LumaCon in Petaluma is all about literacy, wrapped in fun

Behind the cosplay, crafts and competitions, Petaluma’s mini comic convention has a serious mission - to spark a love of reading and inspire kids to get in touch with their creative side.|

There was a time when parents and educational purists denounced comic books as contributing to the downfall of civilization. But a group of school and public librarians in Petaluma five years ago figured out that for a lot of kids, hugely popular comics, graphic novels and computer games can be a gateway to literacy. So LumaCon was born.

The fan gathering, a mini-version of the massive comic-cons that attract more than 100,000 people to major convention centers around the world, drew a big-for-Petaluma crowd of more than 2,000 kids and their parents on Saturday. They bumped shoulders in a packed Lucchesi Center in Petaluma for a day of fantasy and fun on a hometown scale. It was a chance to dress up, act out and rub elbows with their favorite characters -- both villains and superheroes.

“I like to buy comics and do crafts,” said Nuala Manousos, 9, dressed as a miniature Princess Leia from “Star Wars,” complete with side buns held up with a lot of hairspray.

The creator of her own series called “Platypus on Skateboards,” the budding comic artist who comes every year, also likes to talk to other artists, some kids like herself, and others who are professionals and making a living off their comic art.

Among the most famous was Thom Yeates, who illustrates the long-running syndicated comic strip “Prince Valiant.” Like all the artists participating in LumaCon, he lives locally in keeping with the community spirit of the event. He said a day immersed in fantasy, cosplay and games is a great escape for a day.

“I love seeing all the happy kids,” he said. “They’re in their world. It’s their world and it’s a fun world to visit.”

LumaCon has to be the one of the most well-attended library-sponsored events ever - a way to promote reading, writing and art wrapped up as entertainment. There was a cosplay costume parade and competition, a fan fiction and short story contest and a chance for older kids, with the help of Sonoma County Library staff, to experience virtual reality with Oculus Quest headsets.

“Reading is reading. The idea is you don’t have to be reading ‘Moby Dick’ to be reading,” said Nathan Libecap, one of a team of librarians who co-created the event. A teacher/librarian at Casa Grande High School, Libecap said he got into reading as a kid by devouring comic books. He later majored in literature at Ohio University.

The event also give kids an opportunity to see that their passion for art can also lead to a paying career in illustration or animation -- both film and video.

“It lets kids see that art doesn’t have to be passing phones. If they stick to it, there is a future there,” Libecap said.

Jonah Dijoux of Healdsburg has been coming to LumaCon for four years. The 15-year-old artist had his own table with digital copies of his renderings to show and sell. Some were well- known Star Wars characters like Yoda and a Mandalorian. Others were characters out of his own imagination.

“People will come by and critique,” he said, just as another artist walked up to offer some tips. “Last year, a comic artist came by and complimented me. It’s cool to be around people that have a passion.”

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