Twenty-five years ago this week (mid-January 1977), my future wife, Nanette, took a phone call in our Boulder, Colorado Mile High Comics store. The call was from a friend of ours, who was a clerk at a Science Fiction bookstore down the street. Nanette had worked at this bookstore until she came to work at Mile High Comics. This bookstore was also the original home of the first Mile High Comics store, as I had rented their back room for two years. This friend gave her the phone number of a Realtor who had called the bookstore looking to unload a "large" batch of old comics. The bookstore didn't sell comics (they mentioned comics in their phone book ad because of my previous association with them), so they were more than willing to give us this tip. Nanette immediately turned the message over to me, and I called the guy back. He seemed quite happy to hear from me, and explained that he was trying to sell a house for the heirs of an estate, but that the house was overflowing with "junk." Included in the junk was a closet full of old comics, which they desperately wanted to dispose of immediately. His question to me was whether I would be willing to come to the house and look at the comics, to see if I had any interest in hauling them away.
I quizzed the Realtor for a while about the contents of the closet. He indicated that there were a bunch of old cowboy and horror comics from the 1950's, which sure sounded good to me. I then asked him if there were any super-hero comics, and he said he thought there might be some old Batman and Superman comics, but he wasn't sure. In any case, what he had described was more than enough for me to get very excited. I asked him when we could get together at the house to look at the comics, and he indicated that he thought he could make arrangements with the sellers to be there on the following Saturday. I agreed to be there at the appointed time, and hung up the phone.
Have you ever had a "feeling" about a deal? I knew, right from that first phone call, that I was on to something big. The way the realtor had described the comics collection, it sounded huge! If it was, indeed, from the 1950's, then this collection could be quite valuable. I was cautious, however, because I had received many similar calls, and far too often sellers proved to be prone to gross exaggeration. Even if this collection were only half of what had been described, however, it was still well worth chasing.
At the time this call came in, I had been selling comics for 8 years. Starting with ads in the old Rocket's Blast Comic-Collector in 1969, and moving up to a stand at a monthly antiques show in 1970, I gradually had accumulated a large inventory of old comics. By 1972, I had over 8,000 back issues in my inventory, and rented a booth at my first national comics convention (Multi-con '72 in Oklahoma City). I grossed $1,800 during that convention, which was a huge sum in those days! I was only 17 years old at the time, but I knew from that moment onward that I wanted to be a comics dealer for the rest of my life.
During the years from 1972 through 1974, I attended the University of Colorado Business School, while also selling comics at conventions during the summers. In the Spring of 1974, I was forced to make a momentous decision. I could only afford to go to school because I had an Army ROTC scholarship. The problem with that scholarship was that it required me to agree to enter the army for four years of active duty (plus two years in the reserves) after graduation. I had until the end of my second semester of my second year to quit ROTC, or I was locked into serving in the army. I thought about this for many months, and finally made the decision to quit ROTC to begin a life selling old comics.
Because I had lots of old comics, but absolutely no money, I had no choice but to live in a 1963 Chevy Impala, that I borrowed from my parents. I put all my comics in the back, and drove from comics convention to comics convention for the entire Summer of 1974. I slept in the back of that old Chevy (or in parks or apartment building hallways), on top of my inventory, for four months. It was all worth it, however, because at the end I had even more old comics, plus enough to pay my own tuition for the Fall semester. I even had $800 left over!
Right after I started school, I read in the newspaper that a Science Fiction bookstore had opened in Boulder. I went to the store to ask if they would handle some of my comics on consignment during the school year, and was told that consignment was too much of a hassle. The owner then offered me a different deal. The store had a 1,000 square foot back room where she wanted to place her inventory of used books. The problem with the room, however, was that it had no lights, bare brick walls (this was in the basement of an 1890's bank building), and an unsealed concrete floor that was covered in nearly a century of dust. Her offer to me was that if I cleaned this room up, and gave her room for ten bookshelves of used science fiction paperbacks, she would let me have the rest of the space for only $95 per month! When I agreed to that arrangement, the first Mile High Comics store was born.
To be continued...
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Attn: Chuck Rozanski
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Denver, CO 80221