On a rainy Wednesday in November, Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, Inc. in Philadelphia was preparing for the release of a variant cover of "Invincible Iron Man #1." This book cover holds special meaning for store owner Ariell Johnson because she is featured on the cover along with Marvel heroine, RiRi Williams.
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“It’s really cool and humbling,” Johnson said of getting featured on the cover. But she doesn’t take credit for making it happen.
That distinction goes to Amalgam’s “comic book Jedi,” Randy Green.
Green had seen variant covers done for other stores, and at first had reservations about the sales goals that would be required. But ultimately he felt that this new character, RiRi or “Ironheart,” was meaningful. “The idea of Iron Man having been Tony Stark for 50 years, and a very cool character; the idea of that mantle being passed on to a young black woman meant something,” Green said.
After conferring with Johnson they ultimately decided that they would do whatever it was they needed to do to make it work.
Johnson and Green were given a choice of three artists to work with and they settled on Elizabeth Torque. Since the comic would feature a woman as the main character and the cover would include the first woman of color to own a comic book store on the East Coast - Johnson - they decided that a female artist would complete the “trifecta.”
Johnson opened the store - the first black woman owned comic book store on the East Coast - in December 2015. For her personally, she says she had a dream and a strong desire to make it a possibility and just to see if she could do it. “It’s one thing to talk about doing it, it’s another thing to do it,” Johnson said.
But on the larger social scale, she doesn’t think of herself as a trailblazer. Her hope is that people will see what she’s done with her store in making a place for people like her when one didn’t exist.
“No matter what the interest is,” she said, “if you don’t see people that look like you in the field or realm you want to be in, you can still do it. You just have to make a place for yourself and steel yourself against the people who are going to have something negative to say.”
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