Growing Older

Being mildly bi-polar, I tend to become particularly morose during the short days in the depths of winter. I've learned from past experience that I need to spend a lot of time ducking and covering during this time of year, as I can quickly find myself dwelling far too much on negative thoughts. Having said all that, I want this column to be a bit more personal than most, as I want to reflect for a moment on my recent thoughts about growing older. This line of thought has two seminal points, with the first being my trip in early November to the DC Comics retailer meeting, and the second being my current effort to bring some order to my personal collection of comics and fanzines. Both of those events have given me great pause to reflect upon the passage of time, and I thought I would share some of my thoughts with you.

To begin with the DC retailer meeting, after the first two days I genuinely wanted nothing more than to just go home. That's not to say that the meetings were not informative and educational, but they were skewed so heavily toward over-the-counter retailing of comics (which I haven't done in a couple of decades...) that I felt completely out of place. I had already made the tough decision to personally attend the RRP, instead of my daughter ,Rowan, when DC strictly enforced their two person per retail account limit. That two person limit makes a great deal of sense, as the cost of the RRP is quite high for DC, and the meeting rooms are already too full. But with one of our two spots perpetually dedicated to our operations vice president, William Murakami, I had to make the judgment call to send Rowan (who is currently managing our largest retail store) with William, or to go myself. I discussed the question at length with William, and he ultimately convinced me that my not attending the RRP would be viewed very negatively by the other comics retailers and the DC staff. He even offered to stay home (an incredibly generous proposal on his part, as he absolutely comes alive in the vibrant social environment of the RRP...) so that I would be sure and attend. In the end, I heeded William's pleas, and flew to Montreal.

As I mentioned earlier, my initial participation in the meetings was hindered by the continual presumption by the DC staff that they were dealing exclusively with an audience of retailers who sell their comics directly to consumers in a retail store environment. As most of you already know, we are one of DC's largest retail accounts. Most of our DC purchases are resold through our website, however, with no immediate personal interactions with our customers. I do go out of my way to meet our online patrons in person at the numerous conventions I attend, and while I genuinely do like chatting with them about the comics industry and comics collecting, I never try to sell anything to the fans I meet. My primary goal in meeting with thousands of fans at conventions is to try and provide positive outreach for the comics industry as a whole, so advocating specific purchases from Mile High is never broached. Given the circumstances, I believe that actively trying to sell to the fans who take the time to track me down at conventions would do much sully the magic of the moment.

All that having been said, I had plenty of time during the first two days of the RRP to reflect upon the changes that I've witnessed during my 35 years of selling comics. That line of thought led directly into my having an epiphany that, at the ripe old age of 50, I was the last man standing in that particular room from the comics retailers active in 1970. That's when I started seeing ghosts. My thoughts wandered to the hundreds of comics creators, fans, retailers, and distributors whom I've known over the decades I've been involved in this wonderful world, and I began to feel an overwhelming sadness at all which has passed forever. Never again will I be able to argue with Phil Seuling at his kitchen table in the Seagate about the future of comics distributing. Jack Kirby and Roz Kirby will not stop by our booth in San Diego ever again to ask about how my parents are doing. Bruce Hamilton is gone now, as are Irving Bigman, Bill Liebowitz, Tom French, Julie Schwartz, Archie Goodwin, and hundreds of others with whom I was blessed to interact. Maybe it is just the time of year, but while reflecting upon the sum of these terrible losses, my grief became nearly overwhelming.

What ultimately snapped me out of my depression at the RRP was my decision to speak out to a few people about not attending the next meeting. I was genuinely surprised when I was universally told by those with whom I confided my decision (both comics retailers and members of the DC staff) that they believed that my participation in future RRP's was very important. That response was quite surprising to me, as I honestly felt that no one really cared all that much about my participation. What I learned during that last day at the RRP, however, is that as we age, the mantle of responsibility for the future of our world slips from the shoulders of those who have passed, and silently and surreptitiously lands upon us. Whether we ever realize it or not, we become the bearers of the flame of continuity, bringing the past alive for those who will follow us. Our responsibility is to pass on the lessons that we've learned from the past to those who are building the future. Our input and reflections may not be always be applicable to present circumstances, but I now realize that it is critical that we persevere in providing our perspective on the past, as it ultimately becomes one part of the reasoning process by which the decisions that determine the future are made. That was the message that Will Murakami was trying to get me to understand before the RRP, and what I finally figured out on the last day of the meetings thanks to the kindness of those with whom I confided. I have to tell you that it is a difficult transition when you come to realize that you're considered by everyone else to be one of the grownups, when in your own head you're still just starting out in the business.

Upon my return to Colorado after the RRP, I began working on organizing my personal collection of comics, fanzines, and memorabilia. Starting last January, I rebuilt from the ground up a small storage building on my farm. That little room is the first place where I've had to store my own collection since I gave up my original collecting room when my second daughter was born in 1982. During the intervening 23 years, I've continued to accumulate a variety of comics, fun collectibles, and Mile High Comics memorabilia items, but they've been stored in an endless number of unsorted cartons out in our barn. Now that the construction on my new collection room is finally completed, I am going through the laborious process of opening each box that I've had stored, and then sorting the different genres. What makes this process connect to the previous discussion is that each box I open is a time capsule, revealing long forgotten memories of times past. For example, I'm very much of a packrat, so I still have my binders containing all of the letters I wrote to my mail order buyers who purchased from me in 1969-1972, waaay back when I was still in high school. Rereading those old letters takes me back to a place in the history of the comics world that only a few folks left in the business today even remember. How in the heck did so much time pass so darn quickly?

I could go on, and on, about how all this is making me feel, but boring you is not the goal of this column. What I did want to pass on to you in closing, however, were a few of the rationalizations that I use as coping mechanisms that I think are cogent to the subject of aging, particularly if you are just now starting out in the comics world. First, save everything. As time goes by memories fade, but they can be quickly restored by tangible objects. I am having an absolutely great time opening those boxes I stacked away 23 years ago. Second, don't take day-to-day setbacks too seriously. Life is a continual series of ups and downs. Much like playing poker, the key is to figure out some way stay in the game regardless of your losses. Bear in mind, that you can only ultimately win if you're still in the game. Finally, never forget that while the past has faded away, the future has endless possibilities. The very next person that you meet may end up being your best friend for the rest of your life, and the next phone call you receive may be from the person wanting to sell you a collection of 20,000 mint Golden Age comics. The creators working in the comics world today are the best the art form has ever known, so I honestly believe that the possibilities for the growth of our business are endless. I've contributed 35 years of my life to working with many thousands of other comics fans, creators, and retailers to build for you the opportunity to expand the world of comics. Think of this as a relay race to a bright future. I'm still in the running right now, but I can foresee the day when I'm going to need the hand the baton off to you. Start planning now for how you're going to make the comics world a better place for those to whom you hand the baton. Remember, whatever you do, our ghosts will be watching.

Please send your e-mails to chuck@milehighcomics.com, and your letters to:

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



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