The Original Mile High Collection Part XII

Chapter #12 of the discovery of the original Mile High/Edgar Church collection.

Last week, I told the story of helping my good friend Jim Payne retire from the comics business, in 1977, by trading him 10% of all the comics I purchased from the heirs of Edgar Church. At the end of that column I alluded to the fact that helping Jim was not simply an altruistic act. Granted, his store was grossing less than $1,000 per month when I took it over, so it had no real value as an ongoing business. What did have value, however, were the 100,000 back issues that Jim had managed to accumulate during his ten years in the business. Most were relatively recent books, but that was OK with me. You see, I had been a mail order comics dealers when I was in high school, and I wanted to get back into that part of the business. To be successful at mail order, however, you have to have a very large inventory. Jim's 100,000 back issues, combined with the 150,000 I already owned, gave me a good starting stock.

The one problem with me going into the mail order business was that I had not been very good at it during my teens. I accumulated merchandise in large quantities, and constructed successful ads, but I was very slow to ship items. Knowing that personal weakness, I was determined to do the job right this time. My problem was solved when I heard from an ex-staffer that Richard Alf was looking to sell his mail order business. Alf was based in San Diego, and aside from his very nice retail store, had been running classified ads in Marvel comics for the previous four years. During those years he had perfected a systematized mailing program that guaranteed the ability to ship and mail efficiently. To make a long story short, I bought his system in the Spring of 1978.

To tie this back to the story of the Edgar Church collection, I was still determined to use the revenues I was generating from the Edgar Church books to do whatever I could to help the comics world grow. The late 1970's were a very tough time for comics. The DC implosion happened during that period, and even Marvel Comics teetered on the edge of shutdown after a disastrous foray into mainstream magazine publishing (remember PIZZAZZ?). Clearly, something had to be done to revitalize the sales of new comics or the entire industry was potentially doomed.

I started by working to break Phil Sueling's monopoly on the sale of new comics into the Direct Market. That's a complex topic, that I'll cover in several columns later this year. While I was in Manhattan negotiating with Marvel management about distribution issues, however, I also asked them as to whether they would let me purchase advertising space in which to actually list the prices of back issue comics. I pointed out to them that while comics collecting was a growing hobby (6% of the market in 1980), 94% of their consumers were still purchasing their books from newsstands and convenience stores. What if I could show those readers the value of their comics collections in the collector's market, without them first having to send away for a catalog. Wouldn't that greatly stimulate sales?

Well, I halfway won that battle. Jim Galton (then President of Marvel) liked my idea. Others on his staff were less convinced (they had just received the results of consumer surveys which indicated that readers were turned off by classified ads...), so Galton offered me a deal. If I would pay $21,000, up front in cash, he would sell me the center two pages of all Marvel comics for a period of nine weeks.

At this point I called up Richard Alf for his opinion. Richard had told me about the very positive results he had to a small test ad that listed actual comics for sale, instead of the traditional "Send For Our Catalog." After speaking to Richard, I made the decision that I was going forward with the deal Mr. Galton had offered me. In order to raise the $21,000, however, I had to sell most of the "Key" books from the Edgar Church collection. I don't remember all the issues I had to sell in order to finance that first ad, but BATMAN #1, WHIZ #2, and ALL STAR #1 were among the bigger casualties. I took a briefcase full of comics to Steve Geppi's house two months before the ad was to run, and sold them to Steve on his basement pool table. Steve was acting as an agent for John Snyder, then an Under-Secretary in the Commerce Department, and the largest buyer of key issues in the entire field of comics collecting. When the deal was done, I had enough for that first ad in Marvel, but almost all the key #1 issues were now gone from the collection.

Do I regret selling all those key books for so very little? Absolutely not! Even though the BATMAN #1 (alone) would bring at least $250,000.00 these days, I'm still very happy that I raised the money for that first double-page Marvel ad. Not only was it a financial success ($108,000 in gross sales in 100 days), but I have heard from an astounding number of people that seeing that ad was their first clue that organized comics collecting even existed. It has been very gratifying to hear from so many people that I got them started in the hobby. More importantly, in the years after I ran that ad comics collecting grew like crazy. By 1984, the Direct Market was 20% of the business, and by 1987 it had topped 60%. Certainly the growth in the distribution base contributed significantly to the overall growth of the comics market, but I believe my ads (I ran about 40 between 1980-1987) also helped stimulate demand. All this came about only because I found that closet full of Edgar Church's comics, so I believe all of us owe him a greater debt of gratitude than might otherwise be obvious. Certainly his books changed the world of Golden Age comics forever, but I think they may also have changed the world of new comics publishing by quite a bit. I have to believe that Edgar Church would have liked that...

To be continued...

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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