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How to create a comic book database: The perfect quarantine activity

Nerd out by scanning your media collection to make a list of your DVDs, Blu-ray, TV box sets, albums, books, comics and console games.

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Richard Trenholm/CNET

If you're stuck in coronavirus lockdown, like pretty much all of us are right now, a big collection of movies or books or comics will keep you entertained. But what's more fun than watching DVDs and Blu-rays, playing games or reading books? Organizing them, of course!

As all Marie Kondo fans know, sorting through your stuff is a great way to while away a weekend and maybe even impose a comforting sense of order on your corner of this crazy world. Sorting my thousands of comics -- from the Avengers to the X-Men, from 2000 AD to Preacher -- not only gave me the satisfaction of tidying them into easily accessible order, it also helped me reconnect with many books I'd completely forgotten about. And I cleared out a pleasingly chunky stack of unwanted books to sell or give to other comic fans.

This is more than just tidying your media collection into alphabetical order -- that's amateur hour. I'm going to show you how to inventory your DVDs, Blu-rays, box sets, console games, books, comics, CDs, records and digital albums so you have an up-to-date and easily searchable list of your stuff, access to lots of nerdy stats about your collection, and a wish list ready to fill in the gaps next time you make it to the store.

Which app to use?

There are various options to sort and catalog your physical media. You can list your books on Goodreads or track films on Letterboxd and IMDB. You could write out the names of your CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays in a spreadsheet. But it's a lot quicker if you use an app with a bar code scanner so you can quickly scan your items instead of laboriously typing out each title. Some apps, such as Libib and Delicious Library 3, have a bar code scanner and work with movies and TV box sets, music, books and games. But I've chosen Collectorz Connect because it also does comics.

Collectorz offers online, desktop and mobile apps for Mac, PC, iPhone ($600 at Best Buy) and Android. The app automatically loads up cover art and metadata for your items, so you can search and sort by various details. You can share your inventory, create a wish list and even give each item a personal rating.

A free trial lets you try the software with a limited number of items. After that you have to pay a varying amount for storage depending how many comics, movies, albums, games or books you own.

How to catalog your stuff

Find Collectorz on Apple iOS Store or Collectorz on Google Play and choose the relevant app: CLZ Movies, CLZ Music, CLZ Games, CLZ Books or CLZ Comics. Open the app and create an account so you can back up your collection to the cloud and sync across mobile and desktop apps.

Grab your phone and get comfy with your collection. To scan each item, hit the plus sign on the app's home page, tap "Add by barcode." The screen will switch to a bar code scanner (your phone camera with a white box across the screen).

Grab a book, comic or other item and find the bar code on the box or cover. Hold your camera so the white box on the screen encloses the black lines on the bar code, then wait for the app to recognize the item. If the camera has trouble focusing, open Settings and check Manual Focus, which allows you to tap the screen to focus. If you want, you can also turn off the bar code scanner's beep and vibration in Settings.

When the app recognizes an item, its bar code number and title appear at the top of the screen. That item is now scanned.

Grab the next item and scan the bar code. Repeat this process for each item in your collection.

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Use the bar code scanner in the CLZ app to scan each book, DVD, or other item in your collection.  

Richard Trenholm/CNET

Important: The items you've scanned aren't saved yet -- they're just stored temporarily in the app's queue. You then have to add them to the full catalog. To do this, tap Proceed on the scanning screen and you'll see a list of items you've just scanned. Press Add to: Collection in the bottom right, and they're saved into your inventory.

It's a good idea to scan a few items at a time and regularly add them to your collection in case the app crashes.

Sometimes the app will ask you to verify the item if it has variant covers or the app isn't sure about the bar code. If you see an entry in the queue that says Multiple Results, tap on it and choose the correct item. Then press Add to: Collection.

Back up and back up again

When you've logged some items into the catalog on the mobile app, hit sync to back up your catalog in the cloud. To view and manage your collection on your computer, log in online at Collectorz.com or download the relevant desktop app for your Mac or PC. Hit sync to update your list.

As well as syncing online, you can also save your collection as a file on your computer -- just hit save in the desktop software.

Check out your collection

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Your collection begins to take shape. Once you've captured your stuff into the app, you can display the list in different ways on your phone or on your computer.

Richard Trenholm/CNET

When you've added some items, you'll see your collection take shape. In the mobile app, you can switch between a list of titles or a grid of thumbnails. On the desktop app, you can see a plain list with no thumbnails or an iTunes-style cover flow view to scroll through the covers.

Your items can be organized alphabetically or grouped by categories. For example, I can sort my comics by publisher, so I can choose to see just Marvel comics. You can also search the metadata. So if I want to find all the comics that feature, say, the Punisher, searching for his name and the results will include not just issues of Punisher and Punisher: War Journal but also issues of any other comic the character's in, such as Daredevil and Spider-Man.  

Add items manually

CLZ has a comprehensive database of items with cover images and metadata, but sometimes you'll come across an item it doesn't recognize. For example, it isn't always great at recognizing comics from outside the US. Happily, all you have to do is open the scanning screen and type in the title to see if it's in the Collectorz database.

If you still can't find your item, switch to "Scan manually" and add the title yourself. To add your own picture of the cover, tap the pencil at the top and choose "Use camera." If you want, you can also add metadata, including the publisher.

Keep your collection up to date

When you buy new stuff, scan them with the bar code scanner, save them to your collection and sync across your apps to keep your collection up-to-date. (And don't forget to delete anything you throw out or sell).

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Here's the thumbnail view. Keep adding more items and the screen will fill up.

Richard Trenholm/CNET

Organize your movie and TV collection

Movie Connect lists your movie and TV box set Blu-rays, DVDs or even VHS tapes. It automatically includes cast and crew details, IMDB rating, TV show episode listings and even YouTube trailers.

Organize your music collection

Music Connect inventories your records and CDs or digital albums, including track listings, record label, number of discs and more metadata.

Organize your game collection

Game Connect lists the games you own by console, publisher or other metadata.

Organize your book collection

Book Connect lists your books and is searchable by author, publisher or even the number of pages.

Organize your comic collection

Comic Connect sorts your comics and also allows you to create a pull list for when you next go to your local comic store. Other options for cataloging your collection include the long-established ComicBase for Windows PCs, which has a web app for mobile devices but isn't available for Mac. Note that CLZ isn't an app that can read comics on your phone -- to actually read comics, try a digital comics reader such as Comixology.

Bonus features 

Now you've successfully cataloged your collection, you can also use various extra features. Here are some things they can do:

  • Keep track of items you've loaned to friends.
  • Make notes on your items.
  • Track the date you bought each item.
  • Give each item a star ratings.
  • Log the condition and value.
  • Publicly share a list of items you want to sell.
  • Nerd out with stats. For example, you can find out how many items you own by clicking on Tools and Database Totals. (I own 1,576 comics, with a total of 46,873 pages.) Or you can click Statistics on the bottom right for detailed graphs and pie charts breaking down the stats of your collection. (I have 336 comics with Judge Dredd in them, but only 18 featuring Superman.)