Going into New York Comic Con this year, one big question on many people’s minds was “Would people keep their masks on while inside?” You needed to provide proof of vaccination or of a recent negative COVID test to NYCC staff to obtain a wristband to even get in the front door, and wear a mask onsite at the Javits. The mask rule was laid out on both the Javits and NYCC websites.
On Thursday, it was rare to spot an attendee who wasn’t wearing a mask unless they were having a smoke outside, eating or drinking, but there were a number of dealers and vendors maskless at their booths. Would dealers be allowed to go maskless in the confines of their own booth?
The answer to this was provided on Friday, when Invasion Toys was told by NYCC organizers to pack it up and leave; they were being removed from the convention for violating the state-mandated Javits mask policy. According to sources, Citadel Security gave Invasion Toys multiple warnings to mask up or else, and those warnings went unheeded. In their Instagram response, seen below, Invasion Toys claimed it was one of their partners they were sharing the booth with not wearing a mask, though others claim it was masked-up partners who complained to NYCC staff about Invasion Toys staff not wearing their masks. It is interesting to note that Invasion Toys turned off commenting on both of their Instagram posts related to them being removed from NYCC.
I reached out to Invasion Toys for comment. A representative for the store explained their side of things, saying, “We feel there is the notion that ‘we refused to wear masks’ when the truth is we were all wearing them but were caught out a couple of times and [others] weren’t. The headlines suggest we were making a stand against mask-wearing when this wasn’t the case.”
According to Kristina Rogers, Event Director for NYCC, Invasion Toys weren’t the only dealers removed, as others also were for failing to mask up. Dealers were warned, and given a chance to correct themselves. Rogers elaborated, “We provided one onsite warning in addition to the multiple emails they received prior to the show informing them of our procedures. In addition, onsite we reviewed security video/footage to determine if it was an individual vs entire booth non-compliance.”
Invasion Toys says, “We respect the decision of the organizer but feel it was disproportionate when you consider that there were instances when other people at other booths didn’t have masks on.” However, Instagram Reels posted by Invasion Toys during NYCC did show Invasion Toys staff maskless in the booth during convention hours. Those Reels have since been removed from Instagram.
Whether it was Invasion Toys or their booth partners who were at fault, the outcome was the same: Invasion Toys was removed from NYCC ’21 for violating the mask policy. This must have sent ripples through the retailers on the floor, as the retailers seen unmasked on Thursday were all masked on Friday and Saturday.
Sunday was a different story. By early afternoon on Sunday, it was clear that many were taking masks to be optional once inside. Many retailers were spotted maskless at their booths, some not even putting masks on when approached by customers. Convention-goers too were spotted maskless much more frequently on Sunday than they were the previous three days, though this reporter did see Citadel Security staff stationed at the escalators telling maskless people to put on their masks as they made their way onto the show floor on Sunday.
Even though fewer people were wearing masks properly on Sunday, NYCC management doesn’t feel lax enforcement was the culprit. About Sunday in particular, NYCC’s Rogers said, “It wasn’t that the enforcement was lax, we added more folks to our mask enforcement group throughout the day as we were seeing a big increase in folks pulling theirs down as the day went on. I think it was a combination of mask fatigue and then, of course, the impact of seeing others with their masks pulled down that helped contribute.”
Should there be lasting repercussions for vendors who flaunted the masks rule at NYCC? As Rogers pointed out, security tape exists, and if NYCC wanted to, it could review it to see who was and who was not in compliance with masking rules. Invasion Toys also said that their removal from the convention wasn’t a “permaban,” though, so at least they have a chance to learn from this experience and follow the rules more closely next time. Whether they will, or whether they’ll just avoid going to conventions altogether rather than wear a mask for a full weekend, is anybody’s guess.