by Cardell Phillips
“Some guys will come into the store and look at me,” says Ariel, “and say, ‘oh, she’s a girl, she doesn’t know anything about comics,’ but when they have a question, someone will say, ask Ariel.”
And just who is this Ariel who dares challenge the established order of the comic book universe?
Her name suggests a woman with imagination who can weave light into works of art that makes the Hulk laugh for joy and Galactus weep bitter tears and is the favorite consort of the Silver Surfer.
Well guess what, it just so happens that Ariel is an artist, what a coincidence. She’s an aspiring actress. And when she’s not auditioning she works for First Aid Comics where she’s on a first name basis with the Hulk, Galactus, the Silver Surfer and other comic book luminaries. So, I rest my case.
When you visit the First Aid Comics, you’re likely to see Ariel standing behind the front counter, holding forth in a discussion with customers about the latest reboot of some superhero or storyline.
From what I’ve heard while visiting the store, Ariel knows the comic book industry like the Hulk knows the funk, like Superman knows wedgies, like Alfred knows bat_ _ _ _. She has insight into the writers, artists, themes, history – nothing is beyond her power.
So, a question arose in my mind. How did she acquire her powers? Here’s the origin of Ariel.
Q: How long have you been at First Aid Comics?
Ariel: I’ve been at First Aid Comics for 2 years. Before I was hired, I was in the store a lot and would answer people’s questions. One day James told me there was an opening coming up for a sales person and asked if I wanted to work at the store. I jumped at it. Who wouldn’t want to work at a comic book store?!!
Q: What’s your typical day like at First Aid Comics?
Ariel: I sell comics…put comics away. I engage in geek talk with the customers, like who would win in a fight between two superheroes. Pretty much what you would do at any retail store.
Ariel: I grew up with mostly guys. My dad’s side of the family were all guys. All of my cousins and my brother…all guys. So I’m used to it.
Q: Is that how you got into comics? Hanging out with your brother and cousins?
Ariel: I got into comics because my dad (James Atkins) loved Spider-Man. He had all of the early issues. My grandmother sold his collection for $1 apiece at a garage sale.
Q: One dollar!!! (Man, I wish I coulda been there).
Ariel: I know…I know.
Q: OK. Are you from Chicago?
Ariel: I grew up in Memphis where there aren’t many comic book stores. We couldn’t afford to pay for the gas to go across town to buy comic books, so we went to the library. That’s where my dad introduced us to Marvel Comics, DC, and superhero movies.
When I came to Chicago to go to school, I found out that there were comic book stores here everywhere. I went nuts.
Q: What is it about comics that attracts you?
Ariel: I like comics because they are a way to escape. The real world can be pretty intense. I like books. I like art. Poetry and art really relaxes me and gives me the chance to get away from everything. And comics reminds me of my dad.
I like the crazy stories in comics – not knowing what to expect. The absurd and outrageous things that don’t have rules. I like the idea of no rules.
Q: Every comic book geek has a character they identify with. What about you?
Ariel: Spider-man is my favorite character. He’s the most important character in comics history. DC comics had Superman and Batman. But, their lives were perfect.
Stan lee and (Steve) Ditko decided that comics had to be more realistic. They focused more on the people who happened to be heroes.
It’s a balancing act for Spider-Man and Peter Parker. When Clark Kent takes off his glasses he’s not Clark Kent anymore he’s Superman. But, Peter Parker is always Spider-Man and it’s a part of everything that he does.
I think it comes down to the saying, “with great power comes great responsibility.” It’s become sort of a cliché, but it’s true for everyone.
Q: What have you read lately that you’re really jazzed about?
Ariel: My favorite book right now is Blankets by Craig Thompson. It’s very beautiful and poetic. It’s a graphic novel about growing up in a small town in Wisconsin where the people have strong religious values.
Q: There’s so many interesting books out there right now. What superhero stories do you like?
Ariel: One of my favorite stories is Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin. Its soooo good. It’s an epic space story, but not over the top. It features the entire marvel universe. The villain is Thanos who no one can stop because he’s so powerful. His weakness is he really doesn’t want success and finds ways to sabotage himself.
Q: That’s an interesting weakness.
Ariel: I think it’s something that’s true for so many people.
Q: Who is your favorite author?
Ariel: There are a lot of good ones. One of my favorite authors is Brian K. Vaughan. He wrote the Y Last Man, Ex Machina, and Runaways. Now he’s writing The Saga.
Q: What is it about Brian K. Vaughan’s stories that you like?
He’s so imaginative and inventive. The Saga by Image Comics is a space opera that has love and politics in it. He doesn’t skimp on the characters either. The idea is that we write to look for truth. The best writers keep working until they get to the truth. You know the truth of every single character Vaughan gives you. He gives you that as a writer.
Ariel: There’s a lot more women into comics than people think. When you go to a convention you see a lot of girls. And there are quite a few on our comics list.
I think the reason that there’s not more is because of the way the sexes are raised. I was supposed to love dolls because I was a girl. I didn’t like it because I was supposed to like it. I have an imagination outside of that. Parents should let girls be who they want to be.
A lot of times girls aren’t interested in comics until I introduce them to something. I introduced a girlfriend to The Saga and now she’s hooked. I just find out what they like. There are all sorts of comics out there, sci-fi, romance, politics – there’s something for everyone.
Q: Who is your favorite female character?
Ariel: My favorite female character is Wonder Woman by George Perez. I know she’s old school. But, his interpretation changed the character forever. That’s what made her as important as she is now. She’s no longer the token female at DC.
She’s awesome! In her stories she doesn’t take any crap. She’s her own person. It’s the ideal of female power.
Brian Azzarello continued that idea. In his books she’s a powerful female that makes mistakes because she’s a goddess who has a lot to learn about living in a world of mortals.
In the last few years, before the New 52, Diana had lost some of her power and people just weren’t interested in her anymore. But, Perez and Azzarello made her readable in her own book again, and not just as a member of the Justice League.
Q: Do you think there’s sexism in the Comics industry?
Kelly Sue DeConnick is a talented writer for Marvel. She writes Captain Marvel and Avengers Assemble, but I don’t think she’s gotten the recognition she deserves. She has a book coming out with Image Comics called Pretty Deadly that I’m stoked about.
It’s sexist the way women are drawn in comics – with long legs, no hips and big boobs. Women aren’t built like that.
But big changes are coming. Imagine comics has Lazarus who’s shaped like a real woman. She has a torso with room for abs. Carol Danver’s Captain Marvel looks like a real woman.
It’s not only the physical aspect of women that’s changing. Rachel Summers…the Black Widow, they use every aspect of being female. The Black Widow is really flexible. Storm is always ready to talk first and find out who the enemy is before resorting to violence. Jean Grey and Kitty Pryde are the same way.
Q: What about Black female superheroes?
Ariel: There’s not many black female superheroes besides Ororo. Idie Okonkwo is a new character who is important in the X-Men universe.
Q: If you designed a female superhero what would she be like?
Ariel:If I designed a female character she would be like Spider-Man. She would be a woman with a lot of power who learns how to control it. She would be who she wants to be.
Ariel:I graduated from Columbia College in May with a B.A. in musical theater performance. I want to be an actress. I’ve always been a performer. I used to fantasize about being on stage as a kid. I never stopped dreaming, so I decided to make it happen.
Audition season is coming up, so I’ll be auditioning for parts. My goal is to eventually perform on Broadway.
Q: What do you do when you’re not going on auditions or selling comics?
Ariel: In my spare time I write poetry and songs. I won’t shut the door to writing a comic book one day.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish as an artist?
Ariel: I want people to know my name. I want to be able to feel pride for who I am and what I’ve accomplished.
Q: I have one last question and then we’re outta here. What’s the most important lesson you learned from your Dad?
Ariel: The biggest lesson my dad taught me is to never let anyone keep me from being who I am, or who I want to be. Never let anyone get me down or bring me to a point where I feel like giving up. Keep going…
Cardell Phillips is a freelance writer. You can check out his blog about Chicagoans pursuing their dreams at talesofthewindycity.wordpress.com.