CGC Certification of International Comic Books
To illustrate the diversity of the international market, 20 versions of the Punisher’s first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #129 (1974) were released in 17 different countries over subsequent years. Despite the obvious differences, it’s clear to any comic book collector which US issue these represent!
To help with such an immense and murky history of comic books, CGC has teamed with Rob Rong (@ForeignComicKeys on Instagram), a leading international comic book collector who provided his expertise and extensive database to accurately identify and categorize the country of origin and publisher for each comic, two critical factors in certification. Additionally, CGC researches the contents of each international comic book it grades, which may vary widely for a particular issue printed in multiple countries.
The History of International Comic Books
Golden/Atomic Age Comics
Several countries were already producing their own versions of comic books when Action Comics #1 (the first appearance of Superman) was first published in 1938, launching the Golden Age of comics and igniting a flood of superhero comics in the US. Despite their popularity, World War II sidelined the sales of American comics abroad; Europe was largely overrun by Hitler or Stalin, and the English-speaking countries of Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom had imposed a ban on comic book imports.
After the war ended, countries across Western Europe began producing comic books en masse. The Japanese were exposed to American comic books during their occupation after the war (1945-1952), which helped shape modern Manga, a style of comic book unique to their culture. The distribution of American comics abroad was still hampered by the continued import ban in Australia and the UK, although Disney and DC were finding success licensing their characters to European publishers during the 1950s.
Silver/Bronze Age Comics
Unlike the Golden Age, when US comic books were mostly blocked from worldwide markets, the Silver and Bronze Age witnessed significant distribution of American comics throughout parts of Europe, Asia and South America. The lifting of the import ban in 1959 allowed sales of American comic books to resume in Australia and the UK. DC was revitalizing the superhero genre during this time, with versions of Superman, Batman, Showcase and Green Lantern comic books appearing in various countries across the globe. Marvel was licensing its limited number of titles as well, which expanded after they entered the superhero genre in 1961.
However, international publishers exercised considerable artistic license, often renaming titles, altering cover images and even changing an issue’s interior content. In some countries, licensing was granted to multiple publishers, resulting in different releases of the same US issue. The Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries didn’t allow US comic imports throughout this period, which lasted until the end of the Cold War. Once the Iron Curtain was lifted, parts of Eastern Europe began releasing their versions of US comics, both old and new, but some characters did not make their first appearances there until decades after they were introduced in the US.
Modern Age Comics
By the ‘90s Marvel and DC had reeled in foreign publishing, reducing the freedoms previously allowed to alter covers and content. Background color schemes were sometimes changed, but besides the numbering or the title itself, alterations continued to diminish to the point where foreign versions of US comics were near facsimiles.
How CGC Classifies International Comic Books
During the early years many international comic books containing American characters exhibited covers that were not copied from US comic books, but rather redrawn or even completely original. This was sometimes true of the content as well. These comics are considered unique editions, having no US cover counterpart. By the ‘60s unique editions of US titles released in other countries were uncommon; sometimes the original cover art was replaced with a panel from the story or redesigned altogether. Issues of El Sorprendente Hombre Arana (Mexico) featured both original covers and content.
The covers of O Guri, Gibi Mensal, Lobinho, and Globo Juvenil Mensal, published in Brazil during the Golden Age, sometimes feature US characters drawn by South American artists. Other times they lifted a US cover or featured completely original characters. Interior content was usually a black and white mix of stories randomly lifted from different US titles (and publishers) of the time, with some original content added. Even though a few covers have US counterparts, the entire run of these titles are classified by CGC as unique editions.
This category also includes comic books unique to their country of origin like Nelvana (Canada) and Crimson Comet (Australia) from the Golden Age, and the plethora of comic books that have been produced by Europe, Asia, South America, and the rest of the world. CGC classifies and labels unique international comic books by their foreign title and issue number and lists the country of origin on the label.
This classification is assigned to international comics that feature a cover to which a US counterpart exists but is not a facsimile. The covers of most foreign editions are slightly or heavily altered, creating a broad spectrum of possibilities that range from near identical covers to redrawn covers that only copy the motif. Typical alterations include a different title logo, different issue number and publisher logo, different background colors, redesigned word balloons and transposed images.
Like covers alterations, the contents of foreign editions can vary widely too. Some issues are nearly identical except for ads or page count, while other issues contain stories completely unrelated to the cover, or additional stories. Dimensions also vary, ranging from digest size to magazine size or even bigger. Navigating the variations in cover, content and size often makes foreign edition identification a difficult endeavor.
CGC classifies and labels foreign editions by the title and issue number of their US counterpart, but also lists the foreign title and issue on the label as well. The country of origin is listed as the edition, such as “Norwegian edition”. The contents of each foreign edition are researched, with pertinent stories, appearances, or artists listed in the art and key comments on the label.
This category mainly encompasses US comics sold in English-speaking countries that are exact replicas of their US counterparts, the only difference being the price on the cover. It includes UK releases of Marvel Comics (1960 to 1981) and DC (1971 to 1981), and Canadian and Australian releases during the ‘80s and ‘90s, although price variants exist among other publishers as well.
These comics are not foreign in the strictest sense, as they were typically printed in the United States and sold at or near the same time as their US counterparts. Eventually US comics were printed with both the American and foreign price, removing any distinction between comics released in the US and other English-speaking countries.
There has been extensive research on price variants in recent years, and new versions are still being uncovered. CGC classifies price variants the same as their US counterpart, identifying the country of origin as the variant, such as “Canadian Price Variant”.
Disney Comics… An Exception to the Rule
In spite of the fact that the majority of foreign editions appeared on newsstands months or even years after they were released in the US, it was the first time readers in those countries were exposed to them. Because of that fact, characters or significant events first appearing in each specific country will be acknowledged as such on the CGC label, exactly as they are for their US counterpart.
Sometimes second versions of first appearances are released within a country, either by the same publisher or a different one. In these cases, only the first version of the first appearance will be acknowledged on the CGC label. Other times foreign editions will exhibit the cover of a key issue, but the contents are of another issue entirely. If the first appearance of a character is not present within the story, the issue is not identified on the label as containing a true first appearance in that country.
How CGC Grades International Comic Books
Because most buyers of international comics from the 20th century were casual readers, they are usually scarcer than American comic books, and found in high grade less often. This has proven to be the case with Price Variants.
Submitting International Comics
Because many international comics have yet to be entered into the CGC database and foreign editions often involve two titles and issue numbers, oftentimes these comics must be manually entered into the CGC online submission form. Once orders arrive at CGC, international comics are routed to our in-house foreign specialists, who research each book to make sure they are correctly verified before grading.
Unique editions currently populate the CGC Census in the same fashion as regular US editions — by the title, issue, publisher and date of publication. Foreign editions that exhibit both a foreign title/issue on the CGC label and US counterpart title/issue currently populate only as the US counterpart. Soon, the CGC Census will allow users to enter either title/issue to view the current census data on foreign editions.
It’s clear that certifying international comics is a daunting task, and given the vast, unchartered territory that lies ahead, identification will be a fluid process for some time. We invite any and all feedback from collectors and submitters as we navigate through international comics in the coming years. CGC highly values participation from the comic book community, who we consider the foundation of our business.