Back in January, Ariell Johnson made history when she became the first black female owner of a comic book store anywhere on the East Coast. At her shop, Amalgam Comics and Coffee, the 33-year-old Johnson aims to promote inclusion and diversity of women and minorities in so-called “geek culture.”
In this day and age, it’s rather astounding that Johnson is the first African American female comic book store owner. Though businesses owned by women and minorities are not thought to be as commonplace, there are currently an estimated five million minority women-owned firms throughout the United States. According to the 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, the number of women-owned businesses saw a 3.5 million increase between 2007 and 2016. Fully 78% of these firms (or 2.8 million) are owned by women of color. And despite the fact that 99.7% of all businesses have fewer than 500 employees, these minority women-owned firms employ two million workers and generate $344 billion in revenue every year.
Though Johnson’s business is a small one that appeals to a relatively niche interest, she’s managed to get a lot of attention. So much, in fact, that she’s being featured on a variant cover for one of Marvel’s latest comic book releases.
Johnson, drawn with her distinctive blonde ‘loc ‘hawk, appears alongside fictional character RiRi Williams on an alternate cover for the latest issue of “Invincible Iron Man #1.” RiRi has gotten her share of attention, too: in addition to being the newest Iron Man, she’s a teenaged black genius.
Not only does Johnson get to be featured alongside a superhero, but she is being recognized as one herself. She makes a concerted effort to support young black people who have an interest in comics, gaming, and the general geek culture — which has historically not embraced women or African Americans.
Johnson adds that being able to see — and exclusively sell — the cover is both exciting and inspirational. “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.” Now, comic fans can follow Johnson on her own adventures. #BlackGirlMagic is certainly alive and well. Talk about art imitating life.