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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