As Comic Con returns, masks are no longer just for fun

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As the events industry tries to gain a foothold this year after a catastrophic 2020, conventions face smaller crowds and tighter security protocols.

At New York Comic Con, which opened Thursday at the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, attendees celebrated the return of gatherings face-to-face. But this year’s pop culture event masks aren’t just for costumed; they are compulsory for everyone.

Last year, the pandemic decimated the global event industry, which relies on in-person gatherings for its revenue. Trade shows and conventions have been canceled or moved online, and empty convention centers have been reallocated for hospital overflow. Industry revenues have plunged 72% from 2019 and more than half of companies in the events sector have had to cut jobs, according to UFI, a trade group.

After being canceled last year, the New York event returns with tighter restrictions, said Lance Fensterman, president of ReedPop, the producer of New York Comic Con and similar shows in Chicago, London, Miami, Philadelphia and Seattle.

“It’s going to be a little different this year,” he said. “Public health safety is priority 1.”

Each staff, artist, exhibitor and participant must show proof of vaccination, and children under 12 must show a negative coronavirus test result. The number of tickets available has been reduced to around 150,000 from 250,000 in 2019. The lobby is clear of the cabins and the aisles of the lounge are wider.

But it was the show’s mask mandate that got some fans thinking: how would they incorporate one into their cosplay? They couldn’t wait to strut around dressed like characters from their favorite comics, movies, and video games.

Most just wore a medical mask, but a few creative people found ways to use masks to complement their cosplay.

“Normally we wouldn’t have a mask,” said Daniel Lustig, who came with his friend Bobby Slama, both disguised as Judge Dredd, the apocalyptic law enforcement officer. “We tried to incorporate one that fits into the costume.”

When realism was not an option, some tried to add at least a creative touch. Sara Morabito and her husband Chris Knowles arrived as 1950s sci-fi astronauts, wearing cloth masks under their space helmets.

“We made them work with the COVID restrictions,” Morabito said. “We designed the masks to match the costumes. “

Others have tried to hide their masks completely. Jose Tirado brought his sons, Christian and Gabriel, who disguised themselves as two Spider-Man enemies, Venom and Carnage. Costumed heads, created from bicycle helmets and adorned with long foam tongues, almost completely covered their masks.

Tirado said he doesn’t mind going the extra mile for his sons. “I checked with the guidelines; they are strict, ”he said. “I’m okay with that. It protects them.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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