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Amalgam Comics

Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse: Philly’s Black Woman Owned Haven for Geeks

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The world of comic books has become big business. Comics that used to cost less than a dollar are now million dollar collector items.

Comic book character-based movies are grossing millions of dollars world wide. Even events like Comic-Con have become huge international conventions, while gatherings like the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention are growing in popularity.SynergyConart2One lady who has taken her love for comic books and turned it into a business is Ariell Johnson, founder of Philadelphia-based, Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse. We recently chatted with her and this is what she had to say:

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How did your love for comic books begin and what is it about them that interests you till this day?

I have always loved fantasy.  He-Man, She-Ra and Thundercats were mainstays for me growing up.  And it was a cartoon that would launch me into the world of comic books. 

The 90’s X-men cartoon that aired on Fox introduced me to Storm, the first Black woman superhero I ever saw, and it was an experience that stayed with me. 

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She was such a powerful and interesting character and I wanted to learn more about her.  I knew she originated in comic books so I figured if I really wanted to know more about her I would need to start reading them. 

A friend in high school was also a huge X-men fan and a comic book collector, so my comic reading started there with his collection.  I started buying my own comics a little later when I was in college.

I still enjoy comics because I love the endless possibilities that they offer.  They can introduce you to entirely new worlds, new universes, and they help you think outside of the box.
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You have described yourself as a “geek”. What does being a geek mean to you and what is “geek culture”?
 
To me a geek is anyone who gets excited about comics, books, movies, television, games, and pop culture.  You can “geek” about anything really. 
You can be a Sci-Fi geek, but not really care about superhero stuff.  You can love table top gaming but hate console gaming.  There are no hard and fast rules that dictate who is a geek, but you know them when you meet them. LOL.
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Geek culture is the realm in which geeks live.  Much like any culture, it is made up of different things from language and style of dress to how you treat another geek when you meet them in passing. 
It is also very broad but the common thread that links all aspects of geek culture is the excitement that those who identify as geeks have for their fandoms.  
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 You have stated that there needs to be more diversity in comic books. Why do you feel it is important for all types of people to see themselves in these publications? 
As I mentioned, Storm was the first Black woman superhero that I ever saw.  I think that if I had never been introduced to Storm as a child I would have probably grown out of my love for geeky things. 
Seeing a black woman as a superhero was life changing for me.  Before, it always felt like I was watching everyone else be the hero, but seeing Storm made me feel like I could be a hero too. 
I didn’t have to be on the sidelines, I could take part in the action.  That’s what representation does, it helps people see themselves in the stories they are reading. 
When you are represented, it’s like someone is saying to you “your story is worth being told…you are worth learning about”.  And that just feels plain old good, everyone wants to be valued.
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 Obviously, you did research before starting your business. What data and statistics let you know that opening Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse would be a great idea?
I spoke to a few different comic professionals and coffee professionals when I was working on my business plan.  My biggest concern was about the comics.  Coffee shops are mainstays in our current way of life. 
The biggest challenges on the coffee side have to do with location and making sure you have a solid customer base that can afford your product.
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Comics are a little different because in addition to being luxury items they are also a niche item.  Not everyone is
interested in comics, so you need to make sure you are in a good location where you will have access to your target market.
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I used demographic research as well as plotting out the location of other coffee shops and comic book stores to choose Amalgam’s location and I used comic industry resources and articles to gauge the current climate of the comic book industry.  
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Where do you get your comic books from and how do you choose which ones to buy?
Most comics come from Diamond Comic Distributors.  They are the exclusive distributors for mainstays such as Marvel and DC.  The independent stuff is a little harder to come by. 
We have to reach out to individual publishers to get those books.  It’s a little more time consuming, but definitely worth it.  We have also had a fair share of creators reaching out to us, asking us to carry their books in our store.  
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How did you finance the business?
Funds from the business came from a few different sources.  My own personal savings, a crowdfunding campaign, support from friends and family, a special loan program through the City of Philadelphia, and traditional loans.  
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 What are your future plans for Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse?
 
We will start holding events in our space starting in February, and we are all really excited about that, but other than that we are just focused on getting settled. 
We’ve only been open for a month, and getting to this point was a really long road.  I just want to take a minute to enjoy the accomplishment before we start thinking about what comes next.  
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What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
 
I think anything worth doing is going to be hard.  You are going to hit bumps and obstacles along the road to whatever you are trying to build. 
Those things are to be expected, but they are still tough to deal with when you have to go through them.  So, the best advice I can give is to surround yourself with people who love and support you and your dream. 
Having my family and friends around me, people who could speak an encouraging word when I had a tough day, was the thing that kept me going even when I didn’t feel like it.  It’s such a small thing, but it makes such a huge difference.
-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson aka @thebusyafrican
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