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Monday, October 09, 2006

Sort It Out

There is a bit in both the film and book versions of High Fidelity where the main character, deep in the pit of despair, puts it all out of his mind by sitting down and organising his records into the order in which he bought them.

High Fidelity has literally dozens of little bits that are easy to relate to, from the sheer depression of being dumped through to the hideous banalities of working in retail, but this bit where an entire record collection is reorganised was the most recognisable to me. I knew exactly how he felt.

Not with a music collection though. Even with a few hundred albums, it doesn’t take long to put them into whatever nice, neat order that feels necessary. But when you’ve got thousands and thousands of different comics, getting lost in the organization of them can, as sad as it sounds, be sheer bliss.

Every serious comic book collector has their own way of storing their books. Some are carefully packaged in protective covers before being lovingly filed away, others toss them in a cupboard. Sticking them in bloody big piles in a spare room has always done all right for me. No bags, no boards. They won’t last as long, but I’ll read the hell out of them before they fall apart in my hands.

But one thing almost all comic collectors do have in common is the ability to file individual comics in such a way we can find them again with relatively ease. When you’re dealing with thousands of individual comic books, there can be a tiny thrill in having a huge pile of random comics, but if you actually want to ever read a complete story that spreads over several issues, you’ve got to have some sort of system.

The thing is, each collector has their own individual and idiosyncratic system. Putting all your Batman comics in the same box or pile makes sense, but how is each individual title stored for easy access within that? Should they go in alphabetical order? Numerical? The biggest lot at the bottom?

I know it sounds stupid, but over the years I’ve been storing comic books I’ve had a system evolve that takes all these things into account. And it’s a system that is absolutely impossible to explain to anybody else, but makes perfect sense to me.

Limited series are sorted by how long the series ran for. Eighties superhero comics printed on that lovely Baxter paper are kept separate from those that were printed on boring old newsprint. All of Alan Moore’s various comics for various publishers are in the same pile, except for the Swamp Things that are stored with the Vertigo books.

The more I talk about this, the stupider it sounds, but the point is, it all makes perfect sense to me. If I have a sudden urge to read the issues I’ve got of the Nightcrawler mini series that Dave Cockrum did, I know exactly where it is: right before Bob Layton’s first Hercules series. But not after it. I never found the last issue of that Nightcrawler series, but have all the Herculeses. The incomplete comes before the complete.

Comics are often held up by their fans as the one of the best examples of escapism you find it modern media, but I really do think it isn’t just the stories themselves that take you mind away from mundane reality.

Sometimes you can just sit down amongst a big pile of random comics, forget all your troubles and just sort that shit out.

Bliss.

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