Ariell Johnson, founder of Amalgam Comic & Coffee Shop

Representation is necessary for children to grow up with positive self-thought. When children of color don’t see people like them in novels, comics, movies, or TV, they think they can’t achieve greatness. Without representation, it’s so difficult for people to recognize that there are other people like them succeeding and thriving in whatever they set their minds to. As children, our idols show us that we can do what we set our minds to—if they can do reach for their goals, so can we.
When it comes specifically to print, like comic books, there’s been such a minor amount of Black heroes and protagonists. There haven’t been many Black heroes, let alone female heroes within the comic book universe. Storm, the weather controlling African priestess mutant from the Marvel’s X-Men, is one of very few Black female heroes.

By putting Storm into these stories, other Black females recognized their worth and their value in the world. One female not only saw Storm as representation in comics but also as a way to recognize her ability to follow through on her dreams. Storm was the first Black woman heroine that Ariell Johnson ever saw, and because of her, Johnson is now the East Coast’s first Black female comic book store owner.

Amalgam Comic & Coffee Shop

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Amalgam Comic and Coffee Shop came to life in Johnson’s mind in 2003 and came to life on Philadelphia streets in 2015. Before physically opening its doors, the shop had received a following online—so many people loved this idea of a place to relax and let the mind wander with inclusive books and staff. People latched onto this idea that a comic store was owned by a woman—a Black woman—and they supported the life that Johnson put into her store.

Johnson tries to make sure that her comic store has more than the typical super hero. When speaking with ABC News, she said that, as she was growing up, she had never seen a Black woman super hero and how crazy that was since “little white boys have so many. […] When you’re 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.” Because she realized that there was so little representation in comics when she was a child, she wants her shop to have as much representation as possible. Johnson knows how important it is to see representation in the things you read and watch because it’s so important to your development and self-esteem. She strives to always be conscious about carrying diverse titles, so no one who walks in feels the way she did as a child.

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Johnson has created a space that’s open to all comic book lovers. Her shelves are full of the diversity she wants to see in life. Her store has been open for four years now, and she continues to give Black girls hope, showing them that anything is possible, even if no one has done it before.

In 2016, Johnson was honored on the cover of Marvel’s Invincible Iron Man. This was a huge step for Black female representation in the comic world. As the East Coast’s first Black female comic store owner, Ariell Johnson has changed the lives of many Black girl geeks who were looking for a place to call home.

Watch her story below:

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