In last week's column, I told the story of how Phil Seuling pressured Marvel Comics into forcing me to divest myself of the small distribution company that I had formed in the summer of 1979. In rereading what I wrote last week, I came to realize that I may have given many of you the idea that my personal relationship with Phil was quite adversarial. In fact, just the opposite was true. Throughout the period when I was actively seeking to undercut Phil's sweetheart deals with the publishers, he and I maintained a lively personal dialog. In fact, skipping ahead a year to when I was lobbying DC in the spring of 1980 to open up their distribution system in a fashion similar to what had transpired at Marvel, Phil not only insisted that I stay at his home during my visit to New York, but also picked me up at the airport at 5 AM, and personally made me breakfast. We may have fervently disagreed about what was the right path for the future of comics distribution, but we never let that get in the way of our personal friendship.
If you ask anyone who knew him, one of the first things they will tell you is that Phil was a person who epitomized the concept of an individual being "larger than life." The adjective that immediately comes to my mind when I think of Phil is "bombastic." Phil was a man of very strong opinions, and it took more than a little courage to tell him to his face that he was wrong. He did not suffer fools well, and was quick to dismiss those that he considered his intellectual inferiors. Once you gained his respect, however, you could engage him in wide-ranging discussions that could be exceptionally enlightening. That may explain, in part, why Phil is still so highly regarded amongst those of us who knew him well, long after his passing from liver cancer in the 1980's..
One thing to remember about Phil is that, at the ripe age of approximately 40, Phil was well established as one of "old men" of the Direct Market. I was only 25 at the time, and couldn't help but be in awe of Phil's accomplishments and experience. Just staying at Phil's house in the Seagate community was mind-blowing. The Seagate is a walled community in the Coney Island end of Brooklyn. Phil's house had beautiful Cape Cod style construction, and from many of the windows you had a broad vista of not only the bay, but also the stunning Verrazano Narrows bridge.
The inside of the house was even more impressive, as Phil was blessed to have entered the comics business at a time when public knowledge about the value of old comics, and comics original art, was extremely limited. Starting with only the limited working capital provided by his job as a teacher in the New York public schools, Phil was able to adroitly capitalize on his knowledge during the 1960's and 1970's, and managed to fill his entire house with the single greatest collection/inventory of comics material that I have ever seen. As a case in point, the upstairs bedroom in which I slept was an area in which Phil stored a small portion of his original art. I distinctly remember observing that the entire space under my bed was cubicly filled with bundles containing hundreds of original pages from the 1940's Fox Publications. I also remember once remarking to Phil about how I liked a Hal Foster Prince Valiant page he had hanging on a wall. He then showed me six more that were sitting in a stack on a nearby dresser...
While those two particular remembrances of mine are very cool, they only give you a slight visual taste of the astounding contents of that wonderful old house in the Seagate. The basement full of Golden Age and key Silver Age comics was another fantastic treasure trove, of which Phil was justifiably quite proud. I do want to emphasize, however, that while Phil was as good, or better, at establishing current retail values for comics collectibles as any one dealing comics in those days, he never lost his sense of joy for the medium itself. As a case in point, Phil was already a very successful man when he wrote to me in 1970 to purchase a Hopalong Cassidy premium mug that I had advertised in the old Rocket's Blast/Comic Collector (RBCC). Phil's potential profit on that particular item couldn't have been more than a few dollars, but the letter that I still have in my files from him expresses genuine happiness at finding such an unusual item. Given that I was only 15 years old at the time, Phil made quite a positive impression me with both his kindness, and his professionalism.
Returning to my main topic of the evolution of direct distribution of comics to comics shops, by 1980 Phil had become more than a bit paranoid about the comics publishers. While he maintained cordial relations with all of them in public, in private he railed against all the publishers as being deceitful and very, very dangerous. At the time (July of 1979) that Marvel opened up their trade terms to anyone who could clear a $3,000 monthly check, Phil was absolutely convinced that Marvel was taking a "divide and conquer" approach to stealing his business. His opinion was that as long as he controlled the bulk of the comics publisher's distribution into comics shops, that he operated from a position of relative power. Once, however, that distribution was divided up among 20 distributors, he believed that the publishers (especially Marvel...) would gradually force down the throats of the weaker distributors terms that were far less advantageous than those he had already managed to negotiate. By playing the distributors against each other, Phil foresaw the publishers eventually completely co-opting the distribution system that he had worked so hard to construct. Without giving away too much of the story yet to come, I can tell you that Phil's dire warnings were ultimately proved to be absolutely correct.
To be continued...
Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221