By LA TONYA FRELIX/The Associated Press
HATTIESBURG – Comic books and related items are more than just a pastime for two Hattiesburg men.
It’s a way of life for Justin Adcock and Barry Herring.
Adcock owns Comics amp& Stuff on Lincoln Road and Herring owns Southern Fried Comics in downtown Hattiesburg.
A love of comics developed into business opportunities for both.
“I have been reading comics since I was 3 and writing and drawing since I was old enough to do those,” Adcock said. “I got this job when I was at the right place at the right time.”
As a child in his parents’ grocery store, Herring would read the comics on the spinner racks.
Each man took very different roads to get to Hattiesburg and open businesses that supply the masses with quality comics and related merchandise.
Adcock worked for Pat Rothwell who purchased Comics amp& Stuff in 2001 and asked Adcock if he wanted to manage the store.
“I’ve been running it ever since,” said Adcock who purchased the store in 2007 from Rothwell.
“The thing that made me more successful is that I was nicer. At the time, we just had a few comic shops, who were tired of running comic book stores,” he said. “I look forward to coming to work every day.”
Opening Southern Fried Comics also was a matter of timing for owner Barry Herring.
Herring’s parents owned a grocery store that instilled his entrepreneurial spirit. He wasn’t able to act upon it until settling down in Hattiesburg.
When his wife, Jamye Foster, was offered a job at the University of Southern Mississippi, Herring said the time felt right.
“It’s where I wanted to be and we love Hattiesburg,” he said. “I worked for a while but left my job and helped her to finish her Ph.D. Once that was done, the timing was perfect.”
Herring spent about a year researching and writing a business plan before opening the store.
“This was my only shot. I was going to make sure I was totally prepared. It had to be right,” he said. “It took a year and we finally opened. Two years later, things are doing well. The comics industry is getting stronger.”
Herring said he continuously plans to reinvest in the store to provide a better experience for shoppers.
“We’ve already improved the store quite a bit since we opened,” he said. “I work toward making it better. I don’t know if it ever will be. We keep tweaking things and trying to improve it to make it that much better for people to shop here.”
Betsy Rowell, Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association executive director, said Southern Fried Comics fits in the emerging arts scene and offers a unique retail dimension to downtown.
“It’s multi-generational. They’re gaining new fans with some of the younger folks,” Rowell said. “They’re edgy and interesting to adults who have fond memories of the past comic book era.”
With comic books becoming more mainstream through movies like Iron Man, X-Men, Spider-Man and Batman, Adcock said business has grown each year since 2005 and after Hurricane Katrina.
“There is mass acceptance now. It’s not weird to talk about things in comics because they have become such a prevalent part of pop culture,” he said.
“Subscribership has grown. The market in Hattiesburg has grown and we’re not losing business. It’s a healthy market.”
Logan Aube, 26, of Poplarville started reading comics about four years ago.
He makes trips to Hattiesburg and visits both stores. He gets subscriptions through Comics amp& Stuff.
“They’re the only two comic book shops within driving distance,” he said. “It seems odd but on the other hand, it’s really great because they’re so different. I’ve been to both and enjoy both stores. It gives two completely different experiences.”
Chris Townsend, an attorney who’s been an avid comic book reader since 2006, said having two stores in a city with nearly 60,000 people is a great thing.
He enjoys the selection at Comics amp& Stuff and the personal relationship Adcock has worked to develop.
“I think it’s great, especially with mainstream movies and entertainment hitting a high point for the appreciation of comic book characters,” he said. “There’s a resurgence of interest, even in smaller comics like “The Watchmen” series from the 1980s.”
Herring said he has people who wander into his store and it’s a nostalgic experience.
“They want to share their experiences with you, even though they haven’t read one in a long time,” he said. “It’s something most everyone has had that shared experience with. Even women and mothers come in and say they used to read comics. There used to be a perception that only guys read comics.”
Both Herring and Adcock have room for local and regional artists to display their works.