If you’ve ever driven down Jeff Davis Avenue, you may have noticed a peculiar sight downtown.
At first glimpse, you notice the red, white and blue barber pole in front of Long Beach Barber Shop. And then you see the life-sized cutout of Spider-Man waving to no one and everyone simultaneously.
Although haircuts and comics may seem like strange business partners, for Lori Carpenter, it makes perfectly good sense.
All in the family
Carpenter’s father, James Illich, owned and operated the Long Beach Barber Shop for more than six decades. After Carpenter took over when her father retired, she decided to bring her son, William, into the business by opening the comic book shop in the back of her business.
“We opened Long Beach Comic Shop in August 2015,” she said. “I wanted William to do something he loves, and he loves comics. He always has.”
When Carpenter decided she was going to set up William with a business, she decided to buy comics in bulk from Craigslist and Facebook.
“We would drive to people’s houses and load up the van with comics,” she said. “I remember driving around thinking, ‘We must be nuts,’ but we would buy them out so we would have something to start out with.”
She said she used to buy her son comics when he was a child.
“He knows everything there is to know about them — I used to buy them for him when we would have stays in the hospital,” she said.
Coping through comics
William Carpenter, 28, was born with arthrogryposis, a type of fibrosis, which has weakened his muscles over the years.
“He almost died several times during his first seven years,” Lori Carpenter said. “It was a very rough time — he was in intensive care for seven months one time and then again for nine months. I was even having my mail delivered to the hospital.”
With the fear her son’s life would be cut short, she said she did everything she could to “live every day like it was his last.”
“I saw babies around him dying every day,” she said. “So I introduced him to comic books as a way to have something to look forward to.”
Today, William Carpenter, who graduated from Gulfport High School in 2006, uses a wheelchair and his voice has been reduced to a whisper because of a tracheotomy when he was younger.
“He’s just always been so smart,” she said. “ He hasn’t had any problems since he was 7.”
A dynamic duo
The Long Beach Comic Shop has become a hot spot for comic book enthusiasts on the Coast. William Carpenter carries the latest titles, fulfills special orders and even has a few collectibles and action figures.
“It’s been a great thing,” Lori Carpenter said. “He’s my best friend and I love him being at work with me.”
William Carpenter, who was diplomatic and wouldn’t choose a side in Marvel vs. DC, said he said he hopes the shop will open people’s minds about comics.
“There’s something for everyone,” he said. “Comics aren’t just about superheroes.”