It was one year ago that my friend Greg Bishop came to visit me in Mexico City. For a week the two of us stayed in a posh b&b he rented in one of the more central neighborhoods of the city –it was far more convenient (AND comfortable) than if we stayed in my place, which is in the outskirts– and I did my best to take him to as many interesting tourist attractions as we could: Zócalo plaza, the museum of Anthropology, Teotihuacán, Xochimilco, Coyoacán, and a large etcetera. For someone like me, who loves to hunker down inside his turtle shell and stay outside home for as little as possible (yes, even BEFORE the pandemic hit) this week of touristing around my own city was exhausting, but great fun –you can listen to this Radio Misterioso episode which Greg and I recorded on the last night of his stay.
One of the things Greg insisted on doing while in Mexico was attend one of our famous lucha libre matches –this was just before the lockdown in Mexico started BTW– but when I casually told him one could actually get a professional lucha libre mask custom made to any particular design, Greg got REALLY excited. And since I always carry my sketchbook/journal with me, I began to sketch a concept for my friend.
Greg had a few vague ideas of what he wanted. For instance, he asked me to use the original cover of Carl Jung’s book about flying saucers as reference:
I liked the idea of the yellow glowing eyes and decided to transform them into actual flying saucers from which multi-colored beams of light would shoot out –you know me: if there’s a saucer, there has GOT to be a beam!– and began working from there. After I had fleshed out the concept, I decided to be more professional about it and draw a more cleaned out version with my tablet.
I’m an interior designer by trade, and this is the first time I’d ever tried to design a ‘costume’. I also gotta confess that I’m not an expert in lucha libre, but that (I hope) worked on my advantage because I was not going to be influenced by the ‘traditional’ mask design. My only limit was my own imagination and I decided to go WILD with it. Since I’m a big fan of Adamski-type flying saucers, I chose to put two of those on each side, and have flames coming out of them that would look like pointy ears or something. With the color scheme (as noted in the first image of this post) I went with a combination of blues, white and black; but in order to bring some contrast I added warm yellows and oranges.
In hindsight, my mask design looks more like something out of Ultraman than lucha libre, which was quite appealing seeing how Greg is of Japanese descent himself. But to bring back a bit of Mexican ‘flavah’ we came up with the idea of putting some text on the forehead. “Señor OVNI” was the first thing that came to mind, and Greg thought it was perfect, but he only asked that the lettering was done with Spencerian font (like in the Coca Cola logo).
After the design was finalized , it was time to see if it could actually be created! We headed to Deportes Martínez, a little sportswear shop located at the back of Arena México, the traditional lucha libre ring. This establishment has existed for seventy years, and the original owner was the one who sewed the very first mask for a wrestler; since then, all the professional luchadores come here to have their masks made –but of course, they also cater to tourists and crazy gringos like Greg!
I don’t remember exactly how much Greg paid for the mask (maybe 3-400 dollars total) and the guy who attended us, who had impeccable English –a testimony of how popular lucha libre is among foreign visitors– explained to Greg it would take 4-6 weeks for the mask to be completed, but they had no problem FedEx-ing it to the States. Greg accepted and the store guy proceeded to take several measures of his head; next came the selection of the materials and once again the attendant’s expertise was extremely helpful, since he suggested the best approach to fabricate the mask that would more closely resemble my crazy idea –for instance, the Adamski saucers would be directly taken from my digital drawing (which I emailed to them) and made into thread patches that could be sewed into the mask. We also desisted from the ‘closed mouth’ design and opted for a typical slit so the mask would be more comfortable to wear –although in hindsight, Greg should have kept the closed mouth so he could have worn the mask during the pandemic! Oh well…
Eventually Greg returned to the United States –just in time, too, because just a few days after his flight they closed the border!– and COVID-19 hit us all like an invisible tsunami. Time passed and Greg emailed the Deportes Martínez guys from time to time to check on the status of his order, which he had paid in full; unfortunately and just like everyone else, the store was shut and all the orders were on stand-by until it was safe to re-open again.
Finally, by the end of July of last year, Greg announced on Facebook that the Señor OVNI mask had safely arrived to L.A.
Like every creative project I have undertaken, after the initial excitement of seeing a product of your imagination materialized into real life, came the inevitable nit-picking: overall I’m fairly impressed with how faithfully they managed to recreate my design, even though they made some slight changes here and there. I also didn’t take into account the thickness of the materials, and I wonder if there could have been other ways to achieve the beam pattern a bit more seamlessly. And finally, I see now that the ‘Señor OVNI’ text should have been made bigger and with much more contrast.
But the important thing is that Greg was happy with his custom-made, fully original lucha libre mask, and that’s all that matters in the end. I can only hope that he’ll get to wear it during a live UFO conference –who knows, perhaps one day he’ll even challenge Steven Greer to a wrestling match! 😛
The circumstances under which Greg chose to plan this little trip to Mexico were as tragic as it can possibly get, and now I realize that his insistence of getting the mask were more than just an eccentric whim for him. In a way, this was a sort of shamanic ritual, and I do believe his transformation into Señor OVNI was helpful in the long process of healing the spirit of my dear friend and mentor.