What happens when you mix coffee and comics? Well, maybe not a “comic-cino”, but you do get a menagerie of dope stories and caffeine within an ambience that draws in crowds that are a mix of hard core comic book enthusiasts as well as curious newbies. A comfortability factor is what Ariell Johnson had in mind when she opened up Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse in Philadelphia this past November. An idea stemming from a love of comic books and a need for a chill place to read comics, Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse has become a staple of the Kensington community of Philadelphia and since the store’s opening she’s received a very warm reception.
Since Amalgam’s grand opening, Ariell, a Baltimore native and Temple alum, has received a warm reception from Philadelphians who have shown themselves to be very supportive of the young entrepreneur’s efforts to bring something new and different to the community. From lifelong comic collectors to children whose interests are piqued by the array of colorful characters splattered across the book shelves, Amalgam has proven to be a welcoming space for all who visit.
“I think one of the best feelings I’ve had since opening Amalgam is the feedback from the community—where people have literally come up to me to thank me for creating an inclusive geek space in the city.”
It’s easy to see that one of the most welcoming aspects lie in the diversity represented throughout the comic books on display. Amalgam is a place where young people of color can see themselves represented on the pages of comic books—in a world that often forgets to include them in its stories. Who knew that an affinity for a black female superhero named Storm in her youth, would spawn a passion so deep that it would evolve into Ariell becoming the first black female comic book store owner on the East Coast?
Funny how something as simple as representation can inspire a dream to become a reality—in a world where young black girls often find it hard to dream big. Ariell did dream big however, and her dreams were actualized in a huge way because it’s hard to ignore the inspiration she provides to a community of people used to seeing more bad than good.
Ariell is mindful of the power of representation in the media, specifically when it comes to marginalized groups such as people of color, and even women of color, stating, “I want to see more representation and more original black characters created. I want to see different types of black women. Black women are not a mold, we’re not all the same. I want to see diverse stories that represent us– we’re not all necessarily into hip-hop culture– not that hip-hop is a bad thing, because I’m into hip hop– but I know black girls who are not into hip-hop, and they deserve to be represented as well. I really want to see more characters that challenge the stereotypes of what black women are.”
When asked about her views on the budding social movements online such as “black girl nerds” or “black girl geeks” Ariell doesn’t think it’s anything new.
“I think people of color have always been a part of the geek community. It’s not like one day black people just started reading comics, I think we may have been a little more isolated in the past, especially when it comes to black girls—it’s possible you just may not have known many black girls who are into that. The internet is cool though, because it allows people to join various groups and get to know people that have these same interests. It’s easier now to find each other.”
She goes on to attribute the growing online popularity of geek culture among marginalized groups to strength in numbers.
“Now that we can rally together in larger numbers, there’s more power and we’re more able to have our voices heard. I think geek culture is just becoming more accepted as a whole. I think people who really don’t identify as geeks are now more open to it because it’s no longer something just for 40 year old men… it’s become something for anyone. When it comes to people color, we have the numbers now from across the globe, and now we’re better able to come together to support the movement and get support from others within the movement.”
Her efforts to support geek culture through her work at Amalgam is especially rewarding to her on a personal level. She emphasizes how warming it is to see the diversity just within her shop.
“Just to see the different kind of people who come to Amalgam—I mean I’ve never seen such a diverse group of people in a comic shop ever. I mean black, white, Asian, Indian, gay, straight, men, woman and kids—all of these people come into Amalgam regularly, and that’s without even having a special event like ladies night. It’s just like on an everyday basis these different kinds of people come into the shop, and that’s exciting to me.”
It’s clear that Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse is more than just a business opportunity for Ariell. Her sense of community and her appreciation for her staff and patrons is evident. She speaks fondly of the different individuals that frequents her shop and her staff that are more than just baristas, but budding artists who she takes the time to get to know beyond work.
We salute Ariell Johnson, a true superhero not only to the Kensington community her shop serves, but to the women of color she’ll inspire for years to come. If you’re in Philadelphia be sure to stop by Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse located at 2578 Frankford Ave, Philadelphia, PA and check out the Facebook page for upcoming events.
Tiara Janté is a Writer/Journalist, budding Social Media Analyst, and Sci-Fi & Fantasy enthusiast. She is currently in the process of completing her first novel, Merged, a dystopian themed Sci-Fi thriller. You can stay up to date with her work via her blog at:http://www.tiarajante.net/