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CONNECTING THE DOTS: Comic Book Page Color Over Grades

As a collector of silver and bronze comics, I am always on the lookout for high grade copies: the higher the grade the better. When evaluating candidates for my collection, I consider a number of factors. However, there is one item that I place heavier emphasis on than even the grade of the book: page color.

When evaluating a comic, the cover is often the first element that a collector will examine. The initial visual appeal of the book, a cover that is free of creases and blemishes with sharp corners, is quite often the primary motivator in purchasing decisions. However, higher page quality almost always increases the books value in the collector’s market.

For the uninitiated, the page color of vintage comic books is a significant factor in determining their value and desirability among collectors. Many collectors prefer comic books that have retained their original white or off-white coloration of its internal pages.

According to CGC, the general range of page color levels include:

WhitePaper that appears the same or very near the same as the day it was printed. Only the slightest traces of aging are allowed to a small area, such as the corner. Most comic books printed after 1990 exhibit white pages due to the discontinued use of pulp paper in printing comic books at that time. Only a white page designation is allowed in the 10.0 grade.
Off-White to WhitePaper that is still white but exhibits very slight aging to the outer edges. A significant number of comic books from the mid ‘70s to late ‘80s exhibit this page quality. This designation is the lowest allowed in the 9.9 grade.
Off-WhitePaper that exhibits very light aging through the middle of each page, or white pages that exhibit light aging to the outer edges. With rare exception, comic books considered for the grade of 9.8 or better must achieve at least an off-white page designation.
Cream to Off-WhitePaper that appears white or off-white in the middle with aged outer edges or exhibits an overall aged color that is more close to brown than white. This page quality is most prevalent in comic books from the ‘30s, 40’s and ‘50s, but also includes a significant number of Silver Age comic books as well.
CreamRarely given, this designation is for pages that are a uniform cream in color from the edges to the middle of each page. Early Silver Age DC’s tend to exhibit cream pages more often than other comics from the same time period.
Light Tan to Off-WhitePaper that still appears off-white in the middle of each page, but the edges have developed a tanned appearance considerably darker than cream to off-white. This type of page quality is common among file copies, particularly from Dell and Harvey. A comic book cannot achieve a grade higher than 8.5 with this page quality.
Light Tan to CreamSimilar to light tan to off-white, but the center of each page exhibits a cream color, while the edges are darker.
Light TanLike cream pages, this category is for interior pages that exhibit a uniform color edges to middle, but are slightly darker than cream.
Tan to Off-WhiteSimilar to light tan to off-white pages, but the edges of the pages are darker. The best grade a comic book can achieve with this page quality is 7.5.  
Tan to CreamThe same as tan to off-white, but the center of the pages are darker.  
TanDark colored pages that exhibit a uniform tint from edges to middle.
Dark Tan to Off-WhitePages that are very dark on the edges, but still retain off-white color in the middle.  
Dark TanPages that exhibit a very dark, uniform tint from edges to middle, but show no signs of brittleness.  
Brown to Off-WhiteExtremely dark pages that still exhibit off-white color in the middle, and yet do not show signs of brittleness.  
Brown to TanExtremely dark pages with a slightly less dark tint to the middle of each page.  
BrownPages that exhibit a uniform color of extreme darkness edges to middle, but do not show signs of brittleness.
Brown/ Brittle  Pages that are uniformly extremely dark, but are beginning to show slight signs of brittleness, such as corner chipping or edge tears that have formed from handling.
“CGC Grading Scales | CGC.”,                
scale/?scale=page-quality. Accessed 31 Jan. 2024.

Over time, exposure to light, air, and other environmental factors can cause the paper to yellow or darken, diminishing the overall visual appeal of the comic. The color ranges (OW/W, C/OW, etc.) can be attributed to the fact that comic pages do not always age and fade uniformly.

This is why page color is so important. Comics books will continue to age and break down over time. A fifty-year old book with white pages will survive longer, even encapsulated, than one with less desirable page quality. The higher page quality is a testament to the care the owner has taken to preserve the book. Comic Books with white pages, as opposed to cream pages, suggests that the book has been stored in optimal conditions throughout its life.

Therefore, when considering multiple copies of a comic, even across significant grade differentials, I will lean towards the higher page quality. Recently, I purchased a CGC graded 8.0 Werewolf by Night #32 with white pages, despite the availability of a 9.0 graded copy with cream to off-white for only a bit more. While the action-packed cover of the book hides most of the discoloration of the 9.0 copy, I feel that the white page copy is a healthier book, which I can enjoy for many more years.

Learning to grade the color quality, is an essential skill of any comic book collector.  One extremely useful tool in the evaluation of page color is the Overstreet OWL Card (or “Overstreet’s Whiteness Level”). The card presents a visual range of potential page colors, which enables individuals to place it against the actual comic page to assess its page quality. The card is available at Gemstone Publishing for $2.99 each.

Page color in a comic book has a significant impact on a book’s desirability, market value, and long-term preservation. While not everyone will agree, I will always consider a lower-graded comic with superior page quality over a higher-graded alternative.

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