Holly Conrad and Jessica Merizan are not your typical cosplayers. Instead, they're a team who combine their talents to create amazing symbiotic costumes. They are two of the nine “heroes” in Syfy's new docu-series, Heroes of Cosplay, which follows the cosplayers as they travel around the world to different genre conventions to compete in costume competitions for prizes and glory. The series premieres Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. ET.
“Holly and I are very simpatico,” said Merizan. “We've almost got this mind-meld going on. It's really helpful that both of us find inspiration and joy in a lot of the same pop culture mediums. If one of us likes something, usually we will try to get the other person on board with the concept. So it's something where it is kind of a negotiation. … But we will never do a costume for an intellectual property that we both don't love and are obsessed with. You kind of have to have that level of obsession and fascination with something to put that many hours and money and work into creating something that you're just really breathing life into.”
“Jessica and I, we've been friends since middle school, and we've been cosplaying together for years and years and years. And we've been doing a show on the Nerdist channel with our company Crabcat Industries, so we are doing a 'try this at home' show on Nerdist. And we got that after we did the Morgan Spurlock documentary Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope. That's when we started Crabcat, and Crabcat was really how we started getting into this whole whirlwind of getting picked up on the show, [Heroes of Cosplay]."
The BFFs have channeled their creative talents into their business, a costume fabrication shop and a cosplay community and new media entertainment company. Luckily for the ladies, that team -- through cosplay, competitions, conventions and the business -- is supported by their husbands, who are also good friends with each other.
Merizan, who considers herself a rogue archaeologist turned costumed bard, performed in Southern California regional theater from the time she was 5 years old, but it wasn't always easy for her to pursue her dream. “My mom was always really reluctant. She didn't like me doing it. She told me when I went to college that I had to major in something practical.”
As for Conrad, she's “been cosplaying since before I even knew what the word was.” While growing up, she played videogames with her mother, who has MS. “When I was a kid, a great way for her to experience things with me that wasn't leaving the house was playing games. So I played a lot of games with her growing up, and I was always inspired by the characters in games.”
As she started to follow her dream, she was mentored by her grandfather, Dorse Lanpher, a visual-effects animation artist with Disney and Don Bluth Productions. “I love making costumes, I love being creative. I just kind of ended up after a while being like, you know what, I want to dress up as these characters. After going to my first comic con, I realized that people went there and dressed up as those characters and it was totally cool. You could do it all year long, not just at the Ren fair and not just at Halloween,” said Conrad.
“I consider myself a storyteller. I think Holly does as well. But I am also very aesthetically driven. So a character has to be really compelling to me and very visually interesting,” said Merizan.
“I love strong female characters. That's why I love Commander Shepard, because she's an awesome, badass chick in armor. I really like characters that I think match. They're really rich in mythology and lore and have a really strong personality. I think that's something that's really important in a character and in a cosplay. If you can't actually feel like you're that character, then you're not going to come off as that character even if your costume's great,” said Conrad.
“Costumes can either be a way to reveal an aspect of yourself or disguise something about yourself. It's very virtualistic, almost. Which is actually what I wrote my master's dissertation on. It ended up being on cosplay, material culture, fandom and the idea of going to a convention as kind of a rite-of-passage experience. So it's almost unimaginable how much I've been able to weave all these different threads into my life. Holly and I are very complementary in terms of her skills and my skills and our interests. Hopefully you see on the show what a great team we make,” said Merizan.
While they don't always compete in the competitions, when they do “it feels like you're putting on a production, you're putting on a play, and you're really proud of yourself. At the end of the day, whether or not you win, you still get to feel like you really accomplished something. We go out there and get to actually advertise all of our awesome costumes onstage, and everyone in the audience has to watch us for two minutes,” said Conrad.
Heroes of Cosplay “is really Holly and my love letter to cosplay and fandom. There's a lot of people out there who just feel like you can't do something that you love. There's so many reasons that people will say that you can't do something. But Crabcat Industries to us and what we do is really about showing people that you can do anything you want to. Even though we have day jobs, we still get to pursue what we love just on nights and weekends. We're almost like caped crusaders ourselves. I really hope that other people will go out and experience that and not be told when they're kids that they should do something practical. They can do something to pay the bills, but they should also follow their dreams,” said Merizan.
Check out the gallery below for some of their favorite costumes.