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by Erik Garmany

THE STEVE BOROCK INTERVIEW


CGC's Steve Borock

Steve Borock is the President and Primary Grader of Comics Guaranty, LLC or CGC, the biggest third party comic book grading company in the world. CGC has recently celebrated five solid years in the comic book grading industry and is growing bigger every day.

I recently did an interview with Steve to get his thoughts and opinions on different aspects of the professionally graded comic book market.

Erik Garmany: How did you get started in the comic-book grading business?

Steve Borock: Well, I never really got "started in the grading business", I just kind of fell into it.

For years I was a collector and reader, but like every collector, I had to keep trading up to get better and/or more expensive comic books, so, I even had to set up at a con when I was 12 years old. I didn't even have a whole table; I had to split it with a school mate named Ricky Feldman, so I only had to pay $12.50 instead of the full $25 for the whole table. I would bring in about $50 and run around looking for an "old" comic to buy with my profit. As I got older, I started to drift away from the collecting aspect because "fun things" to do would cost money, but still bought the new comics to read every week.

I floated back into the collecting aspect in my 20's and pushed hard to know everything about the vintage market, the players, and how to grade properly. As the years went by, I started picking every collectors and dealers brain I would meet and eventually started organizing dinners during the week in NYC (small) and after cons and auctions (large) with collectors and dealers. I thought it would be fun to have people with the same interests as myself sharing food, drinks, stories, and laughter, while at the same time networking and learning from each other. Some dinners got as large as fifty people all talking about comic books in some of the finest restaurants in the country. While having a great time, I soaked up all the advice and knowledge I could at these dinners.

On a side note, these days CGC hosts CGC forum dinners at every major con, it's even better than before and to some the highlight of every convention. Here is a shameless plug: If you want to go to dinner with a great group of guys and gals, go to www.cgccomics.com, click on "Boards" and join the fun. All are welcome at these dinners as long as you reserve a place. Hell, we don't even care if you CGC your books or not, it's just about the hobby, making friends and having fun. After all isn't that what comic collecting and reading comic books should be all about?

So, anyway…. Like I said, I was collecting with a passion at this point. I was trying to put a high grade complete SA Marvel and DC collection together. The Marvel one compared to the DC one was easy. I never did complete the DC run, those things are tough in high grade! I got bored and saw that SA prices were very high compared to GA prices. I sold off all my SA comics and bought up all the high grade GA Timely and DC comics I could find. Luckily, financially, I made a killing with that move. I have owned hundreds of pedigree GA comics (such as the Church copies of More Fun # 52, Flash Comics #1, the Carson City Marvel Comics #1, and the Kansas City Young Allies # 1) along with hundreds of high grade non pedigree GA comics. Not everything I owned was high grade. I owned 2 mid grade copies of Action # 1, a mid grade copy of Detective Comics #1 and a mid grade copy of Captain America # 1.

After a while collectors and dealers asked me to do restoration checks and give grades on the convention floor or at my home. I never charged for this, it was just part of the hobby for me. You know, just helping friends build their collections or businesses without being ripped off.

Paul Litch, Steve Borock, & Mark Haspel

When the principals of CGC approached me, it was because they had already talked with many of the top people in our hobby about bringing certification to our hobby. They asked who would the dealers and the collectors trust the most and my name came up. As Steve Eichenbaum, President of the Certified Collectibles Group, puts it, my name was either at the top of or on everybody's "short list". Looking back, I must have looked like an idiot to them when they approached me about this gig. I was thinking "Right, you are going to put comics in plastic. Sure you are…" I was so sure they were trying to set me up as a "Flim Flam" man. You know, convince everybody that this is what is right and then they would tell me to give "so and so" better grades, fudge that label so a restored book is now unrestored, and don't worry about that missing page. Boy was I wrong! These guys let me hand pick Mark Haspel as my "second in command"! Those out there that know Mark know that if Edgar Church his self came back from the dead and told Mark to change a grade and that he would make him a rich man, Haspel would turn around and say "sorry EG, the grade is the grade". I then took the job and the rest they say, is history. And by the way, in case anybody is wondering, the owners of the CCG have never asked Mark or me to change a grade or ignore restoration. That does not mean some of the top people in our industry have not tried, hell, I have been offered a car to change a grade, it's just not what Haspel or I do. I want to leave a legacy in this hobby that my fellow hobbyists would be proud of. I also have a seven year old daughter that I tell every day to be true to herself and kind to others, what kind of a father would I be if I give advice I don't live up to?

Wow! Short question, was the answer long winded and boring enough for you?

EG: What do you think has changed the most about the online buying and trading of comic books since the advent of CGC?

SB: The internet is now a safer place because of CGC. Forget the fact that ebay, before CGC was like the wild west, imagine if someone like Hammer/Danny Dupcek/Richard Koos/Comic-Keys (yes, all the same "seller") could just sell trimmed and color touched comic books without an expert, impartial, third party, certification company to help keep him in check? Even more collector's then already are would be buying from him at "such a great price", holding it for a few years thinking they had a great "investment", and when trying to sell it to one of our hobby's expert dealers or collectors, they would say "sorry, I know you paid X dollars for this, but it's been chopped, I can only give you 10% of what you paid 2 years ago". That would (and did) chase people out of our hobby faster than you can say "Shazam". These days, people buy from a thief, send it to us, we tell them what has been done to their Comic book that they were unaware of and they send it back to the seller, who, if they want to keep their "power seller" status and high feedback, they must refund the money.

Another thing CGC has done is keep prices at a fair level for most lower and mid grade comics. When we first opened, the war cry from the self proclaimed "true collector" is that we are making prices so high the "real Collector" can't afford them". What really happened, is that lower and mid grade prices, except on rare material, has stabilized and even lowered while the very high grade has shot through the roof. Like in any hobby, if someone wants the best, they will pay for it. If someone wants a reading copy, unless it's a real highly coveted book, like a Suspense #3 or All-American #16, collector's can now afford it.

More Fun Comics #52

EG: Steve, what do you have to say to people who blame CGC and the Professionally Graded comic market in general for paying "ridiculously high prices i.e.: multiples of Overstreet guide" for high grade and key CGC graded comic books?

SB: (laughs) I think I just answered part of that.

The paying of multiples of guide prices was happening way before CGC. Hell, I paid $115,000 cash for the Edgar Church/Mile High copy of More Fun #52 when at the time, I think, the Overstreet 9.4 guide price was $28,000. If people want the best of the best, they are going to pay high for it. This happens in almost every collectibles hobby, not just ours. All that said, CGC has become "the good housekeeping seal of approval" for our hobby and when the consumers have more confidence in something, they usually seem willing to pay more for it.

EG: When we polled forum members for questions this was number one on the list by far, the slab damage issue or SCS (shaken comic syndrome), we know you've made improvements for the interior well of the modern tier slab, what do you plan to do to solve this problem on other comic tiers such as Silver-Age, where there is a definite problem with Slab-Damage?

SB: Ask people not to shake their comics when in a CGC holder? I mean, if a comic in our holder is handled very roughly, all bets are off, same as if a dealer or collector sells you a comic book in a mylar sleeve and then you drop it, who's to blame? I have friends in this hobby that have thousands of CGC'd comic books and not once have they said anything about slab Damage" That's not to say it has not happened, I have a good friend Scott that says it has happened to him more than once. Do I believe him, of course, he's my friend, and I also believe he has had some bad luck with shipping. That's what postal insurance is for, whether you ship you comic in a mylar, CGC case, or in anything else. CGC has certified over half a million comic books, if "SCS" was a major problem, we would be hearing it from every major collector and dealer in the country.

SCS by Davenport

That said, we are always trying to improve our holder and have offered some of the top engineers in the world "big money" to come up with something better and they cannot.

EG: What other improvements and new features can we look forward to seeing at CGC in the future?

SB: That would be telling………………I think I will save any big news for our site (laughs).

EG: There has been a lot of talk about Chris Friesen your veteran restoration expert of 5+ years leaving CGC for greener pastures (no pun intended!). A number of rumors have surfaced ranging from Chris opening his own comic book press shop because there is more money to be made in pressing than restoration detection to Chris opening a pre-CGC grading prep shop. Can you shed any light on any of these rumors and tell us a little about the business Chris will be opening besides that it is a "collectibles service"?

SB: The Certified Collectibles Group will be making an announcement when and if it is time. CGC and I will have nothing to do with Friesen's service. I will leave that for his interview. (Laughs)

EG: What is your personal opinion about pressing a comic book prior to grading submittal?

SB: Who cares? Really, when you get down to it, dealers and smart hobbyists have been doing it for years and years. So the Certified Collectible's Group helps let the cat out of the bag, wants to keep Friesen under their umbrella because they feel his company would be a good fit, and the biggest complainers are the guys who don't want the collectors to have a level playing field. Taking a bend or fold that does not break color out of a comic book is not a bad thing. It is not like you are adding glue and/or color touch, using something artificial, to bring paper closer back to LOOK like it's original state. You ARE bringing it back closer to its original state. I and many of the top collector's and dealers have never seen a problem with this.

The PLOD!

EG: Some have also blamed CGC for the almost complete drop-off of interest (and drop-off in general value in the marketplace) of comic books with professional restoration done on them. It seems like these days no one wants to get "stuck" with the dreaded Purple Label of Doom (or PLOD). What do you have to say to these detractors?

SB: Let me see if I have got this correct:

CGC, instead of ignoring restoration, uses our expert skills in restoration detection to give the hobbyist the information they need to make an informed decision when spending sometimes thousands and thousands of dollars on a comic book, by giving it a different color label than a comic book with no restoration, and we are the ones who have decided that the value of restored comic book should be less than a comic in the same condition without restoration? If that's the question, then no. The collecting community, when spending their hard earned money, makes that decision, not CGC.

Also, people are saying it's the different color label. Let's say for just a nanosecond that's true, which it is not. Let's also say CGC puts the restored comic book in a blue label with the words CGC RESTORED GRADE on top of the label and the word APPARENT above the grade number. I truly do not believe that putting those things on the label would not still be a "scarlet letter" for collectors and dealers.

EG: There are some who believe certain big-shot dealers and huge CGC submitters (customers) get "gift grades" from CGC, in other words they are guaranteed a certain grade from CGC no matter what the actual grade of the book really is. Are these accusations unfounded?

SB: 100% unfounded.

I mean, think about it. CGC and I are under the largest microscope this hobby has ever seen, I am not going to risk Mark Haspel's, Chris Friesen's, West Stephans', Paul Litch's, and my hard earned reputations.

Let's see, change a grade for someone and lose the confidence of the collecting community and make a couple of bucks or, grade each and every comic book on it's own merits and have a company in the hobby that I grew up in, love protecting, and helping fellow hobbyists? Hmmm, now what makes more sense?

The CGC Grading Team

EG: Is it true that CGC grades a little more leniently on Golden-Age books because of the number of printing defects(such as bindery tears) that came on these books off the presses?

SB: Yes. Not all comic books are manufactured the same and that has to be taken into account when grading it, that is why it is so important to hire industry experts such as Haspel, Friesen, and Stephan. If you have never handled a GA Terrific # 1 then you have no clue as to the "printing/bindery" defects most copies of it has.

Also, you have to consider a little bit of "eye appeal". A 1" crease on an Action #2 looks smaller and less obtrusive than a 1" crease on a Spidey #38 and the same 1" crease looks even more obtrusive on a Mighty Midget Comics #1.

EG: I ask everyone I interview this question Steve, Where do you see the Professionally Graded Comic book market in 10 years?

SB: Eventually, you will see a major, legitimate competitor for CGC. That will open up the market and, as long as whoever it will be is truly expert, impartial and honest, it will not hurt the market at all.




Now we have some questions from our forum members:



Davenport asks:

1. Why in the world would CGC allow Heritage Comics to align themselves with your company, knowing of past FTC rulings against their unethical grading shenanigans in other hobbies?

SB: : We are not "aligned" with them. We are marketing partners, just like we are with Wizard, Overstreet, Top Cow, Jerry Weist (Sotheby's), IDW, ACTOR, Vault Auctions, GPanalysis, Big Apple conventions, Paradise comics, Metropolis and many, many others.

While Jim Halperin, unlike the other companies I have mentioned, does own a small share of the Certified Collectibles Group, he has nothing to do with the day to day operations, no voting power, and he and his company gets treated the same as all other submitters.

2. How can the same condition be considered both Universal and Restored? (and if I remember these labels were from the same comic as well...) (this question refers to the purple and then blue label More Fun Comics #52, I included the pictures link).

SB: If a comic book was given a purple label by CGC and then "cracked out" had the restoration removed (or enough of it removed), it could possibly get a blue label

3. What's up with CGC grading (Parrino's) photos?

SB: Some extra revenue for the company. We are in business to make money, we were asked to grade these photos and put them in a holder with a label and that is what we are doing. I have nothing to do with this outside of helping set the grading standards and training graders, it is just under the CGC umbrella. If successful, the CCG might open a photo service that is not under CGC.

4. Any future plans for grading vintage gas station maps or matchbooks?

SB: Not at the moment. The CCG will be offering certification for paper currency and magazines in the near and very near future.

5. Will CGC be lowering their prices and turn-around times to support offering customers a PGX-style holder?

SB: I am not sure what you mean, we don't house comics in PVC.

But to answer your question, no, we will probably not have a decrease in price.



Ekos asks:

How much truth is there in the rumor that CGC has known about slab damage for the last 2 years, but has done nothing about it?

SB: I think I answered that earlier………



Hammer asks:

There was a period in time, of about 10 months, when I was filling the CPG Forums with hundreds of before and after images of Heritage Permanent Auction archives images. These images clearly showed books that were re-submitted to CGC and received higher grades AFTER they had been visibly altered. I just want to know how he felt about seeing the concise evidence of this in HUNDREDS of examples that I presented on the CPG Forums. 7.5s pressed and cleaned into 9.2s, a 4.5 pressed and cleaned into an 8.5, and in many cases, grade jumps of 1.0 and more without any discernable alteration at all.

SB: I will answer ANY question this guy has if he ever shows up in person with his NY drivers ID at a show or at the CGC offices (when he is back in jail, the offer is off the table). Listen, unlike this guy, I show up at cons and CGC forum dinners and answer ALL questions. "Hammer/Meth/Dupcek/Koos/Comic-Keys" loves the internet. He is allowed to sit behind a computer, sell restored comic books as unrestored, give false and bad advice to newcomers, and spills hate filled rhetoric all over chat boards. Nice, huh? Good way to keep the hobby healthy. I do not believe STL should encourage this guy like you do.



Arexcrooke asks:

Why is it that if a person was going to join the collectors society, do they have to wait 20 business days instead of 5 for the express certificates. If the wait is longer, how about an extra certificate?

SB: Why? This is what we offer if you join the Collector's Society for $99. You get to send in 3 comics valued up to $4000 with a estimated 20 business day turn time for certification, you get to submit directly to CGC with an online discount of 10%, you get online tracking status of your comics while they are at CGC, an email when it leaves CGC, free "stuff" from the Certified Collectibles Group, and starting sometime after the summer, graders notes online and offers for discounts and/or specials only available for CS members. I am not sure why we should offer an extra certificate……



Brockley asks:

Who has the cooler ponytail, you or Chuck?

SB: Chuck. He's the Man! He's also just cooler than me in general. Hell, I'm just a geek.



D-Bol asks:

What kind of CGC related products will Bill Cole be selling?

SB: Find out by going to www.bcemylar.com.



Fantasyfootballbono asks:

If a duck eats and then goes in the water a half hour later, will he get a cramp? =)

SB: Only if he or she eats the holder along with the comic.



Murph0 asks:

1. Do you think CGC ever get caught up to the advertised 40 business day turnaround for Economy?

SB: At times we have been on time. The Economy tier is the hardest tier to make money with. We get a 1.8 copy of Famous Funnies #62 with restoration and a page missing that does not affect the story. We know it is missing because we know the page count. We still need to stop what we are doing, check our database, check comics.org, or call a few dealers or collectors who might have an unrestored copy that we can check the other one against. That takes time. That is also the difference between certification and just grading, you need to know page counts, back covers, pin-up pages and other things about each individual comic. Just knowing how to grade is not going to help you open a certification service. You need experts in restoration and the knowledge about each and every era and genre. I have met so many hobbyists that have no clue about page counts and have been burned because some of their comics are not complete.

We might, one day, split the Economy tiers between Gold, Silver and Bronze at some point with different turn times.

2. When will we be seeing an improved holder?

SB: As soon as we can design something superior to what we have now, we will announce it.



Daniel@PGX asks:

1. How do you feel about not being able to force PGX out of business?

SB: Who?

2. Why won't Heritage allow PGX graded books on their site, and how is it that Heritage can offer to take 10 or more PGX books and personally send them to CGC for FREE grading and then put them on the Heritage site????

SB: I don't know the exact policy at Heritage, but they are a business and if they feel that by taking comics, getting them professionally certified, and put into CGC holders it will make them more money, who am I to argue. Hell, I like getting the business. If they are grading books for their clients for free, that's their business. Maybe it's why they have become one of the top players in our hobby in such a short time, good customer service.



EG: Thank you once again for your time Steve, and we look forward to hearing from you in the future as well.

SB: Thanks Erik, and all the Stl Comics Staff. It has been my pleasure!


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