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Chesterfield Library Comic-Con Brings Together Fandom and Education

Kate Denwiddie, organizer of the Chesterfield Library ComiCon. Photograph by David J Bromley, courtesy of Katherine Denwiddie.
Kate Denwiddie, organizer of the Chesterfield Library ComiCon. Photograph by David J Bromley, courtesy of Katherine Denwiddie.David J Bromley, photographer

Today was the second annual Chesterfield Comic Book Convention, held again at the Meadowdale Branch Library. Highly publicized, the event was promoted across the internet and TV Shows, including Virginia This Morning. Indeed, the concept of a Library System sponsoring a Comicon is unique enough to elicit more than passing interest, especially when that system holds more than 11,000 graphic novel volumes in circulation. Before the doors opened to the public, I had a chance to speak with Katherine Denwiddie of Chesterfield County Public Library Community Services.

Possessing an effervescent personality, Kate LaPrelle Denwiddie is just the one to organize such a large, exciting event. She informs us that the library system has had graphic novels for a long time, but last year began the practice of separate shelving sections, making it easier for patrons to find their favorite titles. The first Chesterfield Comic-Con inaugurated this improvement, with a suspicion it would become a repeat affair. “Library staff members and the Friends of the Library were in touch with teens, and with the comics community, and we got a really positive response”, Kate says. “There was a lot of excitement in the schools especially, which was great because one of our goals was to connect with teens. The excitement just kept building.”

Any librarian or educator wants to encourage reading, and it seems graphic novels do just that – start young or challenged readers on a path of literacy (and, as any artist will tell you, engages them with art fundamentals such as perspective and color). Thanks go to the Collection Development Department that chooses the books - they stay in touch with the needs of readers and the community. Graphic Novels are part of the changing landscape of library collections, which also include e-books and audiobooks.

Fittingly, the Vendor and Artist section of the convention was held against a backdrop of art by students of Meadowbrook High School that included both graphic and photography pieces. Cosby High School was represented by the Anime Club and also by the Sci-Fi / Fantasy Club. These young scholars, sponsored by teachers William Waddell (Earth Sciences) and Caitlin Grant (Spanish), devised a personality test based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® which is used to help understand the personality types described by C. G. Jung. Sample questions to help determine which Science Fiction character the respondent may resemble include choices between “Great men do not seek power; it is thrust upon them” and “Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice, prepare to die”. It is not known to this writer how many chose the latter quotation, nor do I wish to know. But a copy of the Evaluation Key was revealed to me, displaying a variety of interpretations from “Feeling” to “Perceiving” personalities.

A former Board Member of the Friends of the Library, Fred Grundeman volunteered his time to sell comics that had been donated to the library. He represents the company NeatoScan, who specialize in product sourcing and automatic listing capabilities, also providing such services for libraries such as Chesterfield. This enables the Library to sell items through Amazon.com with minimal time expenditure. Or, like today, sell them the old fashioned way, at a dealer’s table with all proceeds going to The Friends.

Returning local artist Chris Otto, of A DOG’S LIFE web comic, had his hands full drawing sketches for the fans. He also had some wares for sale, including well produced Children’s Books and Coloring Books. In fact, his is an award winning website, receiving a Top Dog Award from Canine, Inc. Chris bases his stories on his own two pet dogs – so there is probably more than a little truth in his fictional tales!

Comic Vendors were well represented, especially by Chester Comics, who had the largest collection on display and provided sale prices to an eager audience. And, from out of town, artist Dan Nokes of 21st Century Sandshark Studios remained conversational and interactive with fans all day long.

The day concluded with the awarding of prizes for the winners of an elaborate costume contest with various categories (adult, teen, group, etc.). There were three judges, a professional photographer and a large backdrop for the competition – the Cosplay attendees were ambitious and imaginative in their sewing, designing and makeup, and the winners walked away with Barnes & Noble Gift Certificates. For a comic book convention sponsored by a library, nothing could be more appropriate.