“I’m kinda weird,” said the man dressed all in black, with his face covered in black and white greasepaint and a painted mask attached to his right arm.
But he fit right in with the crowd outside at the Downtown Central Library in Bradenton Saturday afternoon.
His name is Lucio — he goes by just the one name — and he was seated on the base of a statue outside the library’s front entrance, just watching the crowd mill around. It was the middle of the day, a week and half before Halloween, but almost everyone there was in costume. There were superheroes, ghostbusters, anime characters and villains from video games.
They were there for the seventh annual Mana-Con Comics Convention.
It was a free event, so estimating the crowd is difficult. But Ericka Dow, the library’s information services director and the chair and founder of Mana-Con, guessed that somewhere between 1,500 and 1,800 people turned out for this year’s event. She figured it was about the same size as last year’s crowd.
It was hard to tell because of his costume and greasepaint, but Lucio didn’t quite fit in with the demographic. The bulk of the crowd consisted of teenagers. The centerpiece event, the cosplay contest, was open only to people between 12 and 20.
It was a free event, so estimating the crowd is difficult. But Ericka Dow, the library’s information services and the chair and founder of Mana-Con, guessed that somewhere between 15,000 and 1,800 people turned out for this year’s event. She figured it was about the same size as last year’s crowd.
Lucio, who had to explain to an someone from outside the cosplay world that he was dressed as the Crow, the title character of a 1994 fantasy action film, is a little older.
“Biologically I’m 32,” the Bradenton man said.
One reason he wanted to be at Mana-Con, he said, was to buy items created by local artists.
“I could buy stuff online,” he said, “ but this way I get to support the artists from the community.”
The theme for this year’s Mana-Con was “Art and Color,” and there were creative opportunities inside and outside the library.
One of the most popular was a graffiti wall in the parking lot, courtesy of Keeton’s Office & Art Supply.
Anybody who was so inclined was invited to spray-paint anything on the wall, which was about 6-feet high and maybe 25-feet long. Some people wrote their names, some made abstract shapes, and some actually painted pictures of comic book characters. People painted over each other’s works so the paint was many layers thick when Keeton’s people ran out of spray paint hours before Mana-Con was over.
About 50 people entered the cosplay contest. They came onto the cosplay runway in groups of five. Judges interviewed them about their characters, mostly from video games and anime, and about their costumes. The contestants who fared best made their own costumes and added some performance elements. Jacob Frewin took first place, Aubrey Carey second and Kayla Carey third. They all won prizes. Frewin’s first-place winnings included an Amazon Echo, a $100 Amazon gift card and a $50 pizza gift card.
Lots of people who wore costumes didn’t enter the contest. Thirteen-year-old Joseph Hepner of Palmetto looked dapper in a dark business suit and sunglasses.
We just want young people to think of the library as a place to come and have fun. Its not just a place to get books, but of course that’s important, too.
“I’m one of the Men in Black,” he said. He didn’t bother to enter the competition, he said, “because I’m really in charcoal. It was all I could find that I could afford.”
Ken Kurlychek and Amy Flannery of Bradenton were there with their granddaughters, 13-year-old Trynity and 5-year-old Madyn. Trynity had worked for weeks on her original costume, a canine named Doggo Pupper who was running for president. Doggo wore a bra with the word “Trump” on one side and the word “Boob” on the other. There was an arrow pointing from the word “boob” toward the word “Trump.”
“I couldn’t believe the amount of time some of these kids put into their costumes,” Ken Kurlychek.
He and his family were at their second Mana-Con but had a better time this year. Last year, they hadn’t known about some of the outdoor attractions and had spent most of Mana-Con doing things inside the library. They missed last year’s cosplay runway.
“This is great use of a parking lot,” Kurlychek said.
The emphasis this year was on arts and color, but founder Dow said the underlying idea of Mana-Con has always been to create a fun event for young people. Any substance the event might have is secondary.
“We just want young people to think of the library as a place to come and have fun,” she said. “Its not just a place to get books, but of course that’s important, too.”