Attention all comic book lovers and sci-fi fans, the British are coming.
But this time around, they come in peace — with tea, Victorian-fashion clothing, deerstalker caps, and quidditch.
Everyone from Spider-Man to Chewbacca will have to share the spotlight at this weekend’s RidgeCon at the Ridgefield Library from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13.
“We wanted to convey that it’s much more than men in tights,” said Ann Victor, the library’s children’s collection specialist, who helped develop this year’s Dowagers and Mad Hatters British fandom fund-raiser on Friday for adults for an evening of trivia quizzes, craft building, and a green screen photo shoot.
And similar to Saturday’s family-centric schedule of activities, there will be also be an adult costume contest for those who want to dress the part of a high-born aristocrat from one of Jane Austen’s many stories.
“Last year, the summer reading theme here was superheroes and that served as our inspiration to launch our first Comic Con,” Assistant Director Mary Rindfleisch said. “But there are a lot of different and diverse fandoms out there ranging from those who love Disney princesses, like Frozen, to those obsessed with BBC costume dramas, like Downton Abbey, and we wanted to expand this event in its second year to include those groups of people.”
The two-day festival has a fresh tagline — RidgeCon replaces Comic Con — to reflect that growth.
“It rolls off the tongue easier,” said John Casiello, the library’s adult collection specialist, who began the planning process right after last year’s event.
“We discovered people who are enthusiastic about other parts of pop culture, like British pop culture, who didn’t necessarily know what a comic con was but were part of a larger group of fans that have this passionate interest.”
Everybody plays dress-up
More than 1,500 walked through the door dressed in costumes ranging from Harry Potter to Superman in last year’s Comic Con, enough to warrant further development to attract an even broader base.
“We had a lot of younger kids and a surprisingly large amount of teenagers and college-aged kids, who we don’t see hanging around the library that often unless they’re coming in to study,” the assistant director said. “There was a lot of chatter on social media from that age bracket and they came out to volunteer for different programs that were being offered that day, which was exciting for us because after they reach a certain age they don’t perceive the library as a place for them.”
That was a major reason the rebranded RidgeCon eschewed the opportunity to be held during the school year — closer to Halloween, the peak season for costumes.
“We left it in the summer for the college kids who attended last year and created a lot of buzz around it,” said Casiello.
Rindfleisch said the goal is to get everybody to dress up, whether it’s an adult or a teenager.
“It’s not a foreign concept,” she said. “People have been playing dress up since the olden days.”
Strength in sequels
Further reinforcing the decision to keep the event in August is a continued trend in Hollywood to expand or reboot the worlds of various comic book collections during the summer months when school is out.
The trickle-down effect has been a circulation increase in graphic novels, according to Casiello, who grew up on Marvel comics along with a bevy of other cartoons and video games.
“You can see the interest spreading anecdotally, too,” he said. “I see more people looking at our graphic novel collections and talking more about the characters.
“They’re looking back and reading stories of these characters before the big movie studios got to them, and they’re noticing the costumes of some of their favorite characters have changed from the page to the big screen.”
However, none of this world-building is bad thing for the library, which has adapted around all sorts of new texts, including a two-part play called Harry Potter and the Cursed Child that was released July 31.
“There’s still a lot of revived interest out there for Harry Potter — and it keeps growing, actually,” said Rindfleisch, who proclaims to have a “reasonably strong interest” in the world of Star Trek, a rebooted franchise that just premiered its third installment July 22.
“It continues to allow us to revisit these things everyone loved,” Casiello said about the never-ending rise of movie sequels, like last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens or this summer’s Captain America: Civil War that pitted comic book heroes Captain America and Iron Man against one another.
“We built a program around the Harry Potter release and the kids loved it so much that there was a waiting list right away for the next one,” he said.
Casiello and Victor did some field research last October, attending New York Comic Con — the largest pop culture event on the East Coast, which helped shape this year’s RidgeCon.
“Last year we had a lot of panels and technical stuff,” said Victor, who brought back a wealth of knowledge from her first con. “But what we took away was that fans like experiential-based activities where they’re active and doing a lot of different stuff.”
That’s why on this year’s event listing there’s everything from a light saber battle demonstration to a superhero scavenger hunt to a Live Pokemon Go design class to a station that teaches attendees how to speak Klingon — the fictional language of Star Trek.
In fact, the schedule is so loaded, with around 30 different programs, that Rindfleisch only slotted time for “one traditional demonstration” from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Saturday as a festival-capper.
And it’s far from traditional.
“Our virtual reality headset arrived 10 days ago and we’re going to demonstrate it to the public for the first time Saturday,” Casiello told The Press Monday.
Attendees will get to see the library debut its latest technology through virtual reality games and experiences.
“From a computer screen, we will project what I’m seeing in the headset,” said Casiello, who will be fielding questions from the crowd. “Through different virtual reality headset programs, you can walk through The Louvre or climb to the top of Mount Everest — it takes you on virtual tours of cities and museums that you may never be able to go to, in addition to virtual video games.”
“It’s an ongoing educational program we’re going to show off, like the 3D printer,” Rindfleisch added. “What we saw from that technology was that users got hungrier and hungrier after a couple of months of seeing it and that’s when we started booking individual appointments…
“Right now, it’s just cool to look at and this is a good excuse to have it demonstrated and build excitement around it.”
The next con
The library’s young collection specialists will return to New York Comic Con this fall to make a presentation, How To Run Comic Con At Your Library, with members from the Avon Free Public Library.
Ridgefield and Avon are the only libraries west of Hartford that host a comic con event, according to Victor.
“It’s a collaborative process, not a competitive one,” she said, noting that Avon’s con takes place in April.
Rindfleisch is amazed at this emerging trend for libraries nationwide, and couldn’t be happier that Ridgefield has arrived early to the scene.
“All around the country, they’re talking about creating events like these — out-of-the-box programs that appeal to all kinds of people, both young and old,” she said. “These events are very popular within the industry because they can challenge the old-fashioned concept of what a library is and present an option for what a library can be in the future…
“We’re not exactly on the cutting edge, but we’re in the first wave.”