My Theory of Being a Counterculture Capitalist

At the end of last week's column, I promised you that I would expand upon my theory of being a counterculture capitalist. This is a description of a very personal nature, as I feel it helps define in many respects why I have been successful. In beginning this explanation, I certainly realize that there are still many among you who believe that my happenstance discovery of the Edgar Church collection of Golden Age comics, all the way back in 1977, provided the basis of my career in the world of comics. While I certainly acknowledge that having that fortuitous injection of working capital helped my career, I would disagree with those of you who believe that working capital alone, can guarantee success. I think that my attitudes about how to treat others fairly has made more of a difference than any other factor, and I think they are the key for anyone seeking to start their own business. Since striking out on your own is the Great American Dream, I thought you might find it interesting to hear what works from someone who has actually lived that dream.

I'll begin by stating that there are no saints or angels walking this earth. What I mean by that statement is that we are all human, and that we all make mistakes and misjudgments. There's not a day that goes by where I don't look back upon one or more of my actions and ask myself "Why did I do that?" Wishing that you could take back an action where you inadvertently did wrong to another is nothing of which to be ashamed. In fact, I believe that critically analyzing your past interactions with others to be sure that you're obeying the Golden Rule is one of the most important steps that you can take if you wish to achieve success.

Another major factor in achieving success in life, or business, is an awareness of the critical nature of the relationship of yourself, and your context. In my case, my context has almost entirely been the world of comics. I started selling comics at the age of 14, and now have been helping other fans with their collections for over 32 years. When I first started, I viewed the world of comics as this gigantic worldwide enterprise, where the actions of any one individual had little, if any impact. As a result of that perception, I never considered the consequences of my actions as they effected the world of comics. I simply assumed that comics would survive, regardless of my actions.

As I grew older, I began to realize that the comics business was critically ill. Newsstand sales were dropping precipitously in the early 1970's in the face of alternative forms of entertainment (especially television), and fewer and fewer retail outlets were even bothering to install a spin rack. Even in my late teens, this decline was so clearly evident that I hesitated at first to commit myself to a lifetime of selling comics. Why dedicate you life to a context that was on the edge of disappearing forever?

In the end, I couldn't resist the challenge. I saw what Phil Seuling was doing in distributing comics directly to comics shops with his newly formed Seagate Distributing (1972), and I thought I saw a chance that comics might survive. That was enough inspiration for me to drop my full scholarship to the University of Colorado in 1974, and instead choose to live in the back seat of a 1963 Chevy Impala, traveling from comics convention to comics convention.

Where my history is critical to this discussion is that my decision was based almost entirely on passion, not on common sense. In my interpretation, the essence of counterculture capitalism is that it seeks to create value in areas where others see no opportunity, and that it strives to achieve that success in a manner which nurtures growth in its overriding context. In committing to building the context, the individual recognizes that his or her success is dependent not only upon their own success, but also the success of their context. If this sounds familiar, that might be because it is a loose paraphrasing of the economic theory which won the Nobel Prize in Economics for John Nash, the subject of the film "A Beautiful Mind."

To take this all out of the theoretical, and make it more concrete for you, I had a heated discussion with another major comics retailer at a invitation-only Marvel Comics retreat in Tarrytown, NY in 1996. The topic of the debate was the newly introduced proposal by Marvel to stop all of their existing numbering sequences, and restart all their titles with issue #1. This other retailer strongly believed that a fortune could be made by hustling these new #1 issues to speculators, and that I should eagerly embrace such a proposal. I countered with the argument that while I agreed that short-term revenues would increase, I was far more concerned that many long-term collectors would be disillusioned by such a marketing ploy, and would see this as an opportunity to simply stop collecting those titles. What was the value of short term gains, if we diminished our core readership even further than had already occurred in 1996? The response of this other retailer (who is now blessedly out of business) was "Why should I care? If I'm still in this business in five years, I'll consider myself a failure..."

To be continued...

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Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221

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