In Philadelphia, a Comic Book Store Dedicated to Diversity


In the historically working-class Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, a unique literary destination has blossomed. 

Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, which has become a popular draw since its opening in December 2015, is the creation of Ariell R. Johnson, an alumna of Temple University and a Baltimore native.  

Johnson, one of the first African-American female owners of a comic book store on the East Coast, has infused a cultural dynamism into the city and a sense of inclusiveness within her store.  

“It is important to have a space for diverse audiences,” Johnson said.  

She has been featured on the cover of Marvel’s “Invincible Iron Man #1” and was recently awarded a $50,000 grant by the Knight Foundation for an expansion.  

Following are edited excerpts from a conversation with Johnson.  

Q: How did you get interested in comic books?  

A: Years ago, I first saw the character Storm from X-Men. She was the first black woman superhero that I came across, and I wanted to learn more about her. After seeing Storm, I felt like I could be part of the story.  

Q: What influenced your decision to open a comic book store?  

A: The idea for the store came about as a result of a lost community space. There was a dope coffee shop, the Crimson Moon, which closed in 2005. I would read my comic books there every week. After I started going there regularly, I thought about how it would be cool to not have to look for a space outside of the store to feel comfortable. I wanted to create a welcoming environment like Crimson Moon and feature film screenings, signings and workshops, among other things. People can come here and meet with friends or make new ones.

Q: Kensington is adjacent to Fishtown, a working-class enclave that has grown substantially. How do you see Amalgam contributing to the vitality of Kensington?  

A: Our current space was previously vacant for over 10 years, so there was a lot of work that had to be done to our building. There are a lot of businesses that are opening in the area, and I was attracted to the arts community that was already here. We want anyone to come in and feel like they have a space to be themselves, from neighborhood kids to comic and sci-fi geeks. You can get to us easily from Center City if you hop on the SEPTA train and get off at the Huntingdon stop.  

Q: What is your overall vision for the store?  

A: I’m committed to helping comic book creators perfect their craft, partnering with artists, editors and writers in helping them figure out what can make their art stand out. Many of these creators haven’t had the same opportunities as other artists. There will be a new multipurpose room, which will serve as a space for a creator college. You have to be knowledgeable if you’re pitching comics to people.  

Q: Where are some intriguing places that you’ve visited?  

A: I spent some time in London, which I loved, and Ireland, which really interested me. It is quiet and idyllic, with lots of green fields and old castles. I felt like I was able to see the face of Ireland, which was really cool and different.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Travel

Florida B&Bs struggle, cry foul as unregulated home-sharing options soar
Florida B&Bs struggle, cry foul as unregulated home-sharing options soar

MOUNT DORA, Fla. — Gwendolyn Smith, co-owner of the Grandview Bed & Breakfast, sees unfair competition for customers growing, putting some B&Bs in peril.  “There are over 200 unlicensed (vacation) rentals here,” she said, citing Mount Dora listings on home-sharing web platforms such as Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO.   &ldquo...
Las Vegas hotels bet on technology to attract, dazzle guests
Las Vegas hotels bet on technology to attract, dazzle guests

LAS VEGAS (AP) — In the hypercompetitive world of Las Vegas tourism, the staples of hotel-room technology — a phone on a nightstand and a flat-screen TV — aren't cutting it anymore.  Guests at some Sin City casino-hotels can get towels, food and toiletries delivered to their rooms with just a text. They can also use tablets to...
State Department updates travel advisories so they're understandable

WASHINGTON - The State Department on Wednesday unveiled four tiered categories to warn travelers of potential dangers overseas, using common-sense language ranging from "Exercise normal precaution" to "Do not travel."  The new rankings replace the vague and often confusing system of issuing "travel alerts" for short-term...
From politics to Picasso

Travelers seeking inspiration for 2018 trips may want to consider art exhibitions and cultural festivals.  — At the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, notable exhibitions include “Women House” (March 9 to May 28), which explores the role of women in U.S. culture through photography, video, sculptures and large-scale...
Tips for riding powder at Utah’s famed resorts
Tips for riding powder at Utah’s famed resorts

If you’ve ever wanted to ski or snowboard on powder, now is the time to visit Utah’s legendary Wasatch Front resorts — Alta, Brighton, Snowbird and Solitude. Storms are finally coming in.  It’s been a lean time until now, with only one storm back in October and practically no snowfall since then. Connie Marshall, public...
More Stories