At the end of my last column, I alluded to a letter-writing campaign that I
initiated in 1980 that had a dramatic impact on the evolution of the Direct
Market. After rereading the article, I realized that I had erred, as my first
effort to influence Marvel was actually in 1979. It is easy for me to get those
years confused, however, as they were so exciting and full of changes for both
the comics market as a whole, and for Mile High Comics. Even with careful
consideration I still have quite a hard time keeping the chronology exact.
What I can relate with great certainty is that the months of January and February
of 1979 were a period of time when I was very, very frustrated. The comics market
was growing for us, but there was never enough working capital to fund the growth
in sales at my four retail stores, and my back issue mail order business. Even
with small periodic infusions of working capital originating from the sale of
some of the precious comics from the original Mile High/Edgar Church collection,
I was barely able to keep our company checking account covered.
It was in the context of this frustrating environment that I finally decided that
I had had enough of dealing with the comics publishers through Seagate Distributing.
While I certainly appreciated that Phil Seuling had greatly enhanced the opportunities
for comics shops through his creation of that innovative new distribution company
that sold "directly" to comics shops, the fact remained that having no advance
information about upcoming issues other than title, cover price, and ship date made
pre-ordering comics two months in advance very risky. In addition to the risk
entailed in that lack of information, there was also the crippling cash flow
effect of Phil's requirement that everyone had to prepay for their comics with their
initial order form. This onerous policy tied up thousands of dollars in precious
working capital, oftentimes for many months. I knew these policies were greatly
holding back the growth of Mile High Comics, and I strongly suspected that others
within the comics retailing community would hold similar opinions regarding their
It was that absolute belief that I was not alone in being frustrated that led me to
send out approximately 300 form letters to everyone who's address I could locate in
the comics world. Because there were not that many comics shops in the world in those
early days (500?) I even sent copies of my letter to some acquaintances I had made in
the science fiction book publishing business. The letter I sent to everyone was a cover
letter asking for support, along with a copy of a long letter I sent to a lower level
executive at Marvel, berating Marvel for their lack of professionalism in dealing with
comics shops. In that letter, I asked for several radical changes from the methods in
which the business was presently operating. The most important considerations I requested
were 30-day billing for accounts that could prove credit-worthiness, advance information
about the story contents of upcoming issues prior to the time of order, and the creation
of co-op advertising and co-op racking programs.
Aside from the above specific requests for change, I also pointed out in the letter that
it was my absolute belief that the newsstand business for comics was rapidly dwindling,
and that comics shops were the one hope of rebuilding the comics business before it entirely
collapsed. For clarity purposes, I need to emphasize that my letter to Marvel was not at all
diplomatic. I was scared and angry when I composed the letter, and I wrote with a level of
brash candor that only youthful inexperience (and stupidity) can rationalize. To paraphrase
my basic theme, I asked rhetorically "Why should I commit the rest of my life to working
within the comics world if you idiots are rapidly running Marvel into the ground through
your remarkably stupid and unprofessional policies?"
To my great delight, when I sent the Marvel letter around to the comics retailers and
publishers on my list, I received support from all quarters. I don't know the exact number
(since not everyone sent me a cc:), but I believe that of the 300 people to whom I mailed my
letter, over 100 sent letters of support of my positions to Marvel. Not everyone agreed with
all of my points, but they all thought enough of what I wrote to chime in on some level. The
net result of this effort was that when my wife, Nanette, answered the phone in our Boulder
store one morning in April of 1979, she found herself speaking with Ed Shukin, the Vice
President of Marketing for Marvel Comics. When Ed got me on the line, he explained that
the gentleman I had written my letter to actually had no power to influence events, but
that he did. More importantly, he had taken all the letters that had been sent in supporting
my positions to Jim Galton, the President of Marvel. After reading the various opinions
expressed in the letters. Mr. Galton wanted to meet with me. When could I fly to New York?
I promised Mr. Shukin that I would immediately look into airfares, and call him right back.
Quite honestly, when I hung up the phone, my knees were shaking. You have to understand
that 1979 was an entirely different world from what we have now. Today, it is not at all
unusual to go to a comics convention and run into the Presidents of Marvel and/or DC, not
to mention any number of other comics companies. During the 1970's, however, the only way
to interact with the executives at the big publishers was to live in the New York area. Even
living in New York, if you weren't someone like Phil Seuling, the odds you would ever meet
an executive from the big publishers were almost nil. To get this call from Mr. Shukin was
the equivalent of being called before Congress to justify my actions. I knew darn good and
well that if Mr. Galton was annoyed with me that he could make one phone call to Phil, and
that my days of buying Marvel comics at a decent discount were over. In rereading my letter
after Mr. Shukin's call, I got this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when it finally
dawned upon me that I had been so vehement in trying to make my points in my prose, that I
had crossed the line from blunt candor to the point of spiteful rudeness. That realization
crystallized in my mind that unless I handled this situation very, very carefully, that this
trip to New York might very well lead to the end of Mile High Comics, and all of my most
To be continued...
Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221