By: Evette Champion
When you think about a comic book shop owner, you probably get this image of a fat yellow nerd who knows everything and anything about comics (yes, that was a Simspon’s reference right there, all hail Comic Book Guy)
Now, we know that comic book store owners doesn’t look like that or anywhere close to it. But when you are shown something for so long, it’s hard to imagine anything else.
That is until someone comes along and completely changes the way we see things and its surprising how refreshing it can be. Cue Ariell Johnson.
Ariell is the owner of Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse in Philadelphia and she is the first African American woman to open a comic book shop on the east coast. When you ask her what super hero got her interested in comics, she would probably tell you quite proudly that it was Ororo Munroe… Or, Storm from the X-Men series created by Marvel. If you’ve seen any of the X-Men movies, it’s the white haired beauty played by Halle Berry.
“I was hyper aware that comic books are dominated usually by white men, but when I was creating the store, I wasn’t really thinking about myself [or] about being first,” Johnson said. “I was more so thinking about wanting to create a space that celebrated diversity.”
Johnson first had the idea to create a coffee shop/comic book store 12 years ago when her favorite coffee shop, Crimson Moon, closed down. She said she hadn’t been able to find another café quite like it and she decided she would create her own.
Johnson was very hands on with every aspect of the store. She even sat in each chair before she bought it so that she knew her customers would be comfortable.
“I hope people feel like this is a store that was created with them in mind from beginning to end,” she said. “It’s a store that they can claim as their own.”
Not only had Johnson hoped to bridge the gap between comics and coffee, she hoped to create a community full of diversity as well as inclusion.
“To not see yourself ever represented as the hero or the protagonist does start wear on your self-esteem and your self-worth because it’s like you’re not valued enough to learn more about or write a story about,” Johnson said. “Diversity is important because we live in a diverse world and the media that we consume should reflect the reality of the world. It’s healthy to see other people represented because it helps you relate to people.”
Now if you’re in Philadelphia and are looking for some new comics to read, you should stop by. Sure, Amalgam is going to have the big name comics that feature our favorite superheroes, but it will also highlight some lesser known comic book artists.
“We will be a legit store, so expect to see the heavy hitters that we all know and love. But in addition to those usual suspects, we want to showcase diverse comics, creators, and characters. We think that comics are for everyone and anyone that loves comics–women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. We will actively look to stock titles that showcase people in these groups, right along with Superman, Batman, Captain America, and Thor.”
So tell us, who is your favorite superhero?