OGDEN -- Just a few years ago, Ogden joined the comic book world map.
Luck -- both good and bad -- led to Ogden becoming the site of one of the world's three largest shoppable comic collections, said Jonathan Pust. It took a lot of work and five blown tires before HeeBeeGeeBeez business partners Pust and Rachael Williams could offer their customers 2 million comics.
These aren't just comics behind an anonymous website that come to customers through the mail. This is a retail storefront with 6,000 square feet, where customers are encouraged to see, touch, and interact with all 2 million comics.
It's still a little overwhelming to the owners, as not all the comics have been inventoried, even after 18 months of considerable effort, Pust said.
After 17 years as owner of HeeBeeGeeBeez, Pust had admittedly collected a lot of comics. But it took a large infusion of inventory before he would become owner of one of the world's largest comic collections.
About two years ago, Pust heard about a comic distribution center in Las Vegas selling off its inventory after the bankruptcy of its owner, John Dolmayan, best known as the drummer for the alternative metal band System of a Down. Pust entered bids online for 300 lots "blind," without seeing the actual products. The lots amounted to about 10,000 boxes of comic books.
Pust and Williams hustled to Las Vegas for the one day bidders would be allowed to view the inventory before the auction closed.
"We assumed this was a well-known auction," Pust said.
When they arrived at the 60,000-square-foot warehouse, which had boxes of comics stacked 20 feet into the air, they expected a crowd of other bidders.
"It was so immense," Pust said. "And there were only six other guys there."
He was surprised but put in a good 14-hour day trying to get a look at what he had already bid on.
Pust quickly realized he may need a way other than his minivan to transport many boxes of comics from Las Vegas to Ogden. A desperate attempt to locate moving vans in the area was fruitless. Pust called a semitruck driver buddy in Ogden, who came to Las Vegas with a few others to help Pust haul home his loot.
"We won more than we thought," Pust said.
In the end, Pust lost only 10 percent of his bids at auction and came away with 75 percent of the warehouse's contents. He had only five days to clear his new possessions out of the Nevada warehouse.
Pust spent those days in a "stifling" 120-degree steel warehouse without air conditioning, being lifted to the top of the piles of comics by forklift.
It took a total of six trucks, some of them overweighted with up to 80,000 pounds of dense comic books, to get the collection home to Ogden. The group helping with the transport experienced a total of five blown tires on the journey.
And then there was the question of where to put all the comics once in Ogden.
"Amid looking for moving vans in Las Vegas, I was arranging a deal with a landlord on the fly," Pust said. With the help of another friend acting as his agent, a lease was signed and Pust was able to roll right up to his new digs on Harrison Boulevard.
Williams enlisted the help of 30 customers participating in a gaming event at another HeeBeeGeeBeez location to help offload the first four trucks.
In the meantime, Pust was still in Las Vegas, overwhelmed with the amount of comics he still had left to get to Utah. He ended up throwing some away and giving away others.
He still plans to give away some of his comics at charitable and annual comic events. Pust is pleased to offer comic book donations in literacy campaigns. Children with autism are regular comic book customers, he said. Even area teachers frequent his four locations. Some parents offer comic books instead of allowance to reward their children's accomplishments, he said.
"It's a slow process moving every box, sorting them, invoicing them, and pricing them," Pust said. "We've been doing it for 18 months, and we're still not finished. More are processed everyday."
Pust and his employees have uncovered some gems: Iron Man comics from the 1960s, thousands of autographed comic books, and hundreds of bound volumes of Disney's Scrooge McDuck comics.
Another interesting find was boxes of 1960s-era Mad Magazines certified as the personal copies of its creator.
Pust said he likes watching the reaction of customers as they walk into his back-issue center at 3171 Harrison Blvd.
"No one's ever seen that many comics in one place before."