The return to normalcy in the age of COVID-19 comes with plenty of caveats and uncertainty. The things you used to do before COVID times feels like a distant memory, where people didn’t have to weigh the potential risks and comfort levels of doing certain activities you never gave much thought to before. While the virus, unfortunately, is not over us as much as we’re over it, even with the vaccines, life does have to keep going on in some capacity. Including attending fun events like a comic convention.
Last Saturday I attended New York Comic Con at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City like I have done numerous times before the pandemic, and the experience was definitely different but fun despite the circumstances we’re still living with.
When my friend and I decided to attend Comic Con this year it was before the Delta variant became a major concern. Despite being vaccinated we were uncomfortable with the potential crowds this convention often attracts and how well the organizers would take precautions to ensure everyone was safe. Thankfully when we went on Saturday every safety measure was taken, including checking for proof of vaccination as you slowly entered the Javits Center and keeping masks on for the duration of the convention. If it wasn’t for these two key things being taken seriously, my friend and I probably would have cut our time at the convention short.
Once we were inside there were noticeable differences between this year’s convention compared to the prior years. For one, the convention wasn’t as packed as it normally would be, even for a Saturday. Being any where in and around the Javits Center, you would be rubbing elbows with people as you moved around the showroom floor or in the main lobby area. That’s how packed this convention could get. This time, and because Comic Con was operating at slightly reduced crowd capacities, there was more personal space between you and other con goers. My friend and I bumped into a mutual friend of ours and her husband, which ordinarily wouldn’t be an easy feat to do. If you knew anyone else going to the convention, it often involved coordinating where to meet and at what time. We managed to bump into them about two more times after that because it was just easier to spot people in a not so crowded event.
And two, there weren’t as many exhibitors like in Comic Cons past. Due to the pandemic the convention did feel a bit lacking with the absence of major companies that normally would attend, like Nintendo and Playstation, though anything video game related would be better off at sticking to PAX. With less exhibitors in attendance it most likely contributed to the less packed feeling this convention had.
As much as people working at the booths or around the convention warmly and enthusiastically greeted everyone with a “Welcome Back!” it did feel more subdued and for good reason. COVID isn’t over and to pretend that it is would be insensitive to those who were affected by it. But that doesn’t mean we all can’t gather together (safely of course) to enjoy the very thing that makes these conventions an exciting event to attend—letting your geek and fandom flag fly high and proud.
The cosplayers came back in full force and even got really creative with their face masks. Some worked it into their costumes so that they comply with the masking requirements, while still fitting seamlessly with their outfit. There were plenty of the usual Marvel and DC characters dominating the convention floor, Loki variants and Harley Quinn being among the most popular this year, but some different ones, too, like the colorful crewmates of the popular game Among Us and Miss Minutes from the Disney+ show Loki.
There weren’t many panels me and my friends wanted to attend the Saturday we were there, but we did decide to see one about video games becoming the new national pastime. The panelists discussed their history and background with gaming, and gave a really informative and insightful look at how video games were no longer the niche activity it once was. They cited stats about the age of gamers now including people in their 40s-50s, as well as video games surpassing movies and television as a far more lucrative and popular entertainment medium.
This year’s con attendance may have felt quieter and calmer, but I enjoyed being able to dip a toe back into a regular in-person event I’ve done many times before without the chaos and the anxiety that comes with being around too many people when the pandemic is still happening. I’m glad parts of 2021 could be salvaged, even if our definition of normal is not quite there yet.