Comic-powered LumaCon returns to Petaluma
“I think literacy is more important than literature,” says Nathan Libecap, co-founder of Petaluma’s LumaCon comic book and art gathering, adding with a laugh, “There’s a good pull-quote for you.”
Pull-quote, nothing. That’s our lead sentence.
And this decidedly “meta” opening is strangely perfect for a story about comics, comic book art, cosplay and live-action-role-playing, cosmic worlds within worlds - and the importance of finding new ways to get young people to pick up a book.
Or a newspaper. Or what-have-you.
“When I first started school,” Libecap recalls, “I was allowed to read whatever I wanted. We always had comic books in my classroom, and that’s where I started. I loved it.”
It’s why now, as a school librarian, Libecap encourages kids to pick up and read whatever appeals to them, including comics and graphic novels.
“If you get kids to enjoy the act of reading,” he says, “it’s a lot easier to get them to start reading other things. But if you force kids to read things they don’t enjoy, things you think are ‘good for them,’ well that’s a great way to create a non-reader. That’s what LumaCon is about. It’s about creating life-long readers.”
A collaboration between three libraries - Casa Grande High School Library, Petaluma High School Library, and the Petaluma Regional Library - LumaCon has become one of Petaluma’s most popular and eccentric annual events. Held this weekend in the Community Center at Lucchesi Park, it’s a day-long celebration of the enduring and colorful appeal of comic books - with exhibitions of comic art, homages to cartoons and cartoon characters, and meet-and-greets with authors and artists representing the entire spectrum of comic literature. And based on the fast-rising attendance numbers at LumaCon, plus the enthusiastic support of such institutions as the Charles M. Schulz Museum and businesses like Copperfield’s, it seems that there is a lot of local support for Libecap’s view that comic readers become other kinds of readers.
“It started as a conversation between myself and Connie Williams, a teacher-librarian at Petaluma High School,” says Libecap. “She’d just read something about comic book conventions, and wondered if maybe we could team up to create something like that in Petaluma. I’m really into comic books, so I said yes, let’s do it. Let’s create our own comic book event.”
In addition to simply being a cool thing to do, Libecap says that LumaCon represented an excellent opportunity for collaboration between the two Petaluma high schools, and to promote the importance of school libraries and trained librarians. That first year, in 2015, the initial LumaCon was held at Herzog hall, on the Petaluma Fairgrounds. According to Libecap, they were expecting a maximum of three or four hundred people.
More than 1500 showed up. Since then, the event has only grown.
“We had 3500 people last year,” says co-founder Connie Williams. “It totally blew us away. But we’re not actually aiming to get it bigger, so much as to allow LumaCon to change and grow, and to add the best events and information, and the most exciting local artists we can find.”
This year’s event boasts an array of visiting artists, including Brian Fies, author-artist of “Mom’s Cancer,” recently in the news for his work describing the loss of his home in the October fires in Santa Rosa. Also in attendance will be Crissi Langwell, author of the Peter Pan-themed “Loving the Wind,” and the inspirational “Reclaim Your Creative Soul,” Art Roche, author of “The Knights of Boo’Gar,” and about fifteen others, plus a number of local young artists who were selected to appear and present their own work.
“The whole idea of having youth artists in the show,” says Libecap, “is to create an experience where youth artists can sit next to professional artists. They can learn by watching the professionals in how they set up, what they bring, how they talk with people and conduct themselves. It’s a fantastic experience.”
Mike Watt, part of the LumaCon team from the beginning, agrees.
“Part of the appeal for the young artists,” he says, “is the opportunity to share their art in an accepting environment, where they can get positive feedback, and really raise their confidence in something they’re passionate about. As for the attendees, it’s a great opportunity to let your inner superhero free, and to share that fun side of yourself with others who may have a secret superhero identity.”
What Watt has found over the last three years, is that LumaCon offers a shared moment of multigenerational fun.
“It’s a return to childhood for adults,” he says, “and a chance for kids and teens to share a bit of who they are.”
But that’s not all.
LumaCon also includes panel discussions about promoting and selling your work, indoor and outdoor Cosplay competitions, a virtual reality room, live action role playing, and more. And if this year is like LumaCons of the past, there will be plenty of stormtoopers, superheroes, and anime characters milling about, eager to pose for photographs.
“Another cool thing this year,” says Libecap, “is that we’ll have Shawn Thorsson here. He’s a Petaluma guy who makes these amazing costumes and props, robot armor and all kind of things.”
There will even be a seminar on the art of Foam-smithing.
“It’s like metal-smithing or black-smithing, except that it’s done with foam,” says Libecap. “So we’re branching out into a kind of ‘maker’ thing this year, too. Being able to create things using instructions and information is just another mode of literacy.”
That message, that one can learn to create the very things that inspire them, is key to the philosophy of LumaCon.
“Our underlying theme,’ says Libecap, “is that you don’t have to just be a consumer of comics and toys and movies and books. You can be the person who makes them, too.”
(Contact David at email@example.com)