Today I had the pleasure of attending the Khem Comic Book Fest held at Central High School in Newark, NJ. This event was coordinated by Naseed Gifted - Educator, Engineer, Comic Book Author, and Animator, and held comic book/graphic novel authors, artists, educators, and musicians from all over the country.
It was awesome.
Comic books and graphic novels are exploding in popularity. Libraries and schools have taken notice, and are hosting conventions to bring the awesomeness of big city conventions - like New York Comic Con - and bringing it to a town near you.
This was Mr. Gifted's second Khem Comic Fest, and I can't wait for next year's! This convention was similar to the Schomburg's Black Comic Book Festival, except it was a much bigger venue, and there were quite a few events that just aren't possible - I mean, the boys basketball game was going on!
Often, when we see many comic book conventions in libraries, it tends to be Japanese-centric. Anime is wildly popular, and many youths are drawn into comic books and manga. But as librarians who serve diverse populations, sometimes it is wise to consider the cultural competency of our programs. Yes - Japanese anime and manga tend to be very Eurocentric in appearance, so that would fit in with library that don't have as many diverse patrons.
Mr. Gifted recently spoke at the #BlackFutureMonth experience I hosted at the East Orange Public Library. And he said that his motivation for creating P.B. Solidier, was that he noticed there weren't many superheroes that were African American, or that related to his son. I face a similar problem with my sons. There just aren't many out there - and there aren't many toys, action figures, dolls - what have you. He also noticed, as an educator in Newark City Public Schools, that the youths don't see themselves as the hero.
I have noticed this too as a librarian. A few months ago, we had a contest were the students were to submit artwork in competition for their original character to be featured as the mascot of our library's "Tosho-Con". I don't think a single character submitted reflected the cultural backgrounds of the children who submitted artwork. I thought how sad this was, when even given the opportunity to let their imaginations run wild, and to create characters that reflected themselves - the students just weren't able to do it.
Hosting a Comic Book festival that reflects that culture and heritage of your community can be a very powerful thing. If you are in a largley Latino community - seek out some Latino comic book artists and host a festival celebrating them! Seek out LGBTQ, AFrican American, Differently abled - invite them all and host a Diverse Comic Books Festival, if your community has a need for that! Don't be afraid to embrace the cultural background of your community. You never know who you may be empowering.
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