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KC’s Halloween costume. Didja recognize him? Art by Deb Lockhart
by KC Carlson
One of the much more aggravating parts of having a large collection of comic books is trying to keep it organized. Last time, I discussed some of the physical things (boxes, large enclosed areas) needed to keep comics from blowing around the neighborhood. but as they say, the job’s not over until the paperwork is done, so this time it’s all about the paperwork.
Some people with modest collections don’t even bother to file what they have — it’s what they don’t have that’s essential to them. want lists are practically as essential to comic collecting as the comics themselves. After all, how numerous comics fans carry actual comic books in their wallets or purses?
According to an unofficial survey that I just didn’t bother to do, 100% of people who collect comic books have a want list. numerous of us have a little piece of paper that’s tucked in the back of our wallets that tells us what we need to finish our collections. Mine’s a little bigger — I have a three ring binder I carry to shows. (I have a big list. I also have an aversion to tiny type, due to being old.) even if you’ve ever thought, “Hey, I have to pick up the new tiny Titans collection next time I’m at the comic shop” — well, that’s a want list also, even if it doesn’t physically exist.
FUDGING THE NUMBERS
Flash #105, the first issue of the series.
In our goofy little hobby, you kinda have to know what you have before you can know exactly what you don’t. Which is complicated by the fact that in some cases your favorite series actually begins with #105 (Silver Age Flash) or if you want the first appearance of amazing Spider-Man, you need a completely different comic book title (Amazing Fantasy) and issue #15, to boot. and three different title changes to get to that point.
Figuring out the last issues of canceled series is also occasionally problematic. I’ve spent decades futilely tracking down issues of Archie comics that never existed, due to lack of documentation about the final issues of some series. At one point, I was told by the editor of a leading price guide that they occasionally would deliberately publish an incorrect last issue number on a title that “didn’t matter” (frequently Archie titles, because “who collects those?”), in purchase to identify who was “stealing” their data. said editor never realized how close I was to murder on that day. (I doubt that a jury of comic book fans would have convicted me.) Unfortunately, these “errors” were in their publications for years, although hopefully, the practice of deliberately printing factual errors is now long in the past.
In much more recent years, where long-running titles have stopped and started with alarming frequency (and no rhyme or reason to consistency), you now also have to know the volume number of the books you are missing. and lord help you on the titles that have switched back and forth from whole numbers to volume numbers.
PREPARING A list and checking IT TWICE
Overstreet Comic book price Guide
What you actually need to help you both efficiently figure out your comic book inventory, as well as formulate your want lists, is something akin to a checklist system.
In pre-computer days, that implied a lot of time pouring over the Overstreet price guide (the only one at the time) to figure out all the mysteries of comic book numbering. Back then, it was kind of like archaeology in a way, because even Overstreet didn’t have all the answers. The Overstreet price guide first appeared in 1970 — which implied that there were at least three decades (and now we know there were even more!) of comic history that was not completely documented. mostly because the comics publishers themselves mostly didn’t bother to keep track of their own history! modern fans owe a substantial debt to the hundreds of collectors and historians who have managed to find out not only who did what when, but a lot of the “why?” as well. and new things are being learned all the time.
My early comics inventory lists were typed sheets of paper with strings of sequential numbers that I would later “X” off when I got an acceptable copy of that issue number (i.e., not beat up or stripped). I didn’t care much about grading comics back then — nor now. Comics were either “good” or “bad”, condition-wise. I did the best that I could with carbon paper (photocopying was not available to me back then), but it was still a lot of typing. I’m amused at my youthful enthusiasm in typing out long-running titles like Action, Adventure, Detective, Batman, and Superman from #1, assuming that I was going to get them at some point. That was never going to be within my means, but I am impressed that I do know people today that have full runs of these titles. I think I still have these early self-inventory checklists in a box somewhere. I have everything in a box somewhere…
TAKE A CARD, any CARD…
A couple of examples of Collector Card formats. certainly I didn’t care about grading. books that were in “bad” condition were written in pencil — so that I could write over them in ink when I got a better copy. note on the Aquaman card that I certainly ran out of the 1-50 cards, and used a 51-100 card instead — yes, there were both!
Later on, I discovered collector cards — 3 x 5 index cards, preprinted with a 100 (or 50) block grid, that you could check off as you acquired books. I had hundreds of these (at least seven card boxes filled with them), until the companies that produced them sadly went out of business. A seller pal of mine actually wrote to the defunct company to inquire about getting more, but they wrote back that they were done — and amazingly sent stats of the original blank cards if we wanted to try it ourselves. I think we did run a small batch, but rapidly discovered that getting them correctly cut (trimmed) was either going to be extremely expensive or very time-consuming by hand. somewhere in my files, I think I still have the original stats of these, but I haven’t seen them in years.
Note there are no volume numbers mentioned. They’re both Vol. 1. These cards come from a time long before you needed to routinely mention volume numbers.
One of the big advantages of the collector cards were that they were reasonably portable. A lot of my cards were “completed”, so I was able to separate them out from the cards which had “holes” in them. The incomplete cards would fit nicely in just one file box that I could take to shows. While I was searching for back issues, I could hold the particular cards in one hand while flipping through the box with the other. worked pretty well, I thought, until I dropped the file box, scattering the cards all over the floor.
By this time, computers were evolving to the point that it was inevitable that they were going to be affordable enough to be in homes. So pioneering folks started building their own databases for comic collecting, and various programs were soon being provided for sale. I practically got one of these inventory systems, but just as I was about to plunk down the money, they chose to stop providing it for the Mac. I wasn’t about to get a different computer system just to have a computerized inventory, so I never went down that road. Today, I’m aware of numerous available online inventory systems, but I’m not really interested in getting one any much more — having chose that doing it myself is a lot much more fun and makes me feel like much more of a real collector again. I still don’t have a lot of time to mess with it too much, but then again, I’m not searching for a lot of back issues these day’s either. setting up an effective computer inventory/checklist has developed into a slow-burning project for my semi-retirement. It’s kinda fun learning (or re-learning) a lot of this stuff.
PLEASE LEASH YOUR PET PEEVES
Bat Lash #1 (Bat Lash first appeared in showcase #76)
Tracking and inventorying comics is a lot much more complex these days than it was when I was a kid. Back then, you just had long-running series to follow. Back then, a “limited” series was one that was canceled within a year or so from when it started, like Bat Lash (7 issues) or the first Silver Surfer series (18 issues). even when planned miniseries began in the 1980s, they weren’t too hard to track.
Wolverine #1. one of the numerous first issues Wolverine has appeared in.
Nowadays, practically every long-running series has been stopped and restarted at least once. My least favorite is when they restart a series with a new number one, switch it back to the original numbering, just in time for an anniversary issue, then cancel it again for a new number one… ad nauseum. When a series or character has a large number of miniseries and one-shots, that can be challenging to inventory as well — especially hoping you haven’t missed something. My Wolverine-related inventory page has over 100 separate title entries on it — Wolvie has a lot of one-shots and minis. I dread getting to Batman. I know that I have at least four or five boxes of minis and one-shots for him. I think there’s at least one box with just Batman Elseworlds projects in it.
Besides the current explosion of brand-extending titles, doing a proper inventory also includes acknowledging all the variant covers being published today. even if you don’t purchase them all (I don’t), you still have to deal with them in some way, even if it’s just to eliminate the ones you don’t want — because years after the fact, unsold variants routinely get disposed into dollar boxes along with everything else, and if you don’t know the difference, you could end up purchasing a lot of “wrong” covers. Worst new trend in covers: Covers that have nothing to finish with what the comic itself is about — or even feature a completely different character (i.e. Thor Goes Hollywood). What Th–?!
Since we’ve talking pet peeves here, one much more before I finish — and one that is not so much an inventory problem, but a logistical problem if you have a large collection. say I wanted to go back and read all the Onslaught tie-ins again. (You may ask why, but that’s not the point.) There are somewhere around 40 chapters to this story, not even counting aftermath stuff, like Thunderbolts. In my collection, they are all filed in boxes by their original titles (Uncanny X-Men, Avengers, etc.). Which implies that they are many likely in about 20-30 different boxes — which probably would entail moving 50-75 boxes to get to them all. It would also imply that spending a couple hours finding and reassembling all the pieces again. (Not to mention going online to research the appropriate reading order.)
I’ve done stuff like this a couple of times with other crossovers, and by the time I was finished, I no longer felt like reading them again.
Might be smarter to get the collected editions of these, no?
Or not bothering with crossovers altogether.
Large Comic book Collections: good reading or good cardio exercise? You be the judge!
KC CARLSON: In the “old days”, when comic books were cheap, and crossovers were short, I’d resolve this problem by purchasing “doubles” of the crossovers I really liked. Can’t really do that anymore when comics are 3 or 4 dollars a pop — or more! and current crossovers like Flashpoint and worry Itself run for much more than 50 tie-in issues!
Classic comic covers from the Grand Comics Database.