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Comics/Graphic Novels

Shop Talk: Amalgam Comics

Troy L. Wiggins

Staff Writer

Troy L. Wiggins is from Memphis, Tennessee. He was raised on a steady diet of comic books, fantasy fiction, and role-playing games. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Griots: Sisters of the Spear, Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History, The Afrikana Review, Literary Orphans, and Memphis Noir. When he's not tweeting @TroyLWiggins, he finds time to update his blog, Afrofantasy, where he writes about the intersection of speculative fiction, race, and nerd culture. He has found his way back to Memphis, and he currently lives there with his wife and their tiny expuptriate. Blog: Troy L. Wiggins Twitter: @TroyLWiggins

When I say Amalgam Comics, I’m not talking about the publishing imprint inspired by DC Versus Marvel Comics, the mid-90s crossover event that, depending on your publisher allegiance, either made you throw your comic books across the room or made you tease your friends to the point where they tried to punch you in the throat–as if it was your fault they bet that Green Lantern had a chance against Silver Surfer.

Ariell JohnsonInstead, this Amalgam Comics is a real, living place conceptualized and created by Ariell Johnson, and basically, we need to give it all of our money because it’s a badass diverse geek oasis in the middle of optic white nerd culture, and yes 2015 was great for nerds and geeks of color but this is an actual physical space for us to be together and–whew, okay. I’m chilling. But seriously, I’m sick of Starbucks anyway, and they don’t even have the decency to sell comic books along with those pumpkin spice lattes.

Haven’t heard of Ariell Johnson or Amalgam Comics? I gotcha. It goes like this: Johnson was a student at Temple University in Philadelphia who enjoyed buying comic books from her local comic shop (Fat Jack’s)  and then going across the street to her favorite coffee shop (Crimson Moon) where she would read the comics that she bought while vibing in the coffee shop culture. When Crimson Moon closed, she was messed up about it–but she also came up with a brilliant idea. Fast forward to today, and her big idea has come to fruition. Johnson is now the first and only black woman to own a comic book store in Philadelphia.

amalgam comics and coffeehouseIn December 2015, Johnson opened Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse, a space dedicated not only to recreating Johnson’s college experience, but to celebrating complexity in character representation in comic books while allowing geeks of all colors to have a safe place to feel as though they belong. And if that’s not good enough, her staff feels the exact same way. This is like a dream come true, let me tell you. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one to experience less than stellar treatment in comic shops full of white dudes.

Johnson’s space also functions as a legitimate comic book store, and one that is focused on highlighting work from independent and diverse creators:

“We will be a legit store, so expect to see the heavy hitters that we all know and love,” she said. “But in addition to those usual suspects, we want to showcase diverse comics, creators, and characters. We think that comics are for everyone and anyone that loves comics-women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. We will actively look to stock titles that showcase people in these groups, right long with Superman, Batman, Captain America, and Thor.”

According to Johnson, “sales have been consistent,” but I just don’t feel like that’s enough. I mean, we got Shenmue 3 funded in the time it took for me to draw a breath to squee about the fact that Shenmue 3 had a kickstarter. Throwing all of our money at Star Wars: The Force Awakens Lego sets is cool, but I feel like we need to just go ahead and as a community, shift 100% of that spending to Ariell Johnson because she’s gonna need revenue to put an Amalgam Comics on every corner in every city in America.

If you’re lucky enough to be in the Philadelphia area, visit Amalgam Comics yourself! But I have to warn you that if you go, I’m going to be over here hating on you and all of your descendants. So have fun, but not too much fun.