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With Comic Con returning, masks are no longer just for fun

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As the event industry struggles to gain a foothold this year after a disastrous 2020, conventions are dealing with smaller crowds and stricter safety protocols.

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

Last year, the pandemic decimated the global events industry, which relies on in-person gatherings for revenue. Trade shows and conventions were canceled or moved online, and empty convention centers were repurposed for hospital overflows. Industry revenues fell 72 percent from 2019, with more than half of event industry companies having to cut jobs. according to UFI, a trading group.

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

“It will look a little different this year,” he said. “Public health safety is priority 1.”

Every employee, artist, exhibitor and participant must be able to show a vaccination certificate and children under 12 must show a negative test result for the coronavirus. The number of tickets available has been reduced to approximately 150,000, from 250,000 in 2019. The lobby is kept clear of stands and the aisles on the show floor are wider.

But it was the show’s mask mandate that made some fans hesitate: how would they incorporate one into their cosplay? They were eager to parade around dressed as characters from their favorite comic books, movies and video games.

Most simply wore a medical mask, but a few creatives 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 Judge Dredd, the apocalyptic law enforcement officer. “We tried to include one that fits the costume.”

When realism wasn’t an option, some playfully tried to add at least some creative flair. 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 Covid restrictions,” Ms Morabito said. “We designed the masks to match the costumes.”

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

Mr. Tirado said he didn’t mind going the extra mile for his sons. “I checked with the guidelines; they are strict,” he said. “I’m fine with it. It keeps them safe.”

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