It’s likely to come across a comic book fanatic of color, but to hear that not only a woman, but a Black woman, is running things as an owner of a comic book store shows that anything is possible. Founder and CEO, Ariell Johnson, a Baltimorean who currently resides in Philadelphia, Pa. has opened up her own “inclusive” space for comics, coffee and much more.
Originally from Baltimore City, Johnson grew up in between living spaces because of school. She lived in Glen Burnie, Md., with her grandmother in order to attend Glen Burnie High School and would go back home to visit her mother in Baltimore.
Ariell Johnson, right, as depicted on an Iron Man comic book cover. (Courtesy photo)
Johnson fell in love with Philly because of her older sister, Lisa Williams, who attended the University of Pennsylvania. “It was my first taste of Philly so I was just enamored with it,” she told the AFRO.
After graduating from Temple University in 2005, she came back home briefly but found herself right back in Philly in 2007 to pursue a career in the comic book world.
Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse opened its doors in Dec. 2015.
Johnson said that her inspiration to open the shop came from a coffee shop she went to called Crimson Moon (the shop closed in 2005), owned by a Black woman named Koko. She described the energy and interior decorating as Neo soul and earthy. “She had cultivated this space that was phenomenal,” said Johnson.
Johnson had a sacred place to read her comics and drink coffee, but after 10 years of Crimson Moon being open, a place that she said Philly needed and still needs, she knew it was time to have her own community hangout to bring that same energy back, plus more. “Her closing had kind of amplified the need for that,” said Johnson.
It was only right to combine comics with her idea to open a shop with good vibes because she felt “immersed in the culture” after being introduced to Marvel’s character Storm at a young age. “When I was 10 or 11 it was the first time that I’d ever seen a Black woman superhero,” she said. “That just kind of intrigued me and changed the way I thought about comics. I saw myself represent it.”
Johnson, 33, has created a scene where comic book artists, fans or illustrators can do practically anything that surrounds the art of comics over a cup of coffee and a pastry. You can read, buy books, play games, attend book signings, game-night and movie screenings.
Johnson carries books from mainstream publishers like Marvel, DC and Dark Horse Comics, but the inclusiveness of her shop revolves around owning books from authors internationally, people of color and various backgrounds.
“We are trying to have a book selection that relates to the actual population: Black artists, Black female artists, LGBTQ, Muslim artists, Latino artists, you know all of that because I think that it’s important for a medium to represent the audience that reads it,” she said. “Just learning about different places, different cultures and appreciating the art that is coming out of those places, when speaking of a friend who picked up some comic books from Barbados recently for her shop. There are talented writers and artists everywhere, so we are working to just kind of make that stuff available. Superman and Batman, they’re cool, but there’s more stuff out there that we can enjoy.”
Recently, Johnson had gained a lot of mainstream attention because of her exclusive store variant cover with Marvel’s newest Iron Man character Riri Williams for “Invincible Iron Man #1.” The image was illustrated by Elizabeth Torque and features Johnson and the 15-year-old genius mingling over coffee at her shop. “I just thought it would be our fun little cover, she said. “I did not expect it to be as well received as it has been.”