History of anthropomorphic characters in small press publications

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This article covers the history of anthropomorphic characters in small press publications.


Comics were the driving force in the early days, largely thanks to the wellspring of anthro-based comics that erupted on the American scene with the success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the mid-'80s. Literally dozens of titles came and went, many of which simply attempted to copy the TMNT formula in order to make a fast buck. These ranged from the execrable (ala Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, Geriatric Ju-Jitsu Gerbils) to genuinely readworthy (as with Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung-Fu Kangaroos).

Of more interest were the burgeoning ranks of anthro comics which didn't seek to follow in TMNT's tracks. Some even pre-dated TMNT, as with StarReach's Quack!, which not only parodied the short-lived "Duck Craze" of the late '70s (remember "Disco Duck"? Right.), but also showcased then-new talents like Dave Sim (The Beavers) and Michael T. Gilbert (The Wraith). Independents and a wide divergence of topics abounded: Steve Gallacci (Albedo) wrote of animals warring amid the stars under the strict laws of Einsteinian physics, while Vicky Wyman (Xanadu) produced exquisitely-drawn fantasy romances starring unicorn empresses and gryphon wizards. Meanwhile, Jim Groat's GraphXPress came out with parodies of Conan and Red Sonja in the form of Equine the Uncivilized and Red Shetland. Independent comic-book greats such as Donna Barr (Stinz) and Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo) built their first readerships amongst the ranks of furries.

Even the mainstream publishers tried to get in on the act, with much less success --- Marvel's Power Pachyderms isn't known to have any fans even amongst diehard furries. DC's Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew took a more "Hanna Barbara" approach and won some support, but not enough to keep from going under as well.

Fantagraphics Books then published the funny animal anthology Critters for fifty issues, after which point it appeared that anthro comics were running out of steam. The TMNT craze had created massive speculation in the comics market, which inevitably resulted in an equally massive backlash when investors attempted to sell their bootleg copies of poorly-drawn books and found that no one wanted to buy them. Whole publishing companies went under almost overnight, taking a number of exceptional anthro comics with them (such as Nervous Rex, a splendid book of surrealist comedy which happened to be published by Blackthorne, which itself became almost universally recognized --- after the fact --- as a fly-by-night ripoff operation).


By 1991, only a few anthro comics continued to maintain any kind of pretense at a publication schedule. Enter Ben Dunn's Antarctic Press. Mr. Dunn had previously created his own anthro title (Of Mice and Men) and had built a small independent publishing company on the strength of imported manga titles and a flagship manga-industry comic called Mangaphile. Furrlough was the first genuinely non-manga comic produced by Antarctic, and was shortly swamped with submissions by creators who had teethed during the "TMNT Boom/Bust". Eventually, Genus was created to allow for the publication of NC17/X-rated material.

The success of Furrlough and, later, Genus, catapulted Antarctic Press into serious competition with long-standing industry independents. Able to expand even further now, Ben Dunn created Warrior Nun Areala, which was non-anthro but whose overnight success greatly overshadowed the anthro line. To free up resources necessary to further promote Warrior Nun Areala and its related merchandise, AP cut loose the entirety of its anthro line (Gold Digger not being counted, as AP did not consider it to be a "furry" title).

Radio Comix was quickly formed by then-AP-editor Elin Winkler and a number of pro-anthro stalwarts to keep Furrlough and Genus alive. Small but steady sales combined with a lean and smart business plan have allowed Radio to slowly prosper to the point where it has been able to expand to carry other lines as well as publish the occasional one-shot or miniseries. Other existing anthro comic publishers include MU Press, GraphXPress, Shanda Fantasy Arts, Backbreaker Studios and Dream Weaver Press.

In terms of "fannish cred", being published as a comic artist was second only to being an animator at Disney. The top comic artists in furry were the real stars of furrydom since they were the direct producers of what was readily available. More recently, due to online archives and forums catering to artists on the internet, as well as sales of prints and art collection CDs, the fandom's focus has slowly moved away from sequential art and more into the realm of "classic", or single-frame, works. At the same time, the number of webcomics produced by anthro artists has escalated into the hundreds, some of which are exceptionally good.

This shift is readily explainable: producing a comic book is an expensive and time-consuming affair. Even a small run of a few thousand issues of an average-sized book can cost thousands of dollars to print, and then it must be distributed and fight for shelf space in tightly-packed comic stores. Once it gets there, it may simply be ignored amid the hundreds of brightly-colored titles of the competition. Internet publication avoids all of these problems, offering the artist the likelihood of potential return with virtually no investment.

Another important point is that, as with science-fiction, fantasy and comic fandoms, fanzines became an important part of furry fandom. Amateur press association (APAs) produced "APAzines" like Vootie and Rowrbrazzle. These provided a place for artists and writers of the funny animal genre to showcase their work and critique each other in the days before online archives and forums were quite so commonplace. APAs are generally exclusive groups, with limited memberships, and the zines produced were usually for members only, although some notable exceptions existed.

Later, shared universe and collection magazines were published. Furry fans could subscribe to these magazines, or purchase them at convention dealer’s rooms. The first furry collection magazine, FurVersion, published by Karl Maurer, was born in 1987 at a furry party at Baycon in San Jose, California. Yarf!, published by Jeff Ferris, became the longest running collection magazine, with over 40 issues. Rowrbrazzle, the fandom's flagship and longest-running APAzine, is published on a quarterly basis with over 85 issues to its credit.

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