Why hold a Comic Con?
This is a great opportunity to highlight library and community resources and to bring new people into the library. A successful comic con is more than just the number of attendees. Think about what you hope to accomplish with your con and what measures you will use to gauge its success. Hopefully, your event will attract a range of people, including those who are not your usual library users, as well as people and organizations that you can partner with for future programs. Is there a particular age group or community that you would like to better serve?
Find out how comic cons in the real world operate! Try attending a local comic con or talking to your comics fans. Not only will it give you good insight into how to organize your con, but it will help you learn what your community wants out of your con. Reach out to other libraries that have planned a con to learn from their experiences - positive and negative.
Get staff buy-in
The day of your con is going to be challenging for anyone involved - staff who are working the event or staff who just happen to be working a normal day at the library. Make sure to keep lines of communication open and give staff the tools they need for a successful con. Poll your staff about special interests or skills that they would like to contribute to the event.
Find local partners
We were lucky during our first year to get connected with one of the organizers of Annapolis Comic Con. He helped promote our con with vendors and many of our contacts came through him. If you aren’t lucky enough to have this contact, reach out to local stores: comic stores, game stores, Hot Topic, bookstores - anyone who is even remotely connected to the world of comics. Invite them to participate and see if they can help promote the event. They might even have contacts for presenters!
Don’t be afraid to look out of the box for partners, too. Publishers, your local schools, summer camp organizers, local colleges or your community college, education-focused non-profits, or any of your existing partnerships might have something to bring to the table. Last year, we invited CyberNinjaz, a local summer camp and technology based group, to have a vendor table and they brought virtual reality - it was awesome!
What will we do all day?
You don’t need a huge budget in order to have activities that will appeal to a wide range of people. Inexpensive crafts were surprisingly popular at our first event. Drawing and cosplay programs have been very successful and there is usually someone in the community who is willing to lead a program for free or for a small fee. Vendors, such as authors, publishers, and comic book stores, are usually happy to be able to reach a new audience.
A costume contest a great way to involve people from all age ranges. We went with a costume, rather than cosplay, contest, because we were concerned about the time needed to judge a cosplay contest. We had three age ranges and prizes were donated. Think about costume restrictions, if any (for example, the types of weapons that will be permitted, if any, and whether you will have a family-friendly requirement,) and advertise your policy well ahead of the event. A costume parade prior to the announcement of the winners allows everyone to show off their costumes and is a great way to herd everyone into one place.
Pick a focus
Having a general theme will help you organize your con and avoid getting overwhelmed by all the possibilities. We focused on literacy in in 2016 and diversity in 2017. Once we had a focus, we were able to narrow our plans to support that theme. You could also use a general theme that your library is using, for example, for summer reading.
Know when to say “NO!”
Brainstorming and enthusiasm are great, but at some point you have to limit and define the event--this is where having a focus and general library policies (as well as a tape measure) helps. Think about what you can comfortably fit with the time, staff, and space available. There is nothing wrong with saving an idea for next year.
Logistics and highlighting your library
Think about ways to make the library an easy place to visit and navigate. A printed schedule for the event, including a map of the library, is very helpful. Keep in mind that some attendees may not be regular library users. They may be unfamiliar with both your building as well as how a library works. Have plenty of clear signage and make sure staff are available on the floor to give directions.
How will people get to your event? Are you near public transportation or do you have sufficient parking nearby? This year we also tried to make it easy for people to stay for the day by bringing in food trucks.
Show off your library resources with displays that relate to your theme. This is a chance to show off all the resources that the library has to offer. Keep extra materials for refilling the displays nearby so that staff can easily restock them. If you have giveaways, make sure that it is clear which materials are free and which materials need to be checked out with a library card.
You may also have regular library customers that day who are not interested in the comic con. Decide how much of the library will be used for the comic con and what, if any, accommodations you will make for regular library users.
Have a plan for promoting your event. Posters and flyers in the library will attract current library users. Use your community partnerships and social media to promote the event to other groups. You can also spread the word about your con at lead-up programs, such as movies, free comic book days, crafts and create your own comic programs.
Enjoy the day
Dressing up for your theme is a great way for staff to get into the spirit of the event. Make sure to wear comfortable clothing that is still appropriate for working in your library. You may also want to have water and snacks available for staff.
Despite all your best efforts, there will be some things that don’t go as planned. Try not to worry too much about these things--remember that this is a fun day to connect with your community. It helps to have at least one person who is in charge of dealing with issues as they arise.
Regroup and evaluate
After your con take some time to assess the event. Survey the staff and partners who participated in the event to get their impressions, and collect customer feedback. This isn’t just a what worked/what didn’t exercise. What are the unexpected things?
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Kt Zawodny works hard to tell everyone how awesome the library is as the Outreach Librarian for Anne Arundel County Public Library. She, along with Judy and other AACPL staff members, helped organize the first ever AACPL Comic Con in 2016 and the second in 2017.
Judy Poyer is currently a Collection Development Librarian for Anne Arundel County Public Library where her duties include selecting graphic novels for all ages. She was previously a Librarian II at the Odenton branch of AACPL.