If you happen to see Hermione Granger wandering around Pima Community College's downtown campus this weekend, don't assume that PCC is now offering classes in wizardry.
It's more likely that you're seeing 15-year-old Izzie Monroy, who will be one of more than 1,000 Tucsonans decked out in costume for MegaMania, an annual Pima County Library event that encourages people of all ages—but especially kids—to dress up as their favorite characters.
It's all about cosplay, which has exploded out of comic-book and science-fiction conventions. Last month's Phoenix Comicon brought more than 100,000 people to downtown Phoenix in the heat of summer, with many of them decked out as their favorite characters from comics, cartoons, movies and TV shows. The San Diego Comic Con promises to be even bigger later this month.
In addition to the cosplay and costume contest, the sixth annual MegaMania—a free event organized by librarians across Pima County that runs from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 9—will feature special guests like comic-book writer Jeff Mariotte and children's book author Adam Rex as well as board and video games, app design classes, panel discussions on costume design and even a "zombie makeover" session.
Monroy says she likes cosplay "because it's a giant game of make-believe."
"Once you turn a certain age people say you're not allowed to have an imagination or be in love with a character, but in cosplay so many people share that passion and idea of wanting to keep your imagination alive and continue living in this fictional character's world," she says.
Monroy said the first year she attended MegaMania, she threw together a costume and was both curious and nervous about how the event would go.
After she turned 13, she realized that she liked dressing up as a character close to her own age, so she went with Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter books and movies.
"Now people just kind of recognize me as her," said Monroy, whose cosplay was so spot-on that she won MegaMania's costume contest last year.
Although she is involved with the cosplay community outside of conventions, Monroy says that MegaMania holds a special place in her heart because it's where she was first introduced to cosplay.
Monroy said MegaMania can seem overwhelming because of all the crowds and the wide range of activities.
"You follow a train of people in and you're greeted by volunteers who give you pamphlets and a program guide and wish you a good day," Monroy said. "It's a long hallway and you see booths left and right that you want to check out. You pick your way through all the booths and people slowly. You see more and more people continue to shuffle in and hear laughter around every corner. Everyone's having a good time and you just know there's a lot of people there who are there for same reason you are."
Monroy said that sense of community is what makes MegaMania fun for her.
"It has that supportive atmosphere so you can try something new and no one's going to make fun of you," Monroy said. "You're allowed to make mistakes there. Maybe it's your first time or you have a malfunction going on, but it is such a supportive environment that even if something does go wrong you're going to have fun and the staff makes sure of that. They do their best to make it welcoming and amazing for anyone who decides to come."
This year, Monroy will team up with a group of friends to host her first-ever panel: an in-character Truth or Dare session as characters from Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, complete with audience interaction. Following that, they will talk about the cosplay community and their experiences with it as teenagers.
Monroy's advises those attending to not be afraid of making mistakes or being who they are.
"It can seem kind of scary at first spending time, money, effort and patience to make a costume and dress up, to invest so much time, but it's worth it," Monroy said. "I see a lot of people who are shy in the cosplay community and I know because I used to be one of them. I didn't know what I was doing for the longest time and I kind of just figured it out until I realized that there are people I can talk to about it."
Monroy said the staff and attendees make MegaMania amazing. Her only complaint is that there's not enough time to do everything because there's so many things going on at once, so she'd like to see MegaMania become a two-day event.
"Whether it's their first time hearing about the event or it's their sixth time going, I hope that people fall in love with this event the way I have over the past few years," Monroy said.
MegaMania got its start in 2011 at the eastside Murphy-Wilmot Library, where roughly 450 people turned out for the program. It's grown bigger every year.
Caitlin Burns, manager at the Dewhirst-Catalina Library and lead coordinator of MegaMania, said almost 1,300 people came out last year and they're expecting this year's Mania to follow trend and become even bigger.
A few years ago, the library moved MegaMania to the larger venue of the downtown Pima Community College campus to not only accommodate more people and programs, but also provide a more centralized location to encourage kids from across the county to attend.
Paulina Aguirre-Clinch, managing librarian at the SouthWest Library on Valencia Road west of I-10, has encouraged parents and kids to head downtown for MegaMania. Some of her regular teens have been looking forward to the event all year.
"It's an amazing experience, but SouthWest is way out here and a lot of our kids don't easily have a way to just go to these big events we plan," Clinch said.
Clinch has organized a car pool with the library van and has offered to meet up with kids who can get dropped off at PCC.
Burns said the event focuses on literacy and education from a less conventional angle than the library usually provides.
Over the years, the Pima County Library has changed their summer young-adult learning program to encompass not just reading, but broader learning, taking into account the many different passions that today's teens have.
"We want to appropriately match our programs with the mental development teens are experiencing," said Kendra Davey, young adult services manager at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library. "Teens are interested in a wide variety of things and those interests help them decide what they're going to be doing in their future."
Davey is currently the manager of the recently created 101 space at the downtown library that's designed to help teens learn how to program robots, edit video and develop other high-tech skills.
"We as a library are very well poised to give them the opportunity to try something out and give them the support to develop that interest in a deeper way and help them make a connection between that interest and how they can be successful as an adult," Davey said.
Davey said MegaMania allows families to come together and experience the cosplay culture while giving children the opportunity to meet and hang out with kids who have similar interests.
"Summer for teens is when they actually get to choose what they're learning and doing," Davey said.
"It's their time, we're just here to help."
Burns said that the event is one of her favorites because she gets to spend time with the kids and watch them spend time with each other.
"What makes us unique from similar events or programs is that we're not here to make a profit," Burns said. "We're just here for the kids, to make sure they have a good time, enjoy themselves, learn a lot of new things and meet people with similar interests."
She said every year kids just walk up to each other to compliment their costumes and talk about the characters, books and movies.
"I see kids get excited and become passionate and it grows," Burns said. "I see the reaction of those who come back every year and see the same reaction in new people. It gives me a sense of purpose as a librarian."
The Magic of Believing
MegaMania wouldn't be possible if there weren't a strong cosplay and young adult community interested in all it has to offer. It also wouldn't be possible without all the artists and authors who donate their time and lend their knowledge.
The last few years have seen a huge jump in the number of people willing to participate as well as a good amount of people contacting them hoping to be involved, Burns says.
"Tucson Comic-Con approached me last year and asked how they could help, so we're working together and have a great relationship," Burns said.
Burns said they do spend some money on the event, but all funds are given by their nonprofit partner organization, Friends of the Pima County Library, which raises funds to support library programs.
"We've established great relationships within the community," Burns says. "I think Tucson is just a really special place that appreciates its local businesses, makers, creators and doers."
She said the library responds to that spirit and gets everybody together to put on this party for teens, young adults and families.
"We're a very literate community and I think we really value learning and education," Burns said. "I see this connection because Tucson is a very supportive place for all types of people who want to grow personally or professionally."
And for 15-year-old Izzie Monroy, MegaMania is a place to dress up, expand her imagination, make friends and have fun.
"I'm just excited for the atmosphere," Monroy. "You can go up to anyone and say hello. I love Megamania for what it is. I love that it's a smaller community like vibe where you can interact with anyone without being scared."
What To Expect at MegaMania
• Play giant games of Jenga, chess, Connect Four, Bananagrams and ball drop
• Visit vendor booths to find rare treasures or eat delicious free food
• Show off your skills and enter the cosplay costume contest for a chance to win cool prizes and bragging rights
• Learn how to begin piecing together your own cosplay costume on a limited budget
• Terrify your friends by taking a picture in the Tucson Comic-Con photo booth after getting a flesh-eating zombie makeover
• Make your own Harry Potter book, Book of Monsters or History of Hogwarts available
• Watch app demos or learn how to create your own in an app development workshop
• Travel to the stars in a portable planetarium, video game astronomy, comics in the cosmos and anime astronomy available
• Battle your family, friends or strangers at a variety of video games available or at Yu-Gi-Oh!
• Meet with famous artists and authors, including Jeff Mariotte who has worked for Marvel and DC and written more than 50 novels and 150 comic books, or Adam Rex, who authored Smekday, which was adapted into the 2015 animated feature by DreamWorks
• Play with tech toys and program a sumo wrestler robot
• Learn the basics of making sushi with Chef Mario or origami making with Maryellen Palameria
• Play classic board games or learn how to design your own
• Hone your arts and crafts skills and learn about books at the Kid Lit for Kidlets
• Test your Minecraft skills with duplo blocks, hands-on building, learning and creating
• Explore the history of anime and its impact on American pop culture
• Learn the basics of creating a character and how to ultimately piece together a comic book
For more information and a more detailed program schedule visit library.pima.gov