Taylor Gray, the voice behind Ezra Bridger on “Star Wars Rebels,” will appear via Zoom to answer questions from Pop!-con attendees.

By Billy Liggett

A popular joke for cosplayers is to show up dressed in Star Trek or other futuristic garb at a renaissance festival, acting the part of a confused time traveler among the dedicated participants.

This sword crossing of pop culture references will actually be encouraged at Lee County Libraries’ third annual POP!-con and Renaissance Faire, happening at the library and in downtown Sanford from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Aug. 21.

Born from the Brick City Phenomicon hosted by Hugger Mugger Brewing back in 2018, the POP!-con will feature everything from the Triangle chapter of the Knightly Order of the Fiat Lux — a Renaissance-era group who provides “a modern tribute to the invaluable contribution of Knighthood to our culture and society” — to a video conference with Taylor Gray, voice of Ezra Bridger in the popular “Star Wars Rebels” series on Disney.

Guests will have access to all kinds of vendors who specialize in blacksmithing and jewelry making and those who’ve built careers writing and creating comic books and graphic novels. It will be a wonderful blend of “Geek culture,” and a reflection of a passion for event lead organizer and cataloging and tech services librarian Allison Sills.

“This is my passion. I go to at least five or six of these events a year,” says Sills, a native of Las Vegas who studied library science at UNC. “With POP!-con, I wanted to inspire local youth to follow their dreams. Maybe many young people think they can’t do what they love and follow careers in fields they love, but we want to show them avenues where they can. If your child loves video games and coding, huge companies like Epic Games [the Cary-based creators of Fortnite] are looking for people to make them.”

POP!-con was a virtual event in 2020 for pandemic reasons, and this year’s event — as of this article — is set to be a hybrid in-person and virtual event. In addition to Gray, who also played Bucket in Nickelodeons’ “Bucket & Skinner’s Epic Adventures,” video guests will include Vincent M. Ward (Oscar on “The Walking Dead”), comic book producer Jeff Messer, and “Beetlejuice” and “Star Trek” propmaster Michael Moore. In-person guests will include Ghostbuster cosplayer and prop and puppet builder for films like “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and “The Hunger Games” Cheralyn Lambeth and graphic novelist Marshall Lakes. Local make-up artists and costume designers will also be on hand.

For all the “pop” in this year’s POP!-con, the main theme will be Renaissance, with entertainment and demonstrations provided by the Knightly Order of the Fiat Lux and blacksmithing demonstrations by Raven’s Keep Forge. The street faire will feature “all manner of homecrafts from knitted stuffed animals to the most exquisite silver necklaces.”

“We’re highly recommending costumes, whether you’re a vendor, on our staff or a guest,” says Beth List, director of library services for Lee County Libraries. “We want everybody involved to be really enthusiastic about this. And in the end, it’s bringing people to the library, and hopefully people can see what all we offer.”

A large event will only get larger, too. The county’s board of commissioners have committed a 30,000 square-foot building for a new library near Lee County High School, off of Bragg Street near the new State Employees’ Credit Union. The proposed new library will have more space and potentially could host bigger conferences in the future.

Planning for this year’s POP!-con has been a yearlong effort, but it really ramped up in March when List and Sills began to realize an in-person event was doable (though recent news of COVID variants and new mask guidelines are cause for concern again). Going the “hybrid” route allows people who aren’t comfortable around others to still enjoy many parts of the event.

“We’re going to make sure there are options for people who want to stay home,” List says, “or for people who want to remain socially distanced.”

But for those who plant to attend — again, they can’t stress this enough — cosplaying is highly, highly recommended.

“It’s part of the fun,” says Sills. “And to encourage people, we’re going to have costume contests, and we’re inviting out Variant Photography, which takes professional photos of you in your costumes. Digital versions of those photos will be free.”

And if you don’t have the knightly armor or the queenly robes, you’re always welcome to show up in your Mandalorian or Black Widow costume.