by Mitchell Brown, Reporter
He stood out among the rows of neatly arranged comic books, collectables and cosplayers. He stood in front of a large Slimer sculpture, talking with passersby. He was a cosplayer, but with his costume, there was a lack of anything resembling a traditional comic book hero, no capes or masks adorned his person.
He was costumed in a “Ghostbusters”-inspired jumpsuit and a backwards Kansas City Royals baseball cap. Across one side of the upper chest of his suit was a name tag reading “Panda.” His name is Ron Coleman, also known as “Panda” in the cosplay scene. The location was the University of Central Missouri’s Elliott Student Union in Warrensburg, Mo., and the event was the inaugural Stealth Con. Coleman took inspiration from “Ghostbusters” and built his own personalized cosplay identity around it. With the return of Stealth Con for its second year, set to take place March 25-26, Coleman will also make a return to the convention.
Coleman’s involvement with Stealth Con began soon after he heard rumblings about the event.
“The costume and comic convention world is vast, but, it’s a small world,” Coleman said. “I heard through the grapevine there was going to be a convention in Warrensburg, so I simply reached out and asked how I could help.
“I’ve been able to help on many sides of conventions,” Coleman said. “I wanted to offer my experience and bring in some of my more experienced friends to really do whatever we can to help make it a success for everyone.”
The 2016 Stealth Con was a success – Joshua Bailey, the main organizer of Stealth Con, tallied the total number of attendees for both days of last year’s convention at 1,750.
As someone who has been in the cosplay scene for almost eight years, Coleman has a plethora of experiences at conventions under his belt, and he is able to talk about the differences, both the pros and cons, between smaller conventions and larger conventions.
“My favorite thing about Stealth Con, if I had to pick one thing is, the fact that it isn’t huge,” Coleman said. “While I do love many aspects of larger conventions, at those big events I never sit still. From hosting panels, escorting special guests, stopping for pictures, and so on. While I love those things, it doesn’t leave much room to have real conversations or get to know people.
“I think this is a fantastic convention for someone to get their feet wet without being completely overwhelmed, and that can easily happen if you go to a convention in a place like Bartle Hall for your first experience,” he added.
The inspiration for Coleman’s cosplay persona was born as he was looking at an old flight suit. He is an Air Force veteran and ended up stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Mo., in 2010. Soon after he retired from the Air Force and returned to civilian life.
Coleman carried on with a dedication to service, civic engagement and philanthropy, using the Panda identity as more than just a costuming display at conventions. He has suited up in his “Ghostbusters”-inspired gear to help those in need. Coleman is involved with Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., where he is known to make the rounds in the hospital as Panda.
The inspiration for doing this came from a personal place in his life.
“When I was stationed in South Korea, my son developed a condition called Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP). Luckily, he’s better, but, when I came back stateside I spent a lot of times in children’s hospitals. If you’ve ever been a patient or had a loved one in a hospital, you know it’s not the most fun experience,” Coleman said. “Some of these kids live in the hospital, it becomes their home. Seeing that, I always wanted to do something, I had the opportunity here to become involved with Children’s Mercy and I haven’t looked back.”
Through bringing his cosplay persona to life in varying capacities, whether in a hospital ward or a convention floor, Coleman understands how cosplay is an integral component at comic book/pop culture conventions like Stealth Con.
“Costumers and cosplayers bring so much to the table. Most of us are nerds, geeks, dorks and whatever other label you want to throw out there,” Coleman said. “We can relate to so many people in the room and develop a near-instant rapport. You can talk about movies, characters, and props but we bring it to life.”