So. Filing. Not the most exciting or glamorous aspect of funnybook collecting, but something all of us deal with from time to time.
Well, okay. It’s something most of us deal with, anyway. There are those funnybook anarchists among us who just toss their stuff on a pile and don’t care. And while I might shake my head at those people in my more self-satisfied moments, I also sometimes think they’re the smart ones.
“Sometimes” being every time I sit down to file comics.
Because filing… It’s tedious. Boring. Makes me consider just chucking the whole damn collection out the window every time I have to do it in any serious way.
Why talk about it, then? Because, in principle at least, I’m fascinated by it. People organize their books in all sorts of different ways, some of them using systems you’d never imagine. Collector’s OCD is endlessly interesting to me, especially when it comes to a hobby I share.
The most common filing method, I suppose, is alphabetical by title. It’s about as straightforward a system as you can get if you collect long-running continuing series. Of course, funnybook collectors being funnybook collectors, questions arise even there. Like, do you file Amazing Spider-Man under A or S? Now, I don’t really have any Spider-Man comics to speak of anymore, but when I did, I was an S man. I put all my Spider-Man books together, in order by adjective: Amazing, Spectacular, Web Of, and etc. Of course, even then there are complications. Like, should Spectacular actually get filed under P because it was originally titled Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man?
And if you do file your Peter Parkers under P, do you split the run to S when it switches to just Spectacular? And of course, it’s also important to differentiate that book from the earlier Spectacular Spider-Man magazine from the early 70s.
So you can see how these things get complicated. A better case might be made for Action Comics going in A or Detective Comics going in D. Because while those books have mostly starred Superman and Batman, their names aren’t actually in the title. They also haven’t always been the stars of those books. But when I had copies of those series, I put them in S and B, anyway. Because, come on. If you really want to find your Slam Bradley comics…
…you still know where to look. Which is to say, under S. For Solo.
The other most common filing system is probably to separate things by publisher. Which might sound weird to anyone who’s not entrenched in comics fandom. But that fan base has been divided between its two major super hero publishers for so long that some people still cling to the divide. That’s something that’s never made sense to me, personally. I mean, if you just had a few representative samples of the EC Comics stuff, I could maybe see wanting to keep all that together under E. But otherwise… Separation by publisher just seems nuts to me. But the heart wants what it wants. So who am I to judge?
People organize their comics in all kinds of ways. Some serious collectors split things up by publishing “Age,” with separate sections for their Golden, Silver, and Bronze Age books, sub-divided alphabetically and sometimes also by publisher. Others sort by genre, with sections for Horror, Sci-Fi, Super Hero, Funny Animal, and so on. Hell, I know a guy who files by subject and color. I don’t begin to understand how that works, but more power to him, y’know? All minutia-obsessed internecine battles aside… As long as your system works for you, who cares?
Now, as for me… These days, I mostly file alphabetical by author. Heretical, I know. But I’ve bought comics based solely on who’s creating them for a good 30 years now, so no other method makes sense to me. Which, yes, means that I’ve got Fantastic Four comics filed under K for Kirby, B for Byrne, and H for Hickman. But that’s how I remember them. “Kirby was the best, of course, but that Byrne run’s good stuff, too.”
(And, yes. I chose FF as my example just so I could share that awesome John Byrne cast shot I found the other day. Go on ahead and embiggen that sumbitch. Soak in it awhile. I’ll wait…)
I remember how I switched over to this bizarre “alpha by author” system. I had decided to make sections for Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and a few other writers I had a lot of books by. Then I started paring my collection down, getting rid of stuff I loved as a kid, but that I knew I’d never read again (my allergy to decaying newsprint spurred this move along, I’ll grant you, but it’s not one I’ve ever regretted as the years have passed). Slowly, I unloaded most of my Fantastic Fours, Justice Leagues, X-Men, Batmans… And one day, I realized that Hellblazer was the only series I had left in any great number that wasn’t all written or drawn by the same guy.
Also, I was getting more and more trade collections for my bookshelf. And the vast majority of the civilized world organizes regular books (you know, the kind with words in them) alphabetical by author. And suddenly, it hit me: why the hell aren’t my comics arranged the same way? So I upended the stacks, completely reorganizing them in this strange new way that I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why I hadn’t thought of before.
Of course, like any other filing system, there are idiosyncrasies to it. For instance, I go chronological with each author I alphabetize by. I started that when I made my first Alan Moore box, back in the 90s. It hit me as I was pulling all those books out from their alpha-by-title locations that it might be fun to look at Moore’s work in order, to see how he progressed over time. So Miracleman and V for Vendetta come first, followed by Swamp Thing, followed by Watchmen, followed by From Hell, followed by League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and so on, with my copies of Big Numbers tucked into the side of the box because they’re over-sized and squarish.
Then there’s the first question other comics dorks ask me when I tell them I do this: “Do you go by writer or artist?” Mostly it’s by writer, but sometimes I go by artist, too. However I best-remember the work. All my books with Steve Rude art, for instance, are filed under R. Because, while I couldn’t tell you who wrote that X-Men mini-series he did, or that Hulk/Superman crossover, or his amazing Space Ghost comic… I know they were all drawn by Rude. The one exception, oddly, is his seminal work:
That’s Nexus, and it’s by far the most important, most defining, work of Steve Rude’s career. But Nexus was written by Mike Baron, and his stories, filled with humor, mystery, pathos, and politics alongside some of the best space opera you could ever want, play as much or more a role in my love of that series as Rude’s artwork. So Nexus goes in the Bs.
As long as it works for me, right?
I notice that I haven’t really talked a lot about the actual process of filing. The nuts and bolts of actually putting books in boxes, however you organize them. And that’s because the subject is rather dull. The one thing I do that makes the process maybe somewhat less boring (but also incredibly more nerve-wracking) is the strict space limitation I place on my collection. To whit: I keep all my comics inside a single large closet. There’s only so much space for boxes in there, and only so much space in those boxes. And anytime I overflow that space… Something has to go. So simple, brutal geometry makes me very picky about what books I keep, and what books I don’t.
I didn’t have to face that decision this time, thankfully. I sold a bunch of books last year, so there’s plenty of room. But in the past, I’ve found myself in the unfortunate position of deciding whether to keep a new favorite, or get rid of an old one. And usually, I have to say, it’s the old one that goes. Once the bloom’s off the rose on something, it’s easier for me to make a reasonable judgment about its quality, and decide if I’m ever going to read it again. That’s lead to surprises sometimes, like when I’ve found myself dumping books like Global Frequency, Sandman Mystery Theatre, and even Fables. It’s always a bit crushing to look back and discover that an old favorite isn’t an eternal classic.
But that’s just how the funnybook crumbles.