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‘Letting your nerd flag fly’: Laguna Beach school district presents inaugural Fan Con

‘Letting your nerd flag fly’: Laguna Beach school district presents inaugural Fan Con
Two friends look through comics during the Laguna Beach Unified School District's inaugural Fan Con on Thursday night at the Laguna Beach High School library. (Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The Laguna Beach Unified School District presented its first Fan Con at the Laguna Beach High School library Thursday night, welcoming students from all over the district to engage with “fandom” culture — whatever those fandoms might be.

The festivities were inspired by a similar week-long event that digital media and library specialist Stephanie Gamache held at her previous school, Servite High in Anaheim.

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Gamache said comic books and graphic novels could help bring in reluctant or casual readers because of their use of art in place of scenic descriptions and fewer words to read overall.

She said she wanted to “reinvent” what she did previously and expand it to become more of a districtwide literacy event as opposed to a miniature Comic Con. Her No. 1 goal, she said, was to begin the process to build a “fun for all ages” event by using fandoms.

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The term “fandom” refers to a subculture of fans, both online and off, that is developed around a singular interest.

The interests can vary from specific music genres and artists — such as in k-pop — to the more common comic book fandoms, such as in Marvel and DC Comics. But, Gamache said, fandoms are bigger than that.

“I don’t want people to think of fandom just as ‘Doctor Who’ and Harry Potter,” she said. “The goal is to expand it over time, but we’re keeping it closer to the standard fandom home [for this year].”

A student sifts through boxes of dollar comic books at the first Fan Con at the Laguna Beach High School library Thursday.
A student sifts through boxes of dollar comic books at the first Fan Con at the Laguna Beach High School library Thursday. (Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

After speaking with Laguna Beach High Principal Jason Allemann, Gamache reached out to students through email and asked whether any would like to volunteer to help with organizing the event.

“At the first meeting, they wanted to understand why I wanted to do it and they were very happy that somebody was bringing in something that’s normally not talked about,” Gamache said. “It was about letting your nerd flag fly, so to speak, and trying to make sure [Fan Con] opens up.”

Student organizers said they had about three weeks to plan and publicize Fan Con to the student body.

“It was kind of like, ‘OK, we have three weeks to do this and then we have to put on this event, so let’s get crackin’.’ It was really fun to make something that hadn’t been done here before,” said Kendra Nugent, a junior at Laguna Beach High and an organizer for Fan Con.

The hardest part, she said, was working within the time constraints. “We wanted to do so much, but we didn’t have time for it,” she said.

Danielle “Dani” Gagne, 16, said she assisted in the organizing because she felt “it wasn’t just one of those school activities where ‘Oh, you kind of have to do this.’ It was a thing I was actually interested in.”

She invited her sister, Chloe, who goes to Thurston Middle School, to participate in the event.

“It’s something super new and I’m glad the school is giving this opportunity to students to come and see this whole comic book set-up and everything,” Dani said. “I’m really excited to see where this goes in the future.”

Both said they look forward to helping plan Fan Con next year.

"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" is displayed in graphic novel form during Fan Con on Thursday at Laguna Beach High School.
"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" is displayed in graphic novel form during Fan Con on Thursday at Laguna Beach High School. (Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Joseph Hovanesian, a sophomore, said he heard about the event from his friends. He said he first got into comics after watching the first Iron Man movie, released in 2008. He said he thought it was “kind of neat” that the school was hosting the event.

Fan Con included mask-making kits, face painting, films, board games and comic book and graphic novel vendors such as Barnes & Noble and Comic Book Hideout, a store in Fullerton.

Glynnes Speak, owner of Comic Book Hideout, said her father got her started reading comic books when she was a child and she never stopped.

“[Comic books] created a fantastic vocabulary for myself,” Speak said. “It helped me understand complex subjects and the movement of images in your imagination back before everyone lived in front of a TV screen. … [It] really helped stimulate my imagination and I felt like it fueled me creatively as a person.”

She said she loves working high school shows and bringing comic books to children of all ages. She sold comics for $1 at Fan Con on Thursday night.

“It’s really about bringing readership to an unlikely area,” Speak said. “Many of these kids [in Laguna Beach] don’t know about comic books, so I like to expose them to something that’s different and new … at a rate that’s affordable.”

An X-Men comic is offered for a dollar by Comic Book Hideout at the first Fan Con at the Laguna Beach High School library on Thursday night.
An X-Men comic is offered for a dollar by Comic Book Hideout at the first Fan Con at the Laguna Beach High School library on Thursday night. (Don Leach / Staff Photographer)
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