Comic Cons in Your Library!

I recently wrote a guest post over at Cosplay, Comics, and Geek Culture in Libraries about the Mini Comic Con that my library hosted in January (read it here!).  It’s a recap of the con, as well as some history about its creation and the process that my manager went through in organizing and developing it.  It’s one of the most successful programs we do in Youth Services, and it’s been getting bigger every year.

This is all a lengthy introduction to what I want to talk about today, which is my Top Five Pieces of Advice for throwing your own library comic con.  Geek culture is getting more and more widespread, and comics/comic-inspired media is becoming so mainstream that putting on a con of your own is an almost guaranteed draw for your patrons – and it doesn’t have to be hard OR expensive!

1. Start Local

There are lots of reasons for a library to go local when planning this kind of event – it emphasizes your relationship with your community, spotlights local talent, and can keep your costs down (one of our biggest expenses is reimbursing travel costs).  It also gives you the opportunity to develop relationships with talented writers, artists, cosplayers, vendors, and others that you can utilize for other programs, and continue to have back to your con in future years.  In 2014, we had a contingent from the Chicago branch of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion come in, who led us to the Chicago Jedi group for 2015 – both groups were a HUGE draw for our patrons.

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Local teen author Dewayne Haslett

2. Support All Ages

Our event started life as a teen-focused program, and we still have things going on at Mini Con that are teen friendly – but we also do a variety of activities, chats and photo-ops that are accessible for all ages.  This year we had a cape-and-mask creation station in addition to Jedi Academy and an Injustice video game tournament.  Think about who in your library is checking out comic books, cartoon shows and movies based on comics, or doing and talking anything geeky – and make sure they have a place at your con.

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One of our younger patrons gets into his superhero identity

3. Keep An Open Mind

These days, comic cons are about almost every aspect of popular culture – if a media outlet isn’t showing at San Diego Comic Con, they’re making a poorly thought out decision.  Obviously, in libraries we’re limited by space, but don’t let the phrase “comic convention” limit what you offer to your patrons.  Pay attention to what’s popular with your patron base – is there a big LOTR fanbase?  Any cosplayers?  How about LARPers?  Are they reading the Big Two (Marvel/DC) or are they passionately devoted to a CW soap?  Tailor your programming to your audience, but don’t let yourself be limited by what you perceive as nerdy or geeky.  There’s a case to be made for almost any kind of geeky program to be tied into a convention.

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The Midwest Tokusatsu Cosplay Group gave us some fabulous photo ops

4. Have Snacks

It’s sort of an adage at my library – “If you feed them, they will come.”  Aside from the lure free food has for younger patrons, offering snacks makes your event feel more like a “real” convention.  It shows you’re attentive to your guests, and feels like a bonus gift for them.  Extra credit points if you can get things from a place like Mitsuwa (a Japanese marketplace chain in California, we are lucky enough to have one in the Chicago area), that fits the theme and tone of the event.

5. Commit!

There are some programs you can get started and supervise from the sidelines – this isn’t one of them.  My boss was everywhere during Mini Con: moderating the Q&A with our local author, helping the Chicago Jedi demonstrate moves, running giveaways and contests, and generally making sure everything continued to run smoothly.  She’s just as much participant as organizer, and it’s both a helpful thing for our patrons to have a librarian that involved (so someone always knows what’s going on!) and a working demonstration of how much we’re invested in making sure everyone has a good time.  Go all-in on your nerd activities.

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Susan gets into lightsaber dueling in the best way possible

The only limits to putting on your own library convention are what you can think of, which sounds cliched but is absolutely true.

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Movie Review: The Book of Life

Last year was not great for movies, but there were a handful that came out that I thought were really special.  I’m going to take a few paragraphs now to tell you about my favorite, which I also thought was the best movie that came out last year, and one you should see for SO MANY reasons

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The Book of Life is a story that’s been told before (it’s a hero’s journey with a love triangle and some meddling gods thrown in for good measure), but it is so beautiful and richly conceived that it feels completely fresh.  It’s a framed narrative: a school group goes to a museum and is told the story of a love triangle being steered by the bet of two death gods, Xibalba, Lord of the Forgotten and La Muerte, Lady of the Remembered.  Zoe Saldana plays Maria, the beautiful woman torn between Diego Luna’s Manolo and Channing Tatum’s Joaquin; when Xibalba meddles in order to win the bet, Manolo ends up in the afterlife and must figure out how to return to the land of the living.

The Book of Life is a celebration.  It is bright, and musical, and joyful; the animation is absolutely sumptuous, and the attention to detail is meticulous (the main characters are wooden toys being used to act out the story, so they are animated with woodgrain and pin-jointed limbs).  It was released on Halloween because the story is framed by the Mexican Dia de los Muertos tradition, but it’s not scary – it emphasizes the fact that the holiday is about the lives people lived, rather than their deaths.  The Land of the Remembered is an eternal party, because as long as people remember their loved ones, they live on and happily.

I can’t really emphasize enough how good this movie is – which is awesome because it’s also important.  It’s voiced almost entirely by Hispanic people, with a Hispanic director; it’s not a franchise movie or a sequel; it celebrates a culture other than white or European, and does so respectfully and accurately.  It’s also just plain a whole lot of fun.

Monster High Party!

I’ve been able to assist in a lot of programs at the library, but yesterday was pretty special – yesterday, I had the chance to put on a program that I’d planned, developed, and got to execute pretty much all by myself.  We’ve done a few theme party events for kids (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, My Little Pony, Transformers), so I asked my manager if we could put on a Monster High party.  Not only did she say yes, but she gave me my own budget and left the whole thing totally in my hands.

I’m a HUGE Monster High fan.  Ever since the doll line debuted in 2011, I’ve been a pretty avid collector; I love the message of the dolls, that it’s ok not to be perfect and that the things you might see as flaws make you who you are, and I love the character designs and the individuality of each monster.  And I know our library has a pretty big MH fanbase – the DVDs and books circulate regularly, and I’ve had chats with little girls about their favorite dolls while helping them find materials.  So it seemed like a great fit for our programming.

When planning the event, I came up with a couple of different stations I could set up that could all operate simultaneously – we usually give these kind of events an hour or an hour and a half, and treat them as drop-ins where people can come and go as they want to.  I planned for Ghoulia Yelps’ Scary Smart Trivia Contest, Frankie Stein’s Freaky Fabulous Mask Making, Draculaura’s Diary Decoration, Clawdeen Wolf’s Special Doll Giveaway (generously supplied by my manager), and Cleo de Nile’s Nail Art Salon.  I had a budget of $50, most of which got spent at Party City (a GREAT resource for branded items in bulk), and bought the following supplies:

– Mini comp notebooks from Staples and stickers for the diary decoration
– A PDF of monster masks from Etsy
– Ghoulia eye glasses, some rubber bracelets, pencils and bookmarks for prizes
– MH nail art decals
– A couple of MH table cloths for decoration

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Ghoulfriends hard at work making masks and decorating diaries

I planned for thirty kids, which felt high, but I didn’t want to run into any issues with supplies, and everything I got could be used for prizes or supplies in future events if we had leftovers.

IMAG0495We did a giveaway for Roller Maze Ghoulia and Jinafire Long (Clawdeen is there for atmosphere)

I ended up with ten girls, but we had a lot of fun! Funnily enough, the most popular thing at the party was the movie I had playing (I showed Frights, Camera, Action!), but the mask and diary decoration were also a lot of fun.  The big flop was the trivia – even though I’d tried to make the questions fairly easy, they ended up being beyond my group.  (I was talking to a mom during the program, and I mentioned I’d made sure all the answers came from the doll packaging so it wouldn’t be dependent on the kids seeing the webisodes or anything – and she laughed and said “But the kids don’t read the packaging, they throw it away!” D’oh!)

IMAG0497A happy monster with her own Vandala Dubloons doll

Winter programming is typically hard to get high attendance for at our library, so I was happy with my turnout – and, my manager has already agreed to host another monster party in October, with a heavier emphasis on costumes and facepainting.  I admit, I didn’t end up using the nail decals because I’d never used them before and I chickened out – although we easily used up our hour without that activity.