The first year the Oak Lawn Public Library held its pop culture celebration Fan Fest in 2015, the event drew nearly 1,000 people. It only grew in popularity in subsequent years.
After an off year in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the library tried to hold the festival in a virtual format last year. Jenny Bean, the library’s department head for technical services who also heads the Fan Fest Committee, said there was enthusiastic participation, but it wasn’t quite the same.
“This is more of an in-person kind of program where you can come up and meet the vendors and participate in any of our panels,” Bean said.
When planners started thinking about bringing Fan Fest back in-person in 2022, Bean said they reached out to vendors first in December to see if they would be willing. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
“They’re so excited, because they haven’t been able to go to any of the other comic conventions,” Bean said. “We’re hearing some more excitement on our social media.”
Fan Fest is set to make its return from 9 am-5pm Saturday. The pop culture celebration, free for all ages, coincides with Free Comic Book Day.
On that day, the library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave., will feature local artists, boutiques and vendors. Fan Fest also includes a cosplay competition, photo booth, crafts, prizes and a 4 pm performance by Tricky Mickey, a Comedy Clubhouse improv group.
Panels at the event 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 hosted by local talents.
The 501st Legion, who wear high-quality replica gear of Star Wars villains, is also slated to make an appearance. And the library plans a pop culture trivia after-hours at 6 p.m.
Registration is at cal.olpl.org and information is at olpl.org/fanfest.
Bean, who has worked at bookstores for 11 years, said intake of graphic novels has increased over that time. Seeing how popular comic conventions had become, the library started holding Fan Fest to give patrons a free event close to home.
“Comics books have been around for a very long time, but it was kind of taboo to read them,” Bean said. “Over time, we have gained a lot of knowledge that it’s easier for younger patrons and even older patrons to read a comic book or graphic novel because it keeps their attention. They’re reading the words, but also looking at the pictures. It’s a different way to engage our patrons. ”
Tapping into comics and popular culture has become more and more common for south suburban libraries in recent years. This week alone, the Blue Island Public Library and others celebrated Star Wars Day on May 4. And Moraine Valley Community College’s Graphic Novel Symposium was slated for May 2-5.
White Oak Library Lockport Branch manager Evangeline Stephenson said when she got started in bookstores 12 years ago, these types of events were not regular occurrences. Pop culture was not on anybody’s radar. Whether it was television, Marvel movies, internet fandom or something else entirely, pop culture is definitely on the radar of bookstores now, she said. The Lockport Branch moved things around to make more space for its graphic novel collection just a couple years ago, and that space is already almost filled, Stephenson said.
“It’s just exploded,” she said. “The way that libraries are able to get involved and provide this content to our patrons, it just seems like the natural progression of things.”
The 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, is to return July 23. The free comic and fandom convention is another all-ages event that attracted 2,000 when last held in its indoor / outdoor format in 2019 at 121 E. 8th St. in downtown Lockport.
Comicopolis has seen a similar trajectory to that of Fan Fest. It launched in 2015, drawing nearly 1,000 people. It built steam through 2019, expanding in 2017 to the parking lot and street space, ultimately tripling its artists and vendors. But Comicopolis went on hiatus in 2020 and 2021 during the pandemic before preparing for its 2022 comeback.
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“Everybody’s excited,” Stephenson said. “The entire building is taken over that day. There’s no regular library business that can really happen. Anybody can come in that day to check out books, but most people – if they don’t realize the event is going on – they just come in and partake in the event because it’s so fun. It has this atmosphere to it. ”
Comicopolis features comic creators and vendors, roughly half of whom are local, according to Stephenson. Forty artists have already confirmed participation in this year’s event, with nearly three months left to go.
“We’re definitely filling up,” Stephenson said. “There’s going to be a lot of stuff for everyone.”
Comicopolis also includes crafts and face painting. Zombie Army Productions is expected to take part. A DeLorean will be on site that day. The library always gives out swag bags to the first 500 customers. And Mr. Salty and Lil Deb food trucks will have food for sale.
“It’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 reporter for the Daily Southtown.