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With the return of Comic Con, masks are no longer just for fun

As the event industry tries to find its footing this year after a disastrous 2020, conventions are facing less crowds and stricter safety protocols.

At New York Comic Con, which opened Thursday at the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, attendees celebrated the return of face-to-face gatherings. But this year, masks aren’t just for costume wearers at the pop culture event; They are necessary for all.

Last year, the pandemic decimated the global events industry, which depends on in-person gatherings for revenue. Trade shows and conventions were canceled or moved online, and empty convention centers were redeployed to hospital overflow. Industry revenue has declined 72% since 2019, according to UFI, a trade group, and more than half of companies in the event business had to cut jobs.

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

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

Every staff member, artist, exhibitor and attendee must show proof of vaccination, and children under 12 must show a negative coronavirus Exam Results. The number of available tickets has been reduced from 250,000 in 2019 to around 150,000. The lobbies are being kept clear of booths, and the aisles on the show floor are wide.

But it was the show’s masked mandate that gave some fans pause: How would they incorporate one into their cosplay? They looked forward to walking around dressed as characters from their favorite comic books, movies and video games.

Most wore only a medical mask, but some 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 dressed as apocalyptic law enforcement officer Judge Dredd. “We tried to incorporate what fit into the outfit.”

When realism was not an option, some tried to add at least some creative flair. Sarah Morabito and her husband, Chris Knowles, arrived as science-fiction astronauts of the 1950s, donning cloth masks under their space helmets.

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

Others tried to hide their masks altogether. Jose Tirado brought up his sons, Christian and Gabriel, who dressed as two Spider-Man enemies, Venom and Carnage. Costume heads made of bicycle helmets and adorned with long foam tongues, their masks were almost completely covered.

Tirado said he doesn’t mind going the extra mile for his sons. “I checked with the directions; They are strict,” he said. “I’m OK with that. It keeps them safe.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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