Ariell Johnson, the founder of Philadelphia’s Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, is the only Black woman to own a comics shop on the East Coast. Johnson opened Amalgam Comics to tremendous fanfare in January. Now, her important contributions to geek culture and entrepreneurship for women of color has been immortalized in the most appropriate way possible.
Johnson appears on a store-specific variant cover for Marvel’s “Invincible Iron Man #1,” enjoying a meal with another Black woman trailblazer: RiRi Williams, the new Iron Man. The comic goes on sale next month, with this alternate cover being available only at Amalgam.
Johnson told ABC News that her colleague Randy Green spearheaded the project. “When the email went out about potential variants for stores, he was really excited and took it upon himself to work out the [details],” she said. “I knew what it was supposed to look like, but having the actual art in front of you is so much different. It’s really exciting.”
“When you are a person of color, you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel to find someone you can identify with. I always felt like I was watching other people’s adventures,” she said to ABC News. Had she not been introduced to X-Men character Storm, she said, “I might have grown out of my love for [comics].”
The next time you find yourself in Philadelphia and in need of a comic books and coffee fix, there’s a destination in town that has you covered. Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse is owned by Ariell R. Johnson, the first Black woman to open a comic book store on the East Coast.
Johnson, a Baltimore native, says she got the idea for Amalgam over 12 years ago when she was a student at Temple University. A comic books fan herself, her favorite store sat across from her coffee shop of choice. She would buy copies of comics then head across the street to have a cup of joe while reading her new finds. When the coffeehouse closed, Johnson’s wheels began turning and she began planting the early seeds for Amalgam.
Amalgam rests in Philly’s up-and-coming Kensington section, and she hopes that it becomes a haven for longtime comics fans and newbies alike. There is also a push for diversity, as there are comic book lines that focus on underrepresented groups such as people of color and the LBGTQ community.
Another focus of the store is to feature not only the major lines from top companies like Marvel and DC, but also the growing number of independent comic book lines from across the nation. Johnson envisions Amalgam as a place where everyone feels welcomed and has put in place a staff that will help guide the less experienced on their comic journey.
There has been some debate whether or not Johnson is the first Black female comic store owner ever, but nonetheless she is definitely a rarity in the white and male-dominated world of comics.