On our annual road trips I usually hold off on my weekly comics fix until after we return home. It’s a selfish impulse I’m fine with deferring for the sake of family quality time, because a few of my least favorite travel memories involve shops in other states. It doesn’t help that some cities we’ve visited simply had no decent comic shops near any of the points of interest on our to-do list. Between the late-’90s Heroes World debacle and the late-’00s recession, America has several thousand fewer comic shops than it used to when I was a kid. (Examples of both extremes: when we took Manhattan in 2011, you can bet I swung us by Midtown Comics’ two-story location in the city with the mostest. On the other hand, our 2015 journey to New Orleans found exactly zero shops in the French Quarter or in the CBD/downtown district to the south.)
But this wasn’t our usual trip. With Anne’s business matters keeping her preoccupied and frazzled, I was free to plan my one-man sightseeing as I saw fit, to drive wherever I wanted to drive, to indulge in whatever flights of fancy came to mind without any companions to bore. So when I woke up on Day Four, a Wednesday as it so happened, I had two major events coded as Priority One, and one of them was a very special out-of-town New Comic Day.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Each year my wife and I take a road trip to a different part of the United States and see what sorts of historical landmarks, natural wonders, man-made oddities, unexplored restaurants, and cautionary tales await us. From November 1-6, 2015, we racked up a number of personal firsts. My wife Anne was invited on her first business trip to Colorado Springs, all expenses paid from flight to food to lodging to rental car, to assist with cross-training at a distant affiliate. Her supervisor gave me permission to attend as her personal travel companion as long as I bought my own plane ticket and food. I posted one photo for each of the six days while we were on location. With this series, we delve into selections from the 500+ other photos we took along the way.
Half the day was devoted to yet another road-trip-within-a-trip, kicking off with a drive north from Colorado Springs to the much larger city of Denver, home to the largest comic shop in North America. Finding it was tricky because it’s not in a strip mall or a small-town storefront like a lot of other dealers. You have to navigate an older, clustered, cluttered, urban area and pay no attention when the road gives way to a wide open space of unmarked asphalt and hibernating semis.
Lo and behold, there it was: famous Mile High Comics, one of the granddaddies of the comics scene. Founder Chuck Rozanski is a well-known name to older collectors who remember back in the day when he regularly bought advertising space inside various Marvel and DC comics to sell his prodigious back-issue inventory by mail order, or when he used to write a regular comics-business column for the late, lamented Comics Buyer’s Guide. I was familiar enough with Mile High that they were on my shortlist for our 2012 road trip, but didn’t make the final cut.
As of November 2015 they had three locations. The biggest and broadest is literally a warehouse.
I had to park a few garage doors down to the right, then took a couple of minutes to find their spartan front door at far left.
Enter: wonderland. Millions of comics, graphic novels, books, magazines, toys, licensing tie-in products, and more more more.
Little did I know the warehouse was packed more than it had been previously. The following week, Rozanski announced to the press he’d been moving stock there from his second-largest location with the intent to put the latter up for sale because, thanks to a combination of legalized marijuana use and firm laws against outdoor marijuana crops, vast warehouse spaces are doing booming business on the local real estate market as demand has surged from the burgeoning pot-farming industry. Rozanski’s plan to consolidate his operations should net him a pretty penny once the right buyer comes along. As of this writing that warehouse can be yours…for a price.
Major caveat for the unfamiliar: as with their mail-order business, Mile High is not a place for clearance sales or 3-for-$1 boxes. Anything more than a few months old is assiduously priced for collectors willing to pay above cover price to find those vintage rarities or just to fill gaps in a recent beloved series. I could’ve spent all day there browsing from shelf to shelf to shelf to shelf to shelf, but (a) I had other things I wanted to do with my day, and (b) the Great Hard Drive Crash of July 2015 wiped out my long-standing want list, so now I have virtually no idea what back issues I’m missing, and I’ve yet to get into the mood to redo a full inventory on those fifty-one longboxes sitting in our library.
So my primary objective was new comics only. This was the first week of the month, which means heavy shipments of new stuff from the major publishers. Of the hundreds of new issues out this week, my list had fourteen comics I was either reading regularly or considering trying out for the occasion. Mile High opens earlier in the morning than our shops do back home, so I’d hoped to get there early enough to beat our the other buyers for this week’s new issues.
Final haul: Angel & Faith #20, James Bond 007: Vargr #1, We Stand on Guard #5, Dr. Strange #2, Hercules #1, and Star Wars #11. I was surprised to find nearly half my list either sold out on Day 1, set aside behind the counter for regular customers, or simply not ordered in the first place. For a place touted as America’s Largest Comics Dealer, that’s, um, kind of disappointing.
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After lunch I wandered in a direction recommended to me by a local friend who thought I might be interested. That led me to Shop #2: All in a Dream.
Inside was a labyrinth of dozens of boxes and bookshelves full of graphic novels and old sci-fi paperbacks. Paths of threadbare-to-disintegrating carpets wind around the outer perimeter, with wire racks in the back for recent comics and that day’s new arrivals laid out across the back-issue bins in accordance with the traditions upheld by older retailers.
Final haul: Unfollow #1, Paper Girls #2, this year’s second Howard the Duck #1, and an Optic Nerve #11 plucked from a stack of multiple copies still on the new-release rack years after the fact. I can’t recall if the shopkeeper said hi when I first entered. When he rung me up, we spoke briefly only to agree neither of us remembered any papergirls in our respective neighborhoods way back when. Truth be known, I wouldn’t say I wasn’t the most in-touch kid on my block, so for all I know we could’ve had dozens. Not really a hill for me to die on.
Apparently I got off light compared to the Yelp reviewers who’ve amassed quite a collection of cautionary tales about the place. I’ll leave you to explore those reports at your discretion, though it seems the store is so frequently opened or locked up on random whims that as of tonight Google+ thinks it’s permanently closed despite one review from a month ago insisting otherwise.
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Later in the day I returned to Colorado Springs and spent some time traipsing around their downtown, angling my way toward stop #3: Escape Velocity Comics.
I chose it for two reasons: it was near other things I wanted to see; and, of all the shops in Colorado Springs, theirs had the nicest website, complete with pics of what appears to be a younger, fun-loving staff.
Their selection was above-adequate, and the general ambiance read “actual customer service” to me. Other than a stubborn, not-quite-state-of-the-art credit-card machine that slowed me up at the register, Escape Velocity felt like the kind of place I’d be happy to shop regularly if I were a local, or if we had the chance for more discounted Colorado trips in the future. If only.
Final haul: Survivors Club #2, Invincible Iron Man #3, and Atomic Robo and the Ring of Fire #3. I’d’ve bought more if I hadn’t stopped at two other stores first.
To be continued!
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