A new face on superheroes

Mask posters show real people to ‘flip the script’ on face coverings.

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Amelie Loyot typically arrives on-Island in March or April to open her seasonal home in Oak Bluffs. But she heeded the warning of Island health leaders concerned about an outbreak of COVID-19 on the Vineyard that would overwhelm the hospital, and stayed away until June.

Loyot, as loyal readers know, carries on the tradition started by her aunt, Mindy Kendall, and puts out the sea serpent, Vanessa, in Farm Pond each summer. This year, Vanessa was sporting a mask.

But Loyot noticed something disturbing after she arrived at her home away from home in Oak Bluffs. Vanessa may have been wearing a mask, but a lot of visitors weren’t. She was particularly disturbed by a story in The Times that showed people gathered outside restaurants at the harbor with little to no social distancing, and scant mask use. She called her friend Christine Todd, president of the Oak Bluffs Business Association. 

Loyot, who has worked for some big-name advertising agencies, and now works freelance through her website amelieloyot.com, was willing to provide her marketing skills. 

“I said, ‘We’ve got to do something to help.’ [Todd] was feeling the exact same thing: ‘I’ve got to help the businesses. People will lose livelihood,’” Loyot said. “We felt if we do something that’s clinical and serious, it might get ignored. I tried to flip the script so it was more of a focus on the positive side of wearing a mask, and a celebration of people who wear them.”

Loyot created posters with an illustration of a man in a mask and a woman in a mask with the line, “On MV our superheroes wear masks.”

She also tied it to the marketing campaign being done to close Circuit Avenue to vehicle traffic on Sundays, an effort to help the restaurants there. They called it the Masquerade.

“She didn’t want to do it in a punitive way or a strong-arm way,” Todd said of the campaign. “We thought, What can we do to make people feel like they’re cool, rather than following an order?”

Todd used her business connections to get the posters up in store windows, and Oak Bluffs selectman Brian Packish also joined the effort. Movie theater guru Richard Paradise had movie-size posters made, and agreed to put them up in the frames outside the Island’s closed theaters — the Strand and Capawock — where movie posters would have gone. The message was getting out in a positive way.

“The mask-wearing went way up. I watched it happen,” Loyot said. She noted that Martha’s Vineyard has continued to have among the lowest numbers in the state, remarkable given that the Island still attracted a lot of vacationers and some day-trippers from other states. “It’s the proudest thing I’ve done all year,” she said. 

More recently, Loyot has teamed with Jeremy Driesen, an Oak Bluffs photographer who does freelance work for The Times. With the assistance of Driesen, they’ve added real people to the posters, looking every bit the part of live-action superheroes masked up and ready to take on the world — and avoid the spread of the coronavirus.

“I was excited as an art director to work with him,” Loyot said, noting Driesen’s use of lighting.

Driesen said he was only too happy to help his friend:. “I had been doing some evening beach portraits with front flash. It’s a little motif I had been working on. I feel like we all need to do what we can to help with the pandemic.”

Loyot said she hopes to continue the campaign, and is looking for more real people willing to be a part of it.

“God bless her, because she’s turned something sterile and bland into something that people want to be part of,” Todd said. “We have to keep it going, because I’ve noticed recently that some people are letting their guard down.”

Loyot and Driesen donated their time and talents, while Todd has paid for the materials and posters. Paradise chipped in with the posters that went up at the theaters. Todd said posters were sold at some Oak Bluffs stores after people asked where they could get them to keep as a collector’s item. The money was put right back into making more posters, she said.

Loyot is so proud of the effort to get people to wear masks that she entered them into a prestigious New England advertising competition known as the Hatch Awards. She’s also hoping to use her connections to pitch the campaign to some high-profile off-Island politicians.

“It’s one of the highlights of my career,” Loyot said. “I got to use what I do to make a difference.”