Ariell Johnson, owner of Amalgam Comics and Coffee in Philadelphia, will appear on a variant cover of Invincible Iron Man #1. She will appear alongside Riri Williams, the new face of Marvel’s Iron Man. Johnson, an avid comic book fan, is the first African American women to open her own comic book store on the East Coast. When the coffee shop across from her favorite comic book store closed, Johnson decided to open her own store to provide the same space for herself and other comic book fans. Like many forms of media and art in the US, comics have had a diversity issue regarding women and especially people of color. This almost discouraged Johnson from collecting comic books.
“To think I made it a decade-plus and I had never seen a black, woman superhero is crazy because little white boys have so many [with whom they identify]: ‘I want to be Iron Man!’ ‘I want to be Batman!’ ‘I want to be Superman.’ ‘I want to be Han Solo!’ 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 explained. “Being introduced to Storm was a pivotal moment for me because had I not come across her, I might have grown out of my love for [comics].”
Johnson wanted to provide a safe space for women, people of color, and geeks across the spectrum.
“The goal is to be an inclusive geek space,” she said. “So it’s not just comics; it’s gaming, it’s sci-fi, it’s horror, whatever you geek about, we want to make room for you!”
“I had a girl tell me I had an excellent book selection and she was 7 or 8. I don’t know how welcome she might feel in some other spaces,” she said. “Women exist in this space! We’ve always been reading comic books, we just may not have been as open about it. I definitely get very positive feedback from not just little girls, but grown women too.”
The comic goes on sale next month and will be available exclusively at the Amalgam shop.