When you hear the name Clark Gregg, you immediately think of Phil Coulson. Clark has played this character for over 12 years. With that, you also think cosplaying. In the world of cosplay, there is no other like Brian Robison.
Brian has been cosplaying Coulson for many years alongside his family at different comic cons. Phil Coulson, Framework Coulson, Sarge, LMD Coulson and even Clark Gregg himself.
However, Brian doesn't just stop at that. He recently dove into Clark's filmography with cosplays from Hoot, Mr. Popper's Penguins, as well as Clark's most recent theater production, "Christopher Boy's Communion." When it comes to cosplay, Brian delivers.
Brian, your hard work, dedication and love for Clark knows no bounds. Thank You.
CGU: How it all started? What/which character was your inspiration at the very beginning? Obviously, it's a big hobby, or should I say part of your life. What does it mean for you?
Brian: Like most kids, I loved dressing up as my favorite characters. I think the earliest photo of me in costume was around 4 years old; a “Lone Ranger” ensemble (probably a popular one for little boys in the 1960’s-early 70’s). Right around the same time my mom bought me some kids “Star Trek” uniform shirts (in all the colors, but since Captain Kirk was my favorite, I wore out the gold one!) that were marketed out of “Star Trek: The Animated Series.” My mom was/is a big Trekkie and brought me into the fold. She took me to my first Star Trek convention when I was 18 months old. Her love of Star Trek and other Sci-Fi definitely fueled my passion for the same thing, and both “Star Wars” and “Battlestar Galactica” came out at a most impressionable time for me. Both of those had, of course, a ton of marketing associated with them, including the toys. So as a 5-year old, the toys enabled me to become part of the adventures of these shows and characters that I loved. Costumes were hard to come by other than the dreaded vinyl ones that came in a box (but oh, did I LOVE those!), but my mom was a bit of a sewer and fashioned a few for me here and there.
As a teenager, things were so different than they are now in terms of embracing fandoms. My best friend and I were major geeks for liking Star Trek, Star Wars, and Doctor Who – and this was when being a “geek” was not exactly a term of endearment! Besides, affordable props and costumes were still not widely available. So, while my love for those things never wavered, I drifted away from a real embracing of them for a while. But in 1994 (I was almost 22) I bought my first adult Star Trek costume and went to a Trek convention with my mom. That was the first convention I attended in costume as an adult. It’s funny to think now that I was actually nervous about going to a convention in costume! But I met Majel Barrett Roddenberry who, with a twinkle in her eye, said, “where were you when I was in Starfleet?” It was great!
Cosplaying for me now goes directly back to the feelings I had as a kid playing with those early toys and wearing the costumes: it makes me feel like I’m part of the show/movie. Part of the “real” adventure. That feeling is dialed up when people respond to me as if I’m the character I’m portraying, and I respond accordingly. The reactions people had to me when I attended my first convention as Coulson was such a rush, and again, goes back to feeling like the real character. Taking photos on my own or with family and friends and looking at them, again, gives me (even for a few seconds) the illusion of being in the show. I’m as attentive to detail as I can be because it enhances the illusion. And I think when I do a beloved character like Coulson really well, with all the detail, it helps bring other people into the “illusion,” even for a few seconds, that this character is really out there, that for real, “Coulson Lives.” I feel a tremendous joy, pride and honor in helping to make that happen.
CGU: Now, to Coulson, or should I say Clark? 'Cause you obviously look a lot like him, and now it's not just Coulson, it's also Sarge and... have you cosplayed any other Clark's characters?
Brian: I’ve begun that process, yes. 😊 I’m proud to say that I have indeed cosplayed as every iteration of Coulson across movies and Agents of SHIELD, but outside of Marvel, cosplaying Clark’s characters is actually a bit challenging. Because Clark plays an “everyman” very well, a majority of his outfits have been suits with ties or just regular outfits that aren’t distinguishable as particularly unique. Part of the fun of cosplaying is being recognized as that character. But because Clark-plus-suit equals Coulson for SO many people, every other character he’s played that wears a suit would be instantly thought of as Coulson first. Even if I wore a suit and a badge as FBI agent Michael Casper from “The West Wing,” the first thing people will think is I’m Coulson. So I’ve “cos-tested” some of his characters with a more unique look like “Chuck Muckle” from Hoot” (the brown suit with green shirt is awful, but unique!) and “Nat Jones” the zookeeper and penguin expert from “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.” And while it was just Clark in an outfit he wears normally, I did cosplay as his character “Alan” from the “Christopher Boy’s Communion” play he performed in earlier this year.
CGU: When did you meet Clark for the first time? And what was his initial reaction?
Brian: That was such an amazing day! It was at Wondercon 2017. Whilst wearing a version of Coulson with a SHIELD raid windbreaker on Friday evening, I ran into the social media folks from the show and I gave them my customary Coulson business card with my social media info on it. The next day was the AoS signing and panel. My mom and I stood in line at 6:30AM to try and pull a ticket to get into the panel, and we got one (well, she did and gave it to me).
So I was in line for the signing dressed as “Mr. Coulson,” the history teacher from the Framework episodes in season 4, and I got a message from the social media folks inviting me to the panel, and to get out of line to come up front. As we worked our way along the wall opposite the cast, I could see cast members notice me at different time and lean over to point me out to Clark. When I got to him, he said something like, “I’m not going to lie; I’m pretty freaked out right now!” Then he came around the table and they took a photo of us. I didn’t realize until later that I completely forgot to introduce myself! A friend going through the line after me said to Clark, “I’m really glad you got to meet Brian,” to which he responded, “That was Brian?” That was so great!
As a follow up, the next year we saw Elizabeth Henstridge at C2E2 and I reminded her that I was the Teacher Coulson at Wondercon, and she said, “Clark talked about that for QUITE a while afterwards.” He was so impressed because at that point the first Framework episode hadn’t aired yet, so I created the costume based only off of the couple of seconds it was onscreen at the end of the previous episode before the hiatus. 😊
CGU: Coulson's "classic" outfit is just black suit and sunglasses. You always come up with a different iteration of the character, and with some awesome accessories - a shield, knife with a shrike, a sword. What is so special about this character that you put so much heart and effort into creating more new costumes?
Brian: As I mentioned earlier, one of the things I love best about cosplay done really well is that it brings the character “to life;” like, because this is a real person you can interact with (even if it’s a photo, you still know this is a “real person” and not someone on a tv screen), it gives you the illusion – even for a few seconds – that this character exists in real life. Part of what helps that “illusion” is having a lot of details, and staying relevant to each new iteration of the character.
Why is that important to me? Well, people love Coulson! He was popular from the beginning as the straight-laced, non-powered, wisecracking good guy just doing his job, but in becoming the most well-rounded and fleshed out character in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe he is even more beloved. He’s a great leader, a loyal and nurturing father-figure, a thoughtful moralist, and someone who works for the greater good – all things that I strive to be and do in my personal and professional life. And really, Clark himself shares these same qualities. So helping to extend and expand the life of this character is personally meaningful for me.
CGU: What was the most challenging costume/accessory to make?
Brian: This is a tough one, so I’ll list the particularly challenging accessories overall: Coulson’s robot arm (getting the skin color to correctly match my own was REALLY difficult – I never did get it right but I got tired of messing with it!); the “case of eyeballs” from the end of Captain Marvel (I had to build the box to be a unique size); I spent a lot of time building reasonable facsimiles of the energy shield and the Destroyer gun, but ultimately when I found much better quality replicas I just splurged on those.
Overall, I think all things “Sarge” were particularly challenging, because he and his accoutrements are so different from Coulson. His jacket was quite the bugger. The one used in the show is very expensive, not easy to find, AND had been heavily modified by the costumers, so I had to find something resembling it, dye it the right color, and add all the buckles and straps. For someone who knows how to sew, this wouldn’t have been that big a deal, but for me… let’s just say I’m pretty good with upholstery tape. I also created the shrike knife and the sword, both of which had unique patterns and colors (I cut off 2/3 of the sword blade so it would look more realistic when “stabbing” Agent May cosplayers – haha – and so it would fit in my suitcase for D23). I also made a shrike, which was really different. It’s a lot like a bat, but has odd coloring and a reptilian head. So I ordered a “squishy” dinosaur, removed the head and neck, and glued it to the bat body, then painted it a weird gray-greenish color.
For me, I don’t know how to “make” very many things from scratch, so most of my more unique pieces are an exercise in finding things that already exist that look pretty close, and modifying them to be closer.
Related to that, I have had the BEST time with finding/forging the period costumes from season 7. I had so much fun putting together Coulson’s 1931 look that I decided to challenge myself to cosplay each of his outfits as accurately as possible from every season 7 episode, and to do so before the next episode if possible. With a bit of sleuthing using behind-the-scenes photos from the finale, I’m proud to say that I will have cosplayed every Coulson outfit from every episode in the final season. My tribute to the character and to the show!
CGU: You attend many cons that Clark has attended with a cosplay involved. Which one was the coolest for you? (Coulson/Sarge/Cap Marvel).
Brian: I have to go with that Wondercon 2017 experience as Teacher Coulson. I got such an enthusiastic reaction from the cast, producers, AoS social media folks, and my fellow fans, and especially from Clark It was everything I could’ve hoped for!
CGU: Clark has seen your cosplay many times over the years, he has also seen most of your family with you. What was the coolest reaction of any family member you had with him?
Brian: Probably my favorite was his comment in the Cameo video I commissioned when he said that he’s always happy to see my “adorable family.” We had several minutes to ourselves with him at the SHIELD 100 event but I was so overwhelmed I don’t remember much of the conversation! But at the same event, I remember my wife answering a trivia question and he was the one who delivered the prize to her and shook her hand, and she said later “I just looked into the face of my husband in ten years!” That still makes me chuckle.
CGU: You also do a lot of “cosplay” group photos with people at every con. If you could pick, which one was the coolest to act out and why?
Brian: If you’re talking a photo op, my favorite was the one I took with Sarie (Agents of Spoof), Clark, and Ming-Na at C2E2 2019. I had the idea of using my energy shield and recreating the scene in which Coulson and May kiss behind the shield, but I replace Clark behind the shield and he’s off to the side like, “what the heck?!”, and Sarie is on the other side dressed as Quake looking shocked like in the episode. She and I practiced our poses, and when we go behind the curtain, I had like 10 seconds to explain what we wanted, and they NAILED it. It’s probably my favorite photo op, because it’s so perfect.
CGU: With Agents of Shield ending after Season 7, do you plan on continuing to cosplay as Coulson or what is next for you in the future?
Brian: I see myself cosplaying Coulson for as long as my hairline allows! The character has changed my life, and right now I can’t imagine leaving him behind. He still is so beloved by fans of the movies and the show, and so I think he will remain part of the Marvel cultural consciousness for a good number of years. For that reason, I think he will continue to be someone whose portrayal brings happiness and appreciation to fans. As long as that remains true, and I keep having fun with it, I plan on suiting up as our favorite agent for a while!