November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Fabulous Fandom Fest That is LumaCON!

How often does a first-time event, pulled together by people who’ve never done anything like it, draw well over 1,500 people of all ages? Not very. But that’s what happened last January in Petaluma, Sonoma County, CA, when the first LumaCON! captivated the whole community.

What is LumaCON!, you ask? It’s a fandom festival celebrating comics, Star Wars, Star Trek, LARPing (live-action role playing), CosPlay (costume play), pop culture through crafts, YA lit, and a whole lot of enthusiastic self-expression. And if that’s not impressive enough, it was the brainchild of a diverse group of librarians from Petaluma City Schools and the Petaluma Regional Branch of the Sonoma County Library.

That same team of superheroes—Kate Keaton, children’s services librarian; Diana Spaulding, teen and adult services Librarian; Joseph Cochrane, branch manager/community librarian; Nathan Libecap, teacher-librarian; Connie Williams, teacher-librarian, and their eager teen panel—is doing it all over again.

It’s happening on Saturday, January 30, 2016, from 10am–4pm at Lucchesi Park in Petaluma, CA. Volunteer, donate, or join “artist alley” (deadline for the latter is December 4) at Lumacon.net.

Until then, the team gives us their insight on how a hunch that a local comic convention would be well received turned into a juggernaut.

The brains behind LumaCON! Left to right front: Amy Turko, Mike Watt, Nathan Libecap, Diana Spaulding, Kathy DeWeese. Left to right back: Joe Cochrane, Connie Williams, Kate Keaton

The LumaCON! Dream Team: Left to right front: Amy Turko, Mike Watt, Nathan Libecap, Diana Spaulding,
and Kathy DeWeese. Left to right back: Joe Cochrane, Connie Williams, and Kate Keaton

Q: What is it about comic books, anyway, that excites so many? 

A:  There used to be a much bigger stigma against comic books. Nathan’s mom always told him a story about how she had to hide “Archie” comics under her bed because her parents thought they would influence her to be a delinquent. The idea that reading comic books will keep students from reading literature is just an idea that has faded away. Any reading is good reading, and more often than not, reading comic books is more of a gateway to reading, rather than a place where students stagnate or plateau.

You can walk into any library now and find comics. Comic books are awesome for reluctant readers, second language acquisition, and creating excitement about reading in general. Having a comic book convention organized and sponsored by the libraries in town seemed like the perfect combination of public service and promotion.

Q: You’ve all said LumaCon! is about literacy. How so?

A: Literacy isn’t just reading anymore. It’s problem solving. It’s figuring out avenues to express yourself. It’s the ability to identify opportunities. Libraries are so much more than books now, but the old perception is still out there.

Libraries really are one of the last community spaces where people with different interests and needs gather, so it just made sense to make LumaCon! an expression of all the services and opportunities that our libraries offer. Even though our initial idea was to promote literacy, we quickly realized that the word literacy has such a layered meaning and that libraries really are one of the only places that support all these multiple literacies.

Q: Last year’s event not only centered on reading, but also showed kids and teens that creativity can be a profession. How did that happen?   

A: One of the ah-ha moments was the decision to really focus on making it an event celebrating youth creativity.

At the big conventions, it’s all about the professional artists. We came up with the idea to have a craft table where high school students would help younger kids make comic books or original superheroes or figurines made out of laundry pins. Another was the “Shadow an Artist” area where our student artists would be able to sit at a professional artist’s table for half an hour and talk about craft and just observe how a pro interacts with the public.

Once we started talking to local artists, word got out. We received commitments from amazing artists like Brian Fies, who won an Eisner, and Tom Yeates. And we also connected with the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Rancho Obi-Wan. We quickly found out that we were geographically surrounded by many creative people, and all it took to get participation was putting the idea out there.

Q: What do you remember most about the first LumaCON! And what can we look forward to at the second?

A: As any teacher-librarian or educator knows, you can plan all you want, but you never know how things will go until you do them. The first time you do anything, your goal is to just fail successfully. But we made a lot of decisions on the fly that ended up being really good. The best one was scrapping the idea of having a youth side of “artist alley” and a professional side. We ended up just putting them all in the same area, side by side, and both varieties of artists commented that it made the experience not only fun, but rejuvenating.

There was also the incredible feeling we got when people just kept coming and coming when we only expected 500 visitors.

At our next event, we’ll be doing even more, such as handing out library cards and inviting kids into their school libraries, helping them see them as places to enjoy. With one successful collaboration behind us, we’re excited to find even more ways to bring resources and reading together in events.

 

How they made it happen

Connie Williams shares the group’s steps to success.

We rented the largest building at the local fairgrounds for a discounted fee of $500, fronted by the Petaluma High School’s library pencil fund. The cool thing is that the fairgrounds are behind the public library, so it was a great fit. Little did we know that the largest building wouldn’t be big enough. We’ve reserved an even bigger space for 2016.

We started weekly team meetings early, 12 weeks out. We checked in on everyone’s progress with their appointed tasks, such as creating a simple website, drafting various code of conduct policies, liaising with the LARP group, orchestrating the crafts, and lining up school groups to sell refreshments.

We were proactive in reaching out to local press, offering press passes to reporters. They not only covered the event but published three articles in the two weeks prior.

We weren’t shy about asking for donations. And boy, did we get them! We received yarn, fabric, and more for our craft tables from folks happy to clean out their closets. The Petaluma Market made a big donation of food for the hospitality room where our artists and volunteers ate lunch.  While it was too late to apply for donations from the big box stores last year, we started that process earlier this time. We’ve already garnered support for 2016 from Friends of the Petaluma Library, Rotary Foundation of Petaluma, and Udon Publishers.

We did use our personal funds to purchase some needed items, such as banners. (Thanks to  our success, we were able to reimburse everyone and still have a starter fund for next year.)

We sussed out leads on artists at local comic shops and bookstores. We contacted local colleges as well.

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Christina Vercelletto About Christina Vercelletto

Christina Vercelletto is School Library Journal’s former news editor. An award-winning writer and editor, Vercelletto has held staff positions at Babytalk, Parenting, Scholastic Parent & Child, and NYMetroParents.com.

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