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Retired Army sergeant finds comfort in costuming

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Published:   |   Updated: May 9, 2014 at 02:58 PM

Last Saturday, more than 3,000 comic book enthusiasts descended on Yancy St. Comics in Port Richey to participate in the shop’s 2014 Free Comic Book Day. Although the 3,430 pounds of free comics books that were given away were certainly a draw, many people came out for more than just that. Costumes. Collaboration. Camaraderie.

For retired Army sergeant Ronald Seaman, his costume, or “cosplay,” as it’s commonly referred to in the convention circuit, did more than just turn heads and elicit gasps of awe. It had newfound friends begging to hear his story.

Several injuries, most of which the Spring Hill resident can’t speak about specifically because of military orders, have left Seaman incapable of walking. He makes his way in a wheelchair and suffers from vertigo. Severe vertigo can include nausea and vomiting.

Unable to continue one of his favorite hobbies because he can no longer use power tools, woodworking, Seaman’s son suggested he try his hand at basic costuming.

Last summer, with basic tools and mostly recycled materials, Seaman built a full-body costume so elaborate that it draws huge crowds vying to get closer to examine the details. It encompasses his entire wheelchair and is based on characters from the videogame series Gears of War.

To Seaman’s surprise, not only did costuming fulfill his artistic side, it also worked as a rehabilitational therapy for him.

“I found out that while I’m concentrating on this, my vertigo is kept down to a minimum, which no medication can do,” Seaman said.

He debuted the costume as Metrocon, Florida’s largest anime convention, held in Tampa and later added several pieces to the front of his wheelchair, as well as the gun, in time for Tampa Bay Comic Con.

“I use Eva foam,” Seaman said. “This is basically floor matting. Interlocking mats. That’s its. The lenses for the face shield are recycled coke bottle. The side panels were made from using foam board and I covered it with layers of foam and then reinforced it with plastic from milk jugs.”

Despite his limitations, Seaman is extremely active. He swims, scuba dives and kayaks. A close friend, refers to him as “handicapable.” The term inspired Seaman to make his costume part of a self-created “Handicapable Division” in Gears of War, which doesn’t actually exist in the games.

Seaman, who loved reading comic books like ‘The Amazing Spider-Man” as a child inherited a trunk full of old comics like “Steamboat Willy” from his grandfather, joking that he “was a millionaire until his mom threw his comic books away” later in life.

“I loved comics and books and anything that would take my mind somewhere,” Seaman said.

That’s what Free Comic Book Day, a national geek holiday started in 2002, is all about, say Yancy St. Comics owners Steve Baginski and Chris Pobjecky. It gives people a creative outlet and often even makes reluctant readers voracious readers. .

Michael Haack, who attended with his wife Melissa and young sons Logan and Liam, said his kids just look at the pictures right now but they love superheroes and beg for related stories.

The event also brings well-known industry professionals, comic book artists and writers, to mingle with guests, sell and sign art and take photos. Local celebrity Jesse Kage, host of Kage Kult Show on 98Rock, came out to host the costume contest and Heroes Alliance, a national nonprofit superhero costume organization, showed up as Spider-Man, Flash, Iron Fist and other characters.

The group’s mission is to bring “real life” superhero experiences to sick, disabled or medically fragile children in need.

Seaman admires groups like Heros Alliance and wants to give back to his community and inspire children in wheelchairs to have confidence and get involved in costuming. He’s making an Iron Man helmet for a terminally ill child and would like to make pop culture inspired wheelchair covers, like the one he made for his costume, for children.

“Next thing you know, their friends will be envious because they don’t have a wheelchair,” Seaman said.

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