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The history of the furry fandom is the collective history of science fiction, cartooning, animation, tabletop gaming, role-playing, costuming, and countless other fan communities. Anthropomorphic, or human-like, characters have existed since the earliest examples of human artwork. However, dedicated fans to this genre, in the context of modern fandom, have only come into being in the last forty years.
Fans of funny animal characters, such as those seen in Disney animation and comics or underground comics such as Fritz the Cat, formed the first organized groups in the mid-1970s as artist-centric Amateur Press Associations. Concurrently with the independent comic book boom of the early 1980s, numerous titles featuring anthropomorphic characters rose to prominence, including Albedo Anthropomorphics, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Usagi Yojimbo.
As a result of the popularity of these works, fans outside of the preexisting funny animal artist groups organized the first general fan parties in the mid-1980s. Based around the shared appreciation of animal characters, the gatherings initially took place at room parties at science fiction conventions, but notably consisted of fans of comics, media such as Star Trek, or even literature such as Watership Down. The diverse population of attendees at these early general parties was the first to dub themselves furry fans.
- 1 Early anthropomorphic literature and art
- 2 20th century transformations
- 3 Proto-fandom (1976-1986)
- 4 Early modern furry fandom
- 5 Small press publishers
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Early anthropomorphic literature and art
Anthropomorphism (from the Greek ánthrōpos, lit. "human", and morphē, lit. "form" or "shape") is the attribution of human characteristics to non-human entities, such as objects or animals, and can be found in the earliest examples of human art. The Löwenmensch figurine dates as early as the Upper Paleolithic period, or around 35,000 years ago, and is the oldest known work of figurative art. Early examples of human artwork often feature zoomorphic, or animal-shaped, figures, such as the numerous reliefs at Göbekli Tepe (c.9000-7000 BCE) in Turkey, or the Guennol Lioness (c.3000-2800 BCE) in Iraq. Numerous Egyptian gods such as Anubis, Bastet, and Horus stood out amongst their contemporaries, sporting animal heads on human bodies.
The concept of bestowing something non-human with human qualities has its roots in psychology. Metaphors are often used to help better understand unknown forces in the world by comparing them to something familiar. To help communicate these ideas with other people, humans use storytelling as a device to help remember and highlight the significance of something. In Aesop's Fables, animals are used to represent certain characteristics that are either desired or should be avoided. It's in this way that animals, both in art and in prose, were used to spread information, morals, and beliefs. Giving animals certain qualities (foxes being sly, dogs being loyal, etc.) is still a common example of anthropomorphism at work today.
As such, fables and folk tales have historically featured talking animals more often than any other genre. Sumerian literature is not only the oldest known body of written works but also includes the first known examples of anthropomorphic characters, such as a debate between a bird and a fish. The Tale of Two Brothers (c. 1200 BCE) is an excellent example of transformation, with the god Bata turning into a bull. Hesiod's Works and Days (c. 700 BCE) features a fable known as The Hawk and the Nightingale, and is an early example of a parable. The story was expanded upon in Aesop's Fables (c. 550 BCE).
19th century literature and art
With the Industrial Revolution came the advent of popular fiction and mass-market readership, made possible by the steam-driven process of making paper from wood pulp. Dime novels came to define and dominate the market, as well as periodical publications in newspapers and magazines. These cheap, easily obtained reading materials not only made stories widely available to the general public, but also increased the demand for more fantastic series. Fantasy, science fiction, detective fiction, and children's literature were all genres that rose to prominence during this time, and examples of anthropomorphic characters can be found throughout. Notable examples include Lewis Carroll’s fantasy novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, Beatrix Potter’s illustrated children’s books in 1890, Rudyard Kipling’s collection of talking animal stories The Jungle Book in 1894, H. G. Wells’ 1896 science fiction novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, and James Swinnerton’s Mr. Jack in 1896, the first appearance of anthropomorphic animals in comic strips.
20th century transformations
With the advent of animation and comic books in the first half of the 20th century, anthropomorphic animals became a popular phenomenon with fans of all ages. Their popularity peaked during World War 2, certain characters becoming icons of Americana And in 1945 George Orwell’s Animal Farm became the first anthropomorphic animal novel universally recognized as a work specifically for adults.
In the post-war years, cartoons and literature focused most of their animal-related efforts on children’s entertainment, inspiring many to believe that cartoons and animal stories were strictly for young audiences. While the children who grew up with funny animals in some cases maintained the interest in anthropomorphic animals into adulthood and conceived of using such characters in works for older age groups. A notable example being C. S. Lewis, who attributed his fascination with anthropomorphic animals to the influence of Beatrix Potter.
Somewhat more relaxed attitudes towards art and experimentation in the 1960s and early 1970s saw the use of controversial concepts in fantasy animal stories become more common, attracting increased interest from older fans. Significant milestones included Kimba The White Lion, The Planet Of The Apes, Fritz The Cat and Watership Down. These expanded uses of anthropomorphic animals could not be contained by the existing Funny Animal Fandom, creating a need for a more encompassing fandom that would eventually be called Furry.
The Air Pirates collective published in August 1971, looking for a fight, was quickly sued by Disney on October 21, 1971 for copyright and trademark infringement. The suit would not be settled until 1980.
Robert Crumb's dissatisfaction with the film adaptation of Fritz the Cat led to him subsequently killing off the character in 1972. After this, there was a lack of 'funny animal' characters outside of the mainstream houses such as Disney. Minneapolis artists Ken Fletcher and Reed Waller, hoping to fill a void surrounded by comic book superheroes, decided to found an Amateur Press Association, or APA, called Vootie on February 29, 1976. The intention was to gather talented artists in the Twin-Cities area and explore the potential of using funny animals in adult situations.
In the Los Angeles area, Mark Merlino and Fred Patten, both fans of Japanese animation, created the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization in 1977 as a club for fellow enthusiasts. Steve Gallacci, an Air Force technical artist, began drafting art that would become his later work, Albedo, that same year. He would present his work on August 29, 1980 at the art show at NorEasCon II World Science Fiction Convention in Boston. A group of fans formed around his work, dubbed the "Gallacci group", and would meet at Worldcons and Westercons in the subsequent years to discuss all things anthropomorphic.
Birth of Rowrbrazzle
- Main article: 1980s
By the early 1980s, Vootie's membership contributions had become increasingly sporadic, and editorial laxness was just as apparent. Timothy Fay would attempt to keep the group alive by creating his own APA, Revolutionary Vootie, in 1983 with the help of Marc Schirmeister. Although they received some submissions, they could not generate enough interest. Vootie's cessation that year led to Schirmeister founding another APA, Rowrbrazzle, soon afterward. This transition between Vootie and Rowrbrazzle is considered by Patten, a fandom historian, to be a crucial evolutionary point between funny animal fandom and furry fandom.
The independent comic book explosion, animation, and literature
Thanks to Phil Seuling's creation of a direct market comic book retailer, where the store would buy directly from a publisher and bypass the distributor, the risk of making a profit for small, independent publishers went down significantly. This allowed artists to publish more experimental material and still be able to compete with larger companies like Marvel and DC. In a similar vein, the underground comics artists of the late-1960s and early-1970s, such as those in Vootie, had grown tired of drawing material that was once cutting edge, but had since become routine and overused. They would also hop on the indie publisher bandwagon, allowing artists to explore more personal material. One of those artists was Reed Waller, creator of Omaha The Cat Dancer, whose work would be a favorite among 'funny animal' fans for its depiction of a romantic relationship with a stripper.
The fantasy novel market soon began producing titles such as Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger series, Brian Jacques’ Redwall, and Tad Williams’ Tailchaser's Song. The independent comics market produced titles as varied as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Albedo, Usagi Yojimbo, Cutey Bunny, Critters and Omaha The Cat Dancer. The early 1980s also saw the release of several all ages films that introduced many to the idea of anthropomorphic characters, including The Secret of NIMH, The Flight Of Dragons, The Last Unicorn, The Plague Dogs and Animalympics.
Early modern furry fandom
Judy Niver, one of the founders of the C/FO, hosted a party in her room at the San Diego Comic Convention in 1985. The Rowrbrazzle APA group was also having a party in the same hotel, and there was much overlap in attendance. As a result, it became a tradition to have at least one furry party during the convention. In more recent years, the Comic Con party has been called CritterConDiego and Califur Diego.
That same year at Westercon Science Fiction Convention in Sacramento, California, Mark Merlino and Rod O'Riley hosted a room party in Sheldon Linker and Toni Poper's room. Since many room parties at science fiction and fantasy cons had a theme, the party was called The Prancing Skiltaire party, after the name of Merlino's house. Animalympics was screened, along with Warner Bros. short cartoons and collections of furry artwork and short stories were left on display for browsing. Visitors to the party were intrigued by the 'funny animal' art, and some revealed having sketchbooks and collections of their own art. The following year at the 1986 Westercon in San Diego, CA, the successor party was the first to be openly called a "furry party". After the success of these events, Merlino and O'Riley began hosting similar events at conventions all over California.
In the mid-1980s, a unified group of fans interested in animal characters in comics and stories was forming around other organized fan activities. Such as Room parties at science fiction conventions, meetings of the C/FO, and APA collating parties (for funny animal and cartooning APAs, such as Vootie and Rowrbrazzle).
ConFurence and early furry conventions
By 1988, the furry parties at West Coast conventions such as San Diego Comic Con and Westercon had grown immensely, to the point where even double suites were too small. Merlino and O'Riley, encouraged by the large attendance, decided to expand on the furry party concept and host a prototype convention for furry fans. ConFurence Zero was hosted in Costa Mesa, California, on January 21-22, 1989, and had a total of 65 attendees. Lasting until April 2003, the convention continued to be the premier international gathering place of furry fans until 1999, when it tied for attendance with the up and coming Anthrocon.
In the Eastern United States, furry fans had been gathering at the New York chapter of the C/FO, founded by Ken Sample. Ray Rooney and Major Matt Mason had hosted furry parties in their suite at Philcon, a science fiction convention in Philadelphia, for several years. Philcon eventually hosted the first major furry art show and dealer's room. Trish Ny, an attendee at Philcon, felt that there was enough anti-furry prejudice to warrant organizing their own convention, Furtasticon, which she chaired. It was to be a prototype East Coast furry convention that would rebrand itself as ConFurence East (which had no organized connection to ConFurence) in October 1995.
At the 54th World Science Fiction Convention in 1996, held in Anaheim, California, the Furry Fandom Lounge was organized by the ConFurence committee as a five-day furry programming track. The general Worldcon program schedule publicized the furry parties, panels, and exhibits, which included a glass-encased "History of Furry Fandom" display by David Bliss.
Online furry fandom
- Main article: 1990s
Virtual environments, such as MUCKs, soon became the most popular places on the net for furry fans to meet and communicate. One of the oldest and largest MUCKs in existence is FurryMUCK. One of the newest virtual environments to attract furry fans is Second Life. Other on-line chat environments in the early 1990s included GEnie, CompuServe, Prodigy and Delphi.
The first usenet newsgroups began to appear in the early 1990s. alt.fan.furry was created in late 1990, and eventually spawned a number of additional newsgroups, such as alt.lifestyle.furry which was created in 1996. Furrynet, an unofficial Usenet hierarchy of fur.* newsgroups, was created in the late 1990s. In 2000, there was an unsuccessful attempt to create rec.arts.furry, which would have brought furry fandom into the primary Usenet hierarchy.
By 1992, furry fans could participate in online social role-playing environments for free, if they had access to the Internet. MUCKs, Mushes and MOOs were created by furry fans for furry fans and hosted at educational and commercial sites. With the dawn of the World Wide Web, furry fans found their Mecca, with personal web sites, art and writing archives and forums providing a way for furry fans to communicate and share their interests internationally. Yerf and YiffCo and VCL and other art archives soon dominated the art scene.
In the late 1990s, David J. Rust (aka Sylvan), attempted to document the internal social dynamics and trends within Furry fandom. While originally intended to be a fan film documentary, the research he conducted from 1996 - 1997 was eventually collated into The Sociology of Furry Fandom, a Subculture Study, the first academic study of furry sociology.
ConFurence 8 and the sex controversy
A schism that had been developing in the fandom for some years reached a boiling point in the aftermath of ConFurence 8, which quickly became notorious for a variety of sexualized incidents. Previous years had seen several similar incidents; complaints about poor public behavior were repeatedly brought to the convention's staff to be addressed. As a rule, however, these complaints were ignored, with the result that the offended parties began airing their grievances in such forums as alt.fan.furry.
Backlash appeared from various other parties who, alternately, mocked the complaints or defended the persons who had engaged in the offensive behavior. Oftentimes, accusations of religious intolerance and puritanism were leveled at the complainers. This led to the creation of the Burned Furs and, in response to that, the Freezing Furs, the ongoing flamewar centering around the increasing tendency to place fetishes on public display to the fandom's purported detriment in the press. For the most part, Burned Fur proclaimed that they didn't care what people did in the privacy of their own bedrooms and that it should stay there, while those most vocally opposed to the group either defended open sexuality as a social cause, or claimed that Burned Fur was itself attracting bad press by complaining in the first place. To date, however, the only records in the press referencing the group actually originate with complaints by its opposition during their own interviews with reporters. In the middle of this conflict was a small group known as Furry Peace who openly declared tolerance for all parties but otherwise sought to stay out of the furor.
The schism climaxed when ConFurence 10 saw a change in ownership. The new chairman, Darrel Exline, was a Burned Fur, and although the convention remained open to all ratings of material, there was a mass boycott by fans who believed that they would be persecuted if they attended. The convention also changed its date and venue, contributing to a much smaller turnout than normal. ConFurence continued on for several outings, but never recovered its earlier membership levels and ultimately closed its doors.
Meanwhile, numerous other furry conventions had been springing up already, several in direct response to the mismanagement of ConFurence prior to CF10. Almost universally, these adopted specific and stringent public-behavior policies, leading to a sharp drop in incidents of public sexualization at furry conventions. This, in turn, slowly turned around the fandom's press image by making these incidents into "old news". Poor press continued on the fringe from time to time, as with MTV's "Sex2K" special, as well as certain TV episodes of "CSI" and "St. Elsewhere", but the mainstream image of furries slowly began to be replaced with news coverage of furry conventions where the most interesting thing to film were happy-go-lucky fursuit parades.
This, in turn, effectively defused the schism by eliminating the primary source of the fandom's mainstream image problem.
In 1999, at the North American Science Fiction Convention in Anaheim, California, the Furry Fandom Lounge reflected on 15 years of fandom. That year also saw the launch of Further Confusion in the Bay Area of San Francisco, CA, which eventually become the second largest furry convention in the world.
- Main article: 2000s
Furry conventions have exploded in the 2000s, with over 30 cons starting up, so far. In comparison, the 1990s saw 13 cons, all but two of them after 1995.
In 2003, Dr. Samuel Conway (also known as Uncle Kage of Anthrocon) was a guest of honor at the I-CON science fiction and fantasy convention in Stony Brook, New York. His renowned story hour has since become a fixture of the convention through recent years.
At the 2006 World Science Fiction Convention in Anaheim, California, the Furry Fandom Lounge returned under the organization of Rod O'Riley of the Califur group. The programming track included a furry artist reception and panels ranging from fursuiting basics to the new world of furry webcomics.
Small press publishers
- Mickey Mouse, An Icon Of American Culture on examiner.com
- Animation Age Ghetto on TV Tropes.
- Lewis, Surprised by Joy, p. 10.
- WikiFur: Convention
- An Illustrated Chronology of Furry Fandom, 1966–1996 by Fred Patten
- A Historical And Cultural Explanation Of Furry Fandom by Perri Rhoades
- Furry culture and history on Know Your Meme