HAVERSTRAW KINGS DAUGHTERS’ LIBRARY SPENDS A DAY VISITING THE WORLDS OF FANTASY AND SCI FI

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By Keith S. Shikowitz

Recent years has seen the rise of comic conventions spreading all around the country. Last year the Haverstraw King’s Daughters’ Library joined the fray. August 3, 2019 saw the second of what is going to become an annual event, King Con.

Cathy Campos, Adult Services Program Coordinator, who has been with the library for eighteen years said, “We’ve been thinking about this for six or seven years, maybe longer. We wanted to come up with something that would attract people who would not normally come to the library. We wanted to get that age group that doesn’t come.”

Putting an event like this together takes a lot of work. It is not a task that one person can do. “We finally got together and we got staff who were willing to work with us. We do it by committee. Even though we’re the people in charge of the programming. We do it as a committee of five people.”

“I mean that Science fiction most people read science fiction seem to buy their books. They don’t seem to come to libraries. This is the perfect place. Now we have graphic novels. We want them to know that this is their place too and they can come and get what they like. We wanted to reach out to everybody. Let’s be honest. It’s now in the culture. Ten years ago, you rarely heard about comic cons outside of a certain group of people. We just needed to get the right people in to help us and it works.” she added

It does work. middle school students Angelina Babli, Natalie Karabetsos and Ashley Ely volunteered at this event. Babli said, “I am volunteering for the library and for the National Junior Honors Society”

Karabetsos added, “I’m volunteering for the hell of it. I was here last year. I enjoyed it so I decided to do it again.” Ely echoed Karabetsos’ sentiment putting in, “It was a lot of fun last year.”

When asked about their interests outside of volunteering at the event, Karabetsos responded, “Sci fi. I came here to express my fandom.” Babli stated, “I like comics, DC and Marvel especially the new Spiderman.”

Ely came here to express her fandom. “Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon.” Karabetsos smiled at her and she added, “She kind of dragged me here.”

Conventions like this always have a variety of programming. Many times, writers from the genre come to them to promote their books to the fans they know will buy them. “We always try to get something to do with writing. Last year we had How to write and get published. This year we did specular fiction.”

Emily Dowie and Jessica Gordon were attending representing the Library Association of Rockland County (LARC) funded program called Scrawl Rockland Teens Write. Gordon explained the program. “It is a county project. It’s for teens from middle school through high school. Grades 6 – 12 in Rockland County. The program began with the LARC teen division.”

“We were looking for a new project to ask LARC to fund. In the past we have had other events that had varying degrees of success. We decided we wanted to do something new.” Gordon said. It started with a couple of previous chairs of the section. Since then it’s kind of grown. Last year we actually had the most submissions. The most kids who ended up in the book since the beginning. It’s just grown.”

According to Gordon, they can submit writings or submit art. The winners end up in a book which ends up in all of the libraries in Rockland County. It’s up to the libraries as to how they want to deal with that. Most of them have them up for circulation.

Dowie expressed her feelings about the importance of this program to the county. “It’s also really important to the libraries in Rockland County. We have beautiful libraries and libraries are so important right now because it’s access for all.”

Many times, programs like this only last as long as the people who began them maintain their involvement with them. Gordon and Dowie would like to see this program continue for as long as LARC is willing and able to fund it.

Superheroes give people, especially young people someone to look up to and want to emulate. One of the ways people emulate these heroes is to dress up as their favorite character. Generally, they choose one that is of the same gender. Giana Agri is one who decided to not follow that pattern. She chose to dress up as Thor (Norse God of Thunder). “Usually I would be a DC fan. I like any type of character who is invincible, who can’t be killed. My favorite character who is a parallel to that is Wonder Woman. I felt that the best person parallel to that in Marvel would be Thor. Of course, I’m a gender bent Thor. He’s a dude. I’m not. Obviously. It’s pretty cool. I thought people would enjoy my interpretation of that. I thought it would be cool to do and brought it here. It’s nice. It’s a fun time.”

She first heard about this con last year when she was a senior in high school back then it wasn’t very big. It was their first year doing it. “I thought I should do a table. I was in the art program. I started doing 3D over time. It slowly became a hobby. I started making costumes. I started doing shoots and stuff like that. I think that’s how it progressed. It all started with the high school programs.”

Narciscus Key created a Superman costume for his homage. Why did he choose Superman? “I was sitting at home one day. I was going over an older costume I had. Something I had bought and put together. I made the superman emblem. I was like, this is cool and all. I just wanted to make a costume. I drew it up on my couch one day. A week later I had this.” As he pointed to the one he was wearing.

Key summed up the best part of these types of events and why people enjoy participating in them so much. “I love dressing up and when the little kids see you and smile, that’s the best part of it.”

Some of the little kids Key was talking about were Andrew (Spiderman) and James (Black Panther) McIntyre, who were accompanied by their mother Kim. “My sons and husband are obsessed with Marvel and they wanted to come dressed up as their favorite heroes so, we’re here. This is our first year here.”

Sometimes you can’t get young children to stop talking. Then there are times when pulling teeth without Novocain would be easier. After a few minutes of prompting by their mother, James shook his head when asked if he liked the convention and finally spoke about his costume, “I like Black Panther because he has sharp claws.” Andrew smiled and added, “I’m Spiderman.” They have not started collecting comic books yet but, “We have the action figures though.” McIntyre said.

Three year – old Casper Bytnerowicz kept asking his mother Nicole, “We meet some superheroes?” while waving light saber balloon that he wanted to make bigger. “I’ll make my balloon big until it reaches the wall.”

While holding her one – year old daughter Dee Dee, she explained why they were there, “My son loves superheroes and we heard that comic con was happening, so we wanted to come check it out and meet some superheroes. This is the first time going to a con like this. Which is funny because we’re from California and there is the comic con in San Diego every year and we have never gone.”

One set of vendors at the con were artists like Jenna Cueto and Mikeala Fils – Aime. Cueto said she began her art career when she was little. “I would see things and always wanted to put what I saw onto paper, but I wasn’t very good at it. I just kept drawing and drawing. God given talent, I don’t know.” Fils Aime’s story is similar. “A lot of members of my family are artists or involved in art in some form. I started in 5th grade. I always wanted to be an artist. But didn’t actually plan on making a career out of it. I officially started in my senior year of High School when I was going to art school, where I am still now. Then I started selling these, spreading her arms to show the many pictures she had drawn hanging on the racks at her table.

Cueto started with King Con at its inaugural event last year. “Last year it popped up somewhere that they needed more vendors in the artist’s alley, so I signed up. I came. I did really well last year.” She was asked come back and do a panel because she is a makeup artist who does special effects. “Last year I came and they wanted me to come back and teach one so, here I am.” Fils – Aime got involved with cons through family connections they have throughout Rockland. “That’s when I started coming out more to these things. The kind of art I do is fan art. Anime, cartoons, people’s original characters.”

One thing that is done when events like this are done yearly is reflection on the degree of success of the event in order to decide if it is worth doing it again. Many times, the first year is a slow one and falls short of the expectations the organizers have for the event. In the case of the King Con, according to Campos this was not the case. “We did a lot better than we expected to last year. It was very successful. We got a lot of people to attend. We got a lot of people who called us afterwards and wanted us to do it again. On the grand scheme of things, I think it really went well, a lot better than we ever thought.”

Something that people attending cons look for are vendors selling items which they want to purchase as a part of their hobby. “We had twenty vendors last year. This year we had eighteen.” Campos thinks that the timing of the event might have been off. “The last week of July, first week of August tends to be people’s vacation time. Last year we did it the second week of August. Next year it will probably be the second week of August again.”

People are reluctant or at minimum hesitant to participate in a new venture. Campos and the committee tried reaching out to many groups in the area to be a part of the con. “We tried to get in touch with comic bookstores, and science fiction clubs. We’ve reached out to the sci fi club of Bergen County. We’re always trying to reach out. When you’re new it’s harder to get that kind of attention.”

People come to cons like this not only for the vendors, but for the programming being offered. Having interesting panel discussions can make or break the con. “We have this group of teenagers who last year did a Tokyo Ghoul program that literally couldn’t keep people away from it. This year they did two different panels. Kids are really into it.” Campos added that they try to do things that are relevant to conventions. This year they added cosplay makeup effects. “We try to do demonstrations and stuff that the kids can take and use next year and also use it for when they’re go out and going to other comic cons.”

“One of the things that Phil [De Parto] (Bergen County Sci Fi Club) recommended is that we have sci fi writers come in and read a little bit of their work and talk about it on the panel afterwards. We might try that.” she added.

Some of the ways the con tries to pull everyone in is trying to do things for every age. There were some tables with coloring things set up. This year they had a psychic reader for the first time. According to Campos she was extremely popular. They want to have parents, young children as well as the teenagers attend this event. Two things they had on the main floor to attract these other groups were, writing your name in Japanese and making your own candy Sushi. Each year they’re going to try something different. They’re hoping that next year they’ll have something else like that. This year they had a barbeque place out in the back and are looking to move out into food trucks next.

“We tried to get sci fi actors to come. When we did May the 4th be with you (a play on the Star Wars phrase, May the Force Be With You), we did get a group of the Rebel Legion to come down. They were here for our 4th. They do things for charity. So, it was great. We can’t seem to get anyone to come down for summer. We got in touch with several groups and summer’s hard, everyone’s on vacation.” Campos said sadly.

Will this become a multi – day event? According to Campos it’s a lot of work for the five people who do all of it. It’s something they hope to do in the future. “But right now, I don’t see the director being open to it because it’s a lot of work. Don’t forget, there’s salaries involved. We do get teen volunteers. It depends, we’ll really have to sit back and look at it. And we have to make sure that if we do stretch it to 2 days that we have enough to offer that people are going to want to come back for the second day.” Campos concluded.