I'm writing a column today for all of you who continue to want to someday open your own comics shop, even after reading some of my dire warnings about the potential pitfalls of entrepreneurship in previous installments of this column. This essay is particularly important for you to read, as it deals specifically with greed, envy, malice, and evil.
To give you a bit of background, I began selling comics thirty-seven years ago, at the age of fourteen. By that tender age I was already no novice at retailing, as I had been earning my own income, in one fashion or another, since the age of six. Being a Type A workaholic pretty much from the day I was born, I approached all the income generating tasks I undertook as a child with a passion that made me successful in nearly every field of endeavor. It didn't matter if I was shoveling snow, mowing lawns, searching for pop bottles to redeem, or selling fruit from local orchards door-to-door. I earned small, but steady, amounts of money in nearly every season, and was able to utilize those funds to purchase a few more US Savings Bonds each year.
Up to this point, we're talking about entrepreneurial nirvana. No real competition, and a system of rewards where greater personal effort almost always translated into greater success. I worked hard because I enjoyed it, and the novelty of a young child being so driven to succeed led to many adults actively encouraging my efforts. There was a huge problem with this view of reality, however, as it left me completely exposed to be blindsided by the deliberate negative efforts of other people. It is not that I wasn't aware of competition, or lacked paranoia about the potential for harm from those who were truly evil, but rather that I was incredibly naive about the potential for malice that exists in almost every human being. In a nutshell, overcoming that lack of perception of the destructive capabilities of my fellow man has required the greatest effort of any of the skills I have developed as a businessman. If you want to succeed as a comics dealer, you will also need to become highly aware that from the minute that you go into business that there will be those around you who will seek to bring you down. Worse yet, those who may cause you the greatest harm will be those in whom you place your greatest trust.
Before I go into specifics about what can happen to you in the comics world, I want to first explain my personal view of mankind. Simply put, I view us to be an organism that has figured out many ways to exploit our environment to bring about answers to our material needs. We frequently work in cooperative effort with each other, and are thus able to multiply the benefit derived versus the sum of our individual efforts. Unlike ants (another highly successful animal that also works cooperatively), however, human beings do not work together altruistically. While we might band together to accomplish a specific task, our decision to expend effort is most frequently motivated by a very clear self-interest. If there is no clear immediate reward to working on a task in conjunction with other people, we at the least have to have the expectation that our efforts will at some point in the future produce some sort of long term benefit for us. Simply put, it is my opinion that we engage in very few efforts simply for the sake of others.
So far, everything I've said related is really not too bad, at all. It does, however, lead to some people being willing to watch their neighbors children starve to death, even though they themselves have surplus food. Without any clear future reward for sharing, however, it is in their best interest (or more specifically in the best interest of their own children) to allow potentially competing humans to die. Before you condemn this type of behavior as immoral, however, do please bear in mind that all of us engage in it on some levels, every day. America is the richest country in the world, yet we have an extraordinarily large population of undernourished poor and elderly. Yet, how many of us willingly give up a part of our income to help someone in need? As regards our attitudes toward the poor beyond our borders, the vast majority of our population will gladly drive across town to save 30 cents on some completely unnecessary item at Wal-Mart, even though that purchase may well be causing some small child in a Third World country to work twelve hours a day. Suffice it to say, we all have the capacity for selective blindness when it comes to serving our own enlightened self-interests.
All of the above having been said, what astonished me as a young entrepreneur was the fact that I would eventually run into other people who would intentionally try to put me out of business. It never occurred to me that the entire world consists of limited resources and opportunities, and that whenever I exploited a given way to make money that I was nearly always, at least in some small fashion, reducing the opportunities left for other people. As I mentioned earlier, humans are nearly always jockeying for possession of resources. While that competition is frequently merit driven and relatively congenial, human personalities are far from consistent. That is why learning to work cooperatively with others is a critical skill for anyone seeking to run their own business. Anyone you can't convince to become your friend has the potential to become your rival, and rivals will work to undercut you whenever they can.
Once again, what I've mentioned previously is not any kind of earthshaking revelation. Jealousy and greed are around us all the time, so learning to deal with rivals is just part of the game. What caused me the greatest astonishment as a young child, however, were the number of people who sought to destroy my positive efforts simply because they themselves did not possess the ability to replicate my accomplishments. When you start to enter the realms of malice and evil, I become completely lost and confused. My own personal worldview does not allow for trying to intentionally hurt anyone else unless they first attack me in a deliberate and savage manner. Yet there are sociopaths all around us who gain the greatest sense of personal pleasure and accomplishment not by creating, but rather by destroying. Those are the people you really have to watch out for, as they will destroy your business simply because they can.
To give you a couple of quick examples of the truly evil, I once had lunch with the owner of a building I was seeking to rent. He picked up rather quickly that I was a good businessman, so he decided to regale me with the story of how he devastated the lives of a naive young couple who tried to open a vegetarian restaurant in one of his other buildings. They went broke after six months, but because they had signed a personal guarantee to the lease, he was able to take away their home, and force them into personal bankruptcy. He laughed out loud at the thought of their misery when they had to move into their car with their small baby. Along those same lines, I know of a man very active in the Native American collectibles world who goes around bragging about how his greatest goal in life is to cheat someone so badly (he produces pre-Columbian fakes...), that they feel the need to kill themselves. Brrr...
Before you think those examples are not applicable to the world of comics, you should know that I've had, and continue to have, incredible numbers of people go out of their way to try and put us out of business. One East Coast dealer, for example is always incredibly friendly to me in person, yet viciously rips us apart on the Internet under a pseudonym. Ever since a mutual friend revealed his duplicity to me I cannot stand to even see his face. He's far from alone, however, as even strangers take pot shots at us for no reason other than the fact that they can. Just last week, for example, someone ruined our weekly Yahoo! advertising campaign by clicking 2,109 times in a single day (at 10 cents per click...) on the same key word ad. That's nothing catastrophic, but dismaying nonetheless that someone bears us such ill will. I could mention dozens of other relatively recent negative events, but I think that you get the idea. Beware of those who would destroy your efforts simply for fun.
My final caution would be to be very cautious about who you trust within your business. A long time ago, I had a bookkeeper who was pocketing small amounts of cash from each day's business. I was so close to her that I would go to her house and cook her chicken soup when she had the flu. That didn't stop her, however, from stealing from me, even when we were on the brink of going out of business for lack of working capital. She was eventually caught, and convicted of felony, but not before she first tried her best to put us out of business, much like a burglar would burn down a house in order to hide the evidence of his crime. We presented evidence to the prosecutors that she took over $58,000 during a three-year span, but the local DA still plea bargained her out to Community Service. She's probably working for another business today. If you're not careful, it could be yours.
Greed, envy, malice, and evil. You need to learn to work with other people in order to minimize the number of instances that those negative energies are employed to undercut your best efforts. You also need to bear in mind, however, that running a business puts you right in the middle of the bull's-eye for those in this world who seek to harm others simply for their own pleasure. There's really no way to avoid being hurt by some of these malicious sociopaths, as there are too many of them, and they are altogether too inventive. Awareness of their existence can help you a great deal, however, in avoiding some of the worst of their pitfalls. You've been warned.
Please send your e-mails to
your letters to:
Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221