Ariell Johnson is a different kind of superhero.
A lover of all things geeky, Johnson used to spend hours sipping coffee and reading comics at her favorite cafe. When the coffee shop shut down, she knew she’d never find another spot quite like it. That’s when Johnson got the idea to open a space of her very own.
In 2016, she opened Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse in Philadelphia, the East Coast’s first comic shop owned and operated by a black woman. But her shop serves up more than just coffees and caped crusaders. While comic fandom is typically seen as a male-dominated pastime, Johnson specifically built Amalgam as a space where black women could feel right at home.
“I was 11 before I saw a character that looked like me,” Johnson told Lifetime. “I don’t want the next generation of black girls to have to wait that long. Seeing yourself reflected in media means your story is worth telling, that you matter.”
While Johnson’s shop has plenty of comics, one is particularly special. Last November, Johnson’s smiling face graced the cover of Marvel’s “Invincible Iron Man #1,” alongside black superhero RiRi Williams.
“I’m a Marvel girl so this was the height of coolness for me!” she beamed.
Johnson says she owes her success in a male-dominated industry to her support system. She advises women to create a community of people who nurture their goals.
“Surround yourself by people who believe in you,” she said. “I have found that people who know nothing about you or your vision are quick to weigh in on what you are trying to accomplish, and it’s usually negative.”
“You need to make sure you have people around you that love and support you, people that will lift you up when you feel like you don’t have any fight left. Lean on them when you need, let yourself fall apart with them, in that safe space, and you’ll find that it will help you push through the hardships and setbacks.”
Johnson’s work to celebrate diversity in comics is proof positive that not all heroes wear capes.
You can follow Amalgam on Instagram for your daily dose of all things nerdy.