TUPELO – Vicky Manning, Teen Librarian, sounds like she could be a character in a Japanese comic book: By day, a mild-mannered school girl, by night, a heroine with her magic books and wildly improbable hair.
In reality, Manning is teen librarian at Lee County Library, where she’s in charge of finding books that appeal to young readers.
She’s also the founder of the library’s Cosplay Club. “Cosplay” is a combination of the words “costume” and “play,” so the club provides a place where teenagers can have fun dressing up as superheroes and villains from comic books, cartoons, movies, books and video games.
“I tried to start a club before and it didn’t get many takers, but it worked this time,” Manning said. “We started when the school year started in August. We’ve got a good group.”
The club is a creative outlet for about a dozen kids who meet at the library on the third Tuesday of each month.
“Some people have costumes handy, so they will dress up for meetings,” said Caitlyn Hayes, 13, of Tupelo. “If they don’t have a costume ready, they just come as they are normally.”
She’s relatively new to dressing up, but she’s a fan of manga and anime, which are Japanese comics and cartoons.
“I read manga a lot,” she said. “When I run out of a series, I go find another one to start.”
Bookstore managers have recognized manga’s popularity and made room on their shelves. Anime shows like “Dragon Ball Z” and “Pokemon” have been on television for years, and now streaming services like Netflix bring a wide range of titles into people’s homes.
“I’ve got a bookcase full of manga and anime,” said Kerri Bland, 13, of Pontotoc. “I’m surprised my parents haven’t stopped buying them.”
Reading and watching are starting points for kids like Kerri.
“Sometimes, I just get bored and I look at the sewing machine and think, Yeah,” she said, while dressed as Mangle from “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” a video game.
Kerri made Mangle’s fox ears and tail, as well as her pink cape and skirt and the puppet that serves as the character’s left arm. She also bought a pair of contact lenses to mimic Mangle’s wild eyes.
“I’ve got purple contacts. I’ve got yellow contacts,” she said. “I’m used to wearing them. Sometimes, I wear them to school.”
Kerri definitely has a talent for cosplay. Her first attempt at a character was Midna, a Twilight Princess from the “Legend of Zelda” video game series.
“I won an award at a cosplay convention with her,” said Kerri, referring to the Mississippi Anime Invasion in Oxford.
There are large-scale conventions in cities like Atlanta, Chicago and Memphis. Syfy Network produced a show called “Heroes of Cosplay” about committed creative types who work on costumes all night to get every detail contest-ready.
The library’s Cosplay Club doesn’t require that type of devotion to join, but group members have been working with a goal in mind.
“We’re going to a convention in Hamilton in May,” said Manning.
Despite being Vicky Manning, Teen Librarian, she doesn’t dress in costume.
“I have thought about it, though,” she said.
Retta Maxwell, 14, of Tupelo, said members may tease each other about whose costume is better, but the main reason for dressing up is to have a good time with like-minded friends.
“I enjoy getting to be somebody else while still being myself,” she said. “You’re in a community of people who share the same interests, TV shows, games, movies and just anything that has characters.”
She attended April’s Cosplay Club meeting as Marceline the Vampire Queen from “Adventure Time” on Cartoon Network. The costume included a striped sweater and a pair of jeans that she ripped up. She also ordered a long, black wig.
“We’re young teenagers here, so we definitely have to have low budgets,” she said. “You’ve got to remember conventions cost, too, so you can’t spend money on just your costume alone.”
Camille Campbell, 12, of Tupelo, is the club president, and she understood the need for budgetary restraint when putting together her costume for Medusa Gorgon from “Soul Eater.”
“I got this together in two days,” she said. “We went to a thrift store.”
When choosing her character for the April meeting, Sanders Higgins, 14, of Tupelo, went outside the world of manga and anime.
“I love Harry Potter,” she said. “I’ve read all the books and seen all the movies, and I own all the movies and books.”
She has dressed up as Harry’s friend Hermione for Halloween, but the club gives her a reason to inhabit a Potter character more than one day a year. She chose Nymphadora Tonks for the April meeting.
“I like how she can change her hair and she’s always been my favorite. I’m not sure why,” said Higgins, who added a dash of pink to her hair to go with her wand and black robe. “It’s really fun. I get to be a metamorphagus like her.”
Bennett Poston, 13, of Tupelo, is one of the few boys in the club. When picking a costume for the meeting, he drew from the video game “Call of Duty.”
“I like it because you get to be the characters you like,” he said. “It just feels cool, stepping out of reality and going into fiction for a while.”
The next Cosplay Club meeting will be 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 19.
“We’re also having our cosplay camp on June 15,” said Vicky Manning, Teen Librarian. “It’s for all ages, so everyone can come and see what it’s all about.”