I almost didn't end up writing this month's column, as I have been having a hard time composing my thoughts of late. This difficulty in reasoning is directly attributable to my recent second battle with West Nile Fever, which not only makes you really ill, but also attacks the cognitive pathways in your brain. In the end, however, I decided that I wanted to write to you this month for the simple reason that being ill has given me a great deal of time to reflect upon not only my own mortality, but also its impacts on my family, and on Mile High Comics. I thought that my reflections might also help you in some small way, so here we go...
I'll start off by mentioning that my one avid pastime is attending auctions. Whenever I can, I spend my Wednesday evenings at one of our local estate auction houses, prowling through the "junk" boxes. If you are of an empathetic nature, these strolls through the detritus of other people's lives can be sometimes overwhelming in their sadness. Aside from dented teakettles and boxes full of cutlery, there are many times items of a very personal nature, such as family photos, graduation certificates, and other achievement awards. I can usually pass these items by without another thought, as their frequency simply becomes numbing after a while. But when a severe illness strikes you, it suddenly becomes quite clear that it is inevitable that all of our lives will eventually be dismembered by our heirs. What is even more chilling, however, is that it is also quite evident that a lack of planning for that eventuality is exactly how the most precious possessions of many people end up being sold to flea market dealers, usually for only a couple of dollars a box.
While the likelihood that their estate might be sold for pennies on the dollar might not bother many people, as an avid seeker of collectibles of all kinds, it would drive me nuts if all that I had accumulated through a lifetime of hard and diligent effort was piddled down a rat-hole by my heirs. That's exactly and precisely why I am spending the next ten years (presuming I have that much time left...) completely organizing everything that I have accumulated. I have already put four years, and a great deal of money, into fixing up sorting space at my farm. Now that that my new space is finally to the point where I can actually break the gridlock of my accumulations (hundreds of boxes full of great stuff, piled up to ten feet high in places...), I am now working late into many evenings to get my items of particular value sorted and cataloged. This is an incredibly daunting task, as I am continuing to buy even more cool stuff, even as I gradually work down the massive pile of previous purchases. But at least I am now making steady progress.
One point that I do want to emphasize before I continue, is that I am by no means trying to catalog everything I own. As I dealer, I frequently see astoundingly long and complex listings of people's personal collections of comics. In 99% of the cases, those lists only act to lower the value of their collections in my eyes, as I really don't want to know that they own every Marvel UK title, or every crappy black and white Independent published during the 1980's. What I do want to know is how many issues of titles such as Uncanny X-Men (1963) do they own before #144? Dark Knight #1-#4? Ultimate Spider-Man #1-#30? Those key and semi-key issues, and others of equal or greater value, are the "money" books in their collection, which will determine what I will pay. All the rest of the comics from 1985-present are basically bought and sold at the bulk price of $50-$100 a long box, so taking the time to list them in minute detail is essentially a waste of time. On the flip side, however, if you were hit by a bus today, would your heirs know that your precious Incredible Hulk #181 is worth vastly more than #183? Taking the time to highlight the particularly valuable items that you own, in a listing a that you keep with your will (you do have a will, don't you?), is the best step that you can take to be sure that your heirs are not victimized when they go to sell your collections.
In a related consideration, if you own a collectibles business, what have you done to assure continuity in case you die, or become incapacitated? I am quite pleased to report that Mile High Comics functioned extremely well during the ten weeks that I was ill, specifically because I have made it my policy to genuinely delegate responsibility for operating the company to the key members of my staff. William, Pam, Lynne, Bill, Lisa, Rich, Bob, Dave, Steve, and Will made sure that the orders kept shipping, and that the stores opened every day, even when I was flat on my back in the hospital. This only came about, however, because I long ago decided that this wonderful team of folks who work for me are quite capable, and that I should just leave them alone to run the company. They might not on every day do things exactly my way, but as long as the jobs get done, I try to keep out of day-to-day operations. That's actually easy to say, but much harder to put into effect than you might think. For one thing, you first have to find the right people in which to place your absolute trust, which is a process that can take many years. Once you find them, however, I strongly urge you to compensate them as well as you can, and to give them total freedom to run things on their own. In a world where most folks have no freedom of choice at work, providing your staff with the ability to personally excel without your interference can often bring out the very best in them as individuals. Then, if something happens to you, those key people will be the ones who will be there to not only carry on your vision, but also to help your heirs. Making sure that someone else can run the train if you're no longer there, only makes good sense...
In closing, I do have to admit that even with all of my advance planning, not all went perfectly while I was ill. For one thing, work at my farm fell so far behind that I'll be working 12-hour days for the next several months, just to regain our agricultural equilibrium. That's minor compared to the effect of my absence at Mile High Comics, however, where our convention-purchasing program came to a complete halt while I was ill. While I do not have much to do with the day-to-day operations at Mile High Comics, I am still the one who gets on airplanes a couple of dozen times a year to go out on extensive back issue comics buying trips, oftentimes buying as many as 50,000 choice back issue comics in a single week. As a directly result of all the goodies that I bring home from those buying trips, we generate about 30% of our gross sales. So while the Mile High Comics machine continued to function precisely as planned during my illness, our fuel supplies did begin to run low. That's a problem I have to work to solve before my next illness. In the meantime, however, I do have to admit that it is sort of nice to know that they still need me around here. It's GREAT to be back!
Please send your e-mails to
your letters to:
Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221