The Illusion of Control
It’s not exactly controversial – and is a complete understatement – to say that things in general aren’t really going so great right now.
This is as true in my own life as it is for the world at large, and at both levels there is very little over which I have any significant amount of control or influence, and I need to do…something to cope with the feelings of powerlessness and despair that lack of control engenders.
It may seem frivolous and pointless – and certainly my privilege is showing – and I won’t argue that it isn’t, but we all need to feel as though there’s something in our lives and in the world that we can control. In order to allow myself to focus at all I’ve decided to focus on some of the smaller things in my life which I can control, and for right now, that happens to be the disorganized piles of comics scattered throughout my house.
And maybe this post about that process will give you something to focus on for a little while. Or maybe not, but in any case, that’s what I’m going to talk about today.
Before I get started on that, though, I wanted to note that I will be mentioning a particular piece of software I’m using – and I will link to it – but this isn’t intended as a review, or an endorsement, though I will talk a bit about its features and I do like it overall. (Also, I’m not getting anything out of mentioning it, because do you really think this site has sponsors or is provided anything for review purposes? Come on.)
(The above, for instance, is not an example of sponsorship, it’s just whatever Google decides to show.)
I’ve often said that I’m not really a comic book collector by nature or inclination but simply by default. I collect them inasmuch as I buy them to read them and then keep them after I’ve read them. I am something of a completist, about which more later, but that’s one of the few “collector” traits I have. I don’t really have the drive to meticulously organize and display my collection, which is why I tend to have things like disorganized piles of comics lying all over the place.
On a related note, I’m also something of a hoarder by default, simply because if it takes more effort to get rid of something than to just toss it in the garbage can or recycle bin and haul it to the curb I tend to just stick it somewhere out of the way. This, of course, begins to add up, and soon there aren’t any places that are left out of the way, which is one of the challenges I’ve been encountering as I attempt to finally change my disorganized ways when it comes to my comics, as I just don’t have the space I need to do the organizing, or at least to do it easily in an organized fashion.
Anyway, let’s talk software. Years ago, back when I first started getting back into regularly buying comics, some friends got me a piece of software for my birthday, a database program designed specifically for keeping track of comics. It worked well, and I used it for quite some time, but somewhere along the line as new computers were purchased and my digital life jumped from one drive to another, I neglected to reinstall it. I kept meaning to, but by that time they’d made some significant – not free – updates to the software, including releasing a barcode reader phone app, so I decided that I’d just eventually get around to picking up the latest version.
Eventually finally came around as I desperately sought out something that I could do to make some kind of significant change to my life.
The software, from Collectorz.com, is now subscription-based, and comes in multiple flavors. There’s an updated version of the desktop software I had, a mobile version, and a cloud-based option that, unlike the mobile and desktop versions, doesn’t rely on local storage, and isn’t tied to one device. That’s the version I opted for.
Having it all in the cloud has its disadvantages, of course, as it would be worthwhile to have a local backup – though you can export your data in various formats for backup – but the advantages, for me, outweigh the disadvantages, as I know from experience that the desktop version ends up eating up a lot of storage space.
You can make your collection data visible to the world – it’s possible to do that with the desktop and mobile versions as well, if you opt to synchronize your local data with the cloud – which I’ll probably do at some point, once I have it all updated.
I like that it provides a lot of options for viewing your data, including an option for putting the covers on display on virtual shelves (note that these are the cover images that are in the Collectorz.com core database, though you can provide your own cover images), with options for customizing the color and “material” of the shelves. Here’s an example from my own collection with the default wooden shelves.
The core database has been pretty impressive so far, quickly and easily finding information for almost everything I’ve put in – whether via scanning barcodes or via searching and adding from a list – and populating a lot of information about release dates, creators, publishing companies, and so on. It also gives you space for “personal” information, which I’ve been using to note which comics have been signed by creators, and also which comics have been featured in the Spotlight.
Where I have run into some trouble is with comics I’ve gotten via backing Kickstarters. Some are in the database, but others are not. In those cases, you can still add the comic to your database, it’s just quite a bit more work, as you have to provide all of the relevant details. However, once you’ve done that, you can submit the information for potential inclusion in/updating to the core database.
The barcode scanner app – known as CLZ Barry – works well overall, but can be a bit finicky, especially when scanning comics that are already bagged. (Also, it’s annoying, even if it does make for nicer covers, when comics have the barcode on the back, which makes it inaccessible when it’s bagged and boarded.) I also found it a bit less than intuitive, and had to resort to using the manual, in particular to get it to stop asking me to enter a quantity every time I scanned something.
The other issue with it is that sometimes after scanning it will tell you the name/number of the comic you scanned, but sometimes it will say it’s unrecognized, even though in the Comic Connect software that it’s sending the scanned data to it is able to find a corresponding entry in the core database.
Beyond that, the core database itself really only seems to reliably have corresponding entries from this century. I’ve found some for comics from the mid-to-late-nineties, but it’s very spotty, and anything earlier than that is almost out of the question. (At best, it might recognize what series it’s from, but not the individual issue.)
When it works, though, it’s great, particularly when it comes to recognizing which cover you have, which saves me the trouble of having to look through the entries in the core database to see which cover matches what I have. This is especially useful for comics from companies like Dynamite, who could maybe consider scaling back a bit on the number of variants.
Of course, inputting my comics into the database is only part of the process, one that I’m pairing up with physically organizing and storing my comics.
Which is a challenge. I said that I was focusing on one small thing, but this whole project isn’t all that small. Currently, I have just a bit shy of 4,000 comics, trades, and hardcover volumes input into the database. That isn’t even close to all of them.
Getting things scanned and somewhat organized has involved a lot of sitting on the floor, which my old joints and muscles do not appreciate. The skin on my legs doesn’t much care for the carpet burn either. Also, full boxes of comics are heavy, especially when you have to carry them up stairs
Overall, this whole process, which was meant to be a way to relieve stress, has kind of been stressing me out. Besides just lacking space to properly pile things up and prepare them for storage – and you can only stack comics, especially bagged and boarded comics, so high before they’ll just topple over – the biggest frustration for me has been finding gaps.
This is where being something of a completist comes into play, even if at times it seems contradictory. For whatever reason – and it’s more frustrating when I can’t figure out the reason – there are gaps in some of the runs I own, and if I ever knew that at the time, I had forgotten since.
At first it wasn’t too much of a concern. “Oh, I’m missing Red Sonja #19? It’s probably in one of those other piles.” But then, as I started diving into the piles, I was finding more and more gaps that were not being filled via excavation.
Particularly with some relatively recent series where it’s clear that the missing issues aren’t likely to be found in the boxes, as many of the boxes were filled before I started buying the series.
And knowing those gaps are there just kind of eats away at me. The gaps mock me. In some cases, it’s fine. For example, with, say, Action Comics Vol. 1, there are, of course, going to be several gaps from before I started buying comics, the period during which it was a direct-sales-only weekly series (when I had no regular access to a comic shop), and from the period in which I wasn’t buying comics. I’m not looking to fill those major gaps, nor could I afford to if I wanted to.
However, finding a gap between those gaps does bother me. The nearly-complete portions of incomplete runs should be totally complete, dammit!
It even bothers me to find a gap in a run of a series that I didn’t like and eventually dropped. If I read a book up until issue 6 and then decided to drop it, and it continued on after that, I have no interest in picking up issues 7 through whatever, but if I’m missing issue 4? Unconscionable! This will not stand.
I’m especially annoyed by gaps where I’m certain I had the missing issues at some point. I’m still holding out hope in some cases that the missing issues will turn up as part of the excavation process, but I’m at a loss to explain how they could be anywhere other than the places I’ve already looked.
Still, these annoyances aside, it is helping to keep me focused, and, eventually, it will be one of the many, many things I need to do that I can check off the list.
(And I’m trying very hard not to think about what the future holds, or rather doesn’t hold, as I’m running out of space for all of this stuff, and don’t really have a plan in place yet for what to do with the ongoing books that I can’t really put into long-term storage in the boxes with the completed runs.)
Obviously, again, none of this is important, but I had to do something to create even the illusion of control in my life, and it should come as no surprise that “something” would involve comics.
As for everything else…well, I don’t have any kind of words of wisdom, and I’m focusing on listening, and doing what I can to amplify wiser voices than my own, but ultimately, all I can do is encourage everyone to stay safe, and to be kind.
To others, and to yourselves.