Ariell R. Johnson of Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse in Philadelphia and Jazmine Joyner co-owner of Visionary Comics in Riverside California–we are two sides of one coin. The two black women in America who own comic book shops.
Ariell is the beautiful black, able-bodied goddess floating from an interview, to a commercial, to a con. In her sprawling fantastic comic shop/coffeehouse Amalgam, she is the face of comics we all want. She even has her likeness on an Invincible Ironman cover. This alt-black girl with colorful locks and a gorgeous smile is the embodiment of black excellence.
In contrast, I’m afraid I don’t sparkle like she does. I’m not quite sure I’m Allstate material. I am the second black woman in the nation to own a comic shop. (But I am apparently the first one on the west coast to own a shop.) And I am the first disabled black woman to own a comic shop. That’s a lot of intersections, I know.
My name is Jazmine Joyner, and I co-own Visionary Comics in Downtown Riverside, California with my fiancé Nestor Gomez. It’s a small shop that focuses more on the community and on indie titles. We do, of course, have DC and Marvel comics, but we like to work with creators to put their titles and art in our shop. Riverside is an artsy town, especially Downtown Riverside, where we are located. So we thought we could try and match our city and be more focused on the indie creators.
Now with co-ownership being said, I am usually the person you’d see running the shop if you came in during the week. This shop is like my baby. So I am always knee deep in whatever it’s doing. I want the store to reflect me, a black, disabled, woman, so inclusivity is essential for us.
In being “number two,” I feel a lot of pressure. Maybe I put that pressure on myself, but my comic shop isn’t as impressive as Amalgam. I feel I’m always compared to it. We have a lot to offer, but we’re just starting out.
Running a comic shop as a black, disabled female in a white male-dominated field is sometimes exhausting. I get the dudebros that walk in and have to quiz me on every obscure Batman and Superman arc just to make sure I know my stuff before they even consider looking at our selection of comics. I pass. I always pass this test. Because of what my mom told me when I was little.
“As a black person, you have to be better, and know more than any of your white counterparts even to be considered.”
I think about this daily. I memorize every Previews catalog. I study every book we have on the wall. I even learned Magic The Gathering, because a customer came in and looked at our Magic card selection and asked questions that I didn’t know the answers to. He then proceeded to tell me how bad I was at my job and how he wasn’t coming back. Lesson learned.
Other than myself, my shop is also run by my fiancé Nestor. We don’t have employees, because we can’t afford part-time workers. We don’t have a business loan, so every dollar put into the store is our own. A very small operation, but our customers like it because they feel closer to the business, and they can voice their concerns or just talk to the owners themselves. My disabilities sometimes make it harder to run the store. At times, we must close because I am too ill or in too much pain to be in the shop all day.
The support we’ve found isn’t within the corporate world of comics, but with the creators themselves and our strong customer base. People we meet at comic conventions and artists who happen to wander into our store always show us the most love, and we try to show it back by having their art and books for sale in Visionary Comics. From those awesome connections and our hard work, we have been able to stay open. Our store is tiny and usually takes people aback when they walk in, but we have been able to provide fun events (like Yugioh tournaments, Movie Nights, Super Smash Bros. Tournaments, and our upcoming Injustice 2 launch party), good books, and great toys. We hope we can do so for a long time.
This year we hope to expand our store by moving to a larger location. We also want to focus more on having a space for artists and comic book lovers so they come in and read, work, and hang out. I strive to have the kind of shop that people want to stay and relax for awhile, and hopefully this year we can fully realize that.
So, as the second black woman in the nation to own a comic shop, I don’t know how I should fit into this role. All I can do is be myself and love what I do.