcades. I bought my first comics in a gas station convenience store off the spinner racks. Never thought either would disappear, or vanish so fast. Life’s a roller coaster – just got to hang on tight and try to enjoy the ride!

    Could CGC and other grading companies find ways to do more grading for less cost?

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