Saturday, December 12, 2009

Organizing Those Comics

Lately I’ve been reconsidering the way I have my comics organized.

Naturally, I have comics all bagged and boarded and tucked away in their boxes (short comic boxes, preferably, because they’re kinder on the back). What I’m considering here is how to arrange those comics within and among the boxes.

Now, I’m not talking about my 1600+ Legion comics: those are stored in chronological order, which is the only proper way. No, I’m dealing with the 3000+ other comics, the Supermans and Actions and Flashes and Superboys that go back 50 years, the multi-title crossovers and one-shots, and the odd stuff that’s crept in here and there throughout the decades.

Like many other collectors, I used to do the alphabetical-order thing. (I’m a librarian, so alphabetical order comes naturally to me.) That’s how most comic shops organize their back-issues: Broadly separated by publisher (Marvel/DC/Other) then alphabetically by title, then (usually) separated by volume, then by issue number. And that makes great sense for a shop, where customers are going to be looking for specific issues of specific titles.

It has slowly penetrated to me that I do not live in a comic shop.

Alphabetical/issue-number worked fine in the olden days. Then, each title was separate, and most single issues were self-contained. A two-or-three-parter could go across successive issues of the same title, but it was very rare to see a story that (for example) started in Action then moved into Superman before concluding in Supergirl.

Nowadays, that sort of thing happens all the time. Even before Crisis on Infinite Earths, I remember stories that started in All-Star Squadron and continued in Infinity Inc. And now, there are story arcs that stretch across five or six titles – not to mention mega-crossover events like Final Crisis or Blackest Night. Even when there aren’t actual story arcs, story elements continue across all of the Superman books, the Batman books, or the Green Lantern titles.

It’s time to give up on alphabetical order.

This article tells us:

There’s a saying in the comic book collector hobby: alphabetical is for chumps. Attempting to keep every title is perfect alphabetical order will make adding to your collection a nightmare, as will trying to access a series that includes multi-book crossovers.

Instead go for either character or publisher.

That states the problem nicely, but it isn’t very helpful. (I have noticed some comic shops using a modified character-based system: i.e. all the Bat-books or Superman titles are together in one section, nicely alphabetized by title/volume/issue-number.) “Go for character or publisher” is probably fine when you have 20 Supermans, 18 Spidermans, and a handful of assorted independents – but it doesn’t scale up to thousands of comics.

I found a lengthy discussion from 2006 that talks about the different ways people arrange their comics. In that discussion, there’s the following from DrBombay:

Lately, with all the events, crossovers and relaunches, not to mention zero and half issues, what really seems to make the most sense to me is sorting by publication date. What would really be great is some way to have a database for physical objects where you could resort easily based on whatever mood strikes you.

But yeah, my collection, which is right now mostly in piles, is going to be sorted by year, then month, then week.

That’s more along the lines of what I’m looking for, although it goes a little in the anal-retentive direction: by week?! Year and month are on the cover (or in the indicia), but week? I generally don’t keep track of what week my comics came out, and I’m certainly not going to look it up for 3000 older comics.

Still, chronological arrangement has its advantages. Mega-crossover events will pretty much all be together. Story arcs will be much easier to follow.

And since I have my comics cataloged (in HanDBase for the iPhone and Mac), it’s no trouble to look up the year and month of a particular issue.

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of arranging all my comics the way my Legion collection is arranged: by year, month, and then (I guess) alphabetically by title.

However, I’m going to give the last word to Travis Pullen, from his two-part series titled How Do I Organize My Comics? (Part One, Part Two):

A final note on managing your collection: there is no right or wrong way to do this, it's all about what's right for you. Some of my friends do alpha order everything, but by the indicia, which means a Giant-Size Avengers will actually be filed under ‘G.' Another friend says, "The Dewey Decimal System," and walks away smiling like he just won an argument or something. My organizing is specific to me.



Wit said...

Thanks for that. I'm a big LSH fan.
Now i have a reason to go thru my collection again.

Meerkatdon said...

I had a grand time getting my Legion collection whipped into shape earlier this year. Now I'm having another grand time putting my other comics in chronological order.

It's an acquired taste....