Monday, April 23, 2012

Comics Software Review: Choosing, pt. 5

One of the joys of cataloging my comics is finding things I had forgotten -- or that I didn't even know I had. There is a difference, you know. The former happens when you open a box of comics (in this case marked, "OLD" on the front) and finding those extra copies of Karate Kid that you had wondered why they weren't with the rest of the series in the "K" box.

The latter is when you find something that you're not 100% you've ever seen before, such as Dagar The Invincible #14. This was an interesting little title that I had probably picked up as part of a collection. Looking through it now, I don't think I've ever read this story before, which is actually pretty good. Writer Don Glut and artist Jesse Santos did a capable job with this sword and sorcery tale. It reminds me of something that would have been put out by DC Comics during their DC Explosion years. Thanks to, I can now look that up in my Barbarians box (that is to say, I have stored the location under the "Personal" fields listed in the software).

The "bad" part of cataloging comics is that it can take a lot of time. Tonight, for example, I manually entered 25 comics (mostly old Marvel Western comics from the 1970s that I inherited from my little sister, Lori). These are a lot of cool Kid Colt, Rawhide Kid, Ringo Kid and other classic titles that she bought in the mid 1970s when we were living in El Paso, Texas. At the time I preferred superhero comics, so although I read these, I didn't really "dig" them, to use the lingo of that time.

Click to see full-size image.
Now, of course, I really like them a lot and I'm very happy to have them in my collection. I also think it's cool to see her handwriting from waaaaay back when. Hmmm. I'm thinking she would have been in third or fourth grade at the time (this is from 1974, so she would have been about 8 years old at the time). Someone else do the math -- I'm just not sure what grade she was in. But whatever grade it was, she wrote her name in most of her comics, which probably meant she took them to school with her.

But I digress.

It took me about 30 minutes to enter 25 comics. Part of that time was spent tracking down an errant cover to a Lone Ranger comic. The other part was updating some of the cover price info on the Kid Colt comics. But still, even if that's one minute a comic (an average created from me having to fix things and submit corrections -- most of the titles were entered in less than 10 seconds), that could definitely add up over the course of entering another 7,500 comics (which is about how many I have left to go).

One way to theoretically speed things up would be to use a barcode scanner. Barcodes were added to comic book covers in the late 1970s. If memory serves me right, this happened in 1976. But I could be wrong, and a 2-minute google search didn't yield the results I wanted. Before then, comics were not cluttered up by the UPC barcode (like the cover to the might Marvel Western comic that my sister signed above). realizes that barcodes can be a useful way to enter titles, so they have a cool app called CLZ Barry to help you zap your books and have them show up instantly in the Comic Collector software.

At least that's the theory.

Using CLZ Barry
I don't like this software very much. As much as I love the rest of Comic Collector, I think this add-on feels buggy. It just doesn't feel finished. I'm actually a fan of minimalist software, but this crosses the line from minimalist to just flat-out incomplete.  I'll explain.

The software comes in two parts:

  1. An app for your smart phone (I have a Droid Razr, but I also used it on a Motorola Droid)
  2. An application for your computer
Here's the screenshot of the desktop application:

That's it, folks. There's nothing else. Just a connection screen. There's not even a link to the help file: You have to go to your Start Menu to find that. To me, that's just not how you make professional-grade software. I don't dig it, folks.

The smartphone app is worse. There's no documentation at all, and this is really important because the icons are very important, and I have to go back to the Website to look up what they mean. These should be documented right in the software and the smartphone.  By the way, here's what they mean:

Click on pic to read at full size

Using CLZ Barry
Once you have the software running on your PC or Mac (in my PC it is visible in the system tray next to the clock) and on your smart phone, it's time to get scanning. For this test, I chose the aforementioned issues of Karate Kid. I thought these would be a good test because they are DC comics, fairly mainstream, but also a little bit old. I thought this might be a good test of both the software and the database.

I activated the software on both PC and phone and then followed the instructions by opening the Comic Collector software and putting the cursor in a text field on the "Add Comics Automatically" pane with the "Search by Barcode Tab."

Click on pic to read at full size
When you hold the camera phone over the barcode it vibrates to let you know that it had taken the picture. Meanwhile, back on your desktop, the barcode numbers appear in the search box and... yield no results. Not one of the Karate Kid comics were in the database. Neither were three other DC comics and a Marvel that I grabbed. I scanned Action Comics #460 and got results... wrong ones. It offered several choices as being possible, but they were all wrong.

I then tested it with a handful of Archie comics that came out in the past year, and all of them were in the database (including a Jughead Double Digest). This gives me meager hope that this software will be useful for quickly entering comics that were released in this century. But, of course, since 90% of my collection is from before 2000, this could prove to be small comfort.

So, even though the software works in the physical context, the truth is that the database doesn't have the barcode info for the really old comics. Plus, entering single comics with this scanner is just so darned tedious. It's much faster to just enter them manually by selecting a series and then clicking on the issues you have.

But all that aside, I just hate using the smartphone app. I think the most annoying feature is that it scans for you the second that you put it over a barcode. I would much rather hit a button to click the photo myself. This would make it more intuitive and easier to use. At least for me, that is. But I think the real problem is that it just doesn't take into account the fact that different people enjoy using software in different ways. Having the option to be manual or automatic would be a great boon. As would having the meaning of the icons explained in the software itself. 

In short, even though the software works, it feels half-baked and not quite ready for prime time.

See you for Wednesday as I wrap up my review for Comic Collector with a final look at scanning multiple comics at once and my final thoughts on this great program.

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