Five Rules of Shelf Organisation

Posted October 2, 2013 by Stuart Kirkham in Nerdy Bits

Shelf organisation is a topic that comes up fairly regularly, and I can never resist getting involved. Whenever I look at other people’s comic book shelves I’m thinking about how they’re organised. There’s no right way to do it, but lots of wrong ways. I’ve come across several schools of thought as to how shelves should be organised: I’ll talk through some of the most common, then explain my own method and give you some examples.

First: The wrong ways to do it

Alphabetically by Title
This is what a lot of shops go for, but a new reader should be able to find similar books in the same section of the shop. The world doesn’t make sense if Batman is next to The Beano.

Buckling under the weight of poor organisation

Buckling under the weight of poor organisation

Alphabetically by Author
A lot of people follow writers instead of series, so this can make sense. If you like Y the Last Man you’ll probably like Runaways, but if you’re looking for a story about Spider-Man you would have to look in a lot of places.

Organised by…height?
Yeah, it’s a thing, I’ve seen it done. Separating oversized special collections from regular TPB’s is one thing, but some people break runs apart because they own some in HC and some in TPB, and that’s just bonkers.

Grouped by Publisher and Franchise
This makes a bit more sense. The Avengers books have very different titles, but they should arguably stay near to each other. Hickman’s New Avengers should never be half an alphabet away from his Avengers.

All shapes and sizes

All shapes and sizes

The fact is you have to choose a system that works for you depending on the size of your collection and the layout of your shelves. Some people have lots of different sized units all separate from each other, some people have one big bookcase, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

My shelves are an unusual shape, deliberately designed to step up and down with the curvature of the ceiling, it’s custom made for the room. About a year ago I overhauled my shelves using a combination of the above methods, which I will try to describe using simple rules that apply to a collection of any size.

1. Separate by Publisher

Every collection regardless of size should be separated by Publisher first. Don’t mix Marvel and DC, order your imprints how you like, you might want to put Vertigo and Wildstorm near to DC, or keep them with the Independent publishers. Find an order that suits your shelves.

Awesome custom headers optional

Awesome custom headers optional

2. Group by Family

Separate each Publisher by franchise. DC’s New 52 have started doing this for you by colour coding the tops of the spines. For Marvel I would recommend Avengers, X-Men, Teams, Events, then keep you solo series in families depending on what you have the most of, for example Spider-Man and Venom should be together as they are more likely to cross over.

3. Decide on your layout

Group these franchises together on your shelves depending on what makes the most sense and the best use of the space, but keep them separate! Your Avengers and X-Men books might fit nicely on the same shelf but don’t mix them up. You might want to keep your ensemble books separate to solo series, or you might want Captain America to be with the Avengers, it’s up to you, but try to leave some room for growth.

4. Do what feels right

Now, you have several options on how to proceed. You may be tempted by an alphabetical approach next, or possibly grouping by writer, even strictly chronological if you’re feeling crazy. You wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, but one thing to keep in the forefront of your mind is “Reading Order”. The rules you apply to your X-Men books may not suit your solo series, so just go with what feels right.

5. Make a show of it

Finally, you’ve got to make it look good. When I had too much space I filled some of it by facing one of the books on each shelf outwards so you can see the cover. As well as looking good it acted like a shelf label so you could see what was on each shelf at a glance. Now I try to have one feature book on each shelf (preferably an Omnibus or Oversized edition).


It doesn’t just have to be comics, you can incorporate any movies, video games, statues or anything else you like. Some of the collections I’ve seen are a carefully constructed combination of all these things in moderation. I generally keep my comic book movies on the two media units between the bookshelves, and try to position a Blu Ray close to the series it’s based on.

In order to demonstrate the application of these rules I’ll walk you through my bookshelves.


As my collection grew beyond 500 books I started using a spreadsheet to keep track of my collection and pre-orders, an abundance of free time and a lack of stimulation have transformed this into a complicated, formula driven behemoth, including an overview of the shelf layout. As you can see, the first thing I’ve done is separate books vertically into DC, Marvel, and everything else.

The Marvel section is the largest and most complicated so we’ll focus on that. Almost all of my Marvel collection is from the last 12 years, if you have a large amount of classic books you might consider separating them into their own section or keeping them in their relevant families.

Marvel CenterFirst I separated Ultimate Marvel and other imprints like the MAX line, they go at the top. Ultimate Spider-Man has it’s own section as it’s a favourite, the Ultimate events Bendis wrote are littered throughout in the order that I read them, the rest are in a vaguely alphabetical order.

The next two rows house the bulk of the 616 continuity. The middle shelf is where the current runs are kept, Marvel NOW is my first real foray into Hardcovers as I really like the new style, but it creates an organisational challenge, especially as two titles haven’t made the switch to the new trade dress. This is a complicated combination of format, trade dress, family and author.

Event books are below, which include all major Avengers and X-Men oriented events in chronological order, these are bookended by stories set in the past (Marvel 1602) and future (Earth X).

The Marvel events are the only place the Avengers and X-Men have really intersected in the last few years, so either side of the events shelf are the Avengers and X-Men franchises, this way if I’m re-reading either of them and I get to the point when an event occurs, the book I need is one shelf over to the left or right. The Avengers books are separated by title and volume, then organised as close to chronologically as possible. Some pre-reading like The Sentry are tucked away at the beginning.

AvengersAbove the Avengers section is Captain America, Iron Man and Thor as the three main solo characters associated with that line of books. I’ve only really follows the main books for each character which were largely written by four people so this section is quite straight forward to organise.

Next to the X-Men are the other team books like the Fantastic Four, and above these are the rest of my solo series. Daredevil has his own section, in chronological order which also happens to be separated by author. Everything was fine until End of Days came along and made me compromise one way or the other. The remaining solo series aren’t comprised of any significant runs so they’re just organised alphabetically, but by character rather than title, with a bit or chronology when necessary.

Below the Marvel shelves are other publishers and imprints. That’s where things start to get a bit messy and I tend to lean more on grouping books by author. Brian K Vaughan has written some great works for a variety of publishers, but they all belong together on the same shelf even though it breaks my first rule. As things become more obscure you have to rely on rule four and go with whatever feels right.

Hopefully this illustrates that there are a combination of methods at play, the idea behind the layout is for everything to flow from one shelf to another, up, down, left or right, and for series that are relevant to each other to never be too far apart. This is all in the service of the illusive “Reading Order” which is physically impossible to perfectly achieve due to the nature of a shared universe. As with anything in life, perfection will be just out of reach, so all you can do is your best.

About the Author

Stuart Kirkham

Stuart is a comic book collector, film and TV enthusiast, and video game crackerjack. Unfortunately these pursuits are occasionally interrupted by having to go to work and do real-life things.