LAND O'LAKES — Five years ago, a group of about 50 anime and manga fans gathered at a Pasco library to celebrate these two popular forms of Japanese comic art. Year after year a few more friends came to join them, and last year, LAMECon drew nearly 500 people to the Land O'Lakes Library.
(For the uninitiated, LAME stands for Library Anime and Manga Enthusiasts.)
"Our little con has grown up so fast," said Diego Hernandez, a library volunteer who serves on the LAMECon planning committee.
This year's LAMECon is again expected to bring together artists and fans from throughout the state. It has established quite a rep among anime fans.
"I was at an anime convention in Orlando when a young lady came up to me and said, 'You run LAMECon!' " said Megan Zarek, 21, a LAMECon co-founder and planner who also co-hosts the Anime America podcast. "This has become a big event in our area."
A longtime anime enthusiast, Zarek says she has seen friends spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to attend state and national conventions.
"Between gas, food and all the artwork and merchandise, they'd spend so much," she said. "They'd go through all of the money they brought for the convention the first day."
Local anime fans found one remedy for this situation in the formation of the Land O'Lakes Library Anime Club.
"We couldn't all go to the conventions. We needed something more accessible," said Stephanie Kempe, 20, a co-founder of both the anime club and LAMECon convention. "We could get our anime fix in this club."
Under the guidance of Paul Stonebridge, teen services manager of the Pasco County Library System, and Karen Correa, head of youth services at the library system, these anime fans expanded their club into a con.
"All they have to do is bring along a few bucks for food and they can come to a full convention," Stonebridge said.
Originally a one-day, six-hour con, LAMECon has evolved into a two-day event that kicks off at 7 p.m. Saturday with an anime dance night, featuring a professional DJ playing Japanese and Korean music, and a costume contest with prizes.
Visitors to this year's convention day on Sunday will receive complimentary door prizes that include anime and manga books, CDs and other merchandise. They will meet anime and manga artists at Artist Alley, including special guests Payton Abbott and Emily Colan, the Sarasota-based artists responsible for the Game Over anime comic.
Visitors also will be able to purchase and commission artwork. For an additional $5, guests can gain admission to a "Maid Cafe," in which costumed servers sell Asian teatime treats, as well as dance and perform songs.
The event will include speeches and discussion panels covering subjects that range from Asian music and horror films to the history of the world in anime; in addition, Stonebridge will share stories and souvenirs collected during a recent trip to Korea.
New this year will be panels on other forms of pop culture entertainment, including Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and My Little Pony.
Aside from a hearty dose of artistic inspiration, the convention will supply plenty of social opportunities for participants.
"When you all like anime, you all get along so fast," said Meghan Darby, 19, a convention organizer.
"We needed a place for people who liked anime, and that's why more people come every year," said Kenny Coplon, author and convention organizer. "There aren't a lot of places in Land O'Lakes where you can be nerdy. This is our haven."