Last year, Montgomery County Public Libraries (MCPL) staffers found a way to reach out to a substantial community that might not be aware of all that the system has to offer.
“Com-Cons (Comic Conferences) have wide appeal and are popular around the country,” said Mary Ellen Icaza, MCPL’s Public Services Administrator for Community Engagement, Programming and Learning, who heard about the trend in public libraries when she attended a Maryland Library Conference a few years ago.
She recalled a representative from a Dover, Delaware library sharing her experience that com-cons are easy for libraries to put together, a good way to connect with a relatively untapped community and a solid programming idea for teenagers.
The trend started with Comic-Con International, which dates to 1970 when a group of aficionados of comics, movies and science fiction came together to create the first comic book convention in southern California. The increased popularity of the graphic novel, a narrative in which the story is conveyed using sequential art in either an experimental design or in a traditional comics format, adds an even wider appeal to Com-Cons, Icaza noted.
The 2017 inaugural MoComCon drew some 500 to 700 visitors to the Silver Spring Library, said Icaza. The attendance was high even though organizers had set the date some six months earlier for a Saturday that turned out to be the same day as the first Women’s March on Washington. Fortunately, this year, the two events were scheduled a week apart.
There “are a lot of pieces to the event,” including “something to pique everyone’s interest, from preschoolers to adults,” Icaza said. A 20-member committee of employees from across the MCPL system have been planning this year’s event since July 15, using the knowledge of what worked well last year as well as some new ideas.
Along with some 15 to 20 additional staff that day, said Icaza, committee members will supervise a host of constituent talks and workshops, including stations for making buttons, superhero color sheets, dragon eggs and LED light wands; a teen illustration workshop, fandom rooms (including Star Wars, Doctor Who, Game if Thrones, Disney and anime), Google Expeditions, Minecraft and a Harry Potter Escape Room.
Two contests–an art contest for preschoolers and older, and a cosplay contest (participants called cosplayers wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character) are scheduled. Attendees are encouraged to come in costume, with the caveat that weapons, including replica and costume pieces, will not be allowed inside.
Industry professionals will give talks and take part in a panel discussion. “I’ve appeared at a good number of comic conventions around the country and find the attendees’ passion heartening,” said Marc Tyler Nobleman, author of “picture book biographies of the creators of Superman and Batman (and) the heartbreaking stories behind them.”
“I reveal a true, tragic story about the dawn of superheroes, and like any good superhero story, it’s about the possibility of underdogs triumphing,” said the Bethesda-based author. He has found that “sharing this story with live audiences around the world … moves even those who could not care less about superheroes. I am sincere when I say anyone will benefit, so, come one, come all!”
Matthew Winner, a Howard County elementary library media specialist based in Ellicott City, has “attended a number of comic cons,” but said he is “especially looking forward to this one because it’s being hosted by the library.” He will talk “to elementary kids about the best new graphic novels and series for them. I plan to preview between 30 and 40 books for readers in grades kindergarten through six. And, of course, I’ll have a handout of all of the titles, so they can easily go with their families to a library branch to check them out.”
“Comics have the super power to make the most reluctant into readers and to transform the casual reader into a voracious devourer of books,” Winner said. “When families attend events like these, they get to be around like-minded individuals, share interests and connect with new faces through those interests, and learn how comics are made from the people who make them.”
Winner, cofounder of All The Wonders, a children’s literature website, and hosts its weekly podcast, and author of “Asha Went Walking,” a web comic for young readers, said that “the children who join me will love hearing about new books, but I’m also excited to be supporting parents who are looking for new titles to share with their children or who, honestly, are looking for a comics advocate to help them better understand the importance of comics and graphic novels in developing as a reader.”
Also on the schedule are two writing and publishing workshops by “Scattered World” sci-fi writer Don Sakers, a librarian with the Anne Arundel County Library system, and a panel discussion featuring Roye Okupe, writer of a graphic novel series; Aaron Emmel, author of comic books, interactive fiction, a historical fiction graphic novel and a science fiction gamebook series, and Melody Often, who colors, illustrates and creates comics.
MoComCon #2 is set for Saturday, Jan. 27, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Silver Spring Library, 900 Wayne Ave., Silver Spring. Admission is free. For more information, visit http://montgomerycountymd.gov/Library/programs/mocomcon/index.html.