Try This At Home with Holly Conrad and Jessica Merizan
By Brian Walton on September 24, 2012
You may recognize Holly Conrad and Jessica Merizan for their amazing Mass Effect cosplay and as featured documentary subjects in Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, but starting today you’ll be able to get to know them as the hosts of their own show on the Nerdist Channel, Crabcat Industries’ Try This At Home. We caught up with Holly and Jessica to talk about their partnership, the DIY community, and their new show premiering today on the Nerdist Channel.
Nerdist: What is Crabcat Industries?
Holly Conrad: Crabcat Industries is a company and an attitude focused on rejecting reality, embracing escapism, and learning to make or do anything you can imagine. I’m Holly Conrad, creature designer, FX artist, Medievalist, and convention carnie. I co-founded Crabcat with my business-partner-in-crime Jessica Merizan, a fellow entertainer, writer, archaeologist (weird, right?), and basically professional bard. We’ve been friends since we were kids and created Crabcat after being featured in Morgan Spurlock’s Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope. The company started out doing costume/prop commissions in a garage, so we know what it’s like to start small and dream big.
Jessica Merizan: We totally founded the “company” after one too many sleepless nights. We had been quietly mumbling and/or sobbing to ourselves about the workload we had to finish before Comic Con and then had one of those terribly manic moments when everything seemed clear, with the realization we were too broken to have respectable jobs and should just stick to world of fantasy and un-reality. Crabcat has worked with private collectors, fledgling cosplayers, video game companies, and YouTube audiences with our own brand of nerd flare and a promise to never take anything too seriously.
N: Where did the name Crabcat come from?
JM: Holly has an unnatural love for aliens, especially a specific Turian named Garrus from the Mass Effect video games. Turians look like felines with crustacean-like exoskeletons. A crabcat. That’s where the most important word in our professional careers comes from: me poking fun at my best friend’s poor taste in men.
HC: Ugh, that is totally not… OK, whatever. Next question.
N: What is Try This at Home?
JM: This show is our love letter to DIY entertainment. It’s about gathering your friends together (whether IRL or online) and teaching yourself how to make something, or learn a new skill, or go after that talent you’ve always wanted to try. You don’t have to be the best, and you certainly don’t have to pursue something full-time, but there’s no reason why our comrades at home can’t learn how to mod cars, build armor, survive Comic Con, or (maybe in future episodes) get into voice acting or animation. We want to show you how to take over the world, or at least the Internet, in your spare time.
N:The show looks like it’s going to tackle a lot of DIY projects. Are there any that you wanted to do that didn’t make it to the show?
HC: The Maker/DIY-culture is a huge, helpful community and inspired us to learn what we know now. We’ve always admired people that can make what they love and complete a vision, and even if it’s making something small and crafty or huge and elaborate. Something that didn’t make it into the show? I’ve always wanted to design a giant dragon monster out of garbage to send an environmental message, but Jessica teases me for it, so maybe one day.
N: How did you first get involved in cosplay? How did those first costumes compare to the level of craftsmanship you exhibit now?
HC: I actually started to cosplay when I was, no joke, four years old, when I strapped a green pillow on my back. Instant Koopa costume from Super Mario Brothers! I’ve always been inspired by role-playing games, so my first convention costume was a Tiefling from Dungeons and Dragons. I made the leather armor myself, the horns, tail, everything. In hindsight, it looked horrible. But, I thought I was badass, so really that’s all that mattered. I just kept practicing and getting better, making more elaborate costumes, learning techniques from some amazing friends in the Haunted House industry, and working as a professional fabricator in a few shops. My goal is still to design creatures and costumes for a living, but for now, wearing them is a fun escape.
JM: I was in a high school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream playing Puck. I loved the character and the costume (Holly & I designed it!) so much that I wore it to a Renaissance Faire and at a convention. It was then that I realized I didn’t have to limit dressing up to being onstage. You can’t get me out of a costume now. Unless it’s been like eight hours wearing it, then move the hell out of the way, these shoes are killing me!
N: The two of you seem very close with near constant traveling and working together. How do you keep that relationship positive?
HC: Jessica and I literally just forget immediately after we have a disagreement. It’s sort of a running joke. We’ll get mad, insult each other, have a mini-fight, and two seconds later we’re out getting ice cream like it’s the best day of our lives. That may be a sign of serious mental issues, but for us it’s a business model!
JM: Erm, yeah. We’re easily distracted…
N: What are your favorite costumes for each other? What cosplay would you like to see the other in that you think she’d say no to?
HC: One comic con we made a giant, twelve foot tall Lady of Pain parade float made on top of a handicapped scooter I drove. Jessica dressed in hobo rags as a “Dustman” from Planescape lore and acted as my on-stage spotter. She literally just looked like a homeless person running around stage, making sure I didn’t drive the Lady of Pain costume into the audience. Afterward, we went to Denny’s and got pancake puppies looking like vagrants. Definite stares. So honestly, I don’t think there’s anything that Jessica would say no to doing after that.
JM: I have a really fond spot for our old Renaissance Faire days. Holly did some amazingly intricate work in prep for it every year and it’s such a fun and dusty and raunchy event. I think nowadays, I’d love to see Holly in something that was completely intricate, elaborate and fabric heavy. Like some kind of “couture” monster maiden. Beautiful and tragic and terrifying. Cthulhu Marie Antoinette with lots of sewing and beading. She hates sewing. It would be amazing.
HC: You’re rude.
JM: I know.
N: Jessica, you are the Community Manager for BioWare, correct? What is it like balancing fan enthusiasm with a company’s messaging?
JM: It’s true! I’m fortunate that BioWare doesn’t see the “community” as an offshoot of traditional marketing or public relations. Holly and I started off first and foremost as fans of BioWare (they were Crabcat’s first big client!), and that still informs my day job there. They have put an incredible amount of trust in me to venture forth on the internet and do amazing things like the Nerdist show with Holly and are hugely supportive of costumes we want to make for them. BioWare has amazing fans and really creative people at the helm who see the value in building genuine, direct relationships with their consumers.
N: Any advice for people looking to make a career move into the realms they’re passionate about?
JM: Don’t stop. Figure out a working pace so you don’t get completely burnt out before you reach the stars. Believe in yourself even when you don’t. Do something to stay motivated in those times when you’re discouraged (I am absolutely listening to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” – it’s hard not to be in love with whatever you’re working on with music like that to set the mood). And keep a few trusted people close to you. These are the people who will tell you when you’re being an idiot or when you look terrible or when that thing you’re doing is totally not funny. Take feedback from everyone around you, but unless it’s coming from that handful of trusted people, take it with a grain of salt.
HC: And be humble enough to know that there’s always someone out there who is way more talented or smart or amazing. Don’t instinctively feel jealous. Learn from them. Nurture the connections you make along the way – do things for those people even when you’re not going to get anything in return. Be OK with failure. But fail spectacularly and without regrets. Be smart. If one thing doesn’t work then adapt. And don’t stop.
JM: Just start doing things and accept the fact that it probably won’t be very good at first. Everyone will be way more impressed with you jumping into the deep end and you’ll be joining an amazing and expansive community that is way more supportive than not. And rip the Band-Aid off quickly when it comes to being embarrassed about showing people your work. That’s the only way to get your stuff seen and make it better. Have fun and stop us at the next convention you’re at to show us what you made! That “squee” moment is like the best ever.
HC: My advice is to figure out what you want to make, even if it’s crazy, and make sure it’s a character you love or are passionate about. Sometimes I don’t even think this is about being a good fabricator, but being driven, determined, and loving what you do. You can get better at anything, but it takes a truly dedicated person to take that first step and not be afraid of failure or what the outcome may be. Getting better at something is a natural progression from that initial bit of courage.
N: What is something you know now about costume design that you wish you knew when you first started out?
JM: There’s no right way to do things. There are just some people who have figured out easier/cheaper/faster ways to do it. But they’re still learning and refining techniques. You might know a trick they don’t!
HC: Learn what type of glue to use. Seriously, glue is incredibly important. Hot glue melts, others take hours to cure, etc. Knowing when/where to use which glue is invaluable knowledge. Ask around! We all learned the hard way!
N: What is your dream project to build?
JM: I’d love to do a whole house takeover and just build a giant immersive set to live in. I’m so inspired by that intersection of art, theatre, and design. In my mind, I’d have this amazing Victorian, and it’d be some kind of fairy world that just spills out of all the closets. Somehow Holly would turn it into a nightmare. I’d give her a room and she’d like taint the entire house and ruin my dreams of being Robin Goodfellow every day of the year. I’d be like Puck after an alien invasion if it were up to her. But before Holly destroyed my dream project, it would be amazing. Actually, it’d probably be a good thing because her total devastation would snap me out an inevitable dissociative state where I thought I really was a fairy and tried to fly. Oh god, this makes me sound crazy. Can I change my answer? Cthulhu Marie Antoinette playing the handsaw with a violin bow? Wow. Nevermind.
HC: I’d have to agree with Jessica on this one. I’d love to create an immersive experience. But it would be some kind of horrible alien zombie survival run haunted house laser tag, with crazy awesome creature suits and amazing sets. Possibly based off of BioWare’s Mass Effect or a number of other sci-fi worlds. Or I’d just love to make a giant creature, like a huge dragon or an adventuring party from one of my favorite games, Baldur’s Gate. Or a hyper-realistic mindflayer costume from DnD. I have a lot of ideas…but she’s right, they are all nightmares. But they’re amazing nighmares! Right…?
Try This at Home premieres today on the Nerdist Channel.