This story begins about a year ago in the pre-COVID-19 days when mass gatherings still occurred. There might not be a better example of a mass gathering than New York Comic Con, which I was getting ready to attend.
For those who aren’t aware, in advance of the show, ticket holders can register for lotteries to participate in various special events ranging from guaranteed seating at certain panels, admittance to certain shopping areas (Where are our FUNKO fans?), media screenings, and more. I had the good fortune of winning a spot through the only NYCC lottery that I entered – a signing opportunity with Jim Lee, Scott Williams, and Alex Sinclair.
When considering what to have signed by creators, I typically start with what I have on hand in my collection. I have several late 80’s to early 90’s comics that Lee and Williams worked on, but nothing jumped out at me that Sinclair also worked on. Therefore, I would look to buy something for the trio of legendary creators to sign. Without question, the book I would be looking for would be one of the installments of the classic Hush story line, which ran through issues 608-619 of Batman.
A week or so before NYCC, I dug through the Batman back issues at Albany’s Earthworld Comics looking for a high grade book from this run with dynamic cover art that would look good signed. When it comes down to it, every cover Jim Lee has ever drawn is eye catching. However, some cover designs may be better suited to get signed than others. After perusing what Earthworld had in stock, I selected the Red Background Variant of Batman 619, featuring the World’s Greatest Detective and his allies on the cover. The book of course is the conclusion of the Hush story line, in which the Caped Crusader learns the identity of the arc’s nemesis. Condition wise, the spine was free of stress and ticks, and the corners were sharp, so this copy met my criteria to be my buy for the signing.
The signing took place mid-morning on Friday October 4, 2019 at NYCC in the DC Comics area of the Javits Center. Lottery winners had to wait in line the for the signing to begin, but it was limited and brief compared to the lines for most other things at the show. Lottery winners could have up to three items signed by the creators, but I elected to only bring Batman 619. The process went very smoothly, and I was thrilled with the resulting triple signed book pictured below.
There was no charge for the signing, but the trade-off was that it could not be witnessed by any of the third party grading and certification companies. It is my understanding that CGC had an exclusive arrangement with the show’s promoter to be the sole onsite slabbing company, and I did have some other books signed at the show in the presence of their witnesses.
I maintain memberships with both CGC and CBCS, and which company I use for a particular comic depends on opportunity and circumstance. Since the Lee/Williams/Sinclair signatures were not witnessed, the choices were to simply bag and board the signed book and leave it in my collection raw, submit to CGC which would result in the book being slabbed with what I consider an undesirable green Qualified label, or submit to CBCS for the company’s Verified Signature Program. Through the VSP, CBCS’ parent company, Beckett compares the signatures to known samples to authenticate them post-signing. If successful, the book advances to grading and slabbing, and the label would denote the signatures as verified.
Although the book looked to be in great shape, I requested pressing (standard pressing without Fast Pass) by CBCS in order to maximize the grading outcome. At the time of submission, CBCS pressing had a well documented backlog, so I knew it would be a long wait and I was prepared to be patient. If you are unfamiliar with the VSP, an important choice to make is selection of whether or not to encapsulate even if verification fails. When submitting, I initially chose to NOT encapsulate if verification of any of the three signatures failed.
This comic was the first I submitted to CBCS for the VSP, and I learned more about the process during the lengthy wait for it to be pressed. Most notably, I discovered that Beckett Authentication Services maintains a searchable database of signatures which it can verify. Upon conducting searches of that database, I found Lee and Williams’ names included, but it was a no-hit for Sinclair. This had me sweating a bit, so I reached out to CBCS Customer Service, who advised, “The names on the Beckett Database are not complete, and a further review would take place.” This settled me a bit, but given the uncertainty, I asked CBCS to change the order to encapsulate even if verification fails. This decision was based on the logic that I had already paid to have the book pressed, and there was good (but not definite) opportunity that Lee and/or Williams’ signatures would pass verification, even if Sinclair’s did not. Accordingly, with the money I had into it, I would prefer the book be slabbed even if only one of the signatures was verified.
Upon receiving an email that an order has shipped, some collectors await receipt of the books to be surprised by the results during their “unboxing”. I’m not one of them – I look at the results in the grading company’s online portal. Accordingly, when I received the notice that this book had shipped I was thrilled with the outcome – all three signatures verified, and a grade of 9.8 with white pages.
However, when the book arrived, I was disheartened to find a couple of concerns. First, there appeared to be a scratch on the interior of the case as pictured below:
The second concern was specific to the outside of the case as pictured below.
While Gotham City is often depicted as rainy, Jim Lee didn’t use that effect when drawing this cover. Rather, the case was marked with numerous scuffs, apparently caused by the bag rubbing against the case while in transit.
I made CBCS Signature Programs Manager Matthew Edwards aware of my concerns, and he connected me with the company’s regional representative, Steve Paulus, who promptly offered a re-holder at no-cost to me. According to Paulus, they typically ask collectors to ship back books for customer service related re-holders with their next submission. However, in this instance, he directed me to ship back, and they would credit me for my shipping costs.
When I opened the return shipment from CBCS containing the reholdered book, I found that a layer of foam padding was included on each side of the slab to prevent recurrence of the bag induced scuffing during shipping.
While this was a lengthy process, and there were some unexpected hoops to jump through, I’m thrilled with the end result pictured below.
As of this writing, a search of the CBCS Population Report will display two copies reported at 9.8 with Lee, Williams, and Sinclair’s signatures all verified. However, it appears that the “other” result was the order number assigned to my copy for the re-holder. Accordingly, this is the only copy of the Batman 619 Red Background Variant on the CBCS Population Report graded at 9.8, signed or unsigned, with no copies graded higher. I will follow-up with CBCS to make them aware of this apparent duplicate result through the “Report a Problem” link found at the bottom of the Population Report.
Although this submission took close to a year, I did enjoy a benefit from the pressing delay. The book came back in CBCS’ new case, which debuted in July to rave reviews. A quicker turnaround would have resulted in it coming back in the company’s old style case. While this submission was pending, CBCS also moved to using a yellow label for VSP books, rather than the red labels previously used for the program. As the result CBCS now uses the pictured yellow label for both witnessed and verified signatures, with the signature type noted.
Thanks again to Matthew Edwards, Steve Paulus, and Pam Kesten (CBCS Billing) for their attention and responsiveness in addressing my concerns with this order.
It is important to note that while I discussed concerns with the case on this book, I have since received another 19 comics back from CBCS without problem. They are crystal clear, and fantastic!! It is my further understanding that CBCS Pressing operations have made great progress in addressing their back log since their move to Dallas, and therefore wait times should be greatly improved going forward.
I have three more books out to CBCS for VSP, each signed by the late, great Joe Sinnott for me in 1978. His 1978 signature is quite different from examples in more recent years, so fingers crossed that they pass. Of course, I’ll post the results here when they are back in hand, so be sure to check back.
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