LAND O'LAKES — Don't judge LAMECon by its name.
"LAME stands for Library Anime and Manga Enthusiasts," said Diego Hernandez, a volunteer at the Land O'Lakes Library, who serves on the anime convention's planning committee, adding with a chuckle, "It's cool that the name just worked out that way."
The convention, which runs this weekend at the library, celebrates the anime and manga forms of Japanese comic art that claims a strong fan base here in America. It isn't unusual for young fans to spend hundreds of dollars traveling anywhere from Miami to Boston to attend anime conventions.
So a group of local anime and manga fans decided to bring the art form home with a free convention in Land O'Lakes.
"This is something that the kids wanted," said Karen Correa, head of youth services at the library system. "It meant a lot to them, but a lot of them couldn't afford to go to the big conventions."
Correa and library teen services manager Paul Stonebridge conceptualized the first event four years ago at Hudson Regional Library. Since then the convention has grown and moved to Land O'Lakes.
"It keeps growing every year," said Alicia Diaz, a youth services librarian at the Land O'Lakes Library. "The convention drew 50 people the first year and 250 people last year."
Through the years LAMECon has grown to be a two-day, multi-faceted event. This year's festivities are from 7-10 p.m. Saturday with an anime dance and costume contest in which enthusiasts can dress up to win manga and music prizes. The dance also will feature a para-para (Japanese line dance) contest, as well as Japanese snacks and drinks for sale.
Convention Day will run 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, featuring live appearances by anime artists as part of an Artist Alley; a Cosplay (costume play) contest in which groups of four to five costumed actors will perform anime-related skits; trading cards, video games and an anime viewing room; a "Maid Cafe" in which costumed servers sell Asian tea time treats; an Asian style hairstyling station; door prizes of manga publications for all in attendance; and a full schedule of panel discussions.
"This year we'll be covering Japanese music and culture. ... Paul Stonebridge will be sharing stories from his trip to Japan," said Stephanie Kempe, library volunteer and head of the LAMECon committee. "And we'll be doing panels on specific anime shows, like My Little Pony and Transformers."
Two other committee members, Mary McCretton and Marissa Rose, are advanced art students at Land O'Lakes High School who credit anime with inspiring their interest in hand-drawn and digital art.
"For us, anime is the root," said Rose, 17. "The big inspiration."
McCretton, also 17, agrees.
"It's so broad," she said. "There are so many stories and styles in anime."
Both teens have designed special buttons that LAMECon participants can earn by attending event panels this weekend. McCretton is the artist responsible for this year's LAMECon logo, a digitally produced image that features an anime still life.
"I can draw anime for hours," said McCretton. "When I get in that zone, I look up and it's midnight — but still the drawing is not quite complete."
Rose is the administrator of this year's Artist Alley, a panel of a half-dozen anime and manga artists — everyone from graphic novelists to doll makers to digital designers — who can do special work on commission the day of the convention.
"Plus you get to laugh and talk with the artists," said Rose. "It's a lot of fun."
Both girls see LAMECon as a rare local opportunity for people to meet, convene and share their enthusiasm for manga and anime.
"Every year the convention just gets bigger and better," said Rose.
And with this convention, it is the young fans of anime and manga that make the magic happen.
"It's nice to see your ideas put to work," said Shane Reardon, a LAMECon committee member. "You can look at something at the convention and say, 'I did that.' "