Mile High Comics: A Place Where Everyone is Welcome
“Comic book retailing is the last refuge of the iconoclast and individuals who are unwilling to conform”
You walk through the streets of Denver, passing people who are so unlike yourself. You feel alone, like you don’t belong with these people. They are somehow different, though you can’t quite pin down why you aren’t like them. Wandering around, you stumble upon a warehouse. The sign outside reads “Mile High Comics” and all different types of people are walking through the door, both entering and leaving. Your curiosity spikes. You’ve always had a vague interest in comic books, but you never actually developed it. You walk into the store and your jaw drops. The place is huge. People from all walks of life are mulling about. You see people from the stereotypical comic lovers to people who you would think look out of place, but somehow fit perfectly in the store. The sense of not belonging while you were walking the streets instantly disappears and you feel welcome.
It is this feeling that Chuck Rozanski, founder and owner of Mile High Comics, wants everyone to feel when they walk through the door of any of his stores. Comic books don’t always have the best reputation and many people think only a certain type of people read them. However, this is not true. The ideas and plots covered in comics are so vast that there is something for everyone. Chuck Rozanski and his store are testaments to that idea as Rozanksi makes sure to stock as many comic books as he possibly can, which is why his collection is the largest in the world. Comic books are a great part of Rozanski’s life because they gave him a sense of belonging and he wants others to know that feeling.
Coming to the United States from Germany at a young age, Rozanski only knew English from reading comic books. In this way, comic books gave Rozanski the ability to be equal with the Americans he came across so they could share a common language. Rozanski’s attitude toward comics went from appreciation to passion and that passion continues to grow throughout his life. He was able to cultivate his passion and turn it into a collection that eventually led to a business. From his parents’ basement in Colorado Springs, Rozanski began to sell back issues of comics through mail-order ads in Rocket’s Blast Comic Collector magazine, thus starting the first branch of Mile High Comics in 1969. As a fourteen year old, Rozanski expanded his business and sold comics in the Colorado Springs flea-market circuit where browsers could find anything from antiques to quirky little trinkets. The all-encompassing clientele of the flea markets taught Rozanski how to deal with people of all types, which, unknowingly at the time, prepared him for his future customers at Mile High, where all are welcome.
The first official retail store was opened in Boulder, Colorado in 1974, when Rozanski was merely nineteen. By 1977, the store boasted four locations. The shops opened their doors to everyone. From those who just wandered in out of curiosity to those knowing exactly what they were looking for, Rozanski welcomed them all. His passion and desire to share comics with everyone is exactly what allowed his business to thrive. He put his love of comics into his business ideal, which fits nicely with Archibald MacLeish’s idea of how a bookstore should be run. MacLeish stresses that booksellers must have “opinions about the content and the value of the books they sold” (13). He also believes that “books are sold by the enthusiasm of people who know and respect them” (13). Rozanski has that enthusiasm, and so do his employees. This enthusiasm shows customers that all are welcome in the store. The employees treat every customer as equals, no matter their knowledge of comics. Rozanski has a true passion for the books he sells, which allows Mile High Comics to thrive, as outlined in the timeline below.
The biggest boost to Mile High’s future was the purchase of the Edgar Church Collection, which later became known as the Mile High Collection. This collection held about 16,000 comic books in mint condition that dated between 1937 and 1955, which represented the Golden Age of comic books. After acquiring this collection, Rozanski decided that it would be his life’s work and dedication to promote “comics as an art form, and do everything in [his] power to help the comics industry to prosper” as he writes on the history page of the store’s website. The discovery of this collection allowed him to show importance to not only the currently-published comics, but also to those published in the past. He wants all facets of the comics industry to thrive, from the big name publishers to the small unknown independents.
In 1997 Rozanski embarked on the endeavor to create the world’s largest online database of comics. He began to put the store’s inventory online and available for purchase, allowing customers all over the world to find his collection. Now anyone could shop the collection and the store was no longer limited to customers who were able to go to the brick and mortar stores. In 2012 the Jason Street Mega Store location opened to the public. Previously, it was just used as a storage facility, but Rozanski opened it as a retail store thanks to public demand. Rozanski was willing to open the warehouse to the public so that even more people would be able to jump into the world of comic books. He wanted to satisfy his customers and welcome more.
In this technical age where printed literature has been giving way to the newest contemporary media, Mile High Comics has managed to stay current. Though one might think that this kind of literary enterprise could never expand from its stores in the lone city of Denver, the shop’s website allows people from all over the world to order the items they are seeking online. This has generated a large portion of the bookstore’s sales and has allowed for the store to have a constant influx of profit that gives Rozanski plenty to work with while he continues to improve his business.
Just as important as the store itself is the comic book consumer that purchases the merchandise from Mile High Comics. Comic books have become a culture that fans of the genre crave more with each turn of the page. Marvel and DC Comics have become especially popular in the past few decades and their original issues are the holy grails for comic book fans. Because the well-known characters of big companies’ comics are so thrilling, fans will continue to buy anything they publish. Clifford discusses the basis of collection and what it has become in his essay On Collecting Art and Culture when he states “Collecting—at least in the West, where time is generally thought to be linear and irreversible—implies a rescue of phenomena from inevitable historical decay or loss. The collection contains what ‘deserves’ to be kept, remembered, and treasured. Artifacts and customs are saved out of time” (231). Clifford’s observations pertain to comic book culture because collectors want the stories to have a place in history, or at the very least, in our collective memory. Rozanski accepts that each fan is different and that some don’t have the same financial resources that others do. This is why he has accumulated such a large selection that he will inevitably have something for every individual’s desire and budget. This way, the store shows its appreciation for the fans.
Their website has been widely successful, allowing Rozanski to sell over 500,000 copies of back issue orders globally. This, along with the 20,000 subscription members, has made Mile High Comics the largest distributor of comic book merchandise in the world, and there are absolutely no indications that the top collector of nerd culture will slow down anytime soon.
The remote location and warehouse architecture make the incredibly large interior of the mega store possible. Upon entering, the visitors immediately realize the store’s vast space without barriers, which welcomes everyone. Rozanski seeks to offer a collection of comics as complete as possible and there are multitudes of shelves lining the walls of the entire warehouse. Yet, in spite of this large collection, everything is out in the open and, in this store, everyone is equal. Experience the empire Rozanski created in this guided video tour.
The store offers almost anything that can make the fan’s heart beat faster. Mile High Comics further reinforces its position as the largest comic book retailer in the world by attempting to stock every comic published in the English language for at least six months. Thus, the store’s “New Comics” section fills approximately 100 feet of wall space. According to Rozanski, the order of the comics within this section is important as well. In order to give equal attention to independently published issues and big name companies like DC or Marvel, the shelves are organized alphabetically and not by publisher. This, along with the effort that is put into stocking every comic, emphasizes Rozanski’s goal to avoid any kind of hierarchy in the store. Close to these shelves, visitors can find the children’s section, which carries both toys and comic books. This area is furnished with bean bags and friendly colors so children feel “like they’re very, very welcome,” as Rozanski states in the video linked above. The store acknowledges that every customer can be equal in their passion, no matter what age they are or what they do with their life outside of the shop.
In Rozanski’s video tour, there are two parts of his store that he seems particularly proud of. The first is his gigantic department of comic-related books, which displays a collection “greater than what you would find even in an amazon.com warehouse.” This explains why a store like Mile High Comics can keep up which huge corporations. Small as it may be, it simply refuses to be swallowed by them. Moreover, ever since Chuck Rozanski’s spectacular find of the Edgar Church collection in the ’70s, his chain has been a particular treasure trove for comics from the Gold, Silver, and Bronze Age. Though these include a variety of works that have since become very valuable, Rozanski still wants to share them with enthusiastic customers. Thus, he keeps the particularly prized issues in a glass cabinet located right next to the entrance for everyone to marvel at. The floor plan below offers an overview of where things are located in the store.
The store and the way it is set up tells us something significant. In spite of the masses of comics Rozanski stocks, his annual revenue of one million dollars, and the variety of stores and employees that this chain stands for, Chuck Rozanski is just a collector that loves what he has created and every new fan that he can invite to see it. In Clifford’s writings, the anthropologist says that at some point in every collector’s life, he will be encouraged to share his passion with others. According to him, “personal treasures will be made public” (219). This is exactly what seems to have happened to Rozanski. What started out as a teenager’s personal love for comics turned into the largest comic book retailer in the world. Because of his success, thousands of fans are freely able to act out their own love for nerd culture, without fearing they will be considered odd by Rozanski or other customers.
Out of the chain’s four stores, the Jason Street Mega Store has the largest retail space with 45,000 square feet. Though the team has continuously been working on filling this room with comics and merchandise, there are still vast open areas with no divisions. These have been used in the past to host events for the nerd community. With book signings, auctions, stage events, and educational meetings, the store presents its space as welcoming to as many different audiences as possible. Rozanski emphasizes that these auctions are not meant to exclude anyone. Because of this the prices are deliberately set low.
These auctions show us how much Rozanski wants visitors to thrive on the selection and the open, accepting environment they offer both enthusiastic collectors and occasional readers. His engagement and devotion invites all people equally to browse the shelves, linger, and become increasingly passionate about his field.
Granted, anyone who walks into a Mile High Comics location will understand Rozanski’s passion for comic books and may see themselves reflected throughout his comic book stores. You may see your favorite comic book on display or happen upon a vintage collectible that you’ve been scouring for at flea markets and on the Internet. That same passion is felt within any one of Mile High Comics’s bookstores and speaks volumes about the person who aspired to make these places a reality for many fans’ fantasies.
Comic books have not remained within the original community of artists who were creating works for other artists to read. For decades, the medium of the comic book has evolved and now has many different forms. As such, comic books have been able to transcend the standard definitions of literature by being able to incorporate different genres simultaneously and adding illustrations to text. While the general shape remains the same (rectangles and squares are good enough, though it’d be pretty cool to see a circular comic), what an artist is able to achieve within the content of their work is more than what can be done in a codex. Bruno Latour states that a “thing is, in one sense an object out there and, in another sense, an issue very much in there, at any rate, a gathering” (Latour 2288); and the properties of comics as things make them a matter of concern for those who harbor a love for them.
For the owner of Mile High Comics, comic books are more than just his livelihood – they what he has devoted his entire life to. They sparked within him a desire to share his love and respect for the multifaceted medium that is comic books. His massive collection of comic books collected over his lifetime is the stock on display throughout his comic bookstore locations for his customers and fellow comic book lovers to peruse and acquire. The sheer amount of comic books that line the shelves with a culture of fans and nerds doling out dollars for book after book aid in the observation that these books are more than what they seem to an outsider looking in. A comic book is a “development of social language itself” (Williams 1575); and, with this, comic books are a technology, a “means of production…[that] profoundly chang[e] and exten[d] social and cultural relationships…recognizable as deep political and economic transformations” (Williams 1574). Through passion and determination, collecting issue after issue, Rozanski has been able to garner respect as the owner of the largest comic book collection in the world. He decided against hoarding such a collection away from public eyes and worked hard to create a place where his collection could be shared with anyone. His stores do not romanticize the concept of the bookstore as others do (you won’t find any Starbucks or cushioned wingback chairs in any of the locations); however, they do narrow the focus to the comic books themselves. In this way, the consumer isn’t distracted and the attention remains on what Rozanski, and others like him, consider most important.
A comic book can bring people together, no matter how different they may be, and act as a conduit for a passionate conversation. Literature, viewed through the lens of Chuck Rozanski, is reflected in all that Mile High Comics presents: It is an aspect of culture, sometimes a specific culture, that encourages and allows for the release of the imagination, allowing it to take hold of its consumers. Comic books do just that as they transport their readers to different worlds, dimensions, times in history, and even stretching beyond time itself. In return, the culture of fans that are notoriously known for discussing comic books are the lifeblood that keep the community of comic book artists, enthusiasts, and collectors alive. Comic book literature is an exchange between the creator and the reader – an exchange of passion, knowledge, and currency. This exchange takes place in Mile High Comics’s bookstores and exists in great volumes within the culture thanks to Rozanski as both collector and comic book enthusiast. He has created for himself and his peers a fantastical playground for comic book lovers of all sorts.
Floor Plan powered by thinglink.com
Timeline powered dipity.com
Images in Post:
Panorama view of store <http://www.milehighcomics.com/images/email/061113pano.jpg>
Rozanski with Red Raven <http://cdn.bleedingcool.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/chuck-rozanski-site.jpg>
Black and white picture of Rozanski <http://www.milehighcomics.com/newsletter/092614email.html>
Rozanski with website <http://goldenagecomics.org/wordpress/2010/06/08/heroes-con-2010-another-great-show/>
Various comics <http://www.getcashforcomics.com/>
Images in Thinglink:
Storage shelves: screenshot from video <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k65zYbArejE>
Events area <http://blogs.denverpost.com/nerd/files/2014/06/party.jpg>
Outside view and entrance: screenshot from Google StreetView <https://firstname.lastname@example.org,-104.99934,3a,75y,103.87h,85.02t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1seJt86k4XOQ_FsyiZM4hdiQ!2e0>
Comics-related books: screenshot from video <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k65zYbArejE>
Action figure glass cabinet <http://www.milehighcomics.com/images/email/baraf2.jpg>
Glass cabinet with rare issues: screenshot from video <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k65zYbArejE>
Gold, Silver, and Bronze Age Comics: screenshot from video <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k65zYbArejE>
Mile High Comics Website <http://www.milehighcomics.com/>
Mile High Comics History <http://www.milehighcomics.com/information/hist.html>
Mile High Comics Wikipedia <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mile_High_Comics>
Chuck Rozanski Wikipedia <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuck_Rozanski>
Clifford, James. The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1988.
Duncan, Randy and Matthew J. Smith. The Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2009.
Latour, Bruno. “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. 2282-2302. Print.
Williams, Raymond. “Literature.” Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1977. 1567-575. Print.
MacLeish, Archibald. A Free Man’s Books. Mount Vernon, New York: Peter Pauper. Print.
“Funny Business.” People 50.11 (1998): 86. Academic Search Complete. Web.
Onôv, Alex. “Mile High Comics, La Nave De Los Tebeos.” Cabezabomba. n.d. Web. 12 April 2015.
Peterson, Eric. “Comics Industry’s Don Quixote.” ColoradoBiz 28.6 (2001): 74,74,76. ProQuest. Web.
Whitney, Daisy. “Comic Relief His Goal: Put Every U.S. Comic Book on Web.” Denver Post: E. May 04 1998. ProQuest. Web.
Rozanski, Chuck. “Mile High Comics Jason St. Mega Store Tour with Chuck Rozanski.” Online Video Clip. Youtube. Youtube, 5 Jun. 2014. Web. 12 April 2015.