Recently we planned a library party for teens - a sort of a costume party/masquerade. There was a LOT of debate about the theme. Last year we used the official ALA theme for teen read week. This year, wanting to branch out, we discussed a graphic novel theme. Some people loved it, some people didn't care, but what surprised me was that there were some people - people with Power - who really disliked it.
There were several objections: that the theme was too narrow, and that the theme would be a turn-off to people who "weren't interested in that kind of thing."
Now, I really object to the accusation of narrowness, Graphic novels are incredibly diverse. You've got classic comic books, and Elfquest, and a HUGE variety of manga. You've got Gaiman's Sandman, you've got Frank Miller, you've got Craig Thompson's Blankets and Alex Robinson's Box Office Poison.
To me, once you think about the breadth of the genre, the second objection loses its punch, because "that kind of thing" is too unspecific. Also, don't you run that risk with any theme? Whatever your theme is, it's bound to be more interesting to some people than to others.
So should we just proceed without a theme? Many people thought yes. I strongly disagree. Having a theme is absolutely invaluable for a dressing-up event like this. It sparks creativity, inspires costumes and decorations, and provides direction for people who find "dressing up" to be overwhelming. It gives people a path for getting excited about the event - in thinking about the theme, they begin engaging their minds with the event. To a certain extent, they begin the event by already having something in common - their different and varied engagement with the theme.*
We ended up working with a "loose theme" - we used graphic novel elements in the publicity, without saying "This is our theme!" This was challenging, because it was difficult to tie those visual elements to the event itself. The phrase "What mask will you wear?" ended up being really useful and playing a big role in the materials.
The silver lining of these challenges was that it forced us to hold our publicity to a higher standard. Here's why:
Usually, if you're having a program about birds, you put a picture of a bird on the poster, and then people who like birds will think "Oh, what's that?" and come closer, and read the poster. In this case, a picture of a comic book character might not interest your entire audience. There is certainly an overlap - teens and tweens are probably the largest graphic novel audience - but we wanted to still attract interest from teens who could care less about graphic novels. We spent even more time than usual thinking about the main message of each piece, and what information we could convey from a distance.
It was a good exercise. Especially, of course, because you can never really count on your image and look to attract EVERY SINGLE POTENTIAL USER. "What can you see from 10 feet away?" is something we should ask ourselves every single time.
*How do you know all this about themes, Kate?
From leading "Carnival Day" at summer camp. I have quite a bit of experience observing teens at themed events.