Monday, April 9, 2012

Comics Software Review: Choosing, pt. 1

Let's recap: I am looking for a database to catalog my estimated collection of 10,000 comic books. So far I've looked at Comic Collector Live and ComicBase 15. Both are solid programs and I think many people would be happy using them -- but not me. Let's recap:

  • Comic Collector Live was a bit clunky for my taste. I specifically found the cover browser to be unwieldy and slow. It also seemed to be set up for people who wanted to sell their comics online through their storefront. Finally, is subscription based and would have run me about $30 a year. 
  • ComicBase 15 is the most powerful of the two and has online reports regarding comic values and a nice, modern interface. But it uses a weird subscription-based pricing system that has some sort of limit or threshold for the number of covers you get. Honestly, I never did understand that part of their software, which is definitely a reason to pass. Most of all, it was too expensive. I suspect the version I need would run about $130.
The next product on my list was Now, I had some exposure to this product line in the past, as my friend Paul (the nicest guy on the face of the earth -- and I totally mean it, I don't care what the petting zoo police say about him) uses one of this company's products to track his DVD collection (this has the option to publish your collection to the Web, and here's his DVD collection). Yup, Collectorz has multiple products for tracking your collections. And each one is a separate product -- there is no unified interface with add-on modules: each piece is separate and distinct:

  • Movie Collector
  • Book Collector
  • Music Collector
  • Comic Collector
  • Game Collector
This separation of programs is a good thing, as it allows each product to focus on what it does best, rather than trying to find some common one-size-fits-all model that would just leave me frustrated and wanting more.

Taking it for a test ride
At first, this diversity in their product line concerned me because I collect comic books and I want someone who knows about comic books. There are things about comics that are very different from DVDs and CDs. It turns out that my fears were not necessary. These guys know comics.

Like most products, this has a free trial download of the PRO version. The trial is limited to 100 comics and that is enough to kick the tires on this to see if you're interested in buying it. There are two versions available:

  • Standard Version: $30
  • Pro Version: $50
The differences are spelled out here, but it mainly comes down to the ability to edit multiple comics at once, customize which fields are shown, and customizing (&exporting) reports and lists. Most of the other features are shared between the two editions.

The download and installation on my Windows 7 laptop was a cinch: fast and no problems encountered. Opening the software gets you a start-up screen with their sexy mascot (see above) and then opens to a nice, modern program. There are three basic panels where you can access your collection and detailed information.

Click on image to see full-size screen.
The left pane is a standard tree-view that can be sorted in multiple ways. I prefer the most obvious sort: By Publisher. The middle pane shows either folders, covers, images, or lists (I'll cover these more later). The right pane is for details. In this case, you can see that I've got up the basic stats for my entire collection, again, sorted by publisher. In the image above, you can see the Folder View, where each publisher is represented as a folder. This is one of the few things I really dislike about this software: I really want customized icons for each of the publishers. This would make it a lost faster (and let's face it, cooler looking) than having to read the text under the unified parade of yellow folders.

Click on image to see full-size screen.
But the blandness of the Folder View is bypassed by the coolness of the Cover View.  There is just something super cool about seeing all the comic covers represented with a neat, Apple-like reflection below them. It looks slick and modern.

As you can see, when you're looking at the parade of covers, the collection statistics are replaced by the details of this issue. In this particular base, there aren't a lot of details available. This is one of the minor shortcomings of the database, but one that is also shared by the other products I reviewed: Sometimes the info is there, and sometimes it ain't.

Click on image to see full-size screen.
As you might imagine, some subjects are better covered than others. There's a lot of info about recent comics published by DC and Marvel, but it gets rather hit-or-miss when it comes to old comics from second-tier publishers like Archie, Gold Key and Whitman. Take a look at this issue of The Avengrers from 1968. There is so much info that you have to scroll down to see it all (the cover has scrolled up, out of frame). This particular issue has a plot summary, characters and even a detailed creators list that includes cover artist, cover inker, interior artist/inker and even the letterer and colorist. Pretty detailed stuff.

In addition to issue details, there are series and collection details available in the status bar at the bottom of the screen. If you look at the Pals 'n' Gals cover screen shot above, you'll see that I've got 2319 comics in my collection and 89 issues of Pals 'n' Gals. Looking at the screenshot directly above, you'll see that (so far) I've only entered 7 issues of the Avengers (I've got a lot more Avengers comics, folks -- they just haven't been cataloged yet).

And that brings us to the next issue (pun intended): Entering comics into the system. And we'll cover that on Wednesday.

Come back Wednesday for Part 2 of my review


  1. As a user of the software I agree with everything so far!

    The one comment I have is when you say "There's a lot of info about recent comics published by DC and Marvel, but it gets rather hit-or-miss when it comes to old comics from second-tier publishers like Archie, Gold Key and Whitman."

    What you don't mention is that all information given is totally user driven. If no one enters the data and submits it for the old Gold Key books, the data isn't there.

    As someone who enters as often as life with a 1 year old will allow, it's imperative for users to become active participants in the process.

  2. You are absolutely right, of course -- the content must come from somewhere (which is why I meticulously add new covers and even entire series when I can). I just wanted to let people know what to expect when they pay for the software.

    Good luck with the baby, by the way -- and remember to be careful. Babies love comics... as playthings! :-)