Community Superheroine

Philadelphia’s Ariell Johnson recognized for comics store

(Photo Left) Ariell Johnson, owner of Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse speaks at “Superhero Day” panel. Photo by Sarah J. Glover

Ariell Johnson’s Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse had a few extra superheroes on Friday, Feb. 24.

They weren’t the ones in the pages of the comic books and graphic novels she sells from her shop at 2578 Frankford Ave. in Kensington, but actual people dressed as Spiderman and Batgirl, who had come to celebrate “Superhero Day.”

The day was part of the “Worth Telling” Black History Month campaign by Allstate. Johnson was honored as the first African-American female to own a comic book store on the East Coast and there was also.a panel discussion on the importance of diversity and representation in the comic book industry.

“A new hero of the Blerd (Black nerd) Community, she turned a dream into a graphic adventure,” reads the Allstate website that features a four-minute video on Johnson and her pioneering effort.

“All the hardship, the tears and the setbacks have been worth it,” Johnson says in her video, which also ran in audio format throughout Ferbuary on local Black radio. “I have had a positive impact on a community. So no matter what happens from this point on, I can count this as a success.”

Describing her store, Johnson says, “My business is a community geek space, where you can grab a comic, play a game, buy a coffee, buy a cake and just hang out with other geeky-minded folks.”

She knows the importance of safe spaces.

“You can go into some toxic spaces,” she said to attendees at the panel discussion. “People feel threatened and angry you’re there,” she said of some comic-book related events. “Being in the same space and being a woman, it’s interesting, like, ‘We want you here to ogle or take advantage of.’ You think of the designs of female characters in comics, they’re created for the male gaze. But when actual women are present in these spaces, with real opinions and real brains, there’s this kick back.”

Other panelists were Philadelphia resident Maurice Waters, president of BlackSci-Fi.com, an online site that covers topics in the fantasy, comic, sci-fi and fiction community; Brooklyn resident Karama Horne, founder of TheBlerdGirl.com, a popular blog focusing on Blerd topics and the comic book industry; and Len Webb, a Philadelphia resident known as “Bat Tribble” on The Black Tribbles Podcast, a weekly radio show that covers topics in the African-American and “geek” community.

Black superheroes and characters are no stranger to comic books. The Black Panther traces back to 1966, when he first appeared in “The Fantastic Four.”

Statistics also show women becoming an increasingly important segment of comic book readers. The number of self-identified female comic fans tracked in a Facebook poll last year grew to 24 million — accounting for nearly 47 percent of all such fans, according to “Comics Beat.”

Meanwhile, IGN, a San Francisco-based games and entertainment media company, placed Wonder Woman at number five on its list of “Top 100 Comic Book Heroes.”

In perhaps the biggest honor any comic fan can receive, an image of Johnson was prominently featured on a cover of the first issue of Marvel’s latest volume of “Invincible Iron Man” a comic book featuring RiRi Williams, a new African-American superheroine known as Ironheart.


Community Superheroine
Sheila Simmons - Contributor

Sheila Simmons brings many years of writing and communications experience to her work for Liberty City Press. She began her professional writing career at the Philadelphia Daily News, where she covered Business, City Hall and Education.


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