Hattiesburg, MS — Hattiesburg resident Kenny Matlock is "more than meets the eye."
Not only is he a professional firefighter for three different Mississippi cities, he is also an avid action figure collector who has also garnered the attention of the Travel Channel.
In the spring, "Toy Hunter" host Jordan Hembrough and his film crew stopped by to take a look at the collection of figurines and comic books that Matlock has collected since he was a child.
The result was an appearance on a recent episode.
"I've been collecting toys and comics most of my life," he said. "When I was growing up as a kid, my parents owned an antiques store and they taught me to never throw anything away."
Matlock said he was told Hembrough found out about his "comic book room" by running into one of his fellow firefighters.
"I work for the Biloxi Fire Department, the Oak Grove Fire Department and Pine Ridge Fire Department. Jordan was visiting a store in Biloxi and one of the guys I work with down there told him about me," Matlock said.
Hembrough said he and his team had set out to scour Mississippi for treasures hidden in residents' homes, small businesses and storage facilities. Hembrough said they were intrigued by what they heard about Matlock, and that after meeting him and his wife, Michele, they were glad they visited Hattiesburg.
"Let me just say, I love Hattiesburg — it was one of the nicest towns I've been to in the South. Everyone opened their arms to the crew and showed us that true Southern hospitality. We had a wonderful time," Hembrough said.
"We were there with Kenny and his wife for about 10 hours, and we walked away with some really cool He-Man: Masters of the Universe toys and Superman toys and a really cool Freddy Krueger horror statue. He's definitely a hidden jewel."
Hembrough, whose business — Hollywood Heroes — specializes in obtaining and selling collectibles to clients in search of specific items, said he was impressed with what he found at the Matlock residence.
In fact, he said one of the items he bought from Matlock was sold almost as soon as it traded hands.
"(The Freddy Krueger statue) really thrilled a collector I have in New Jersey," Hembrough said. "Kenny helped make that guy's birthday a really pleasant one."
Matlock said he was surprised to be contacted about his collection, but he was happy to share his memories and open his home to Hembrough and the television crew.
"I have a room that we call 'the comic book room' that is nothing but action figures and comic books," Matlock said. "I'd say my collection was 99 percent Transformers. I started collecting them in 1984 when they first came out. I thought it was a great idea (to be on the show) and to share the stories and origins of the Transformers and collecting toys. I enjoyed the opportunity."
However, Matlock said it's only been in recent years that toy collecting has emerged as a socially acceptable adult hobby.
"When I was a kid, I was made fun of so much for collecting Transformers," Matlock said. "I was a nerdy kid back then, and when my parents went through a divorce, I was living with my grandparents, and it was a way to escape the real world."
Matlock said with the creation of the Transformers television show, the characters became even more special to him.
"The Transformers had personalities on the cartoon, and with being picked on in high school and in grade school, they were more like my friends than most (of my classmates.)"
Even though his classmates made fun of him for his interests as a child, Matlock said he still remains a lover of all things Transformers.
"I'm very fortunate that I have a very understanding wife who supports my interests," Matlock said. "She lets me have my comic book room."
However, while his 'man cave' may resemble many collectors' rooms around the world, there is one stark difference Matlock has when compared to others who are interested in collecting — he doesn't know the value of any of his collectibles.
"When I used to collect toys and comics when I was younger, I kind of knew the value of them. But when I became a fireman, I saw how so many people put so much emotional value into material things, and then they're gone in an instant," Matlock said.
"The way I am now, I don't care if most of them go up in smoke. It's fun to collect, but I don't look at the value of things anymore. As long as I have my family, I'm happy."