Superheroes, wizards, and Jedi Knights have descended on the Venezuelan capital. And while they may not be able to save the country from its spiralling economic crisis, fans at Caracas Comic-Con are counting on their heroes to at least help them escape their real-world problems for a while.
For three weekends, through July 31, fans are paying tribute to the worlds of comic books, video games and sci-fi at the 10th Caracas Comic-Con, the local edition of the international pop culture fest. It comes at a time when a punishing recession, food shortages, hyperinflation and violent crime have left Venezuelans desperate for heroes, or even villains, to come to the rescue.
"It gives us space to breathe in the middle of this political situation," said Jhoan Guzman, a 25-year-old chemist who is today wearing the white face paint and red lipstick of his alter ego: Batman's arch-enemy, Joker. "This is an alternative to help us forget the world we're living in, to enjoy ourselves doing something we love."
Instead of lining up outside the supermarket for basic necessities, attendees flock to a convention hall in a Caracas mall to pay homage to their favourite pop culture phenomena: The Avengers, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Pokemon and Game of Thrones, among others.
Some even show up in costume, just like at other Comic-Cons worldwide, chief among them the giant gathering each July in San Diego, though here the get-ups are often cobbled together using whatever materials are at hand. Ann Mary Fayard, a 34-year-old fashion designer, was decked out as Harley Quinn, the Joker's sidekick, a costume she made from scraps.
"I recycle everything. Whatever cloth is left over, design materials. I save money and tap of my ingenuity," she said. "I like 'cosplay' (costume role-play) because I can let my imagination fly. It's a way to free your mind of so many problems and spend time doing something else."
Venezuela is teetering on the brink of collapse, devastated by the global plunge in prices for its main export, oil. President Nicolas Maduro's government is struggling to contain the crisis, fueling opposition calls for an end to 17 years of leftist rule.
The doom and gloom have not kept self-described "geeks" from shelling out 1,800 bolivars (about $3 at the latest official exchange rate), more than a week's pay at minimum wage, to attend Caracas Comic-Con. Convention organiser Daniela Paolillo said she expected some 20,000 visitors.
One of the top issues they are talking about, said Paolillo, is when they will be able to play Pokemon Go, the wildly popular video game in which players roam the real world hunting for cartoon monsters with their cell phones. Thyfany Ron, a member of the Pokemon Venezuela fan club, said there is still no local release date for the game. And it is unclear how safe it would be for players in a country with one of the world's highest rates of violent crime, where smartphone users are frequent targets on the street.
But Comic-Con is a time to forget all that, said Maria Pinto, a 19-year-old psychology student dressed up as Star Butterfly from the animated fantasy series "Star vs the Forces of Evil". "We're living in times of crisis, but we're looking for a way to free ourselves and shed that stress," she said.