The World of Comics is a Context Which We All Share

My past couple of columns have been a description of my perspectives on the damage wrought to the comics world by Ronald O. Perelman during his ownership of Marvel Comics (1988-1997). This issue, I want to move on to a far more positive plane of discussion by focusing on our mutual role in helping the world of comics move forward again. I'll warn you right now that this column is going to include a lot of preaching, and warm and cuddly thoughts, so if your view of the world is cynical, you need to move on to the classified ads right now.

I'll start by describing myself as a counter-culture capitalist. This is a very important distinction for me, as my entire credo on life revolves around trying to be as positive and constructive as I can be in any given day. I started out being trained in my youth to be a scorched earth me-me-me capitalist (you probably know a few of those...), but after ingesting a great many hallucinogens during my teens (yup, I did...), I found my entire world view changed. I no longer felt I needed to base my life entirely on the pursuit of material gain. Instead, I adopted a philosophy of self-actualization as proposed by Philosopher/ Psychologist Abraham Maslow. Simply put, this philosophy encourages you to focus on trying to improve yourself each day through good works. The theory is that if you strive to be positive, and do something constructive each day, that your life will be enriched in ways far more important than material wealth.

That having been said, I need to ask you the rhetorical question: "What have you done lately to improve the world of comics?" If you're one of those who fulfill a role within the comics industry on a daily basis, then you have my highest esteem. Working in comics these days is almost of necessity a labor of love, as the financial rewards remaining after the 1993-1999 collapse of the industry are meager, at best. If you are a dedicated comics fan, regularly supporting a local store, then you are also playing a critical role in the survival of comics in America. At this point in the history of comics, we need every fan we can possibly inspire.

I worry about these things because, despite current sales figures show that the comics industry is on the rebound, I know that there is an underlying weakness that still threatens the entire world of comics. Overall sales on many key titles are still way down, and we still see some long-established retailers closing their doors. We dodged a bullet when Marvel made it through its Chapter 11 restructuring without actually having to shut down, but that was a far closer call than many folks realize. We were within one judicial decision of total meltdown of the entire Direct Market. That would have spelled the end of comics publishing as we know it in America. I'm sure that graphic storytelling would have survived in some sort of an evolved form, but the days of visiting your favorite comics shop would have been over.

As I candidly related a couple of columns ago, 1996 was a terrible year for Mile High Comics. Our stores were still performing well, but our mail order catalogs suddenly stopped producing any revenue. Since mail order was the source of 90% of our earnings, we started bleeding working capital at the rate of over $1,000 per day. I mention this because that was a period in which I learned genuine humility. I had always thought of myself as being clever and hardworking enough to overcome any obstacle. My inner hubris was utterly destroyed when the entire world in which I was operating fell apart. I learned, without a doubt, that none of us can be any more successful than our context. If our context fails, our skills and determination become meaningless. The analogy I frequently make is an Olympic caliber swimmer on the Titanic. You may be the best, but if your context fails, you're just as dead.

This leads me to the simple statement that we all need to start thinking about what we can do to help spread the word that comics and graphic storytelling are fun, and potentially enlightening, entertainment that's well worth exploring. This can be done through the simple act of buying some bargain comics, and passing them on for free to a child or young person to read. Or adding another title to your subscription at your local store. Or sending in a positive letter of comment to a creator you know is struggling to keep his book afloat. Think about it! There are hundreds of small ways in which you could be helping comics survive and prosper. This is not simply an act of altruism on your part, but also an effort to save something that we all know and love from possible extinction.

Back in 1996, when things were looking so remarkably bleak, I swore to myself that if the good times ever came back, that I wouldn't screw things up again. That I would try harder to not only help my company, but also the comics world as a whole. I've made it my personal credo to try and come up with some new act each day that will be positive for the comics world. Some days I fail, but that doesn't stop me from trying again the next day. Some of the best comics ever published are seeing print these days, from some of the most talented creators who have ever chosen to expend their talents in this industry. I feel a personal obligation to those creators to work to bring the comics industry back to the prosperity and dynamic health that we experienced during 1986-1992. I can't, however, do it alone. The world of comics is a context which we all share, and it is only through our unified efforts that it will return to fiscal health. I certainly don't expect you to make reviving the comics industry the central theme of your life, but my goal in writing this column was to at least get you to think about what you might be able to do that would be positive and constructive. By my estimates there are at least 500,000 active comics fans in America. If everyone of us could be inspired to do even one positive act per week, I think we'd see the comics world become stronger than at any time history. I see that as a goal well worth working toward.

Next week, I want to explain a bit more about what it means to be a counterculture capitalist.

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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