Furry Fandom: Stepping Out of the Fur-lined Closet at Anthrocon

Posted by Joe Strike on Jul 14, 2009 in Fandom |

Furry Fandom: Stepping Out of the Fur-lined Closet

I admit it, I’m a furry. Admit it? Right now I’m feeling rather proud of it. I don’t know what you think furries are, you’ve probably been brainwashed by the Vanity FairCSI Complex. What we are is a bunch of people with varied but overlapping interests in anthropomorphic animal characters. Like the Democratic Party, we’re a ‘big tent’ fandom – if you’re into cartoon, comic strip or comic book ‘funny animals,’ if you’ve built a ‘fursuit’ so you can physically become your animal alter-ego, if you draw your own pictures or write your own stories about ‘anthro’ characters (also known, just like us, as ‘furries’), you’re in.

And we’re far from sparse in number: over the July 4th weekend some 3800 of us migrated to Pittsburgh for the annual ‘AnthroCon’ convention, the world’s largest furry gathering.

First of all and contrary to popular belief, we weren’t all dressed up in animal costumes: only (‘only’?) about 700 of us were there in fursuits. Of the remaining 3100, a good portion adorned their jeans with a tail and their heads with matching ears, but most of us were content wearing a T-shirt of our favorite animal or animal character. Non-anthro cosplay was welcome too: my pal Pete who’s a dead ringer for David Tennant was warmly welcomed and spent the weekend, sonic screwdriver in hand, as the tenth Doctor. (And why not? Anthro aliens pop up on the show quite regularly.)

Second of all, Furry Fandom isn’t just a fur-lined sex orgy. There’s gotta be some of that going on, but I’m still waiting to be invited to one; I guess I run with the wrong pack, I mean crowd. Besides which, it’s hot inside those suits – you’d quickly collapse from heat prostration if you tried to do the nasty dance with someone while suited up.

A pin for Walt Kelly's Pogo cartoon.

Walt Kelly's Pogo Cartoon

Me, I’m an amateur cartoonist who goes there to hang out with good friends: fellow funny animal artists and ‘suiters I only get to see once or twice a year. (Next furcon for me: the Halloween-themed ‘Furfright’ this October in Waterbury CT.) I’ve been into fur since I was a kid getting his daily fix of Looney Tunes off Channel 5, and who read Pogo particularly closely whenever Hepzibah, the strip’s quite attractive lady skunk appeared… ahh, that little curlicue of fur curving away from her ample bosom… but I digress.

Of course there’s a healthy element of sensuality inherent in the fur scene. (Some might want to stick an ‘un’ in front of that adjective; let ’em, I don’t care.) I mean, how could there not be? They’re animals for God’s sake, they run around naked most of the time and a first-rate furry artist is capable of blending their human and animal physical attributes in quite appealing (and often jaw-dropping) ways. Do a bit of browsing for ‘furry art’ & you’ll see what I mean.

The Trix Rabbit

The Trix Rabbit

That said, beyond (or within) fur, the convention’s Guests of Honor were animation industry pros with superb pedigrees: Joe Harris, creator of Underdog and the Trix Rabbit; Bob Boyle, creator of Nickelodeon’s Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! (full disclosure: my one animation scripting credit to date was for show’s “Wubbzy the Star” episode), and Cartoon Network storyboard artist Ben Balistreri. I made it to just about every one of their sessions, passing up numerous opportunities to learn about “Animal Spirituality and Therianthropy,” “What It’s Like to Be a Wolf” and “Jadeclaw RPG: The Battle for Shen Dahr.”

Joe, a gentleman in his eighties was reportedly moved to tears by the enthusiastic greeting he received upon arrival, never dreaming that characters he created some 50 years ago had a loyal following. He shared mucho anecdotes about the good old days at his panel appearances (many of them repeated each time), but my personal takeaway was “if you don’t believe in the characters, they’re just drawings.”

Which is why I’m a furry – I believe in all of them, from Bugs to Bullwinkle, Donald to Droopy, and on and on and on…

Bob B. shared stories of his checkered path to cartoon success. (“I went to New York to be an illustrator, but mostly I was working as a bellman at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square.”) Afterwards he told me I looked familiar, hadn’t we met before? (a psychic connection via my Wubbzy script?) Ben B. gave pointers on storyboarding that probably would’ve taken a semester to learn at CalArts. (For instance, beware of adjoining shots where successive characters are identically framed – you’ll confuse the audience into thinking the first just transformed into the second.)

We took over Pittsburgh for the weekend by the way; downtown is usually pretty dead on a summer weekend, but when we showed up restaurants and convenience stores normally locked tight stayed open for us. How could they not love us – we drop some $3 million into the local economy over 3-4 days. This was our fourth year in town – we completely outgrew our original Philadelphia location a while back. Pittsburgh’s reaction to us has evolved from ‘who are these people?’ to ‘hey, the furries are back!’ (Maybe it’s that $3 million.) Even a few of the high-I.Q. Mensa folks in town for their own convention came over to check us out. (I visited their hotel and discovered the Mensa version of a wild and crazy time: sitting in a basement meeting room playing board games and assembling banquet table-sized jigsaw puzzles; between you and me, I’d rather be a furry than a genius…)

But on Monday morning a seven-hour drive back to NYC and mundane reality awaited us. Oh, if only I had the $$$ to go to Further Confusion (San Jose), Midwest FurFest (Chicago) or Memphit Furmeet (Memphis) between now and next July. (Michael, how about sending me on an all-expenses-paid fact-finding tour?) Who knows, if I’m lucky maybe I’ll meet somebody who’ll let me try on their alligator suit, just for a little while…

Joe is an occasional animation scripter and freelance NYC writer covering animation and sci-fi/fantasy entertainment. His work has appeared in the NY Daily News, Newsday, the New York Press and, as they used to say on Rocky and Bullwinkle, ‘a host of others.’ He is a regular contributor to the animation industry website awn.com, but it’s much easier to visit joestrike.com to see what he’s been up to lately.

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Waffle Whiffer for the Trix Rabbit button photo.

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