Your Own Comic-Con: Q&A with YA Librarian Justin Switzer

Interested in hosting a comic con at your library, but unsure where to begin? In June 2015, the Enoch Pratt Free Library hosted its first Mini-Comic Con. We talked to Justin Switzer, the young adult librarian who organized the event, about the joys and challenges of putting it all together. View the event program.

Rebecca Starr: Tell me about the Mini-Comic Con's origins. What inspired you to put this together?

6 adults cosplaying Nick Fury, Jason Todd, Rorschach, Spiderman (symbiote costume), Spiderman, and Deadpool

Justin Switzer: I have been aware of libraries hosting comic cons for years now, most notably the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. However, I knew it would take a lot of time to plan and implement, so I didn't even entertain the idea until I was promoted to a full-time librarian. With the full support of my supervisor, I was able to plan out an event that could be held annually. My supervisor was a driving force behind the idea of hosting a comic con at the library, but having personal control over the program, I decided to shape it into something that was more educationally beneficial for young people. I wanted to offer young people a glimpse into a life they could potentially have, a life of making video games, writing books and doing art that they love and appreciate.

I myself am an avid comic book reader and have enjoyed them since the earliest memories of my life. I can honestly say that, without comics, I would not have discovered a pleasure for reading. Comics and graphic novels have opened the door to reluctant readers becoming lifelong readers and learners, and it was with this idea in mind that I began planning the event.

RS: Let's talk timeline. How long did this take you to plan? How far in advance did you tackle the most important features (vendors, speakers, etc.)?

JS: Well, I became a full-time employee at the Southeast Anchor Library branch in October 2014. Having had the idea mentioned in passing a few times in my first month, I reached out to some people I know who have a wealth of experience in planning and implementing conventions, both large and small. Once we began discussions, we focused on what I hoped young people might get from attending a comic con at the library, so I really started planning toward the end of November 2014. After reaching out to a number of individuals and organizations, I began to compile a list of willing participants for the event.

So, the short answer is that it took about two, two-and-a-half months to really get everyone on the same page, but with last-minute changes, I pretty much was planning up until a week before the event. If I had a few more people working with me on the project, it would have taken less time to plan out and communicate with interested parties.

RS: How did you promote the Mini-Comic Con?

JS: I visited local schools to promote the summer reading program that Enoch Pratt offers every year, and since the theme this year is superhero-themed, I took fliers with me. I also created an event page through my own personal Facebook account and got my friends to promote the event for me. That worked out pretty well, but I think that when Pratt put out the press release for the event, it got a lot more buzz than it did by simply putting it out there on social media.

After putting the press release out, the event was promoted by the City Paper and there was a live news segment done a few days prior to the event.

RS: What was the most challenging aspect of organizing this type of event? How did you address this obstacle?

table with uncolored masks and twine

JS: The most challenging aspect of any event is when you have to deal with a number of “moving parts.” The more people you get involved, the better chance you may have of someone not showing or notifying you that they will not be able to make it. Oftentimes it cannot be avoided, and you should always have a backup plan. A few people I had hoped were coming were not able to make it to the event. However, I had a few other people who I “wait-listed” just in case someone did back out or something coming up.

“Hope for the best, plan for the worst,” as they say!

RS: Things must have been hectic on the day of the event. Did you have a moment that made you proud?

JS: Things were pretty hectic. I was running around, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, especially the younger ones. I just felt great about the whole experience. I was surrounded by a number of friends, and everyone that came to help out was great!

I did have a moment where I felt as though everything that I hoped would happen did happen. I was moderating a panel discussion on how young people can make it into the comic and writing industry, and I never saw a group (albeit a small group) of young people so engaged in a conversation. They asked some interesting questions, and the panel gave very valuable answers that I wish I had gotten when I was their age.

RS: Any parting advice for gusto librarians looking to put together their own comic con?

JS: Just follow what you love and enjoy what you do. If I didn’t love comics and enjoy surrounding myself with those who also do, then I do not think that I could have ever planned something on this scale. If you want young people to simply enjoy themselves, you should go and find out what they like and cater to that. If you want them to learn, get them to learn. It is all on how you approach the situation and your rapport with the young ones that really make the world of difference when putting something together like a comic con.

Check out more pictures of Enoch Pratt's Mini-Comic Con in the City Paper. A live podcast of the event was also recorded by a local Maryland podcast group.