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Late last month, the gym of the Sparta Middle School filled with students, many dressed in comic book inspired costumes. They were there to participate in SpartaCon, a two hour mini-convention to inspire students to connect with literacy through comic books and graphic novels. The students learned how graphic novels are created through a panel discussion with local comic book artists Marty Salsman and Chad Thomas, and asked questions about why they became artists and how long it takes them to create a comic book. Some students received some drawings to take home from the artists.

The students also got some exposure to the culture surrounding comics and graphic novels through a cosplay performance by group called the Kira Kira Girls, and a cosplay contest among students. Cosplay is the practice of dressing up like a fictional character, sometimes from a graphic novel. SpartaCon included a trivia competition moderated by Joey Mills, co-host of the podcast Pop Goes the Culture. The winners took home copies of their own graphic novels courtesy of the Christian County Library.

The Kira Kira Girls

SpartaCon was the product of a partnership between Christian County Library Outreach Manager Scott Villarreal, Sparta Social Studies teacher Samantha Johnson, and Sparta Library Media Specialist Emily Morris. “This was a way for the students to get excited about graphic novels. The graphic novel circulation in our library is huge, so they were already popular, and each student had to read one before the Con,” said Morris.

While SpartaCon was a one-day event, for Samantha Johnson it was a step on the road to having her students create their own graphic novels. Her eighth grade students are studying early U.S. History. They have spent time not only reading graphic novels, but critiquing them. After expanding their knowledge of how best to express a story or information through a combination of art and writing, they are now working on creating their own graphic novels about the Native American experience during the nineteenth century. The eighth grade students’ work will then be available for the fifth graders, who will so

Cosplay contest participants

on be studying the same topic, to check out in the school library.

“We are a rural school, we have a high rate of students on the free and reduced lunch program, and some struggling readers. Being able to use graphic novels helps them to be more open to reading them, and now writing them is not as daunting,” explained Morris.

Exposure to literacy and art was not the only benefit to Sparta Con. Some of the biggest takeaways for the students, said Johnson, was seeing artists embracing their passion. “They connected with students who don’t think they’re seen and heard as much, and those students witnessed adults who are a valuable part of the community and are into things like art and comics.”

For the Christian County Library, SpartaCon was a both a promotion of literacy and graphic novels among middle school students, and an important part of the library’s continued efforts to get involved in the Sparta community as money is set aside to construct the future library branch in that community. For more information, call the Christian County Library at (417)581-2432.

Emcee Joey Mills and superhero volunteers