The Peninsula Libraries Comic Arts Festival (PLCAF) kicks off Feb. 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Foster City with a small press expo and keynote by Kazu Kibuishi. Ryan North, Svetlana Chmakova and Jason Shiga are scheduled to appear later in the month.

All it took was an idea. Two San Mateo County Library staffers—Community Technology Specialist Debbie Huey (Millbrae Library) and librarian Jenna Varden (Foster City Library)—pitched the idea of a small comics festival in the library. Their idea took seed with the powers that be, and that seed grew into a regional event that showcased both local artists and big-named talents (Raina Telgemeier, Thi Bui, the Hernandez Brothers, and Judd Winick to name a few).

Pop culture fans young and old will descend upon the Foster City Library Feb. 2 to kick off the fourth annual, recently rebranded Peninsula Libraries Comics Art Fest. Amulet series creator Kazu Kibuishi will speak and sign books. A Small Press Expo will feature artwork and books from over 45 comics creators. Varden is especially excited about providing a free location for artists to showcase their works.

“We hope that it will spur inspiration and excitement for our patrons to go to many of the other great author events and workshops that will be occurring over the rest of the month,” adds Huey. “Not only do we have very resourceful librarians who do such a great job of finding awesome artists, there a few moonlighting comic creators on our committees who have connections to many of our artists.”

Several well-known comics creators have scheduled appearances. Ryan North (Adventure Time) will talk creating and writing comics February 9 at Millbrae Library. Manga author Svetlana Chmakova will discuss her middle-grade Berrybrook series February 23 at the Burlingame Library. Demon series creator Jason Shiga will lead a choose-your-own-adventure comics workshop February 26 at the Burlingame Library.

The festival began in October 2015 with six artist events, a discussion panel, and seven workshops from Cartoon Art Museum artists. There were 516 attendees. By 2018 the festival grew to over 2,500 attendees. This has led to increased circulation and long wait-lists for titles by participating artists.

As the festival’s primary organizers, both Huey and Varden have a huge say in what comic book titles to purchase for the libraris. They also get to recommend titles to promote for Free Comic Book Day. Huey and Varden understand the storytelling magic that comic books deliver to its young readers.

“Comics and graphic novels are a great gateway medium for promoting literacy, especially with reluctant readers,” says Varden. “It’s often easier to engage readers using graphic novels and they in themselves are informative and educational literature that don’t only exist to lead into reading “real books” later on. Graphic novels also provide visual literacy. Teaching readers to incorporate varied inputs is especially important right now, as everything tends to lean towards graphics and visual inputs.”