Published on September 21st, 2015 | by Sean McGrath
We LCC’d, (Library Comic Con’d) and You Can, Too!
This past May, The GeekERIE held its first annual Erie Library Comic Con (ELCC) in partnership with the Erie County Public Library to great success! It was a small affair (when compared to the scale of Cons like Sand Diego and New York City), but for Year One it was better than could have hoped for (I believe the final number was somewhere around 600 unique visitors). Of course, next year, we intend to be bigger and get even more Erieites to come and see how cool the library is!
And the library is a cool place, right? I know, I know: I’m preaching to the check-out desk here. It’s opening that reality up to the community that’s a bit more challenging, but you know it’s the right thing to do. A Library Comic Con is an excellent way to draw in the most unexpected crowds of people. With the proliferation of superhero movies (even non-superhero-yet-base-on-graphic-novels movies such as From Hell, Kingsman: The Secret Service, 300, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, 30 Days of Night, to namedrop a few) and the board game Renaissance that has exploded across crowdfunding sites and retail stores, there are a surprising number of Geeks out there whose faces you may know, but whose hobbies you don’t.
So, how do you make a Library Comic Con that will appeal to the widest array of people? Well, let me tell you what we did!
MEET PEOPLE and THEIR PASSIONS
I should say here that I’m not a librarian nor in any official way am I affiliated with the Erie County Public Library (in terms of working there). In fact, the library found me courtesy of Outreach wizards, Marcy Hall and Erin McCracken, because I had been doing Geek-based events in the Erie community, and my passion for literacy gelled perfectly with the library’s mission of literacy (obvious enough, right?). After an initial program (Automatic Comics), Marcy asked me what I wanted to do next, to which I replied with hesitation, “A Comic Con.” She smiled and nodded and let me do my thing to pull ELCC together, which sometimes meant telling me to lay off the coffee when I would get upset that publishing houses like First Second weren’t returning my emails within 15 minutes of my sending them.
Finding clever people with clever ideas (or being open to their finding you) is of the utmost importance, and probably the easiest thing to do. We Geeks are super-passionate about our pastimes and are more than happy to share those passions with anyone and everyone, which is exactly what an LCC needs. Two of our events –Comic Book Jeopardy! and The William Castle Experience– happened because I asked. Doug Phillips of Books Galore –Erie’s LCS (Local Comics Store)– had always wanted to do a Comic Book Jeopardy! game, so when I asked him how he wanted to participate, he eagerly volunteered to put the event together. The William Castle Experience was Slaughter Films’ contribution, and the guys brought their A Game! Random chairs were fitted with haptic devices so during the screening of The Tingler, audience members would get “shocked”, just as William Castle had intended (but without the car battery since this is 2015).
What to remember: get out and meet people who you think would want to participate, and remember to invite everyone back next year!
THE HIGH COST of GEEKING
Not paying him was never an option. If you’re going to use an artist’s work to promote your event, that artist deserves remuneration. Be sure that the artist’s name in public and in every press release you can. “Exposure” may be an empty promise I lieu of payment, but nothing says you shouldn’t do both. In fact, you should do both.
How do we pay for everything? I hear you ask. The answers are: there should be very little to pay for, and check with the library boosters’ club. ELCC was given money by The Friends of the Library, and I spent all of $120 to make the Con happen (I bought art supplies for the Comic Book 101 – 103 classes, had posters printed, and paid Mark for his poster work). I believe there were also administrative costs for extra staffing, but that was covered by The Friends’ donation. An LCC –especially one just starting out– doesn’t have to compete with the big dogs to be considered successful.
Since this was our first year, all the vendors got tables for free. It seemed unneighborly to ask for a table fee when we weren’t sure who –if anyone- would show up! Maybe at some time in the future when can guarantee a crowd at the Con, we’ll talk about a nominal payment, but this year was not that time.
WHAT to DO for FUN
If you’ve ever been to a large-scale Con, you know there are an overwhelming number of choices of what to do and what to see while you’re there. Choices are important to a successful Con, and making a good faith try to appeal to all ages and interests is important. “All ages” is key. You don’t want to exclude adults by having activities that are all for kids, but you don’t want kids to think the library is boring because there’s nothing for them to do during what will probably be the biggest event of the year. Remember, above all else, an LCC is about bringing people to the library and convincing them to keep coming back; it’s about community and education. It’s about creating literacy. Make your LCC exciting!
Following the pros’ pattern, I divided up the schedule between EVENTS, ACTIVITIES, VENDORS and PANELS:
|Comic Book Jeopardy!The William Castle Experience
|Warhammer 40,000 TournamentGaming Demos: Dice Masters and Sentinels of the Multiverse
Comic Book 101 – Designing a Character
Comic Book 102 – Writing a Story
Comic Book 103 – Laying-out a Page
|The GeekERIEAction Toyman||Quickstarter, Your Dreams and the Local Economy with Kris Wheaton – Local Kickstarter Boss talks about making games and comics, and keeping production local while crowdfunding from all over.Mord McGhee and Chet Gottfried of Tatersquatch Press read from their latest YA novels!
Positivity in Comics Fandom with The Multiverse of Awesome – Why are fans so negative? Who cares! Let’s talk about what we love!
As you can see, the categories aren’t crazy packed, and each offers several selections for attendees. The least attended category was the panels. I’m not sure why. Every speaker had important topics and ideas to present, and were knowledgeable in their fields. It may have been that no panelist was a “personality” or that the library was so crowded that no one heard the announcements when the panels were starting. Whichever the case was, I am not discouraged from having more panels again next year.
Parents and kids alike loved Comic Book 101 – 103. Each class was run twice to give interested attendees the chance to learn to draw characters create stories, and then commit them to paper. Each session was full. It was not only lone artists who participated; kids and parents worked together as teams, which, I was told, was the most fun activity they’d done in a long time. The joy and enthusiasm I saw when I walked past the classes was heartening. This is why ELCC was a success to me, beyond any other measure of success.
Finally, two words: Encourage cosplay!
LET the PEOPLE KNOW!!!
Creating a Facebook event and posting it to friends’ walls and local Geek groups and, of course, the library’s wall, seemed to be advertising method that got the most traction of getting the news out to Erieites. We put posters up in all the local book stores and game shops, plus the Erie School District has an excellently streamlined protocol for distributing posters to all the schools (K – 12) under their purview. Twitter didn’t have the same impact that Facebook did, but it did lead to several interviews and newspaper articles.
Also, it’s important to know that posting about an LCC once is not enough. I don’t understand the mechanism of viral sensations at all, but chances are your one tweet is not going to circle the Internet three times before lunch. Announcements have to be deliberate and frequent, though not so frequent as to put people off. Again, I don’t know the magic behind this balancing act, but I’m assured that it exists. If you learn the trick, please let me know.
DONATEDTIME and SUNDRIES
Erie County Public Library and The GeekERIE both being non-profits (and the latter being in its infancy), we relied on the generosity of local companies to round out the event.
ELCC had four raffles: a basket of toys designed and donated by Action Toyman; six months of Lootcrate and a 50/50 offered by The GeekERIE; and book baskets that were filled with donations from First Second, Disney, Barnes & Noble, and David Berger. The winners were all thrilled by their prizes and they cost nothing except immense gratitude and promises of baked goods.
The most unexpected donation came from Lamar Billboards, who advertised ELCC fro a full month on several digital billboards around the county.
I’m still trying to figure out how to sufficiently thank them for this.
A Con is not something anyone can plan for and execute in a month’s time, unless you’re some sort of sorcerer. I started planning and calling and organizing in December, and ELCC wasn’t until May. I don’t know how I could have done it in less time than that. If your library has a person who can pull major events together in a short amount of time, take full advantage of that person because he or she is a resource not everyone has access to. Give yourself the lead time you need to make everything happen.
PRUNING WHEN NECESSARY
Unfortunately, due to time and space constrictions (that were not the library’s fault at all), we were unable to hold Hero Prom, Manos: The Hands of Felt (and believe me, I felt that loss!) and Lovecraft Live: Pickman’s Model. At the time I realized they had to be cut, I was very upset because I didn’t want a single piece to be moved out of place from the schedule, let along canceling events full-stop. However, when I look back now, I realize that these events were cutting into the (limited) time in which I had to do everything else.
Which brings me to my next point:
ASKING for HELP
I’m terrible at delegating. I was asked by several people, “What can I do to help?” to which my response was always, “Nothing. I got it.” For people like me, a better question to ask us is, “Can I do ______?” or “I came up with an idea: ___________! Can I chase that down?” More than likely (since we want the Cons to be successful and appealing to he widest array of participants possible), the answer will be “Yes!” If I’ve taken any lesson away from planning ELCC, it’s that a Library Comic Con is a community event, and one person doing everything isn’t a community.
Don’t be a Sean; when someone volunteers to help, let them. Just check in every so often to see how things are progressing; “Trust, but verify”.
There was so much feedback from the ELCC attendees that I feel quite confident we can expand programming at a continuous rate for the next few years. Beyond programming and activities, I am determined to add two features to ELCC 2016: local food trucks to park outside the library and vend concessions, and badges for attendees to wear (just like the Big Cons). As for everything else… well, you’ll have to visit us at TheGeekERIE.org to see what we’ll do.
HOW about YOU?
Are you ready to LCC?