“I never, ever, want to have to make a corset,” says Ross E Cobbold as he explains how important it is to push yourself to reach your goals. Having created some incredibly detailed costumes, he also realises his own limits, one of them being that future cosplay projects must not involve a corset. “I do think it’s important to be able to say to yourself, ‘I can achieve this thing,’” says Ross. “It might not be easy, but you can achieve effectively anything if you put your mind to it.”
Having been involved with theatre from such a young age, Ross describes how dressing up has always been a part of what he’s done for mostly all his life. Cosplaying since 2009 he is now known for having cosplayed Disney characters, such as Peter Pan, Hercules, and Ursula from the Broadway production of The Little Mermaid.
Humble and insightful, my interview with Ross went on longer than expected, occasionally going off on a tangent to other things (we could very easily have spent our time just talking to each other about Disney movies). He spoke about how he became involved in cosplay, the most challenging costume he has created to date, and his habit of buying fabric.
You’ve been cosplaying since 2009. How did your interest in cosplay start?
I’ve always been interested in costuming. As a child my mum used to make me costumes and I’ve always made stuff for myself. I’ve been doing theatre since I was about six.
I only got into cosplay in 2009 when a friend of mine, Belle, who is a theatrical costume designer, asked me to model one of her costumes at a German theatre for Starlight Express. They had an open day where fans dress up and she asked me to wear one of her costumes. I wore it then and I wore to MCM London. I didn’t really do anything with it until the following year when once again she asked me to model another costume from the musical CATS. It wasn’t till then that it became something I was really into.
How did that feel for you, for the first convention you went to?
I’m not really the kind of person that gets nervous about those sorts of things. I know some of my friends say that they’ve been to conventions and they’ve been sat in the car for an hour, because they’ve been so nervous about going out and what people might think of them. It’s sort of a next level way of sharing an interest or love of either a fandom or a character.
How did you get so proficient with make-up?
I personally think I’m constantly taking good stabs (laughs). I did CATS the musical make-up for probably about four or five years and that taught me a lot. I’m always looking at different tutorials on YouTube. It’s something you’re constantly learning. A lot of my make-up box is grease paints, water paints. I use a lot of tricks, a lot of eye shadow for blending things to make them more the correct colour. Like everything in cosplay, it’s all just tricking to how I want things to end up looking.
Do you generally like doing duo and group cosplays?
Obviously, when you’re at a convention, you’re hanging out with your friends. There’s always this situation where I’ll be dressed as Lady Tremaine, another friend will be dressed as Cinderella, and another friend will be dressed as someone from X-Men. There’s always this awkward situation where no one really wants a picture of Cyclops with Lady Tremaine.
It is also fun to be able to be in a group with people you just love hanging out with. It’s the same with Barbie and Ken. Ken was a costume I really wanted to do. I said to my friend, Roxy (Sootydragon Cosplay), ‘Would you do it?’ She said, ‘Yeah, I think it would be fun.’ I know she’s had a wonderful time doing it, because it’s always such fun, and for what is effectively a simple costume, such a huge reaction.
What has been your most challenging cosplay to create?
Everything is challenging. Obviously, Ursula was the most challenging costume I made. I had to learn a lot of new skills to be able to put together a majority of those pieces. Generally every costume I make takes about two weeks, whereas Ursula was sort of three months.
I started just a couple of bits back in October. Then from January till March I worked intensively on her, to the point where two weeks before I was literally working, coming home, working on the costume, sleeping, and then repeat. So it was challenging in that way.
At the moment I’m working on a puppet version of Pinocchio. I’m having to design how the limbs work and go together, and function and work from the inside. So, currently what I’m working on is the most challenging thing I’ve done to date.
With Ursula from the Broadway show of The Little Mermaid, you’ve mentioned that this was a costume you always wanted to make; that it totally changed your life when you saw it.
What is it about this character/cosplay that you like so much?
I was never ever a Disney fan, which is hilarious, because so much of my life is Disney now! But back then I didn’t really care for Disney.
My college went on a trip to New York and it was the first show I saw. We got some cheap tickets, we were in the front row for The Little Mermaid, and I had never seen The Little Mermaid [film at this point]. It completely blew my mind. The whole of the production was just outstanding. The costumes are designed by Tatiana Noginova, who is an opera costume designer.
Ursula’s a very intriguing character. She’s not straight-laced. She always had elements of more to her. Even in the film, her opening scenes she talks about when she lived in the palace things were different. We never find out about those things.
Although she’s a villain I think she’s got a lot of positive attributes. She turns herself into this Ariel-looking character to steal the prince. She could make herself look like that at any time, but she chooses to be this larger than life, fabulous creature that lives at the bottom of the ocean. She’s based on the drag queen Divine – that’s really clear if you put images next to each other.
Obviously in the musical version she’s very different, like a glamorous, worn-out diva. Although I didn’t realise it until I started making the costume, a lot of her look is strongly based on drag – the hairstyle, the make-up, the way they’ve padded her. She’s just a very strong and powerful character and there’s something very appealing about women who are portrayed [that way]. She completely drew me in.
You’ve said that you like talking about costuming problems with people.
Does this come from wanting to tackle complex problems, or being in situations yourself where you wish you had a helping hand?
I don’t feel like I’m not supported in what I’m doing. I’m actually overwhelmed in a positive way with the reaction and response and help I get from people. I have this belief that there’s nothing you can’t do.
I do get messages from people quite a lot saying, ‘I’m trying to do this, how can I do it?’ I feel like it’s really important to help and support people. I don’t think it comes from a need myself for that kind of help. Generally I prefer to work alone. Even when I do groups, I’m a horrible human being and I’ll try to take over.
I think it all comes down to the community. I’ve been given so much help from people like Belle and another friend of mine, Toxic, who helped me so much when I was doing CATS stuff. A lot of what they taught me in CATS costuming have helped me even now. The same again with my mum, she used to make stuff for me when I was little. Even now when I’m lost or confused, I’ll say, ‘Mum, what should I do?’ I mean, mums have the answer to everything and that is a scientific fact.
I think the sense of community within cosplay is really important. The community is always there, regardless of what’s going on around it.
I find it interesting when you say that you’ve come across people talking about you on forums, and I imagine it’s the same for others as well, where you start to wonder ‘What are they saying?’
I’m going to enter a little bit of pretension. For me, cosplay is art and all art is subjective. If someone doesn’t like what I’ve made, the way I’m portraying a character, or the choices with how I’ve made my costume, that’s totally okay with me.
Recently, I’m so overwhelmed with the all positivity that I’ve received from people. There are a lot of people in the community that I look up to and don’t especially know, who have said such wonderful things about me. That’s what I love about the community.
I’ve noticed even on your Facebook page you have moments where you’re like, ‘Wow, I have this many people following me?’
I feel like the people that follow me are genuinely interested in what I’m doing. They’re not there because they think I look attractive in a certain costume, or that I’ve got sex appeal. That’s a real blessing that people seem to be genuinely interested in what I’m making and what I’m going to be wearing, which for me is what a cosplay page should be about. I never ever refer to the people on my page as fans. Well they’re not my fans, they’re the fans of the costumes and the things I do. They admire what I’m doing. Well… that’s the way I view it anyway.
You’ve stopped taking commissions from people. Is this something you’re doing again?
I do periodically get messaged by people saying, ‘Do you take commissions?’ I’m always very honest with people and I always say I’ve had experiences in the past and that affects how I view and price now.
To make money I was making costumes for people. Although I did enjoy it, I find that whenever I work with people, you don’t really know someone until they’ve paid you money. I can think of three situations straight off the bat of people that just became totally unreasonable; they’d message me constantly. I’d get messages at 4am saying, ‘Why aren’t you replying to me?’ Obviously I’m asleep.
I made a costume and at one point I worked out I got something like 75p an hour for the work I did on it. So it wasn’t really beneficial to me. I just don’t have time, sadly.
I periodically do things for friends. But I don’t need to do it on a commission basis because I just find that it’s very difficult. When I first did it years ago, it wasn’t about money at all, it was about the enjoyment of making things and bettering my skills.
If money was no object, who would you most like to cosplay?
Aaaahhh… you can’t drop a bombshell like that on me! Oh, that is a horrible question… I can’t believe you’re making me do this!
I would like to remake Ursula, or at least finish her, because technically she isn’t actually finished. I’ve still got a lot of work to do on that. She does have other variations of her costume. There’s the one which I made, the one that she wears at the end which is just the dress without the tentacles, and the one she wears for ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’, which has a peacock tail effect of tentacles. So I would love to do that.
There’s a lot of theatrical costumes I’m really interested in making, like from Beauty and the Beast, the musical version. A lot of the early versions of Lumiére and the Beast were very detailed. So I guess that kind of route, but that’s going to be super money-draining.
You have said that you have habit of buying fabrics for projects you don’t start.
It is an addiction.
This still happens?
It’s probably worse now. The worst one for me is my Edward Scissorhands costume. It’s one of my favourite films. I started purchasing [for it] in 2011. I wanted to do a concept version, sort of a mix between my own version, the film and the Matthew Bourne ballet. I have every single piece I need to make that costume… and I’ve never ever made any part of it. I feel terrible, I really do. Every now and then, I’ll find a piece, look at it for a while and think, ‘Should I start?’
Well, will it ever happen?
I hope so. Before I’m too old. I’m trying to do all the characters that are young while I’ve still got the face of a twelve year old. That’s not going to last forever.
What part of cosplaying do you find the most fulfilling for you?
Oh, that is a very difficult question (pauses). I guess it’s got to be the period after a convention when I’ve worn a costume. I get to reflect on how it was over the weekend, how it was to wear, how it looks in pictures.
I’m very hard on myself when I make a costume. I really push myself to points that are just unnecessary. Like, I’ll find a reference to an angle I hadn’t seen before and I’ll remake a section just for that purpose. I don’t need to do that, but I do it, because that’s part of the enjoyment, knowing I’ve put that effort in.
So even though no one else would notice it, you would, and it would bother you?
(Laughs) This kind of justifies it. There’s always normally one person that will come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’ve done that like that. Is that accurate?’ I go, ‘Well, I think so.’ You always kind of get that acknowledgement somewhere. There’s always someone that knows more than you and you’ll always get that moment. I think it’s that appreciation from someone else who loves the character as much as you, even if they’re not dressed as it.
Someone said to me once, when you start out working on something you start at a skill level, and as you work through that project you gain skills. So you’re always better by the time you’ve finished than when you start. So you’re never going to be happy with what you started with. I’ve always remembered this because I think it’s really accurate. I’ve always had that in the back of my mind.
For a long time people always say to me if I like my costume. I’ve never liked any of my costumes. In sort of the last half a year, I’ve come to accept and grow to like them over time. I’m not a big re-wearer. It’s because I’m always interested in making things. Unless it’s something I really love, or people say, ‘I really want to see it again’, or one of my friends are wearing a costume from the same franchise, then I’ll bring it out.
How does it feel for you when you go to a convention and people ask you for a photo and talk to you about your character and costume?
It is very rewarding. I’ve recently got to a point where, and I feel really cringe talking about this, but people come up and they’ll be nervous to talk to me. I’m just a normal person, I’m just like them. It makes me feel really uncomfortable. Because I’m happy to have a selfie and pull stupid faces with them. When someone says to me, ‘Oh, my friend’s a big fan of your work. Can I introduce you?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah… bring them over. Come say hi. I’m just here drinking a coke.’
I’ve had a couple in the past, say, ‘Oh, you looked busy.’ I’m never busy. I will always stop for a photo… unless I’m on fire, which rarely happens.
I do love meeting new people all the time. It really is a blessing to have these people who are so interested in what I’m doing, or what I’ve made, or want to talk about a character.
I don’t ever want to come across as someone who thinks they’re too important. I’m not… I’m just some boy, normally in a dress. It’s no big deal.
Will you be attending any MCM Comic Cons this year? If so, who will you be cosplaying?
I’m definitely going to [both the] MCM London conventions. I really want to go to the Birmingham one, because every time I see pictures from it the level of cosplay always just looks so amazing. It’s definitely one I want to check out.
My current plans for May – for Friday I’m doing a Flintstones group, I’ll be doing Barney Rubble. On the Saturday, all being well, I’m doing my puppet Pinocchio. Then Sunday I’m going to be doing another version of Peter Pan. I’ve got one plan so far for October, I’m doing a Hocus Pocus group. The film was on the other day and I was so excited! It’s one of my favourites for sure.
A big thank you to Ross for taking the time out. You can also follow Ross on his Facebook page (RossECobb Cosplay).