Orientation: Ogden comic book store thrives in digital world

Plastic-wrapped comic books and mint-condition action figures surrounded two middle-aged men as they argued at Heebeegeebeez Comics & Games in Ogden.

“He’s asexual!” one man said, flipping through the latest “Thor” comic.

“No freaking way,” the second man said, pulling his receding hair in frustration. “Loki is a freaking god. There is no freaking way he doesn’t like chicks.”

Rachael and Jonathan Pust, the married couple who owns Heebeegeebeez, aren’t surprised by this type of conversation.

“We see everything from 15-year-old boys to the mom with her 6-month-old baby,” Rachael said. “You can run into anyone here.”

The shop isn’t short on customers. With locations in Logan, Layton, Ogden and its newest in Draper, for a store that sells mostly memorabilia and comic books, it is doing quite well.

“Comics are at a funny point right now,” Rachael said. “We have lots of guys who are like 40–45 and they’ve always wanted comics when they were kids, but their mom would only let them buy one at a time. Now they’re older, successful men with established careers and they’re suddenly realizing, ‘I can buy anything I want! And I’m going to get my son into it too!’ They’re going back to it and remembering what they love.”

According to Diamond Comic Distributors, the world’s largest comic book retailer, North Americans spent $475 million on comic books, graphic novels and magazines last year, up nearly 15 percent from 2011.

“Comics are huge,” Rachael said. “Competition is fierce. When we opened our Logan store, a month later another shop opened up not even two blocks away. In Salt Lake they’re a dime a dozen.”

But the Pusts said market saturation isn’t an issue. Recent comic book app development from companies such as Marvel and DC Comics have presented complications, as customers don’t even have to set foot inside comic book shops anymore. It would seem that these apps would mean the end of small shops such as Heebeegeebeez.

Rachael disagrees.

“People are purists,” she said. “They like to hold the comic book in their hand. It’s not the same as reading it on your Kindle. The words are the same, but a comic is an overall visual experience. (With) an iPad you see the whole page and then it zooms in to an area. You don’t get to follow the path that your eye wants to take you if you were actually holding the book.”

Jonathan said that comic book shops such as his offer something apps can’t: nostalgia.

“People have this odd penchant for giving away their childhood too early,” he said. “When they come in here, they feel like they are getting part of it back.”

The Pusts said they believe this is why their customers keep returning. It’s a large part of why Jonathan opened Heebeegeebeez in the first place.

“He can’t be tied down for too long,” Rachael said. “He likes his independence, a lot like a kid does when he’s exploring things. He started the company when he was 18 and had decided he didn’t want to work for anyone else ever again.”

Previously a chemistry major at Weber State University, Rachael began working in the shop eight years ago and became influential in the location expansion.

“This environment changes so frequently (that) it’s not wise to make overarching plans,” she said. “It’s why I went to school. I have my chemistry technician degree. I’m setting up my backup plan just in case things do change.”

But for now, with nine storage sheds full of comic books and more products arriving every day, the Pusts have no plans to change anything any time soon.

“Most people feel like when they gave up their comic books or toys, it was a loss to them,” Jonathan said. “If they can reclaim any small part of happiness by coming here and looking around or buying something, I want to help.”

A list of the store’s locations, hours and upcoming events is available at http://www.heebeegeebeez.com/.