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Tue, November 17th, 2009 at 2:28pm PST | Updated: November 17th, 2009 at 5:29pm

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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WANT TO TRACK YOUR COMICS? DO NOT GO HERE

The promise of Intelliscanner: Comic Edition is great: create a database of your comic book collection by scanning in the bar codes on their covers. Such a product would greatly simplify the hassle of adding thousands of items into a database on your own. Plus, it's kinda cool to point a red laser beam at all your comics, one by one.

The problem is, Intelliscanner doesn't do that. In fact, the scanner part is just about useless. What's the point of the system that can't be done in software such as Comic Base or even ComicBookDB.com?

The hardware wasn't a problem. The scanner plugs into a USB port, has a decently long cord, and installs itself. (The Mac thinks it's a keyboard the first time through. Just click "OK" and move on with your life.) The device is a little large, but that's a minor issue. Compared to some of the miniature scanners other programs offer up as add-ons, it's nice to have one that won't get accidentally lost.

My first inkling that there would be trouble came when I first loaded the software. Let's take a look at the screen shot here:

Now, tell me: if I want to scan in a barcode to add a comic to my collection, where do I go?

  1. Just scan it in while I'm on the main screen

  2. "Associate Barcodes" button

  3. "Add Issues" button

  4. "Add Series" button

The correct answer is none of the above. You need to start with "Add a Series," believe it or not. I can understand this from a programming perspective, though. There are millions of comics, right? So by having the user define a specific series, the software need only load the relevant information, which is likely no more than 700 or 800 comics in a series.

But this also eliminates one of the best time-saving aspects of a scanner-centric solution. If you are looking at a long box filled with various short runs of comics or oddball onesie/twosies, you're suddenly spending more time entering in the series names than you are scanning in the bar codes.

To simplify matters, you can add in all your issue numbers at the time you start a series in the database. It's relatively simple, too, just type in the numbers in series or individually. "1,2,3,4,5,8,9" or "1-5,8,9" would do the same thing. That certainly beats clicking on a bunch of checkboxes or scanning in seven comics.

But at this point, what's the point of the scanner? It doesn't save you any time. It doesn't make it any easier to do what you wanted to do. Let's test it out, anyway.

I entered in "Spider-Man (1990)" to select the McFarlane "Spider-Man" issues I had on hand. Intelliscanner found those issues in its database. They have bar codes on the covers, so I thought it would be a good technical test, at least.

So, where do I scan in the bar codes again?

The flimsy documentation offered with the product indicates that you can scan it in while open to the main screen of the program. I tried that first.

Nope, nothing.

So I selected the series and then scan the barcode. Here's the ultimate fail: Intelliscanner read the barcode number and entered it into the database as the issue number.

Completely useless.

If you think that's bad, let me cover two "features" of the software I referenced earlier:

The "Comic Tags" button offers you the chance to create your own bar code. You give it the information on the comic, and then it will generate a printout that you can stuff in the bag and board with the comic to be scanned later. Remember: you're entering all the information on your own, not harnessing the power of the bar code scanner or a centralized website. Then you get a bar code. Cart, meet horse: Who goes first?

It gets better: "Associate Barcodes" is what you do AFTER a comic has been added to your collection. At that point, you can go to a menu, select the comic, then scan the comic barcode in to add it to your own personal database. Basically, it's "Comic Tags" for comics that already have a bar code that the Intelliscanner doesn't have information on.

Let me hit you over the head with that again: You cannot scan a bar code to add a comic into your database with Intelliscanner. This program does none of the work you want it to do. It doesn't simplify the entry of a massive number of comics one bit.

Perhaps, though, I was being quick to judge. Giving it a second try, I attempted to add "Dynamo 5" into my collection. Granted, it's not a best-seller, but it does sell well at Image and has been around for two or three years now. Intelliscanner couldn't find it when I used either "Dynamo" or "Dynamo 5" as a search term. You have to choose from one of two alternate databases to get the information from: either the Grand Comics Database or the Comic Book Database websites. Intelliscanner doesn't do that automatically. You have to choose an alternate and try to add the series again. That's called "not failing gracefully." And those two sites don't carry the barcode information that Intelliscanner's database supposedly does.

OK, so let's just use the program in the way it lets you use it: Manually adding issues to your collection. Forget the barcode scanner part. When you choose a selection of issue numbers to add, Intelliscanner does a decent job of going up to the web and downloading all the individual issue information for your database. Problem is, it's not always quick. I went with Dynamo 5 #1-25 and had to sit waiting for a couple minutes while the thermometer bar slowly waged a battle to get to the right side. But, wait, what did I get for that? The cover image. None of the creator credits are filled in. Just title and issue number. Not even publisher. It's a good start for a beta release or a proof of concept. But this is a $129 kit.

For some reason, there's also a spot for your "Web Comics" collection. Basically, it's an RSS reader for webcomics. Don't know why it was a necessary addition to this software, but I'm sure someone will like it. Somewhere, someone doesn't know what Google Reader is, perhaps?

There's more this program can do. There's an associated iPhone app you can use so you can see what's in your own collection back home while you peruse long boxes at a convention. There's a statistics section I haven't touched yet. You can publish your collection list to the web to share with friends.

But since merely entering a comic is so painful, I never bothered going that far down the path.

There are smarter alternatives already available. ComicBase has a large fanbase, including annual user group meetings at the San Diego Comic Con. Sadly, it's PC only. Mac users should use Bento, I guess. ComicBase comes in a free version now, as well as versions from $50 to $400, which comes with two Blu-Ray discs' worth of data). As a bonus, it works with a bar code scanner -- available separately for $129 -- that interacts with a large database of "tens of thousands" of barcodes already in the system, with more available via download each week. Yes, it's a serious financial commitment, but it does the job we only wish Intelliscanner would do for us.

ComicBookDB.com has a feature on its site where you can check off all the comics in their database that you have in your collection. That's not the quickest way to build your own list, but at least you know the information is solid, downloadable, and publishable.

Delicious Library is a wonderful Mac program that I used to scan in all my DVDs using my laptop's built in camera. I think I'm going to test it now on my trades and hardcovers. I don't expect it to work with periodicals, though, as it uses Amazon.com as its backend for ISBN information. And even if I do need to manually enter some ISBN codes in to find it on Amazon, at least it'll pull down some meta information for me, such as publisher and authors. As a bonus, when I want to sell a book, Delicious has functionality built in to take me straight to the Amazon Marketplace to make that happen, too.

The problem with the Intelliscanner is that it's neither intelligent nor a scanner. I'd avoid it if I were you. You can find out more about it at Intelliscanner.com, which is available for both Mac and PC. Like I said before, it's $129, though that does include the bar code scanner and a nifty retro metal lunch box to hold it all in. And while I'm sure it works well with DVDs or prose books, I'm afraid it doesn't do the job for comics.

STYLISH VITTLES, VOLUME 4: AT LAST, THE END

Looking back now, it's hard to think of the "me" in high school as being the same "me" that went to college as being the same "me" for the first half of my 20s as being the same as the "me" that I am today. This isn't high-falutin' philosophical and psychological jibber jabber. I think it's something we all feel as we grow up and grow older. You look back to the foolish mistakes you made 15 or 20 years -- or even five years! -- and you think that it was another person doing that silly thing. How did that person not know?

Tyler Page takes it a step further for the long-awaited "Stylish Vittles" Volume 4, titled "The Saga of Rob Harvard." In it, Page tells the rest of the story of the relationship between Nanette and Tyler, painstakingly outlined in those three phonebook sized earlier volumes. But this isn't a straight continuation of the story. First of all, this is a webcomic collection. You might have missed it, but Page continued and concluded the story on his "Page-A-Day" site. Second, this self-published book isn't a thick black and white tome; it's a smaller, square, lightweight book of about 70 pages. It's printed in red ink, and limited to 250 copies. And you can only order it through his website.


The big writer's conceit for the book is that it isn't auto-biographical anymore. Oh, no, the text page at the top of the book tells you that the story of "Stylish Vittles" is about one of Page's friends, Rob Harvard. He looks nothing like Page. It just happens that Harvard's story ends the same way as Page, but that's not Page in these pages. It's some other guy, nothing like what the author is like today.

Uh uh. No way. Nope, not the author.

Hey, if that's the distance Page had to make for himself to tell the rest of the story so honestly, then I'm all for it. Because, like so many young romances, things didn't end terribly well. But this book provides the bridge from "Stylish Vittles" to the Tyler Page you might have met at a comic book convention in the last six or seven years. It certainly answers some questions I had, though I feel slightly bad and voyeuristic for admitting that.

Since the book was drawn in quick bursts -- about an hour a day -- each page is simplified to an extreme. It's three or four panels, looks to be drawn in ballpoint pen, and not done with serious refinement or heavy editing. It's raw and unvarnished and yet very readable. Page's cartoony style lets his characters be expressive without giving the artist headaches over detailed backgrounds, crazy storytelling tricks, or incessant detail. It's direct and to the point. The lettering is done on the fly, not carefully ruled out and drawn in, in Adobe Illustrator. It's very readable, though, and well-cartooned. Don't go expecting the dramatic universal zoom from the first volume, though. This is much more plain, much more direct.

Page explains in the back of the book that the book's style is all in reaction to some of the stuffier artsy-fartsy autobiographical comics out there today, and I think it works. It plays with the conventions just a bit while telling an honest and compelling story, one that doesn't always make its author look like the hero of the piece.

Most of all, it gives us the end of the story that we've waited years to hear. That's all I needed to hear before I plunked down my $15. All four volumes in this series are now highly recommended.

Pipeline reviews for Tyler Page's previous works:

Nothing Better (Page's follow-up fictional series) (30 August 2005)

"Stylish Vittles 3: Fare Thee Well" (02 August 2005)

"Stylish Vittles 2: All the Way" (01 April 2003)

"Stylish Vittles 1: I Met a Girl" (20 September 2002)

I also picked up "Nothing Better" volume 2 recently, and hope to review that before the end of the year.

Page was also nominated for a 2003 Eisner Award for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition. He lost to Jason Shiga, who spent much of his time in recent years working for the now defunct "Nickelodeon Magazine."

Next week: More reviews. I'm still two or three things behind reviewing from what I've recently read.

Also, my #McSpidey march on Twitter continues. By the time this is posted, we should be discussing "Spider-Man" #12. I might sum up what I've learned from this experiment in the column next week. Follow me on Twitter at AugieShoots.

My photoblog, AugieShoots.com, has just two words for you this week: Duck Butts!

The Various and Sundry blog is still alive. Check it out for a recent rant against reality shows after their first seasons.

Don't forget to check out my Google Reader Shared Items. It's the best of my daily feed reading, sometimes with commentary!

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 800 columns -- more than twelve years' worth -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

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