Chapter #12 of the discovery of the original Mile High/Edgar Church
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
To be continued...
Please send your e-mails to
your letters to:
Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221