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Selecting The Comics

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Once I'd worked out my inclusion criteria for this project the next step was to get myself a list of all the comics I needed to read. The simplest way would be to read through everything Marvel published during the 26 years I've set my sights on, and make a note of every time Doctor Doom pops up. I'm sure this would be fun, but it would also probably increase the length of this PhD by a couple of decades. Luckily for me, several groups have already catalogued these comics and made the results of their research publicly available.

The first I looked at was The Marvel Chronology Project, which attempts to place every story from Marvel comics into in-universe chronological order. For example, it lists Ed Brubaker's 'Books Of Doom' (published in 2007) as Doctor Doom's first chronological appearance, interspersed with flashback sections from other stories such as 'Fantastic Four Annual' #2 from 1964 and 'Marvel Superheroes' #20 from 1969, together telling the story of his early life and how he came to conquer Latveria.

Unfortunately for me The Marvel Chronology Project doesn't allow direct querying of its data - questions can be emailed to the moderators, and snapshots of the dataset are available on the site, but they cannot queried for more information or downloaded. It has been used by other research projects looking at the social network of the Marvel Universe but the lack of accessibility to the main dataset, and the absence of open data about publication dates, severely limited its usefulness for me.

I looked at four other databases, all of which allowed direct access to their databases in various ways, and also allowed users to suggest updates to the moderators. This "peer review" of the data makes it, theoretically, more reliable than a site set up by one enthusiast, but it is still possible for different biases to arise between communities. For instance, conventions might develop differently as to whether background glimpses of characters should be included as full appearances, or on whether to categorise alternate universe versions as the same character.

The oldest of these databases was The Grand Comics Database, which was set up in 1994 as a successor the paper-based Amateur Press Alliance for Indexing. The Grand Comics Database allows users to download their entire database as a .SQL file, meaning that it can then be uploaded to a server and queried independently by users.

The other available databases allow querying via API, a method of passing simple queries to the online database and receiving datasets in a format which can then be used to display customised information. One such is The Comic Book Database, a site dedicated to cataloguing "every comic book, graphic novel, manga, illustrator, publisher, writer, and character ever." It claims to be " the largest database of its kind", while its competitor Comic Vine calls itself "the largest comic database online". Comic Vine, first established in 2006, requires registration to allow queries and edits, and its customisable data outputs are formatted in a way that makes it more difficult to scrape data. I've never really got to grips with using API, so data scraping was the main way I extracted data from Comic Vine, The Comic Book Database and The Marvel Database - another online system similar to the others. I have, however, got decades of experience using SQL, and was able to download the Grand Comic Database onto my own server SQL file and search the full range of information it contained.

Thus my eventual strategy for creating a timeline was to use the Grand Comics Database data as the base of my investigations, which I could then check against the less rich datasets scraped from The Comic Book Database, Marvel Database and (to a much lesser extent) Marvel Chronology Project, with Comic Vine used as a tool for checking individual cases. In this way I hoped to sidestep any biases inherent in using the results from any single community while also ensuring that I was uncovering the widest possible list of Doctor Doom appearances.

Using my inclusion criteria I was able to query the Grand Comics Database and discover over 200 comics purporting to feature Doctor Doom. My next step was to attempt to link this to scraped data from the other sources, to help with verification and to see if anything had been missed. This took quite a lot of Data Cleaning, largely because of the differences in the way series were numbered or titled. Most series had very slightly different titles in the different systems (for instance "The Fantastic Four" might also be logged as just "Fantastic Four") which made linking the datasets very time consuming.

Once all the data was finally linked together I discovered 22 comics that were listed as featuring Doctor Doom in other databases, but were not inlcuded in the Grand Comics Database, so they were added to my list. A quick look through these issues showed that many of them were just very small cameo appearances, or sometimes adverts in the comic featuring Doom, rather than in-story appearances, but it did include three definite appearances not listed on the GCD, notably a very enjoyable guest appearance in 'Marvel Comics Super Special' starring the band Kiss!

Put together this gave me my final list of comics to read, with 240 individual issues of 58 seperate series. As I go through I'll be further categorising them, assigning some to sublists for stories where Doom is only mentioned and others to a list of comics where Doom doesn't appear in the story at all. In this way I hope to devise a final, fully confirmed list of comics which together tell Doom's story during The Marvel Age!

posted 15/1/2018 by Mark Hibbett

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A process blog about Doctor Doom in The Marvel Age written by Mark Hibbett