Alphabet Soup Nazi: Categorizing for a Better World

High FidelityApparently, my family has some slight obsessive compulsive tendencies. I’m not saying that any of us have full on obsessive compulsive disorder, it’s more like a strong desire for order. I asked my cousin about it once, (she’s a psychiatrist) and she said that she’d definitely noticed that this wing of the family all had certain tendencies in that direction. As we discussed this, we idly straightened our knives and forks, absent-mindedly re-arranging our plates so that they lay directly in the middle of the place mats… We laughed at ourselves, clearly this was a bit silly.

Luckily, I am a graphic designer. This is an industry where organization and attention to detail is an enormous asset. The kind of harmony that one can achieve by lining everything up within it’s invisible grid maybe unnoticed by many, but deep down I believe that they perceive this perfection and thus the design become less jarring, more pleasing.

There were times when I needed everything in my home to have it’s own place to live, i.e. somewhere to put it away so that there need never be any clutter and things could always be found. I still find this an immensely satisfying state of affairs, but I’ve resigned myself to the realities of everyday life, and understand that this may not always work out, especially when living with other people who come home and say “Where the hell is my stuff? What do you mean you ‘put it away in it’s place’?! It has a place?

modelingOver the years I’ve come to appreciate the more organic nature of a home which is well-lived in. While I’d rather live in a pristine and spotlessly empty space, I understand that I am in fact human (which continues to be a bit surprising to me), and apparently I require a variety of forms of entertainment, all of which take up space, and are more fun if they’re a lot more accessible. So I find that there are half-formed little models of cartoon animals and people waiting to be baked and painted (don’t ask), half a knitted woolly hat (I ran out of yarn), parts all cut up to make a bag I was going to sew together last year but lost interest in, sketch books full of figure studies for a painting I planned but never got around to, and comics. Lots of books and comics.

During times of stress, the craving for order and space returns and I feel a rising edge of panic when I come home to this mess of life. Suddenly it doesn’t seem like a rich and interesting place, it feels like a chaotic heap where I can’t really find anything.

Have you ever read High Fidelity by Nick Hornby? It’s a book about record collecting, but it could just as easily apply to comic book collecting. There is a great deal of mellow satisfaction to be had from organizing comics, and there are a million different ways to do so. It’s heavenly to pull them all out, and find the perfect system to organize them into. Recently I reorganized my comics into a truly personal sort of alphabetical order, that meant I was able to find whatever I wanted at a moment’s notice.

I should preface this explanation of my happy organization system, by explaining that this system is facilitated by the fact that I keep my comics on bookshelves. Also, for the most part, I do not bag them (though I do keep boards in between various collections for stability and separation). I don’t bag because paper left in a plastic bag cannot breathe, and over time the acid in the paper will accumulate and start eating away at the paper (when I worked in comic stores I saw it happen all the time). So, all of my comics are accessible and findable on the shelf, it’s pretty wonderful.

So this order I created, it made no sense really. I know this on a logical level, but it felt so right. Most books were alphabetized by the title. So far, pretty sensible. But in odd cases, where I’d bought a comic only because of the author, I’d filed that comic under the author’s name. But some authors I think of by their first name, not their last (e.g. Ted McKeever: I think of him as Ted, and will look for his comics under “T“). Then some comics are trades, collecting stories from an ongoing series (e.g. anything from Eightball: Ghost World, David Boring, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron — all go under “E” for Eightball). But then, a lot of titles are really well known in my mind (e.g. Top 10 — despite owning everything Alan Moore has done, his titles pop enough in my mind that I will actually look for them under “T” for Top 10, same for everything he’s done. Don’t know why). And the rest of the system continues in pretty much the same vein. I know where everything is and it makes sense to me, and even satisfies me for some reason. I never really thought about it much, I just enjoyed it.

Sam's DeskBut this week I’m moving into a new apartment with my brother Sam. While I’m at work, he has very kindly been helping me by packing some boxes. I always noticed his cluttered desk when I visited him, and just assumed that he’d missed out on the tedious gene, which made us all such organization freaks. Turns out, not so much.

Yesterday I came home from work and Sam had packed all of my comics into boxes. He explained that he’d noticed the alphabetical order, and kept them like that, so we could unpack them similarly, which was nice of him. Then he explained that I must have made a mistake, because all of the Daniel Clowes books were under “E“, which made no sense. And since they were all together, he thought that maybe I meant to put them under “C” for Clowes. Then he said he’d realized that no other books were organized by author, so he’d put them all into the order suggested by the titles.

I laughed uncomfortably and explained my system as I felt my stomach clench. He said “Aaah, that explains all of your Hernandez brothers books being under “L“, that’s for Love and Rockets, right?“. “Exactly!” I answered, “and please don’t change that, because I really won’t know where they are.” We laughed and he offered to move all the Clowes books back to their spot, under “E“, which I rejected (“We’re moving, it doesn’t matter, don’t worry about it.“) but inside I felt all strange and confused. Why on earth does it matter what order they’re in? Surely now it’ll be easier for friends to peruse my collection, isn’t that a good thing?

Junk CultureSomehow I’m beginning to understand that this exercise in organization was never really alphabetization, but more a map to how I think about comics, and where my priorities are.  This is my space, where I get to choose how things work. Unlike the rest of life, which is random and chaotic and confusing, I was able to create something that made sense to me, and it made me happy.

For the last three hours my brother has been threatening to move Junk Culture (a slightly forgettable two issue series by Ted McKeever) to “J” for Junk Culture. But I will never know that they’re there, I only own them because Ted McKeever did them, and the only reason I will ever seek them out, is because I want to take another look at what Ted McKeever has been doing… But because my brother is afflicted with the same niggling need for order that I am, he wants to put it under “J“. I’m really not sure how we’ll resolve this problem, but I strongly suspect that two people who’re this obsessive compulsive about their comics shouldn’t be allowed to share a comic library. I had no idea this was a subject fraught with so much tension, or that there were so many different ways to organize comics. This will be interesting.


Sonia Harris can be found in the phone book under “H” for “Harris”, not “C” for comic book lover, or  “L” for “lunatic”. You won’t find her under “D” for designer either… Send your emails to


  1. My comics are organized alphabetical by title, separated by company (re: Marvel comics & 1 box for everything else). When I was young, I had a separate division for X-books, but was otherwise the same. Anything else baffles me.

    Still, as long as you can find everything, that’s what counts.




  2. Every time I took a test, all the way up until college, I would put my pen, pencil, eraser and calculator all in a nice little invisible rectangle at the top of my desk.  If anything slipped or looked off before I started the test, I would put it right back and sit quietly waiting to get my paper.  Also…I would always wear my lucky 1up mushroom underwear >__<

    As for organization, I usually keep all current story arcs in one box, and everything else in other boxes, organzied by title of the book.  I don’t seperate by publisher or anything like that.  My TPBs are organized alphabetically by title on my bookshelf.  It works for me at this point in my life.

    So If I keep my comics in a bag but don’t tape the bag closed, can they still breath alright?

    Great article Sonia!  I’m moving this weekend too (Oakland to Fremont!)

  3. I attempt to organize my trades alphabetically but as far as my normal comics go I don’t even really board them. I just slip em in a bag and put them in a long box. 

  4. Having just gone thru a massive re-org of 20 longboxes, and this article speaks to it, I put this question to the iFanboy clan:

    Do you order by main title, or by whatever comes first in the title’s name?  Is it filed under A for ‘Amazing Spider-Man’, or S for ‘Spider-Man’?  Is it ‘L’ for Lady Constantine, or ‘H’ for ‘Hellblazer presents: Lady Constantine’?

    Logically I would say, keep all the X-titles together, but my compulsion for order would say ‘U’ for Uncanny….

    What do you all do in these cases?

  5. @DanLikesBeer-Oh man, I asked myself that same question for over an hour!

    New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Young Avengers…

    Uncanny, New, Astonishing…

    I came to the conclusion that I should keep them all together.  It just saves me a lot of headache.  Same goes for my trades.

  6. I organize my trades alphabetically by character on the shelf, and always keep all of a single character together despite the specific title. Within a character though I put everything in chronological order (by story not publish date). All book outside chronoly or elseworlds etc go at the beginning of that characters section. Event books stand alone. I can be pretty weird about it, but at least it works for me 🙂

  7. I’m not so worried about categorization but, if I start reading something in trade I have to keep reading it in trade. I don’t like that a run is broken in trades and singles. One or the other.

    Other than that, it goes by publisher, then character or title. No alphebtization.

    Oh and I love reading your articles as they often reference graphic design geek stuff like grid systems.

  8. X-Men books are pretty much all under X, though my ordering of them within that is pretty much nonsensical…plus I have the Angel: Revelations mini under A for no discernible reason

    New Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Young Avengers, The Initiative–sure, they all have Avengers in the title, but they’re distinctly different teams, so they each get alphabetized individually (N, M, Y, I)

    Spider-Man is under S because there have been so many Spider-Man series with slightly different titles (FN, Sens, Amazing)

    Angel (IDW) books are in chronological order…except for how I’ve put After the Fall at the front, because it’s actually canon, and Spotlight second, because it’s cool.

    So, yeah, I would say comics organizing will only ever make sense to the person who is reading, then lovingly storing away, those comics.  It’s like Cordelia’s filing system ("Duh, it’s under F because he was French!).

  9. A couple of years ago, I was a regular at our local comic store.  I’d buy my trades, talk with the employees, and go.  Then, then something happened.  After they’d done a minor rearrangement, they’d discovered they didn’t have enough room for all their duplicate trades, so they put all the doubles haphazardly on the top of the racks.  This made my head hurt, as, when they sold one of the duplicate trades, they’d have no idea where, in the random stack, to find another copy.  So I alphebatized the stacks.  And then the racks.  And then…and then they asked if I wanted a job.

     I’ve been an employee there ever since.

    At home, my shelf sounds like it might be similar to (though, of course, completely different form) yours.  It’s mostly alphabetical, but, for example, all Authority, Planetary, Jenny Sparks, and Stormwatch  titles are under A for Authority.  All things by James Kochalka are under A for American Elf.  and most DC titles are under B for Batman, since he’s the character in the DCU that I most care about.  On the other hand, all Marvel canon titles are under M for Marvel, and are done chronologically from the first volume of Spider Man archives to the craptacular "Divided He Stands" x-trade that came out last week.

     My therapist says all these things are acceptable.

  10. I keep all regular titles alphabetical by title and then minis separate and in alphabetical order by title.  I don’t have time for more complicated systems. 

  11. By the way, love this and all your other articles.  They make me smile

  12. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    People are crazy.  

    I sort by theme.  

    Suburban Glamour is ‘coming of age’ so that gets shelved with X-Men: First Class.  Infinity Gauntlet is a love story between Thanos and Death, so it goes next to Blankets and Marvel: Romance.  Fables volume 2 is about animal rights, so it goes between volume 1 of Animal Man and We3.  Fables volume 3 is about ‘storybook love’ so that goes up with Infinity Gauntlet.    

  13. @Paul-Your sorting system just blew my mind.  :-O

  14. I sort by costume color… Batman leads to Animal Man leads to Aquaman leads to Green Arrow leads to Green Lantern, which is tricky, but the black in his costume leads me to Black Lightning, who inexplicably wears blue which leads me to Superman, who in turn leads me to Flash who leads me to Reverse Flash who leads me back to Flash… shit.

    After that, I’m completely unorganized.

  15. @daccampo – if that is true, I find your system to be awesome.

    I really need to go throught an reorganize mine.  There is some organization right now, but I’m a out of sight out of mind person.  If I saw how disorganized my boxes truly were I’d go insane.

  16. that high fidelity movie looks good

  17. I put new or unread trades in front of my marvel/other section. my dc stuff is in its own section. unread isssues go with other issues

  18. Woah, you’re all just as crazy as me. Who knew?! This is great.

    @DanLikesBeer I do that; keep my genre titles together. Anything to do with X-men (Astonishing, New Mutants, New X-Men, Uncanny) all live under "X". Same for any Batman related titles (Gotham Central, Catwoman, Detective Comics), they all go under "B".

    @JumpingJupiter I also have the need to keep buying in the same type of format that I start with, be it single issues, hardcover or paperback. I like them all, but I am MUCH happier if my whole run on a comic is in the same format.

    @gwiz The movie is okay, but the book is bloody genius. Nick Hornby is fucking brilliant, everything he writes makes my mundane and stupid life more fun in very tiny ways. I cannot recommend him highly enough.

  19. It’s hard to find things when they are organized. When all the papers are together it’s impossible to find anything. If they are on the floor I know under which pile I left them last and there is a good chance I’ll find them.

    My clothes closet holds clothes, envelopes, two CRT screens, a bunch of 1.5 liter bottles – empty to recycle sometime, an air pump for bicycles and balls, books and comic books, computer games and software, and other junk.

    I’m trying to get rid of most stuff. Money and space are two things I enjoy.

  20. My comics may well be the most organised thing in my whole room. My desk’s a mess. My dvds and boxsets are pretty random – first seasons first and so on, but it stops there, I try to group by filmaker but it all gets mixed up anyway. My books. By author. That’s it. All piled up. My cds, I won’t talk about it. It might sound lazy but actually it isnt, I find and know where everything is. At least, everything’s in the same place. My mangas are nice though, all numerically numbered – but really, who doesn’t with that kind of thing. Then, my comics. All bagged and boarded, in my boxe, alphabetically numbered. Amazing in "A", "U" for Uncanny, "B" for B.P.R.D. "M" then "N" so Mighty then "New". 1985 is the first thing there is and Wolverine is the last. But I mean, I only have about 3 boxes to deal with so its not too much. That makes me think. February, it’ll be two years since I bought my first comic ever. You damn Dark Tower! Look what ya made me do! Boy if I knew where that all would lead me.

  21. Again, usually I throw my comics on the ground and it somehow ends up in a pile eventually.

    Although my pile is sorted alphabetically and chronologically. So that way if I wanna read them in order by issue number, it’s ordered by that as well. Other then that, I will no way waste more money and time trying to sort out comics like how we used to keep receipts for taxes.

  22. My long box is organized by book, but it’s not in alphabetical order.  So, all the Superman titles go together, but then they may be inbetween Batman and Incredible Hulk.  My shelves are organized by publisher, but, again, fail to gather any sort of alphabetical or character based sense.

    I was thinking that I was failry OCD about the whole thing, but after looking at what some other people do, I feel better about it.  The iFanbase comes to the rescue again! 🙂

  23. does any one want to organize my 16 long boxes? since i work at a shop when i get home i don’t want anything to do with comic books.i will provide pizza and beer

  24. 16 is too much for beer. Whiskey is called for.

  25. I too keep my singles loose and everything on a book shelf.  I currently have my singles and trades separated from each other.  The singles are alphabetized purely by title.  Next to this area are my trades, which are alphabetized by title, but organized by imprint/publisher first (which is also alphabetical).  However, most of my trades are currently of things I don’t have singles of… soo, for Echo and Hellboy I have the singles placed chronologically after the trades, all in the trade section.  Feels good to me for now, but then again my collection isn’t too large anyway.

  26. Mine go:

    Alpha by title – then within that title, annuals, then mini series and one shots, then the regular monthly issues. 

    The first comic shop I started to really habitate organized their back issues that way, and it seems to work for me. In the case of title that change names (Hawkman – Hawkwoman, X-Men – New X-Men – back to X-Men – now X-Men Legacy, Justice League – Justice League International – Justice League Europe) I file under the original title and keep them in chronological order. When Marvel resumed their original numbering on so many of their series a few years ago, I was glad I did this, so that Fantastic Four no. 500 was the correct amount of issues away from the issue that it broke form the original numbering (around 417 I think?.  Iron Man has changed the phrasing of its title dozens of times.

    My trades and HCs:

    Top shelf is HCs in strict alpha.

    Second shelf down is strict alpha. But Sandman comes before Saga of the Swamp Thing, so I guess its alpha by character name, not actual title. The only other break in alpha is for the sake of chronological order, i.e. 3 Wolvie HCs that go – Wolverine by Claremont and Miller, then BSW’s Weapon X, then Wolverine: Origin. And my New X-Men omnibus comes before my Uncanny Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire HC, which holds to the chronological stipulation.

    And doesn’t it just piss you off like crazy when one oversized book like Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadows of No Towers, or an R. Crumb coffee table book, just doesn’t fit on the shelf? AAARRRGH!!!

    I never thought of myself as that obsessed with the order of these things, but I realize now that I am a bit.