In challenging times people often look for an escape from reality. Some choose to exercise, vacation, or watch movies. Chuck Rozanski, found his escape in comic books. Rozanski is the founder of Mile High Comics, located off I-70 between the Denver neighborhoods of Globeville and Sunnyside at 4600 Jason Street.
“I’ve been buying and selling comics for more than 52 years. I came from a very unhappy childhood. And for me, comics were an escape.” said Rozanski. Coming from a difficult upbringing, Rozanski looked for an escape that could help him in the moment and the long term.
“When people use the word escape, they think of escapist literature, and they think of going off into fantasies in order to not deal with the harshness of reality. For me, comics were a financial escape because I had the epiphany when I was 13 years old that there was this new market evolving, and it was very small at that time,” he said.
Rozanski created Mile High Comics in his parent’s basement in 1969 when he was only thirteen years old. By the age of nineteen, Rozanski opened his first retail store in Boulder, Colorado, and by the age of twenty-one, he had four locations and had invested in purchasing the “Mile High” collection of Golden Age comics. The Golden Age comics are the most extensive and highest-quality collection of antique comics ever discovered.
Some titles that are a part of the “Mile High” collection include DC Comics’ Superman and Marvel Comics’ Journey into Unknown Worlds. The collection also includes comics from Dell Publishing, Harvey Comics, and Quality Comics.
“There was a new market evolving where older comic books were selling for more than their original issue price, and that was something that started pretty much at the same time as Marvel Comics in 1961 and 1962,” said Rozanski. “But it really started taking off in 1965 when the guys that owned Collector’s Book Store in Hollywood first put-up ads saying, hey, we have old comic books for sale and offered the very first comic catalog.”
Rozanski’s initial focus in his comic journey was to make a profit. The discovery of the “Mile High” collection sparked Rozanski’s inspiration for his operation. The collection is comprised of mint copies of every comic published between 1938 and 1950. He has owned the collection for over twenty-one years and now focuses on promoting comics as an art form.
Through his comic journey, Rozanski has had over thirty locations in Colorado and California. Today, his only location is in Denver. The Denver location is a massive warehouse that houses around ten million comic books.
Seeing his fair share of comics, Rozanski said he has a few favorites. One of which being a specific variation of the Amazing Spider Man.
“Well, I started off as a big fan of Amazing Spider Man as written by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko,” he said. “I had a complete Marvel collection of every issued that had ever been printed in cloth. I also have been a huge fan of the Carl Barks Disney comics. So going all the way back to when he started in 1943.”
As far as best selling comic books, Rozanski says it is always the big four.
“The big four are always the perennial bestsellers and they’re, Spider Man, X Men, Batman, and Superman,” said Rozanski. “Superman’s probably the weak sister of that group. But definitely anything related to Spider Man and the X Men. Those are the brands that franchises generate the most in the way of sales.”
While exploring the massive warehouse of Mile High Comics, one may notice many posters and flags supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
“I’m transgender,” said Rozanski. “And being a gender fluid individual, I make sure that everybody who comes here is aware of the fact that I support that community, and I’m a part of that community. And if that’s something that doesn’t fit into your worldview, then maybe you’d be better off shopping somewhere else.”
Rozanski said that when he became public with his gender identity, he noticed a shift in the customers that would buy from his stores.
“When I came out as being transgender, we lost 10,000 customers who said that they would never deal with us again because my chosen lifestyle was contrary to their religious beliefs,” he said. “And the offset to that is that we saw an influx of about 10,000 customers who admired me for my courage and coming out and being the only corporate executive really in America who is out as a transgender individual.”
Rozanski said that LGBTQ+ inclusion in comic books has been increasing. Plus, he says some retro comics now have gay characters who were not previously identified as gay. One of his personal favorites is Stuck Rubber Baby.
“I think that if you go back to one of the earliest works, Stuck Rubber Baby is a graphic novel that was put out by DC Comics,” he said. “It is Howard Cruz’s story of growing up as gay in the South, and that deals with not only gay issues, but also this was during the civil rights movement. So, there’s a significant civil rights aspect to that as well.”
Rozanski has been able to supply comics to people all over the world. His N.I.C.E (New Issue Comics Express) subscription service allows customers to get comics anywhere in the world on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. In a world that has been increasingly transitioning to digital, Rozanski has been successful with tangible comic books. He said the connection between a physical comic and your imagination is what makes comics so important.
“Well, I think that there’s a different part in your brain that is activated when you’re looking at something in your hands and you’re having to fill in the blanks yourself,” he said. “When you look at the real comic geniuses, like Jack Kirby, and you look at the way that they constructed their panelizations they somehow had figured out a way to trigger these kinds of visualizations in a really optimized form.”
Rozanski insists on improvement and progression at Mile High Comics. Each day he prides himself on ensuring that the store looks better at the end of the day than it did at the beginning.
“Our goal every day is to do something which makes the store better. Sometimes that just involves artwork, or signage. Sometimes it involves new racking, sometimes it involves buying collections. Sometimes it involves hiring a new staff member and training them and integrating them to help the community,” Rozanski said. “No matter what, our goal is that when we lock up at night, that the store is in some way, somehow, some fashion better than it was when we unlock the door in the morning.”