Fandom Fest is the Burlington County Library’s annual celebration of fandom in all its forms. From comic books and graphic novels, to anime, television, movies and video games, no matter where your tastes in entertainment lie, there’s a good chance you would have found something of interest at this unique gathering that took place at the library on Saturday, Aug. 3.
Nationally recognized events like the San Diego or New York Comic Con have grown exponentially in popularity since the turn of the millennium. With the rise of the internet came new avenues to spread fandoms to new audiences. It became much easier for people to find communities with which to share their interests.
Given how large of a production they have become, these conventions have rendered themselves less accessible to some, requiring travel and months of planning beforehand. Unless they can convince a parent or guardian to join them, conventions can be out of the question for many teens who make up a large portion of the audience these events appeal to most.
This inspired Fandom Fest founders Adam Crockett and Kathleen Gruver to devise a way to bring the comic con experience closer to home and on a smaller scale, where anyone could attend and participate free of charge.
“We’re a mini con, and we’re accessible to a lot of people, especially teens in this area who do not have the money to go. New York Comic Con is very expensive. It’s amazing, but it’s not cheap. So we provide an accessible introduction to cons for many of them,” said Gruver.
“We try and celebrate as many different fandoms in fantasy, science fiction, gaming, manga (Japanese comics), anime, as possible,” said Crockett.
The Burlington County Library felt like a natural venue for the event as the two have been involved with the library system for some time. Gruver works with teen services and selects graphic novels for the county library and Crockett currently oversees adult programming at the Pinelands branch in Medford.
They compare Fandom Fest to the early days of conventions, when they were smaller, more grassroots, fan-produced events. Crockett pointed out that the first San Diego Comic Con consisted of just 300 attendees, and was organized by fans who rented out space in a hotel.
“Many of the larger cons’ expense is precisely because they are very large, very commercialized. This is actually more like where cons came from, what they were like years ago,” said Gruver.
Much like its founders describe it, Fandom Fest is set up like a scaled-down version of these larger conventions. Artists, authors, collectors and organizers had tables set up throughout the library for visitors to browse and socialize around. Throughout the day, the auditorium was utilized for panel discussions and performances from groups like the library’s own K Club, a K-Pop fan group.
Cosplay (costume play) artist and Willingboro local Alicia Lugo, who goes by the stage name Dokudel, was a guest at this year’s Fandom Fest. She came dressed in full costume and set up a table with a spread of photographs of herself in an impressive collection of costumes she had put together over the years.
According to Lugo, she started cosplaying in the ’90s, inspired by her parents who were fans of anime and manga. She was introduced to the concept when she found pictures of people dressed up as anime characters in a fan magazine. Since then, she has built more than 300 costumes and has attended conventions of all kinds.
“Cosplay has consumed my life,” said Lugo.
She was glad to have a convention so close to home and wasn’t at all deterred by the small-scale nature of Fandom Fest.
“I like any shows. My rule is always it’s the atmosphere. If people are cool, even if there are only 10 people, and it has things going on, then it’s always fun for me. I like that this is super family oriented,” said Lugo.
Across from Lugo was another table full of Star Trek props and memorabilia. This table was occupied by a group that goes by the name USS Challenger, a member of Starfleet, the international Star Trek fan association. The group’s “captain,” Bob Vosseller came to talk about his fan club and meet with other enthusiasts.
Despite wearing his particular fandom on his sleeve, Vosseller came dressed in full Star Trek captain’s garb, he says conventions like this open up conversations about all kinds of fandom.
“Star Trek brought us together but we’ve had some great conversations with people today about the Marvel movies, Star Wars – we’re all-around geeks,” said Vosseller.
For him, and many of the people attending, that is what conventions are all about: meeting other fans, finding a community and sharing ideas.
“We talk to people our age and we talk to younger people that are new to it and hear their opinion. We tell them about things we know that they don’t know about and they tell us about things we might not know about,” said Vosseller.