Fandoms & Cons 101 | Mix It Up

Curious about hosting a Comic Con in your library? Look no further.


So you want to throw a Comic Con in your library. Where do you start? How do you cosplay effectively and respectfully with all the various fans and fandoms that may attend? How do you come up with fun, relevant programming ideas? Also, what’s a con?! If this new lingo seems daunting, read on for definitions, explanations, and tips on how libraries can capitalize on the growing recognition of fandoms, cons, and the like.

No matter what your favorite book is, it probably has a group of like-minded fanatics, also known as a “fandom.” A “fandom” (a mash-up of the words fan and kingdom) is a group of people with a common devotion, which can range from books to knitting to LEGOs—in other words, anything. Some fans have organized groups, like the Harry Potter Alliance or the 501st Legion of Star Wars villains. Others are more self-driven, like Whovians (fans of Doctor Who), Walking Dead fans, or Game of Thrones devotees—even Frozen enthusiasts could be considered a fandom!

For those who need a primer on all things “fan,” we have an assortment of key terms, history, phenomena, and ways to explore fandoms and cons (conventions) in your library. By no means is this an exhaustive list. Rather, we hope you will be inspired to investigate further to find out more about the wide world of fandom.

Terms of Endearment A starter fandom glossary

Cosplay: A mash-up of the words costume and play, cosplay is both a noun and a verb. Cosplayers dress as favorite characters (Harry Potter or Darth Vader, anyone?), celebrities (e.g., Lady Gaga impersonators), or anime characters; truly anything is fair game in cosplay. Imagine a cross between Halloween and your favorite pop culture phenomenon.

Cons: An abbreviation of “convention.” Comic-con San Diego (held annually in July for the past 46 years) is likely the most famed of cons.

Fandom: A combo of the words fan and kingdom, which identifies a group of people with a common interest.

Fangirl/boy: Used to describe an avid fan, occasionally in a negative way. “Fangirl” is more colloquially known than “fanboy” and can be used as a verb (“I was fangirling pretty hard when I got to take a picture with J.K. Rowling”) or a noun (“I’m such a fangirl for Harry Potter”). Synonym for: awestruck, excited, fan.

LARPing: Live Action Role-Playing. People who role-play games while dressed in character garb are considered LARPers. See for further details about the very active community.

Manga/anime: Manga are Japanese comics, typically in black-and-white, and read right to left. Anime are Japanese animated films. Some anime are based on manga, but not all.

RPG: Short for Role-Playing Game. Players are guided by one player (a “referee”) who oversees adventurous game play, which is either played out on cards or computerized. Think Dungeons and Dragons or Pokémon.

Steampunk: A sci-fi genre that incorporates 19th-century steam-powered technology. Think Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Usually refers to garb, but there is also an active community at

Popular Fandoms


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Harry Potter (“Potterheads”) Star Trek (“Trekkies”) Doctor Who (“Whovians”) Sherlock (the BBC show starting Benedict Cumberbatch) The Walking Dead Marvel Universe Hamilton the Musical Star Wars Naruto

Most fandoms are self-evident from their names; some are not. Gleeks are fans of the hit musical TV show Glee. Furries are folks who dress as anthropomorphic animals with names, personalities, wardrobes, etc.

Level 1 The Basics

Once you’ve mastered the lingo (see our Terms of Endearment on the next page), it’s time to dip a toe into the con and fandom world. Use these resources for inspiration when thinking about or planning a con or fandom-inspired event for your library. Convention Scene This website offers a concise look at what conventions are slated to meet in the United States. Cons can be broken down by type of fandom—anime, gaming, collectibles, horror, sports, sci-fi and fantasy, and more. If anything’s to be learned from this site, it’s that these events can truly take on any form: from the “Fan2sea” comic con–themed cruise to the National Stationery Show (NSS) to the LEGO Expo, there’s really a group for everyone. Additionally, author signings across the country are listed, although a majority are within the world of comics and graphic novels. Upcoming Cons Similar to the aforementioned Convention Scene site, Upcoming Cons includes international cons as well as domestic. Relevant news plays a huge role in the site, too; it’s a one-stop shop for con news and developments. A big highlight is the interactive map showing cons around the globe. The Fandom This website started by two Harry Potter aficionados gives an inside look at media beyond the Potter franchise. Movies, TV shows, comics, and the YA world are explored. Reviews, sneak peeks, quizzes, and a book club are all included. The site is easy to navigate, and the many daily updates will keep fans coming back for more.

Level 2 Random Fandom

We’ll dig a bit deeper into specific groups and offer a brief sampling of literature-related fandoms. Thousands of other types exist, though. Look far and wide for what may be exciting to you and your patrons or students! The Mary Sue Billing itself as the “heartbeat of geek culture,” The Mary Sue explores a wide range of all things “fan.” This particular article explores the psychology of fandom, providing insights into the brain science and the philosophy behind empathizing with characters and actors, as well as the emotional attachment that devotees may develop. This is an important read for librarians who may be scratching their heads about why fandoms and cons are so beloved. National Book Festival This is the place to be if you are a bibliophile. Held in Washington, DC, the festival boasts a giant main stage, more than 100 authors, the Library of Congress Pavilion, and a variety of family friendly events. The NBF brings fans and book creators together in a celebration of the written word. Nerdcon: Nerdfighteria The first ever Nerdfighteria Con will convene in winter 2017. According to the preliminary site, those interested can “join members of the Nerdfighter community for panels, discussions, Q&As, activities, fan-led programming, concerts, live podcasts, fan activism, and all manner of excellent goofiness.” Inspired by John Green and brother Hank, nerdfighters are folks who “try to do awesome things and have a good time and fight against world suck.” For those who want a more in-depth nerdfighter definition visit Vidcon Kids and teens get so much of their communication through video, be it Snapchat, Reddit, or YouTube. Vidcon is a place where video consumers and creators come together to debate and celebrate. There is now an industry track for creators, as well as the general track for the fans. This con has grown from 1,400 attendees in 2010 to more than 25,000 in 2016. BroadwayCon Get to know Broadway from behind the curtain as well as in the front row. Panels, sing-alongs, performances, and interviews feature performers, creators, and those working in all aspects of the making of Broadway shows. Comic-Con The San Diego show is the granddaddy of them all. Panels, signings, vendors, cosplay, and meet-ups all make up this show. Rest assured, there are many varieties of comic cons throughout the country on different scales. Use the aforementioned Upcoming Cons to see what is available near you. LeakyCon Started by Harry Potter fans, this con is dubbed as an immersive Harry Potter experience and a place where fans can be themselves. Past presenters at this lit-heavy event have included Laurie Halse Anderson, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, and Holly Black. Star Trek Convention This weeklong convention in Las Vegas celebrates all things Star Trek, from the original series to the films. Featuring signings, panels, and cosplay, this con celebrates a franchise that is still gathering new fans. Courtesy Dragon Con Photography (c) 2016 Dragon Con, Inc

Courtesy Dragon Con Photography (c) 2016 Dragon Con, Inc

DragonCon Whereas some events focus on a specific community, DragonCon prides itself on embracing many kinds of fandoms, such as science fiction and fantasy, comics, art, literature, gaming, and movies. Fans of all kinds flock to this event, which boasts a serious cosplay parade. Anime Expo Organized by the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, this convention celebrates all things anime with gaming, table-top play, panels, a battle of the bands, and other competitions. There are also screening rooms showing anime day and night. There were more than 100,000 attendees last year, and anime fandom continues to grow in the United States. Universal Fan Con Funded via Kickstarter, this will be the first “multi-fandom Con dedicated to inclusion, highlighting Women, LGBTQ, the Disabled, and Persons of Color.” It’s no secret that many fandoms have been less than inclusive, and this upcoming con seems like an amazing and necessary event.

Level 3 (Big Boss Level)

There are many, many ways for the layperson and die-hard fangirl or fanboy to geek out hard about their favorite media. Some libraries may already be a safe space for fandoms and not even know it: book clubs, chess club meetings, or comic book groups can all be considered types of fandoms. What better place than a public or school library for patrons to indulge their passions and learn through great programs? After all, what are fandoms about if not building community?

The Pros of Cons

1702-MixItUp-LJJuly16Library Journal provides ample anecdotes and ideas from seasoned con-throwing libraries, like Virginia’s Central Rappahannock Regional Library, East Orange Public Library in New Jersey, and Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Library, among others. Look here for details on the hour-by-hour nitty-gritty about planning an effective, attractive, and hassle-free library con.

Archive of Our Own Considered the essential source for fan fiction, Archive of our Own is run by the Organization for Transformative Works. All sorts of fan fiction based on different types of media (books, comics, cartoons, anime, manga, celebrities, TV shows, film, music, real people, theater, and video games) can be found and contributed to. Users have to have an invitation code (issued on a first come, first served basis). National Novel Writing Month/NaNoWriMo Have you ever wanted to write a book but lacked the impetus to get it done? Loads of folks (hundreds of thousands, in fact) register and attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. Featuring coaching, word sprints, pep talks, and word count helpers, this community pitches in to help registrants become successful. 48 Hour Book Challenge Not quite up to the challenge of writing a book? For the past decade, readers have been hunkering down for a whole weekend to read as much as they can. Think of it as D.E.A.R. (drop everything and read) to the extreme. While it didn’t seem to happen in 2016, there’s no saying folks can’t get it up and running again. Starting an Anime Club The folks in the MIT Anime Club discuss how to start one of your own. Within, they share resources like “A Parent’s Guide to Anime” and “The Teacher’s Companion to the Anime Companion” in order to justify and lead such a club.

Stacy Dillon is the lower school librarian at LREI in Manhattan; Amy Laughlin is a children’s librarian at Ferguson (CT) Library.

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