I called Amalgam Comics just in time. There was one copy left of the new comic book Abbott. If I came soon, it was mine.
Taxi! (Actually, it was an Uber, but that just doesn’t have the same ring to it.)
For reasons that should be obvious, I was eagerly awaiting the release of Saladin Ahmed’s new series about — get this — a female tabloid journalist of color dealing with racism, sexism and the supernatural — which, if you’ve ever dealt with some of Philadelphia’s departments, isn’t as far-fetched as you might think.
The series, which debuted Jan. 24, is set in 1972’s “two Detroits: one white, one black,” a place where “the former would rather leave the city than truly share it with the latter.”
The lead character, Elena Abbott, is a black, bisexual badass investigative reporter writing the stories that sometimes make her white bosses and colleagues squirm. She (righteously, of course) argues with her editor and unapologetically fights for respect and representation for herself and the community of color she writes for.
“We all read that article you wrote about what the police did to that boy,” the black owner of a local diner tells her. “We were real proud you got them to print the truth in the white man’s paper.”
Published by Boom! Studios, the debut comic introduces us to Abbott just as she’s angered the police department with a story she’s done and just as she begins to investigate a chain of grisly crimes ignored by the cops and perpetrated by “a dark magical force” that 10 years before murdered her husband.
It’s gritty and real and socially and culturally relevant. It rings true, even here in Philly.
“You’re lucky you still have a job, dammit, people weren’t happy with that article about the cops and the boy,” her editor — who actually has her back — roars after he stands up for her with the higher-ups.
She answers: “If the truth agitates people, Fred, does that mean we shouldn’t publish the truth?”
Like I said, badass.
Her story is probably a lot more relevant in 2018 than it should be, especially when it comes to issues of race and representation.
Representation matters, which is why I love this local #BlackPantherChallenge to help Philly kids see the recently released Black Panther movie. And few know that better than Philly’s own Ariell Johnson, who founded Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse in 2015, and who happens to be the East Coast’s first black comic book store owner to have her own Marvel Comics cover alongside Marvel superhero RiRi Williams.
Johnson’s told this story before, but I love it: how her 11-year-old imagination took off after seeing Storm of the X-Men. How before setting her girlhood eyes on the white-haired, white-eyed black woman flying around shooting lightning at people, she “felt like I was watching other people’s adventures but never imagining myself as being a part of it.”
How that empowerment played a big part in who she is today and the importance she places on inclusivity in comics and her Kensington comic book store.
“It is really important to see yourself,” she said. “I don’t want the next generation of children to have to wait that long to see someone who looks like them. You can’t be what you can’t see.” And what they can see when they come to her store on Frankford Avenue is a young black woman in charge, titles where girls are the leads. The heroes.
“That’s powerful,”Johnson said.
I liked comic books fine when I was younger. I liked the superheroes like everyone else. I was an unapologetic Archie fan. But like many people, I aged out of them. And then along came Abbott, and she spoke to me in adulthood in a way that Storm spoke to Johnson in childhood.
— Helen Ubiñas (@NotesFromHeL) January 24, 2018
And not — I repeat, not — because she’s “a black Lois Lane” — a comparison that makes me roll my eyes so far back in my head that I’m afraid I’ll lose one.
Abbott is not a black Lois Lane. She’s a black Elena Abbott, which is exactly the point and power of the comic. As journalist Charles Pulliam-Moore put it, Abbott also would have taken one look at Clark Kent and scooped Lois Lane with an exposé about Superman’s secret identity.
At a time when newsrooms are still struggling with inclusion and diversity, when newsrooms are still mostly white and male and there aren’t nearly as many Abbotts as there should be, there is something truly magical about imagining a little girl of color walking into a comic store and coming across Abbott and thinking:
“Oh, hell yeah, that’s who I’m going to be.”