Five Questions to Help You Organize Your Comics Collection

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Yup, I’m still getting organized. The books in our library are pretty much set, but there’s still the matter of the huge collection of single issue comics that my husband and I jointly own. Comics are on organizing challenge all their own and one I’ve struggled with in the past. This time around, I’m making good progress and hoping to get 4,000+ comics sorted, cataloged, and put away in a system that can continue to house our future purchases.

If you’re considering a similar comics sorting project - big or small - here are some of the questions I’ve had to ask myself as I work to get the collection under control.

1. How Will You Sort?

Figuring out how you want your collection sorted is an important first step. Alphabetical order is a good logical starting place, but it may not be the best fit for you. Do you want to have separate sections for different publishers? Should all of the comics about one character go together, regardless of title? Maybe you want to keep the work of certain creators together. And do issues in a series go in ascending or descending order?

There are no “wrong” answers; it’s all about what works for you and your comics.

My collection is currently going in alphabetical order by title. I tried having separate boxes for Marvel, DC, and “Independent,” but keeping track of which publisher bought out who and other logistics was just too much trouble. The one exception at the moment are the Hellboy and Hellboy related comics for reasons I’ll explain shortly. I’m also having to make smaller decisions as I go, such as “Should this be under ‘A’ for ‘Amazing’ or ‘S’ for ‘Spider-Man’?”

Hellbox, where  Hellboy ,  B.P.RD., Lobster Johnson,  and other related titles all live.

Hellbox, where Hellboy, B.P.RD., Lobster Johnson, and other related titles all live.

2. Where Will They Live?

This question is a two-parter: Where will your comics go in your home and what will you put them in?

As with your method of sorting, where and how you house your comics depends on you, your preferences, and your resources. If you have around 300 comics that can happily live in a single box in your bedroom, then there you are. A bigger collection obviously requires more space and different storage solutions if accessing your comics easily is important to you. Not everything needs to be in one place. You may find that a small, nice looking piece of comics housing furniture in the living room for your frequently read favorites or recent acquisitions and standard longboxes of everything else in the basement is perfect for your needs.

I’ve written before about some of the options available for comics storage. I use drawerboxes to keep comic accessible while still being able to stack the boxes without the expense of custom furniture. The one exception so far is the aforementioned Hellboy section, which lives in a Hellboy in Hell themed shortbox we own. We also have a spinner rack which I haven’t decided what to do with. It could end up showcasing comics by friends, recent purchases, or favorites.

Keep your comics buying habits in mind too. You want your storage solution to be big enough to include the comics you expect to buy for at least a few years or be able to expand to accommodate them

A whole lotta Batman.  Batman Adventures  #16 as seen in the CLZ Comics app.

A whole lotta Batman. Batman Adventures #16 as seen in the CLZ Comics app.

3. How Will You Keep Track of Them?

A single box of comics that isn’t expecting any new additions may not need cataloging. And if you just collect a few titles, a box labeled “Batman” and another labeled “Superman” might be all you need. But if your collection - like mine - numbers in the thousands and keeps growing, you’re probably going to need some help keeping track of what you have and where it is.

A spreadsheet that you create and update yourself can be both the simplest and most flexible option. Any special data you want to include about your comics? Just add a new column. The downside is that you’re stuck entering everything manually and searching for any information that’s not in or on the comic yourself.

If typing out the name of every comic you own sounds like some kind of eternal punishment, fear not. There’s an assortment of apps out there to make cataloging your collection easier. Many such apps have a barcode scanner that will add the relevant info to your lists each time you scan a comic. No barcode? Start typing the title and pick the comic you want. Can’t find the issue number? Some apps will let you peruse a gallery of covers in a particular series to find out what you have, even if it’s an issue of Tarzan with the top half of the cover missing.

Different apps offer a variety of features. The best one for you depends on your particular needs. Are you willing to pay for an app with more options or would you prefer a free one with less? What kind of information is important for you to have in your catalog of comics? Do you need space to add your own information? How customizable do you need the app to be?

if you have a few apps you can’t decide between, consider doing a test run. Grab a variety of comics that provide a good representative sample of your collection. Add them to the app and see how well it does at identifying them. It’s a given that a few really obscure titles may not be in the app’s database, but if it doesn’t recognize the majority of your comics, the app may not be a good fit for you. You can also test how easy it is to do things like note the location of your comics, searching for specific comics, checking the value of your collection, and so on. Most premium apps will offer some kind of free trial, either for a short period of time or a small number of comics, so you can test out the interface before you make a purchase.

I’m currently using CLZ Comics for iOS. The free version allows you to catalog up to 100 comics. The full paid version, currently $15, can store an unlimited number. CLZ has a robust database that recognizes all but a few of my comics, either by barcode or by title. The search feature works well and I can sort my collection by various criteria including title, age, genre, and location. I can add tags, replace the database cover images with my own photos, Mark whether I’ve read a comic, and edit titles. Perhaps the most useful feature is the separate “Display Name” and “Sort Name” fields, both editable, that let me do things like make all of Amazing Spider-Man appear alphabetically as if it were “Spider-Man, Amazing” without changing how the title displays in the app. Its one main downside thus far is that issues have to be moved from one location to another one at a time, which can be a pain when you need to transfer a whole series to a new box. The app partly makes up for this with a tool you can use to add certain field information - like a location or the “read it” status - to every comic you scan in. So when I’m adding a bunch of new comics that are all going into one box, I can set it to add the location to all of them.

4. What Else Do You Need?

If you have your comics, somewhere to store them, and a method to keep track of them, you don’t technically need anything else. You can just dive right in and get started sorting, scanning, and storing. But there are a few other item you may want to have on hand, either before or after the big sort.

  • An Outgoing Comics Box - Chances are you’re going to find a few comics that you don’t want to keep anymore, particularly if you haven’t gone through your collection in a while. You might even stumble across a duplicate or two. If some of your comics won’t be remaining in your collection, you’ll need somewhere to put them. Any kind of box is fine, though a longbow or something similar will keep them reasonably safe if you plan to sell or trade them. Just make sure you’ll always know that this is a box of comics you’re getting rid of. The sorting process can take a a long time and you don’t want to stumble across the box months later and wonder what all these comics are doing here. Slap a sticky note on it to remind yourself.

  • Bags and boards - Bagging and boarding every comic you own may not be practical, but some of your older issues, valuable key issues, or comics that are just special to you might merit that extra protection. Keep in mind that some older comics (such as many Dell Disney comics, I’ve learned) are ever so slightly wider than most modern comics, so you’ll need to get bags and boards to accommodate them. Just about any local comic shop will either have bags and boards for sale or be able to order them for you.

  • Dividers - Like bags and boards, these aren’t an absolute necessity and you probably won’t want to mark every series in a big collection. But they can be useful for making series or even individual issues you repeatedly take out easy to find.

  • A transport/temp box - For me, this box serves two purposes. One, it gives me a way to group and carry around the uncatalogued comics hiding around the house. Two, it acts as a temporary storage solution while I get everything in it scanned, put in order, and added to the main comic boxes. Once the contents of the temp box are scanned into the app, I hand off my iPad to my husband and he checks the list for anything he doesn’t want anymore. I remove those and add the rest to the main collection. Whatever you use the temp box for, it’s a lot easier than dealing with comics in piles.

  • Pens, Labels, and/or Stickers - You may not need these until you’re done sorting and every comic is in the spot that will be its home for the next while. But at some point, you will probably want to label your boxes and maybe add some character with a few choice stickers. Label them however you want, but keep in mind that the contents may still change at some point, so “Firestar Vol. 2 #1 to G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero Vol. 1 #50” might not be the best label for a box unless you can change the label easily. I’m just calling mine “Box 1,” “Box 2,” “Box 3,” etc. and relying on the app to tell me what’s where.

  • A laptop for web browsing - This is far from necessary unless you really hate looking at websites on your phone or tablet. Still, you may need to look up some information that’s not in the app from time to time (like the correct order of all the B.P.R.D. miniseries that aren’t numbered). Having something else to browse on can also save the battery life of your primary cataloging device in case your sorting spot isn’t close to an outlet.

5. How Will You Keep It Going?

If you buy comics on a regular basis, you’ll need to consider how you’ll integrate your new additions into your now organized collection. Part of this, as I said earlier, is leaving space in your storage so it can hold more than what you have right now. You’ll also need to figure out a system of adding new comics that works for you. Maybe every new purchase gets scanned in and filed as soon as it’s read. Or maybe you’ll have a temporary spot for storing new comics and a plan to go through and catalog the ones you’re keeping on a regular basis. You may be most comfortable just doing another big sort once or twice a year. As with everything else when it comes to your comics collection, the right decision is the one that works for you.

Do you have photos of your comics collection? Are you starting your own comics sorting project? Or do you have a special issue you want to brag about? Share it with us in the comments!