Cons are for Everyone!

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em.” Twelfth Night: Act 2 Scene 5

While some people decide to create their own comic con, I was drafted as chair of our Library Comic Con Committee, aka LibCon. Originating in another branch it was decided to hold it at two locations simultaneously with myself and another co-worker putting it all together. At our initial meeting we sat down for a brainstorming session and compiled everything we wanted to have at our Con and broke it down into three sections, “Must Have,” “Would Like to Have,” and “Back Up Plan” which essentially consisted of board games, movies, and anime if all else fell through. Over the years we have adjusted based on needs of the community, reception, trends, and in some cases people contacting us to participate.

Most of the items on the “Must Have” list have turned into featured events, ones we hold each year with patrons looking forward to their return. The majority of the programs are led by outside presenters to give the committee members and library staff time to set up for programs, check in with presenters, direct attendees, and make sure everything runs smoothly.

Local cosplay group with TARDIS

Must Haves: Things No Con Should Be Without

Video Game Tournament – Our first and second year we held a Super Smash Brothers Tournament on the Wii-U. Since game stores often have in-store tournaments we reached out to local stores in hopes of finding someone to run the tournament. Instead a coworker at another branch had a connection who was able to run it. Never forget to ask library staff, people often have hidden talents and connections! With the popularity of Fortnite, we thought we’d get more enthusiasm from holding a Fortnite Tournament (we were proven right as it become the most mentioned event when people saw flyers). Our previous contact wasn’t able to run this tournament, but they did refer us to a video game truck which parked in front of the library and was able to host the tournament and free up rooms inside. We have one tournament for children and another for teens/adults with winners for first and second place

Cosplay Workshop – This has varied over the years, but has been one of the few programs run by staff instead of an outside presenter. It has taken place in our art room as an hour long craft, and has also been a quick table craft held in our YA section. We have had Special FX Make-Up artists teach character make up, created adipose pillows from Doctor Who, crafted Monster Books from Harry Potter, and more. We have learned that sign-up for workshops and tournaments do not work, as people often sign up early in the day and go home before the workshop takes place. Instead we decided to limit the number of attendees and go by a “first come, first served” policy which has simplified things and ensured that we have people who show up.

Cosplay Contest – This is the highlight of our con! We started out by holding three different contests based on age: kid, teen, and adult. Due to low attendance by adults we quickly combined with the teen contest. Since it is challenging to choose a kid winner since they are all adorable (even the scary ones) we now have a Kids Cosplay Parade through the library culminating in a participation ribbon for everyone and a red carpet for photos. The Teen/Adult Cosplay Contest is where we give out our biggest prizes and is judged by local cosplayers (3) and a cosplay host, whose job is to announce each participant, who they’re portraying and provide fun banter with the cosplayers and judges to keep it entertaining for everyone. We have a first, second and third place winner decided upon by our judges. Judges have held up score cards some years and other years had a score sheet to fill out. First place winner receives 2 donated tickets to the big comic con in the area, while second and third place receive gift cards and prize packages put together from items donated to us by local organizations and comic book companies.

Local Author & Artist

Comic Book Workshop – We have an art Studio in our library with monthly art classes and we were able to use those preexisting relationships with artists to have them teach classes on drawing comic book style characters. The class is intended for all ages so that the whole family can participate, which is the goal of our Con. This is also a class where we have a cap on attendees and make it clear that space is limited. I highly recommend having multiple art classes if space is available; they have proven extremely popular in our community. We have increasingly added more art programs including: a Digital Art Workshop led by a local digital artist, Chalk Art/Street Art contest led by professional artists who set up grids, judge the contest, draw superheroes for kids to color in, and create promotional artwork in front of the library to showcase the event.

Kids Crafts – Every year we have had a unifying theme to go with our Con, and base our craft on that theme (Star Wars, Avengers, etc.). Crafts are in the kid’s room and supervised by teen volunteers who help clean up and resupply as needed. We typically have 4-6 crafts to make sure there’s variety, and to keep them from finishing too fast. This guarantees there is always something for kids going on, and if kids are unable to finish crafts in the library we give them a take home bag.

Green Screen Photos – We have a recording studio complete with green screen room and are able to use this space to take green screen photos that are e-mailed to attendees. The green screen room and emails are an extra feature, and instead a backdrop for taking photos could be used with attendees using their own phones as cameras. At our last LibCon we had both an Instagram photo booth for people to take pictures in for social media (complete with hashtags), and an “action figure box” where people could pose as if they were action figures in a toy box, this was an especially popular addition to our Con.

Vendors – Based on what we saw at other Cons, we wanted to have vendor tables with vendors selling items throughout the event. Our first year we put vendors in our community room close to the front door, and most sold very little, with the exception being a local comic book writer/artist. We also had a local food truck selling hot dogs that received little attention, other than from staff. We deemed it a failure and in our second year eliminated vendors, replacing them with booths for our presenters. The presenters received booths in exchange for teaching a class or contributing to an event such as an Author Panel or Cosplay Workshop. During preparation for our third LibCon, we were contacted by a vendor wanting to sell small Lego figures and themed lanyards for affordable prices. We let him know our previous attempt for vendors met with little success, but we were willing to try again if he was interested. We added him to our line of cosplayers, authors, and presenter booths, placing him in the front since he was an official vendor. The booth ended up doing extremely well, making the event worth his time.

The items on our “Would Like to Have” list turned out to be hit or miss. Each year we have learned from the previous year what does and does not work in the community. We have put a white board up in the middle of the Con with a sign that reads “what would you like to see next year?” to directly get feedback from the attendees.

Vendor Room

Would Like to Have: Flesh Out That Con!

Panels – We have tested different panels over the years and received feedback from the other library branch holding their own Con with the same result: low attendance. We have held author panels and Cosplay panels featuring amazing panelists and led by fantastic moderators asking questions and guiding the discussion, still attendance has been minimal. We realized that people prefer to do active things at a library Con, and sitting down to listen to people, even when given the chance to ask questions, is not of interest. The exception might be if a Con had well-known people on their panels, but in that case it might be best to have them as guest speakers instead and focus on each person individually.

Cosplayers – Tampa and the surrounding area has some amazing cosplaying groups! Many of them are non-profit organizations that particularly love working with kids. These groups feature members with amazingly detailed costumes who are great at being in character. This goes hand in hand with the photo area(s) to have these cosplayers take photos with kids as well as answer questions on costumes. As previously mentioned, we have had them assist with our Cosplay contest as both judges and host since they are the cosplay experts. You can find a lot of these groups through local facebook pages as well as looking at local cons to see what special guests have participated.

Face Painting – We did not have any face painting during out first year, and we were asked about it. A lot. Our second year we had one face painter and one balloon artist during the morning, which is our designated kids event time period, while we feature mainly teen/adult events in the afternoon. Face painting was enormously popular with a huge line, while balloon twisting took longer than expected and ate up time. Most recently we had two airbrush face painters who each had different preset templates that the kids could choose from, which kept both lines moving.

Food Trucks – Our first food truck attempt received little attention from attendees. We tried again with a truck local to the area which sold hot dogs and meal combos as well as snow cones. We wanted to offer food on site so that people didn’t feel the need to leave, and would be able to stay all day, particularly since there’s no nearby food options. The second food truck did receive more attention from attendees. This is definitely optional depending on location.

TableTop Games – This can be as regulated or unregulated as the situation calls for. We have had board games out for free play, as well as official competitions such as Magic The Gathering complete with prizes for first place winner. It has worked best for us with a mix of both, so that everyone can play, but serious gamers can compete.

Superhero Story Time – The official hours of our Con are from 11am to 5pm, though the library opens at 10am. This gives us time to do last minute preparations, and give our presenters time to set up. Since we know that people will be coming in for the Con as SOON as it opens we have a precon kids activity of a short 30 minute themed story time at 10:30, immediately followed by the face painting. The kid’s crafts are also the first activity stations that we set up in the morning, making sure we always have something to occupy the kids.

Cons for Everyone

Each year we have worked to build upon the previous year and attendance has gone up from less than 400 in our first year to almost 800 in our third year. We listen to the public and adjust accordingly to what they want, because after all, the comic con is not for us, but for the community. Make sure you’re providing for your community and giving them an event that they want to attend, if you do that, you’re sure to have a successful event.