In this very special newsflash, we talk about the new Blu-ray release, then ComicBase creator Pete Bickford breaks down the science of comic filing (and how you can save yourself a ton of time and grief when you do it). If you only read one article this year on comic filing, this should be the one!
ComicBase Q1 2020 Blu-Ray Discs Now Shipping
One of the unique benefits of the Blu-ray version of ComicBase Archive Edition is that it includes quarterly updates for the entire art library, delivered either by download or on 46 GB Blu-ray Disc. If you're a Blu-ray Archive Edition user, you'll shortly be receiving the Q1 update disk. The new update disc features the new ComicBase 2020 v20.0.2, as well as over 642,000 cover images--with an ever-increasing number at full 4K resolution.
For folks who chose the download option, watch your inbox for your own special link to the downloadable images. As a test, we're making these available both in the regular Blu-ray size, as well as even higher-quality images delivered in 100GB BD-XL sizes. ComicBase Blu-ray Archive Edition customers can contact email@example.com if you'd like to change which format you receive your updates in.
How to Manage a 60,000-Comic Collection... (Or Save a Ton of Time Managing any Large Collection)
by Peter Bickford
Part of the cost of keeping up with the wacky world of comics is that we have to order a copy of virtually every comic distributed in the U.S. each month. These are then scanned, indexed, and added to the weekly update. The physical comics ultimately wind up getting dropped on my desk, where I do what everyone else does with them: read as many as I can, then get them bagged, boarded, labelled, and filed.
Having never managed to hire the adult version of the "I want to file...all day long" kid, I've become slightly fanatical about dealing with the 60,000 comics in my collection as efficiently as possible. Here's a couple of tips I've learned along the way...
Everything Gets Labelled
I live and breathe comics the majority of my waking hours, and even I struggle to remember the official titles and designations of the hundreds of new comics which come in every month, let alone the countless variants. Years ago, I set a policy that the first thing that happens to a comic when it's bagged is that it gets an Identification Label stuck to the top center of the bag (the physical position is important for easy browsing when you're leafing through a box). To be honest, our staffers hated what to them felt like extra work, but then we ran numerous stopwatch tests and found that the labelled comics were not only several times faster to retrieve when sold, but they were almost twice as fast to file--even factoring in the time required for the labelling process itself. Making sure each comic had an ID label also minimized problems with misfiling. After all, a comic you can't find is practically the same as a comic you don't own.
My go-to label is the Dymo Address-sized label. I prefer these since they can easily be printed individually when needed, and the the size is large enough to show both a thumbnail of the comic as well as a barcode. We purchase these in bulk from LabelCity.com, and have occasionally been able to take advantage of both quantity discounts as well as promotions which scored us several free label printers. The only real downside for thermal labels like this is that they tend to fade over time--a factor worth considering, but which hasn't personally been a deal-killer for us. Laser-printed labels are a good alternative for longer-term storage. They're less convenient, but can be cheaper in bulk, and they should be immune to fading.
Bonus Tip: After using ComicBase's Professional and Archive Edition's Add By Barcode command (Ctrl-I) to scan in and add new items to your collection, you can print labels for everything you just added by using Ctrl-A to Select All, then right-clicking on the list (or pressing F6) to print ID Labels (or alternately, F5 for Price Labels) for each item.
Make Sure You Never Have to Move a Box to Get to A Comic
If you've been following us for a while, you know we're huge fans of Collection DrawerBoxes. The reason is simple: we value both our time and our backs. They're an absolute game-changer for large collections.
DrawerBoxes are ingenious comic boxes which come with a "shell" which lets you stack multiple boxes on top of each other, and just slide out any box in the stack like a file drawer. Before these came along, having any large number of comics in your collection either meant you owned (and had space for) several dozen large bookshelves, or you spent a lot of your time stacking and restacking boxes to get at comics--because inevitably the one you wanted was in a box stuck beneath four other boxes.
If you have enough comics in your collection that you have to stack boxes to store them all, do yourself a huge favor and swap in your regular comic boxes for some other method--DrawerBoxes, filing cabinets, custom shelving units, or what have you--that lets you get to any comic in your collection without moving other comics to get to it.
Save Hours Searching for Comics...by Spending a Few Extra Seconds When Filing Them
For the 60,000 comics in my collection, everything is stored alphabetically by title, with the starting and ending titles in each box clearly printed in large type on the front of every (Drawer)box. Within each box, each title is separated by a clearly labelled title divider, and the comics in each title are stored in numerical order. This is admittedly more work than simply throwing all the new comics at the end of whatever box we have handy, but it has a huge payoff when it comes time to retrieving comics later. In particular, I can lay my hand on any comic in this 60,000-strong collection in about 30 seconds flat. It's probably not too much to say that if didn't take filing to such an extent, we'd be unable to work with the collection, let alone pull orders efficiently.
We do things this way because of the computer-sciency concepts of sorting and selection time. The short version is: sorting takes some time, but without it, you have to count on spending the time needed to search through half the size of whatever your group is, in order to "select" (find) any particular item. But if you group and sort the items first, you can take that number down. Way down.
For instance, instead of having my comics as one big unsorted mess, I might dramatically improve things by noting which box I put things into. Then, instead of having to search through half my collection in order to locate a particular comic (imagine sifting through 30,000 comics to locate one!) I'd only have to look through an average of 100 comics, since a comic "long box" holds about 200 bagged and boarded comics. Grouping things by box number is a huge improvement over doing nothing to organize the collection, but it would still mean that if I wanted to fill an order of 20 comics, I'd have to plan on leafing through an average of 2,000 comics in order to find them all.
What we do instead is go the extra mile on the front end and always store all our boxes in alphabetical order by title, then organize each box alphabetically by title, and store each comic numerically within its title. By doing this, I'm instead able to locate any comic in a 60,000-comic collection with no more than 5 or 6 "touches" to locate the appropriate box, the title within the box, then the comic within the title. This works out in practice to requiring about 35-40 seconds to file any particular comic in the first place, then about 30 seconds to retrieve it when it's sold. (To lay all our cards on the table, we also sign up for a few hours of box re-balancing each year as titles grow and shrink in size. But we've found that leaving about 3 inches slack in each box when you first start filing goes a long way toward minimizing the need to rebalance boxes later.)
Grouping and Sorting: Strategies to Save Time
There are other strategies for filing/searching, of course. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the "worst-case" strategy of "dump the new comics at the end of my first available box". This has near-zero filing time; but near-infinite retrieval time [actually the time to look through an average of half the collection--30,0000 comics!
Between these extremes are various other strategies which try to put comics into some sort of group (by publisher, title, box, etc, then decide whether to sort the items in that group). All such strategies effectively force you to trade off ease of filing vs. the size of the group that needs to be searched. If you're using something that involves extra information, like a box #, you also need to add in the time required to note that information, and update it if you move things around.
In choosing your grouping, the aim is to minimize the number of items in each group. Computer scientists refer to the number in each group as "n", and you want "n" to be small since the time required to find any item in an unsorted group is an average of n/2 -- i.e., you'll be searching an average of half the number of items in any group in order to find a particular item. For that reason, groups like "Publisher" are probably too large (my number of Marvel books is over 24,000!). "Box #" is better (still about 200 items in each box), but "Title" is likely going to be best in most cases (an average of about 15 items, although this varies widely).
If you take the additional step of sorting the items within each group, it's possible to shrink the search time from an average of n/2 to log2(n) -- Yes, I should have warned you there was math involved in this article, but hopefully it's relatable math!
In my case, since my whole collection is in sorted order--first by title, then by issue number, it can be searched in around log2(60,000) time. In other words, I only need to spend the time to scan through about fifteen things to locate any particular item--vs. 30,0000 items it wasn't in any kind of order.
If I instead tried the "box" strategy where I noted which box each comic was in, made sure the boxes themselves were stacked in numerical order, but left the comics unsorted within that box, it would only require looking at the numbers on an average of log2(300) boxes (about 8) to find the right box, then looking through (n/2) -- 100 -- items in that box to find the individual comic. If I hadn't taken the time to sort the boxes themselves, I'd more than double the time for every single search, so no matter what you do, keep your boxes sorted!
As a final example of this whole n/2 and log2(n) stuff: Let's say your boxes are labelled and stored by title, the titles were alphabetical in each box, but you just dump comics into their respective titles without putting them in numerical order. In this case you'd need to look over the labels of log2(300 boxes) -- about 8 -- to find the right box. Then, since the average title only has 15 items in it, and the titles in each box are in alphabetical order, you'd only need to scan through log2(13 -- the average number of titles in a box) title dividers -- 3.7, or a little over a second's work -- to find the right title. From there add the n/2 time to locate an individual comic from among the average 15 comics in that title. Add it all up, and it means that with that strategy, you'd only need to scan through an average of 19 things to find any comic--a more than five times improvement over the "box" method (likely more, since sifting through comics is usually slower than reading labels on boxes or dividers).
Now, while and basic strategy involved here is pretty solid, Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV) -- specifically, you might have different needs than me, you might collect only a very few large titles, etc. No matter what your situation, though, it's worth thinking through the basic storage and retrieval strategy you use -- the time implications are truly enormous, particularly for larger collections.
Bonus Tip: When you use ComicBase Professional/Archive Edition's "Add by Barcode" feature, you can check the box at the bottom of the screen to have it automatically print divider labels for any new titles. As obsessive as I've become for collection organization, this is probably my single favorite hidden feature of ComicBase 2020.