09/28/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT
Charles Rozanski is living proof that comic books and college just don't mix. As a University of Colorado undergrad in the early '70s, he spent far more time collecting comic books than cracking textbooks. "I had about 10,000 comics in my dorm room," he says. "I was very fortunate to have an understanding roommate." Finally, in his senior year, he dropped out.
Then, faster than a speeding bullet, his obsession paid off. In 1974, Rozanski opened Mile High Comics in Boulder, Colo. Today, his five stores and mail-order catalog bring in some $5 million annually. His latest venture is truly superheroic: In homage to the humble comic book, he plans to put on the World Wide Web the cover and first three pages of every U.S. comic printed since 1933, when the first true comic books appeared. The cost: anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million. (He has already prepared 5,000 to 7,000 to be published on the Web.) "It's a never-ending project," says Rozanski, 43. "And I don't care. This is my legacy."
Growing up in Germany, Rozanski was raised on comics—literally. To teach him English, his mom, Margareta, a coin dealer, read him fairy-tale comics. When he was 14, his stepdad, a U.S. serviceman, moved the family to Colorado Springs, and Rozanski started amassing the 6 million comics—perhaps the world's largest collection—that now stock his stores. "He has the outward appearance of a hippie," says Marvel Comics editorial director Chris Claremont, "and the brain of J.R Morgan."
That's the perfect mix, believes Rozanski, who lives in Boulder with his wife, Nanette, 52, and their four daughters. "If you want to walk around with a briefcase and inspect your comics for flaws with a jeweler's loupe, get away from me," he says. "But if you want to buy a stack of comics to read, I'm your guy."