Comic Con-versation: celebrating the best of local comic culture with events, exhibitions and talks across Sydney libraries

Karen Dwarte is a librarian at Ashfield Library located in Sydney’s Inner-West, and has an interest and passion for graphic novels. Karen has developed significant children’s, youth and adult graphic novel collections over the past 10 years for the library, and is most proud of the extensive resources she has sourced for the Adult Graphic Novel Genre Room, a key collection in the library. Here, she takes us through the journey of developing a week-long comics festival, and invites you to join the conversation on comics.

The life of a public librarian can take some strange twists and turns. Over the last few years, I’ve been on an unexpected professional journey, which started with buying graphic novels for the library collection, and has ended in curating a week-long comic festival across a growing number of libraries in Sydney.

I seriously began collecting graphic novels for Ashfield Library, in Sydney’s Inner West, about 10 years ago, building significant collections of children’s, youth and adult graphic novels. Through developing these collections and actually reading many of them, I discovered the depth and breadth of this medium, and developed a deep passion and respect for graphic novels!

When our library was renovated a few years ago, I got the chance to include in the library spaces a beautiful Adult Graphic Novel Genre room.

Ashfield Library Graphic Novel Genre room

Ashfield Library Graphic Novel Genre Room … where comics fly off the shelves.

The comic books fly off the shelves almost as soon as they make it to the shelves. They are amongst our more popular borrowed and read-in-the-library collections. So I thought it might be interesting to promote our comics collections through a library comic convention.

I didn’t really know where to start, so I headed off to comic stores, visited a few comic conventions, and started to meet local comic creators and make connections. I began to discover that there were a lot of local graphic novels being produced that weren’t in libraries.

Ashfield Library held its first Comic Con-versation (CCV) event in 2014. It was a Saturday evening of comic workshops, panel sessions, live music and an artists’ alley. After all the hard work in putting it together, it actually turned out to be a lovely event, with a buzzy vibe. We served refreshments to the public and to the creators, and people flowed through the library spaces during the afternoon and evening.

CCV Artists' Alley

Artists’ Alley abuzz with activity.

We had some amazing people involved: Stephen Ford, then from Kings Comics, provided wonderful support, Bruce Mutard (The Sacrifice) came up from Melbourne and moderated the panel discussions, Pat Grant (Blue) and the Italian comic artist Thomas Campi did popular workshops, and a host of local comic creators filled the tables in the artists’ alley and engaged with the library-going public.

Because CCV seemed to ignite some interest, I had the idea to engage with other libraries, and see what could eventuate. Since then, CCV has grown to become a week-long festival, and last year included fourteen libraries, with more libraries coming on board for CCV17, it is truly becoming a Sydney-wide event.

Cover of CCV16 flyer

CCV has grown to become a week-long festival each year.

What sort of programming occurs during a Comic Con-versation week?

Last year Liverpool Library hosted the diverse Comix Creatrix Australia exhibition, featuring the works of some of Australia’s leading women comic artists. Auburn Library held a Superhero Family Concert afternoon with live geeky music performed by Meri Amber. Marrickville Library tied in with Independence Day and at Stanmore Library held an American Superhero evening with Richard Gray.

And all across the participating libraries, there were a variety of comic workshops and activities held for children and teens as part of their school holiday programming.  Libraries made spaces for Comics Labs, where comic creators set up mini studios.  Ashfield Library ended the week with the Comics Lounge event, a chilled-out afternoon of comics and live music, panel sessions and an artists’ alley.

For this year, scheduling has begun, and creators participating include Queenie Chan, Matthew Lin, Louie Joyce, Marcelo Baez, Shane W. Smith, Samuel McEwen, Nat Karmichael, Nathan Seabolt … you get the picture, the cream of established and upcoming local comic talent will be there!

CCV17 will run from July 10-16, and we will post up events and creator profiles on our CCV17 FaceBook page.

CCV has always been about promoting our local comic creators, and providing spaces for them to engage with the library-going public, as well as highlighting the graphic novel collections held by libraries.

My passion and aim is for people to talk about comics, so here are some Podcasts from the interesting panel discussion sessions held last year, at the Comics Lounge @ Ashfield Library event:

If this gives you a taste of what we are trying to achieve through CCV, we would love to see you at one or more of our CCV17 library comics events in July this year!