Tour of Mile High Comics – Largest purveyor of comics in the world!
Last week Tom, Mike, and I traveled up to the main location of Mile High Comics – a warehouse located at 46th and Jason St, in Denver, CO. It is the largest repository of comics in the world, and unfortunately I forget the estimated number of comics – but I’m pretty sure it was in the millions. A bunch. They also stock action figures and toys, as well as books about comics, posters and pins and so forth. Under glass were displayed the most rare and valuable comics – first appearances of Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Avengers, and others, many valued in the thousands.
Better yet, we got a brief but very cool personal tour by the legendary owner himself, Chuck Rozanski, who has been in the business since his early teens. Nearly fifty years later, the business is going as strong as one could possibly hope for. Chuck is a man who, to put it mildly, keeps busy. His perspective and opinions on the business were anything but mild, however, and justifiably so. He’s weathered the comic industry’s bust in the 1990s, and the rise of Amazon, for goodness’ sake. Chuck puts this down to a few things: having the inventory to tide the business over the dry spells, and not relenting on value – he had very harsh words for “flippers”, the kind of people who buy and sell as fast as possible and are willing to take the occasional loss; the kind of people who drive the prices of books on Amazon down to a penny. How did he describe them? Something to the effect of “there will always be people stupider, hungrier, and poorer than you” and trying to compete with these people is a losing game. True dat.
Chuck’s other observation that stuck in my mind is that all of these new little bookstores that are opening up are, essentially, fronts for warehouses. That indie bookstores very rarely (if ever) rely on foot traffic alone. But if you can find that balance that Chuck has whereby you can sustain a warehouse and a storefront (or two or three), then you’re golden. Some of these things he made seem more straightforward than I can imagine they really are, but he’s the super-determined, no bullshit kinda guy who could make things work through force of will alone. For Mile High Comics, their warehouse finances their store-fronts, and vice versa, according to the man. The ability to afford a warehouse in Denver alone is incredible considering how much the market has skyrocketed in the past decade due to marijuana legalization. (Six years ago he sold their previous warehouse to a grower, and with that was able to move into their current location.)
The trip was inspiring, and Chuck definitely gave us food for thought. The history of Mile High Comics, and the ways in which Chuck has adapted over the years, is fascinating.
I do wonder at the extent the comics business differs from the traditional book business. Comics, diverse as they are, remain they’re own thing. Comics have their own culture, their own system of production and distribution. Everyone is expected to have read books, at least in school, but the same is not true of comics, even though there are many people out there who primarily read comics over traditional text-based books. Comics have one particular popular association, that of superheroes, which books as a general whole, do not. Single issue comics are produced monthly by a team of creators. And so forth.
One of those big differences for us is textbooks. Textbooks have built-in shelf lives, as any student knows – you may shell out several hundred for your new books at the beginning of the semester, but in a year or two the value will plummet, it will die a fiery death. So you have to have a flipper’s mentality. Some textbooks don’t get new editions absolutely every year, but they will be worthless to resell much sooner rather later. Comics, like fiction, are responsible for their own continued relevance. Some are timeless and become classics, and others fade as soon as they appear. The former may never be particularly valuable specifically due to its success – even first editions may have limited value – and sometimes the books that fade come back into view years later and create a demand for that limited supply of first editions. But the point is – textbooks have “planned obsolescence” while comics and fiction can continue to be read and be relevant.
The comics industry doesn’t have to worry about cookbooks or fad diets or self-help, and less so about romance – the genres that pretty much have planned obsolescence, and for a bookseller without a warehouse these books are rarely worth the paper they’re printed on. And the comics industry has ACTION FIGURES! Thinking about it just now, I wonder how much the traditional book publishing world has learned from the comics industry? just in terms of those novelty action figures of Oscar Wilde, or Edgar Allan Poe, and book cover t-shirts and the like. I mean, with toys / action figures alone the comics world has a huge leap on traditional books. Where are the action figures from the latest best seller? And games! Where’s that AAA open-world computer game of, I dunno, To Kill A Mockingbird? (probably not the best example, but you get the idea.) Books are definitely amazing fodder for feature films, and have been since cinema began, but these days movies based on (superhero) comics are eclipsing most book adaptations, I daresay.
Comic books still have buyer’s guides, with current market prices. Traditional books used to, but I think their reliability has waned significantly.
Comics are easier to hoard, due to their slimness and uniformity of size, and you don’t have to be a scholar or researcher to appreciate the content and/or desirability. Let’s face it – some of the most valuable books aren’t all that much to look at. And some of the minuscule details to determine first edition, first printing are so arcane, yet can have such an enormous impact on value. Comics are a little more straightforward in these regards.
Anyway – it was great to go up there, and an honor to get a tour from Chuck Rozanski, who is a proper legend in the field. The warehouse is also a store front, and open to the public. If you’re in the Denver area or just passing through, I highly recommend giving them a visit. If you can’t make it to the warehouse, they do have a few other locations around town.
They also have a youtube channel!