“It’s a different way to engage our customers” – Chicago Tribune
The first year the Oak Lawn Public Library held its Fan Fest pop culture celebration in 2015, the event drew nearly 1,000 people. It only gained popularity in subsequent years.
After a slow year in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the library attempted to hold the festival in a virtual format last year. Jenny Bean, head of the library’s technical services department who also heads the Fan Fest committee, said there was enthusiastic turnout, but it wasn’t quite the same.
“It’s more of an in-person program where you can come and meet the vendors and participate in one of our panels,” Bean said.
When planners started thinking about bringing Fan Fest back in person in 2022, Bean said they first reached out to vendors in December to see if they would be ready. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“They’re so excited, because they couldn’t attend any of the other comic book conventions,” Bean said. “We are hearing even more enthusiasm on our social networks.”
Fan Fest is set to return from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. The celebration of pop culture, free for all ages, coincides with Free Comic Book Day.
On that day, the library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave., will feature local artists, shops and vendors. Fan Fest also includes a cosplay contest, photo booth, crafts, prizes, and a 4 p.m. performance by Tricky Mickey, a Comedy Clubhouse improv band.
Event panels include Intro to Dungeons and Dragons, Page One to Page Done: How to Create a Comic or Graphic Novel, An Author’s Journey: From Dream to Reality, and The South Suburbs Ghostbusters Presents: A Brief History of How We Laugh at Our fears. The panels are led by local talent.
The 501st Legion, which bears high-quality replicas of Star Wars villains, is also set to make an appearance. And the library is planning an after-hours pop culture quiz at 6 p.m.
Registration is at cal.olpl.org and information at olpl.org/fanfest.
Bean, who worked in libraries for 11 years, said consumption of graphic novels has increased over that time. Seeing how popular comic book conventions had become, the library started hosting Fan Fest to give patrons a free event near them.
“Comics have been around for a very long time, but it was kind of taboo to read them,” Bean said. “Over time, we’ve learned a lot about how it’s easier for younger and even older customers to read a comic or graphic novel because it holds their attention. They read the words , but also look at the pictures. It’s a different way to engage our customers.
Drawing on comics and popular culture has become increasingly common for southern suburban libraries in recent years. This week alone, Blue Island Public Library and others celebrated Star Wars Day on May 4th. And the Moraine Valley Community College Graphic Novels Symposium was scheduled for May 2-5.
White Oak Library Lockport branch manager Evangeline Stephenson said when she started at the libraries 12 years ago, these types of events weren’t regular occurrences. Pop culture wasn’t on anyone’s radar. Whether it’s TV, Marvel movies, internet fandom or anything else, pop culture is definitely on the radar of libraries now, she said. The Lockport branch moved things around to make more space for its graphic novel collection just a few years ago, and that space is already nearly filled, Stephenson said.
“It just exploded,” she said. “The way libraries can get involved and provide that content to our customers, that seems like the natural progression of things.”
White Oak Library Lockport Branch’s popular Comicopolis, held in conjunction with the City of Lockport’s Summer Art Series as well as Amazing Fantasy Books and Comics, returns July 23. when last held in its indoor/outdoor format in 2019 at 121 E. 8th St. in downtown Lockport.
Comicopolis had a similar trajectory to Fan Fest. It was launched in 2015, attracting nearly 1,000 people. It built steam through 2019, expanding in 2017 to parking and street space, eventually tripling its performers and vendors. But Comicopolis took a break in 2020 and 2021 during the pandemic before preparing for its return in 2022.
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“Everyone is excited,” Stephenson said. “The entire building is taken over that day. There is no regular library activity that can really happen. Anyone can come on this day to check out books, but most people – if they don’t realize the event is happening – they come and participate in the event because it’s so much fun. There is this atmosphere. »
Comicopolis features comic book creators and sellers, about half of whom are local, according to Stephenson. Forty artists have already confirmed their participation in this year’s event, with nearly three months to go.
“We’re definitely stocking up,” Stephenson said. “There will be plenty for everyone.”
Comicopolis also includes crafting and face painting. Zombie Army Productions should participate. A DeLorean will be there that day. The library is still distributing gift bags to the first 500 customers. And Mr. Salty and Lil Deb’s food trucks will have food for sale.
“There’s such a variety of activities going on that day that there’s something for everyone,” Stephenson said.
Information is at whiteoaklibrary.org/Comicopolis.
Bill Jones is a freelance journalist for the Daily Southtown.