We had a chance to catch up with Ariell Johnson, owner of Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse in Kensington (and 2016 Geek of the Year nominee), about some past and regular events, earlier this month. Known for its inclusive attitude and cool community events, Amalgam — which opened in 2015 — has quickly become a staple in the Philadelphia geek scene.
Check out Geekadelphia’s Q&A with Ariell, below. (Edited for length and clarity.)
Geekadelphia.com: We saw you participated in a number of local events for Black History Month, and that you were also featured nationally in Allstate’s new, annual campaign, “Worth Telling”. Can you tell us about being spotlighted?
Ariell Johnson: It was a really cool experience! I was surprised when Allstate approached me about being included in the Worth Telling Campaign. Amalgam is still such a new business, and the ongoing recognition that we have received for our mission of promoting representation and inclusivity in comics and geek culture is still surprising and humbling for me.
The campaign footage took two days to shoot, and it was intense! (But in the best of ways). It was a rollercoaster. It was so much fun but it was also emotional. In fact I lost my cat (she had to be put down) the day before we were to start shooting and Sandrine, the director, and the rest of the team made that day as easy for me as possible. I really appreciated that even though they had a job to get done, they still gave me room to feel what I was feeling. It was a really beautiful experience, because I was treated like a person first, not just a project.
Geekadelphia: We also saw there was a superhero-inspired event at the cafe, last month, as part of “Worth Telling” that included a panel on the importance of inclusion in comics with some other local geek influencers…
Ariell: Allstate sponsored a Superhero Day here at Amalgam as a part of the WorthTelling campaign. This gave people from our community a chance to come on down to the shop for food, fun, face painting, pictures with superheroes and this awesome panel discussion about the importance of representation and inclusion in comics, and beyond.
I was especially excited about the panel because I got to share the stage with other big names in the blerd [black nerd] community, not to mention my good friends, Maurice Waters of BlackSciFi.com, The Blerd Gurl (aka Karama Horne) and the discussion was moderated by Len Webb aka The BatTribble (from Philly’s own Black Tribbles). All of these individuals have been active in the [Philly] geek/nerd community for years, and they have all been working to give more visibility to nerds of color. It was an honor to have such a rich and important conversation with them.
Geekadelphia: There are a lot of other cool weekly and regular events at Amalgam. Can you tell us about them?
Ariell: So far, with the help of some community partners, we have been able to host Drink & Draws, Open Mic Nights, Comedy Shows, Walking Dead weekly watch parties, artist workshops, Healthcare Enrollment events and a number of book readings and signings. And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
Our weekly line-up looks very different each week, so giving a rundown on all of our events will be hard to do, but I can say that we are very open to suggestions from our community. If someone approaches us with an idea that we can reasonably accommodate, and we feel works well with our mission of an “inclusive geek space”–we work to make it happen.
My favorite is our First Friday event called TribbleTang: A Night of Art, Music, & Geekery. It’s in partnership with The BatTribble & DJ Supa Tang from G-Town radio. During this event we welcome creators to discuss their works, have performances by musical guests (most with a geeky element to their music) and we play different types of games that get the audience involved. It’s a lot of fun. It’s family friendly and it’s free!
Geekadelphia: What else is on the horizon at Amalgam, this next year? Are there any other new events or projects for which Geekadelphians should keep an eye out?
Ariell: We are starting to cultivate a new event on Friday nights called Amalgam After Dark. This could range from anything from a comedy show or open mic night, or even Magic the Gathering. But it is adults only, 21+. We love our family friendly events, but it’s nice to kick back with the grown-up nerds every once in a while.
So far, we’ve done the following under our Amalgam After Dark banner, March of the Mad Sexy (a March madness bracket style debate and contest to choose the sexiest celebrity of them all!) and Nerdy By Nature (an open mic night). Both events had a great turnout and reception, so we are really looking forward to seeing it grow.
Geekadelphia: Thanks for talking with us, Ariell.
Stay in the loop on upcoming and weekly/regular events at Amalgam (and Ariell’s ever-growing list of other meet-ups and community projects) by following Amalgam on Facebook and Twitter, and signing up for email updates.