SOUTHINGTON — For a few hours at the Southington Public Library on Saturday, Luke Skywalker hung out with Spider-Man in the cafe, while Pikachu and She-Ra patrolled the sidewalk. Captain America and Black Panther buddied up in the kids section, where Moana sang songs near the new books.
The library held its annual ComicCon on Saturday, one of its most popular yearly events.
Parents and kids in all manner of costume wandered around, doing crafts, reading their free comic books, taking photos with their favorite superhero, and exploring the library — which is the whole point of the day.
Molly Virello, a children’s librarian and one of the event organizers, said that while they want to create a good time for kids and their parents, it’s also a way to get people used to coming to the library.
Virello said the ComicCon was an excellent opportunity to create buzz around town about their annual summer reading program, called “A Universe of Stories.” The goal of the program is to encourage literacy, preventing learning loss over the summer months. The library will encourage reading with prizes, contests, and special events all summer long.
However, Saturday’s event was a celebration of perhaps the most ubiquitous story form these days — the comic book universe.
Francesca Fontanez, a 22-year-old Meriden resident and aspiring actress, sang songs from the movie “Moana” dressed in character. A bunch of children sat at her feet, utterly rapt at being so close to someone they know from a screen. “It depends on the age, they are completely sold,” she said in a moment with no children in earshot.
Fontanez was careful to keep up the illusion with the little ones. “Every little girl has always wanted to be a Disney princess,” she said.
“These are beautiful,” she said, referencing two small girls’ shiny princess dresses.
“I’m Elsa,” a little girl said.
“Elsa, I didn’t know you were going to be here,” she said.
When Fontanez saw the film a couple of years ago, she was moved to tears. “I never saw a princess that looked brown,” said Fontanez, who is of Puerto Rican descent. “They looked just like me.”
Virello believes that the comic book world allows people to embrace a positive narrative. For example, Virello herself is a cosplayer, performing as Wonder Woman. She is drawn to the character’s philosophy about truth, kindness, fairness, and her general sense of justice.
“There is a sense of the triumph of good over evil. The bad guys doing bad things get their comeuppance,” she said.
Virello, who while studying to get her master’s degree explored the value of graphic novels in an educational setting, is not only a fan but a true believer in the form’s ability to interest reluctant readers. “Graphic novels can be a bridge,” she said. “They can be just as complex, perhaps more so, than only text.”
Eliud Sanchez Jr., a Southington resident, grew up following old school, Christopher Reeve-era Superman. When his 5-year-old son Cameron got interested in superheroes, it created an additional way for father and son to bond. So here they are on a Saturday morning, Cameron dressed as Miles Morales, the new Spider-Man, and Eliud wearing a light over his heart — Tony Stark, Iron Man, of course.
“Cameron’s the one that pulled me into the Marvel world,” Sanchez said.
Like Fontanez and Virello, the draw toward superheroes isn’t just the adventure of the stories. For Cameron Sanchez, seeing Morales, a half-Puerto Rican, half-black Spider-Man, takes on a whole new level of meaning. “He can relate to a different kind of superhero,” Eliud said.
Cameron, though, has his priorities straight. When asked why he likes Spider-Man, he said “he has a black suit.”