• The San Juan Daily Star

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

Attendees at New York Comic Con at the Javits Center in Manhattan, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. Fans are coming up with creative ideas to incorporate masks into their cosplay as in-person gatherings resume, with restrictions.

By Gregory Schmidt and John Taggart

As the events industry tries to gain its footing this year after a disastrous 2020, conventions are facing smaller crowds and stricter safety protocols.

At New York Comic Con, which opened late last week at the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, attendees celebrated the return of face-to-face gatherings. But this year, masks at the pop culture event are not just for those in costume; they are required 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 overflow. Industry revenue plunged 72% from 2019, and more than half the companies in the events business had to cut jobs, according to UFI, a trade group.

After being canceled last year, the New York event is returning 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 look a little different this year,” he said. “Public health safety is Priority 1.”

Every staff member, artist, exhibitor and attendee must show proof of vaccination, and children under 12 must show a negative coronavirus test result. The number of available tickets has been reduced to about 150,000, from 250,000 in 2019. The lobby is being kept clear of booths, and the aisles on the show floor are wider.

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

Most simply wore a medical mask, but a creative few 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 incorporate one that fit into the costume.”

When realism wasn’t an option, some gamely tried to at least add some creative flair. Sara Morabito and her husband, Chris Knowles, arrived as 1950s sci-fi astronauts, donning cloth masks under their space helmets.

“We made them to work with COVID restrictions,” 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 as two Spider-Man foes, Venom and Carnage. The costume heads, created out of bicycle helmets and decked out with long foam tongues, covered their masks almost entirely.

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 OK with that. It keeps them safe.”

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