Reverend Rafferty (normanrafferty) wrote,
Reverend Rafferty

What is "furry"? [WIP]

I'd like to thank everyone from the previous round of debate. Everyone had valid things to say, and (gasp!) I actually changed my own point-of-view on a few things based on folks' feedback. This post is friends-only, because it's gone from alpha to beta.

This is a brief essay on "the furry". In theory, this essay would go on a web-page for someone to read to find out what a furry convention was supposed to be about. After it's done, I'll add links to some of the materials referenced in it. My major worry is that it goes back in history, but it doesn't say much of what's going on today.  sdavido, I'm especially looking in your direction for some advice, since you have a degree in this stuff ^.^ 

What is “furry”?

The adjective “anthropomorphic” refers to the attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to things not normally considered human.  From the gods of ancient Egypt to the advertising icons of the modern day, people of every culture have created fanciful creatures simply by imbuing animals with human traits. Sometime around the early 1980s, the term furry came into prominence to identify humanized animals in general.

What is “furry fandom”?

Furry fandom is the collective body of people who have an interest in anthropomorphizations of animals. 

Early works with an appeal to furry fans include Robert Crumb’s Fritz the Cat comic, H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy series, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, C.J. Cherryh’s Pride of Chanur, Larry Niven’s Man-Kzin Wars, Martin Rosen’s Watership Down, Steve Gerber’s Howard the Duck, Dave Sim’s Cerebus, Roy Thomas and Scott Shaw!s Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew, Reed Waller’s Omaha the Cat Dancer, and many animated cartoons by the Walt Disney Company and Warner Brothers. 

Because their interests were motivated by notions of fantastic beings, early furry fans attended science-fiction conventions.  As they congregated in greater numbers, they set up networks to circulate news, stories, and illustrations.  Amateur press associations, or APAs, circulated photocopies of fiction and artwork, such as Pawprints and the long-running Yarf.  A subset of the costuming common to science-fiction conventions, "fursuiters" exchanged tips and manuals on their craft of making anthropomorphically-themed costumes.

The early 1980s saw an explosion in interest of anthropomorphics with the debut of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Almost overnight, this exciting blend of exotic animals and martial-arts action became a phenomenal success, spawning a thriving franchise of movies, television shows, and toys.  The comic book market responded with an explosion of imitators from the silly (such as Adolescent Radioactive Black-Belt Hamsters) to more serious fare (Art Spiegelman’s Maus).  Comic-book stores, looking for the next hit title, increased demand for little-known independent comics, which sparked the “black and white boom.”  This period saw fertile growth of many furry-themed titles, such as Steve Gallacci’s Albedo, Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, Fantagraphics’ Critters, Radio Comics’ Furrlough, and Shanda Fantasy Arts’ Shanda the Panda.  Joining these titles are online comic strips featuring talking animals, such as Bill Holbrook's Kevin & Kell, Thomas Dye's Newshounds, , D.C. Simpson's Ozy and Millie, and John Robey's Suburban Jungle.  Today, comic strips make up a large part of furry fandom, with artists and writers as regular guests at furry-themed conventions.

As home computers became more and more common, bulletin-board services (or BBSes) themed for furry content sprang up.  The fore-runner of video games like Everquest and World of Warcraft, multi-player online games using a text-only interface became popular with many furry fans as an outlet for playing the role of their “furry avatars”.  The longest-running and most famous of these games is FurryMUCK, founded in 1990.    Around 1995, the introduction of the “information superhighway”, with graphical web browsers and greater connection speed, furry fandom increased dramatically.  Beforehand, only the most ardent or the most technically inclined had the time and patience for snail-mailed photocopies or arcane command-line interfaces.  Even casual fans of anthropomorphics could write letters, submit art, and chat in real-time with one another.  Now that the Internet had graphics, furry archives sprang up -- websites featuring amateur artwork and stories.  Unhampered by the obstacles of postal services or comic-shop distributions, this new furry material grew explosively, and the number of people discovering they were fans of anthropomorphics increased as well.  It could be said that a majority of furry fans are united by their interest in online culture.

Video games have always had a share of anthropomorphic mascots.  In 1991, Sonic the Hedgehog debuted on the Sega Genesis video-game console and was an instant hit with both the furry community and with mainstream audiences.   Many franchises of anthropomorphic characters have followed, such as Pokemon, Digimon, Jak & Daxter, StarFox, Sly Cooper, and Ratchet & Clank.   Raking in sales of millions of dollars, these characters have an appeal both within the furry fandom and the public at large.

From the professional who illustrates an award-winning comic book, to the semi-pro who sells artwork as a hobby, to the amateur costumer who makes masks in his spare time, or the casual fan who just thinks furry animals are neat, furry fandom is home to them all.

What are "furry conventions"?

When fans of these different media congregated at science-fiction conventions, chatted on Internet relays, or sent messages on Usenet, it had become clear that there was a canon of work that could be called “furry” in its own right.  Many early furry fans had embraced “net.culture” and thus had only communicated by text.  Sociable by nature, many of these folks wanted to get to know the faces behind the mail.  Many science-fiction conventions had started running “furry discussion tracks” – which were now over-flowing with too many attendees!  The message was clear: furry fans should have their own furry conventions. 

The first self-proclaimed furry convention was Confurence in 1989.  (Note: 'Confurence' is a registered trademark and is not to be used as a generic term for furry conventions.)  Today, furry fans attend a variety of conventions from the smaller venues such as Feral and Rocket City Furmeet, to larger shows like Conifur Northwest, Further Confusion, Mephit Fur Meet, Midwest Furfest and, of course, Anthrocon

The primary purpose of a furry convention is socialization -- people meeting other people they've only known through online contact, or who they only get to see once or twice a year. While the Internet has increased commuication dramatically, it's nice once in a while to meet folks with a common interest.  Most conventions feature "dealer space", open to both professionals in the cartooning, movie, television, and film industry as well as enthusiastic semi-pros and newcomers.  In the interest of growing community, many conventions sponsor an Artist's Alley for folks who aren't full-fledged vendors but still have something to share, trade, or sell. 

Costuming is a major part of any furry convention.  While not everyone who attends has the time, patience, or resources for a costume, it's the few who do that bring out a charm that is particular to the furry fandom.  Since wearing all that fur can be hot and uncomfortable, larger conventions cater to the "fursuiters" by having a "Headless Lounge" where fans and water are provided, as well as sewing kits for minor repair.  The signature event of many furry conventions is the "fursuit parade", where dozens if not hundreds of costumes are worn and walked throughout the convention floor.

Most conventions sponsor one or more charities, usually animal shelters or wolf parks.  As a benefit of the ever-growing attendance, furry conventions have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charitable interests.

Edits thanks to dakhun, eselgeist, higgins, ceruleanst, rigelkitty, siege, wbwolf, and xydexx.
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