November 22, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Library “Avengers Day” Draws Cosplaying Superheroes of All Ages

Avengers_outside

The Boston Super Heroes group and younger heroes strike a pose on the steps of the Brookline (MA) Public Library. Photo by Robin Brenner

When the 2015 summer reading theme, “Every Hero Has a Story,” was announced by the Collaborative Summer Library Program, the comics and superhero aspect of my geek side immediately engaged. However, having just spent months planning every detail for our fourth annual Tee Off @ the Library event, in which we transformed the library into a mini golf course, my colleagues and I was hoping for dynamic program that wouldn’t require quite as much detailed planning.

As a librarian who takes any chance to dress up in a costume, and knowing how much fun our younger patrons had at a previous superhero-themed event, I wondered how we might level up in featuring costumed superheroes.

Avengers_storm

X-Men member Storm (Aisha Beauchemin) and friends. Photo by Stacey Beshers

Many librarians have taken advantage of visits from the 501st Legion and Rebel Alliance, the dedicated charity and volunteer organizations whose members bring the Star Wars universe of characters to life. Was there a similar group out there for superhero cosplayers?

I reached out to an in-state colleague Sarah Hodge-Wetherbe, my go-to librarian when it comes to making connections with local cosplayers and convention organizers. Sarah promptly put me in touch with her friend, Anthony Ferranti, who was finalizing the organization of a group of cosplayers into an official charity volunteer organization, Boston Super Heroes. Despite only just beginning to appear at events, Anthony immediately offered up the group’s services. From my past experiences at conventions, I knew cosplayers at this level were committed to representing characters and were used to interacting with children wowed by their appearance. As a charity, the group charges no fees, and only requested rooms to change in and prepare. I was amazed at my luck in reaching out at just the right moment, but admittedly also a little nervous since this would be the first major event the group was presenting.

planning

Agengers_Loki

Loki (Luisa Earle) is up to no good, stealing Captain America’s shield and uniform. Photo by Faith D’Isa

As we started planning, there were a few decisions to make, including which characters to request? With over 700 members on call, the Boston Super Heroes are a flexible bunch in populating your event with requested characters. Given their enormous popularity, we decided to focus on Marvel’s Avengers and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the theme decided, we hit a scheduling snag: the hall where we host most large events was already booked for all of our potential dates. Thinking outside the box, we asked our director whether it would be possible to simply have the heroes wander the entire library so that patrons might meet them. She readily agreed, and while we anticipated complaints about the disruption to business as usual, we hoped that positioning the heroes throughout the building would keep the hullaballoo to a dull roar.

Avengers_spidey

Spider-Man (Peter Vann) works the crowd. Photo by Robin Brenner

Anthony posed a question I hadn’t expected: Did we simply want people in costumes, or were we looking for people who closely resembled the characters? I’ve always appreciated that at conventions, cosplayers encourage each other to dress as whatever hero they want, and not worry about whether or not their own appearance matches the original in body type. However, after talking with our Children’s Department staff, and realizing that younger kids would think they were meeting their actual heroes, we ended up requesting people who resembled the characters. I aimed to work with the Boston Super Heroes to achieve as diverse an array of characters as possible.

When I originally imagined this event, I figured we’d only have a few costumed heroes. I pictured giving unsuspecting patrons a kick in seeing Captain America check out our new biographies. Then Anthony sent out word to the group, and in a matter of hours over 20 costumed heroes had signed up to participate, all committing to different characters to make sure there were no duplicates.

Before the day, the cosplayers and I collaborated on the details of how the event would work. I knew we wanted to host a scavenger hunt, but instead of finding clues, the group members suggested posting the cosplayers throughout the building and sending the younger kids on a quest to find characters who fit different descriptions. I provided stamps for the cosplayers to carry with them, and they stamped each attendee’s scavenger hunt sheet to confirm they had met. This activity encouraged the kids to meet and talk to all of the cosplayers, and made approaching them less intimidating. For our older participants, we offered a 20-question trivia challenge quizzing attendees about Marvel comics and character facts, such as what S.H.I.E.L.D. originally stood for, and who is one of the only heroes to win fights with Thanos, Deadpool, and Iron Man.

Setting up

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Captain America (Sean Derr) finds the previously missing Avengers team member Thor among the crowd. Photo by Stacey Beshers

 

The cosplayers’ enthusiasm for every detail of the event was amazing. Members of the group offered to bring in props for the children to interact with, including the Infinity Gauntlet and Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. As the roster of heroes was confirmed, they came up with a backstory for why certain heroes weren’t present. For example, when our Thor had to regretfully drop out, everyone noted that obviously it was because Thor was in Asgard. Star-Lord, Groot, and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy were all present, but we didn’t have either Drax or Rocket.  Everyone agreed that this was because Rocket was mistakenly being held at a local zoo, and couldn’t make it to the library; but he and Drax were working on their escape.

Using our button maker, I designed buttons with comics art, so that attendees could win ones that represented all of the characters they’d met during the event. Our children’s department staff organized a mask making craft to entice our youngest attendees.

About a month away from the event, we started advertising. We sent out messages on our usual social media networks, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. The Boston Super Heroes used their networks to help spread the word online. We put flyers everywhere, including in all of our reserve requests. We also tried a new way to draw attention to the event and used liquid chalk markers on the glass surrounding our main staircase, asking fans to answer superhero-related questions. Eager fans delighted in picking out what their superpower would be, or which superheroine was their favorite. Buzz began to build in the community, especially among families.

A Scavenger hunt and a trivia challenge

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Tony Stark (Anthony Ferranti) greets his public. Photo by Stacey Beshers

An hour before the event began, our heroes arrived. A few showed up already in costume, but most arrived with their costumes and props under wraps. I led everyone up to our conference room, which we’d set aside as the prep room, and we brought out our one major expense for the day: bottles of water and platters of energizing snacks. The atmosphere was festive as the cosplayers adjusted their costumes and touched up their makeup.

We set up the main station for the scavenger hunt and trivia challenge right across from our front entrance. All attendees were directed there first to pick up their sheets and hear the basic instructions: find all the heroes they could, get their sheets stamped, and when they were done come back to the table, take a crack at lifting Thor’s hammer, and collect their prize button.

As soon as the heroes descended to our main floor, crowds—from five-year-olds to our senior citizens—began flocking to meet them. Spider-Man crept all over the library and popped up on top of book shelves. Loki greeted fans by ordering them to kneel before her, much to the kids’ excitement; and Star-Lord was always at the ready for a dance-off. One young man believed the story about Rocket so sincerely that he asked earnestly if he needed to head to the zoo to help Rocket escape. At the end of the scavenger hunt, the heroes encouraged each child to try lifting Thor’s hammer, demonstrating how each of them couldn’t make it budge. The acting and dedication from the Boston Super Heroes made everyone’s day.

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Captain America (Sean Derr) and Peggy Carter (Kelsey Young) chat with a young hero. Photo by Robin Brenner

The noise level went up almost immediately, but we only had a few complaints, and these were
outweighed by the many patrons who grinned from ear to ear and complimented us on the day. Parents
told me how amazing this group was, commenting on how they delighted the kids by staying completely in character at every turn.

Over the course of the day, over 250 patrons attended. My original plan for a few heroes in the library had blossomed into a memory to cherish for attendees and staff alike. I could never have pulled it off without the dedication, charm, and professionalism of the Boston Super Heroes group.


Robin Brenner is teen librarian at the Brookline (MA) Public Library, an active member of YALSA, and editor-in-chief of “No Flying No Tights.”

      Tips to make your Superhero event smoothly:

  • Water and snacks!  Even the mightiest heroes will droop after a few hours of being essentially on stage, so make sure that everyone has enough refreshments, from bottles of water to trays of fruit and veggies and cheese and crackers.
  • Allow costumed characters a private room where they can store supplies, fix makeup, and take breaks. Given that some costumes are hot or awkward to wear for an extended period of time, as with Spider-Man or Groot, the cosplayers need a private space to adjust costumes and cool off.
  • Do a walk through the event space with the cosplayers ahead of time so that they will have a sense of where they should be, where not to go, and whether there are any limits on crowd control on tighter spaces.
  • Recruit volunteers to help coordinate the cosplayers. These less visible members of the team help direct heroes to circulate and ensure everyone takes the necessary breaks during a long event. Learning from our experience, the Boston Super Heroes group now has a subset of volunteers to act as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, or helpers, at future events.
  • Structure the event so that attendees are encouraged to interact with the characters in a low-key way. Younger children may get a little freaked out at first, but as long as the heroes stay calm and know when to back off, as this group did, kids will calm down, and then relish the opportunity to talk to a hero.
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