Ariell Johnson, the owner of the first Black-owned comic book store on the East Coast, Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse, started her tradition of comics and coffee long ago.
She began buying her own comic books in college, and soon developed a routine. She would make a trip to get her comic books for the week, and then take the comics across the street to her favorite coffee shop to read them over a hot chocolate and piece of cake, she told ABC News. When the coffee shop was forced to close around 10 years ago, Johnson decided she needed to create a space where others could develop similar traditions, and that gave her the same feelings of warmth.
“The goal is to be an inclusive geek space,” she said to ABC News. “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!”
She has absolutely made room for so many, especially women, girls and Black people. The character Storm from X-Men gave her a Black female character to identify with for the first time as a Black girl reading comics.
“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],” she explained to ABC News. “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 [to chose from]: ‘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 said.
This experience helped Johnson be a role model for girls and women and non-white people. She told ABC News that she has worked hard to make sure everybody feels welcome at Amalgam.
Her efforts will now be immortalized on a variant cover with RiRi Williams, the new Iron Man. RiRi is a teenage Black female, and proof that Marvel Comics is moving in a more progressive and inclusive direction. The cover will only be available at Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse.
And now life is complete! ? Thank you #Marvel & cover artist #ElizabethTorque ! And a big shout out to Randy aka @rsonthevoice for working so hard to make this happen! Available exclusively at Amalgam, email Randy at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your copy today. Photo Credit: @slingfilms #invincibleironman #blackgirlmagic
Earlier this month, a different variant cover for Invincible Iron Man was pulled after Twitter reacted harshly to what they felt was skin-lightening of RiRi. Fans say the practice is rooted in anti-Blackness. They also reacted to oversexualization of the 15-year-old character and deemed it inappropriate.