Of Basements and Back Issues: The History of Mile High Comics
When is the last time you had a comic in your hands? Do you remember what the title was, or even what the plot was about? I’m sure there are some of you who immediately thought back to your childhood for such a memory. I can say with great certainty that the last comic I picked up to read was exactly two months ago: a collection of Calvin and Hobbes. It’s a timeless series for me that I’ve been rereading my entire life. It was one of the only books with pictures that my mother would allow me to continue reading, no matter how old I was. While I am a fan of comic books and can appreciate them aesthetically and critically, I am not so dedicated as to start my own collection or sell them for profit.
Chuck Rozanski, founder of Mile High Comics, found his vocation as a comic book dealer at the young age of 13 and has become one of the leaders in the world of comics today by amassing the largest inventory of comics and collectibles in the world.
It was the turn of the decade in 1969 where a young Rozanski, in his parents’ Colorado basement, was selling back issues of comic books through mail order ads in Rocket’s Blast Comic Collector magazine. The following year, he would claim the title of youngest seller ever at the Colorado Springs Antique Market where he would found the Colorado Springs Comic Club soon after. It’s in 1972 when Rozanski, age 17, attended his first national convention, Multicon in Oklahoma City, and sells $1,800 in comics over the course of three days. It’s then he decides to turn comic retailing into his career, succeeding soon after by opening the first Mile High Comics store in Boulder, Colorado.
Fortune continued to smile on the newly emerging comic book retailer who owned four operational comic book stores by the time he was able to legally drink the celebratory champagne. All within the greater Denver area, the stores are located in Lakewood, Glendale, Littleton, and Jason Street. Information concerning Lakewood, Glendale, and Littleton can be found here; this blog post and future others will focus on and draw reference from the Jason Street Mega-Store.
If you’re waiting for the part in the story where things take a turn for the worst for Mile High Comics, you’re going to be waiting for a long while. It’s at this point in his life that Rozanski received a phone call that would change the course of his career for years to come. A realtor called looking for someone who would be willing to pick up a load of junk from a house to be sold on the market; he had gotten Rozanski’s name from a friend. The junk that the realtor was trying to sell was actually the collection of Edgar Church, a comic book collector and commercial artist, consisting of high quality grade comic books. The total estimates around 18,000 to 22,000 perfectly preserved comic books from the Golden Age (1933-1955) and is regarded as the most famous and most influential comic book discovery in the history of comic book collecting. Today, such a collection would have been valued around $50 million dollars, but Rozanski was able to purchase the entire collection and use it to expand his stores’ influence nationwide. The collection would eventually be sold over the course of the next two decades to collectors all over the country, dispersing not only the comic books but also Rozanski’s name and growing reputation.
In addition to the collection assisting in helping get the name of Mile High Comics outside of the state of Colorado, Rozanski purchased Richard Alf Comics’ mail order division in 1979, expanding Mile High Comics reach in terms of mail order services. In the following year, Rozanski published a first-of-its-kind double-page advertisement in Marvel comics depicting a list of back issues he had for sale and the prices. This advertisement helped to educate non-collectors of the value of their collections while at the same time affirming that back issues were valid commodities for the collector’s market. This helped bring about a boom of business to not only Mile High Comics, but to the entire market of back issues. In 1983, Rozanski’s company buys out the New Issue Comics Express (N.I.C.E) Subscription Club, taking advantage of direct market discounts to offer collectors new comics at prices below what they would pay for at newsstands.
With such success already under his belt and the comic book world nearly cornered, one had to ask what else could Rozanski do to cement his authority? The first answer came in 1991 with the opening of the first comics mega-store in Denver where a great portion of Mile High Comics collection was stored in the 11,000 square feet warehouse (as shown below). The follow-up to that answer came in 1997 with the invention of the Internet and Rozanski jumping on the opportunity to list Mile High Comics inventory online, offering collectors even easier access to the largest inventory of back issue comics in the world.
While Mile High Comics can offer such an impressive collection to its consumers, Rozanski states that Mile High Comics has been blessed with thousands upon thousands of fans and their support is what has attributed to the overall success of the company. As an independent seller, he shares his glory with his consumers and it can be seen from his business that taking care of his customers and comic book fans alike is at the forefront of his mind. While his company is comprised of four locations, one being a mega-store, Rozanski relies on his roots of 40 years within the Denver area. Within Mile High Comics physical stores, the staff are similar to their president in that they familiar with the sense of community within their respective neighborhoods and are able to use that to their advantage to connect with anyone who walks through the door. The bond that they are able to establish with comic books fans (ranging in age, sex, race, class) is what truly counts when it comes to selling their products. The environment that they create, not necessarily the space, is key to satisfying the customers’ retail needs. Comic books act as a bridge between social planes and it’s up to the booksellers to traverse this bridge to meet the consumer in the middle in order for a sale to be made (Miller).
When it comes to comic books as a culture, the fans are arguably the most prominent aspect. Without fans to defend its honor as a literary work or empty their pockets for near mint conditions of back issues, comic book stores wouldn’t stand much of a chance. It goes without much saying that the sweeping generalization that many in today’s society has of comic books is that they’re for children and offer almost nothing in terms of intellectual stimulation. Truly this is not the case. While I could argue that comic books have such merit that is best saved for another time; however, you could direct your attention to works such as The Sandman or Habibi, exploring the power of the graphic novel. The world of comic books is continually innovated upon and as a medium is constantly evolving. It is thanks to not only the demand of fan culture, but shifting influence of the artists’ social environment as well. With this dichotomy, comic books are given life as literary works that are constantly kept up to date in modern society’s sociopolitical agenda, and it is up to both sides to keep these sorts of associations going through the use of network thinking (Morley). The promise that fans will read the artist’s work given that the work the artist produces will spark some sort of reaction/emotion is the relationship that drives the comic book world. The loyalty of the fans is the blood that pumps through the comic book world. It is this realization that Rozanski continues to illustrate through his company and business practices. Mile High Comics couldn’t have become the world’s most notable comic book distributor by making enemies.
Edgar’s Comics: How an Artist’s Comic Collection Changed Comics Culture, and Became Worth $50 Million in the Process (Kickstarter Film) by Mark Seifert: <http://www.bleedingcool.com/2011/12/22/edgars-comics-how-artists-comic-collection-changed-comics-culture-became-worth-50-million-process-kickstarter-film/>
Discovery of the Original Mile High Collection: <http://www.milehighcomics.com/tales/cbg12.html>
Mile High Comics History: <http://www.milehighcomics.com/information/hist.html>
The Original Mile High Collection Part II & III: <http://www.milehighcomics.com/tales/cbg13.html> <http://www.milehighcomics.com/tales/cbg14.html>
Duncan, Randy, and Matthew J. Smith. The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture. New York: Continuum, 2009. Print.
Miller, Laura J. “Serving the Entertained Consumer: The Multifunction Bookstore.” Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2006. 117-39. Print.
Morley, Christopher. “Escaped into Print.” Ex Libris Carissimis. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 1932. 45-68. Print.
Images in Blog Post
Calvin and Hobbes Comic Strip: <http://sploid.gizmodo.com/bill-wattersons-new-comic-strips-are-now-for-sale-1609567732>
Mile Comics Crew: <http://www.milehighcomics.com/information/staff/crew.gif>
Rozanski as Grown Man: <http://www.milehighcomics.com/information/staff/chuck.gif>
Images in Timeline
Chuck Rozanski as a Teen: <http://www.milehighcomics.com/information/teen.jpg>
Mile High Comic Logo: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mile_High_Comics#mediaviewer/File:Mile_High_Comics_logo.png>
Edgar Church/Mile High Collection and Rozanski: <http://www.majorspoilers.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/chuck2.jpg>