“He had typed stories for comic books for the past seven years… every genre but funny animals. Sammy drew the line at funny animals. The success in the trade of these dot-eyed, three-fingered imports from the world of animated cartoons, with their sawdusty gags and childish antics, was one of the thousand little things to have broken Sammy Clay’s heart.” – from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
I was asked to be a guest on a podcast recently. I was asked to explain furry culture to the curious and open-minded hosts and (judging by the response) their equally magnanimous audience. In the interval between publication and this writing, I’ve cringed at my inadequacy at each turn at stammering out bullet-pointed shorthand that doesn’t really explain anything about us fuzzy folk in any great depth or detail. My caveat was that no one had elected me as furry ambassador. Listening to myself, there might be good reason for that. Was I being honest and candid or feeding on self-validating horseshit? A: probably both.
I have opined in the past on the social gulf between Furry and Alternative Comix Culture in 2013 as if it is not a figment of my middle class, status-obsessed imagination. Boutique mini-comic presses, comics as art objects, zine-swaps, these are “cool.” I allow myself to feel validated by my association with them. Fursuiting/kigurumi, plushies, the free and open exchange of cartoon animal people pornography are all “uncool.” I allow myself to feel validated by earnestly enjoying things that run against the grain of internet derision. See what I’m doing here? Better not let the NYT Style section catch wind of this!
Lisa Hanawalt, not a furry, but she draws them
There is no furry monoculture. There is room in the polymorphous furpile for everyone’s social baggage. If you think of yourself as a geek, then furry outsider-dom will reflect prismatically off of you. Kink-centric people, pull up a chair. You are home. Naturally the icons of my own middle-class “alternative” youth, (DIY, subversive comics) are a particular draw to me. So I read the new Girl Mountain comic (NSFW) where Mogg the talking cat gives a rimjob to Megg the witch, and it’s a darkly hilarious criss-crossing of wires that our brains can call anthropomorphism; animals doing people stuff, but sometimes in an animal way. There is no gulf between my “alt comix” reading and the “furry” one. They’re one and the same goddamned thing.
So I talk a big game about furry being cool and inherently dignified while dog-whistling my pleas for validation from some vague imagined “indie scene” because I’m an insecure baby. It’s unfair to furry to cage it in this rhetorically purgatory underdog status where it’s constantly being compared to other fandoms or scenes. Furry is furry, and furry comics is comics. Why stick my neck under the boot of good taste when something like Crumb’s Fritz the Cat can acquire respectability anyway in a few decades’ time?
Here’s one difference. As vaudville theaters disappeared into the dust, the minstrel shows re-emerged onto the silver screen and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (along with another more famous cartoon mouse than me) took their place. The roots of funny animals as we know them are more disgraceful than even Chris Ware can masterfully repackage. I use funny animal books as my internet handle partly out of the self-lacerating irony that is so popular among cartoonists, we who love the books designed to be thrown into the trash. The truth is, there’s very little interest to be found in what are properly called funny animal comics save maybe the naïve sexuality of dusty old Fox and Crow covers.
Furry is not necessarily a fandom for these comics though, despite how nice and alliterative that sounds. As funny animal comics eventually became too embarrassing to be publishable and began to slough off of communal consciousness, artists began collecting their own stories in self-published fanzines. Fan groups that budded out panels, meetups and parties at sci-fi conventions cleaved away in the 80s to form the basis of its own community. An exhaustive history of the emergent furry scene, first published in the fanzine Yarf! can be found here. I genuinely miss the rough hewn amateur art (link NSFW) that circulated in early furry fanzines and on sites like the Vixen Controlled Library. The internet was definitive in making furry a “thing” but it also may have brought about a homogenized, Disney-inspired “furry house style.” Really, a LOT has changed since 1996.
Because comics and illustration are less expensive and labor-intensive than say, film, they became the centerpiece of the emerging furry scene and the basis for its valuing individual creativity over devotion to established properties. Furry lexicon is always changing. I haven’t seen the word “yiff” used earnestly since the 90s, and “furfag” has been adopted from internet harassers as a playful calling card. A wolf is a walf, and walf is a way of life.
Since I’ve been involved in furry (over ten years, yikes!) BBS boards, forums and MUCKS are toast, Deviantart style social art sites like furaffinity are on their way out and new social media like twitter and tumblr are becoming the center of furry expression and communication. I see less and less comics and fanzines, but every furr seems to have a small stable of original characters they draw in disconnected scenes. Costuming, fursuiting or just “suiting” is becoming increasingly central, with dance emerging as the dominant style of performance. I don’t have the words to describe just how uncomfortable these suits are, how disoriented the limited vision can be, how HOT they become in a matter of minutes. Groans of agony, maybe. So to see how folks can make these lumpy, unblinking mascots move with such grace and style and uncanny verisimilitude, it’s not just cool, it’s *magical.*
Magical. Zeke Hyena by Firestormsix, worn by SkyRyd3r, photo by Abrahm
Over the years, a kind of micro-economy has emerged as furry events became more frequent and their boundaries defined. There are furry apparel companies, full-time fursuit makers, music labels, news aggregates, book presses and distros, fetish gear makers, a company that makes luxury sex toys shaped like dragon cocks. We are famously open about sexuality and happily produce wave after wave of imaginative, mesmerizing pornography (that link is SO not SFW). Sometimes our radical inclusivity is our finest feature, other times it is a disaster. Some corners of furry are a literal snuggle-fest (my AC suite mid-handle of Bulliet), others are nests of malicious bullying and harassment, so drama-phobic we can allow negativity to carry on unconfronted and unaddressed. The youth culture is sometimes oppressive, though maybe I say that because in less than five years I’ll be 30 (a greymuzzle!) and out of the loop.
The new trend in pop journalism from Buzzfeed, Kotaku etc. has been sympathetic, if detatched fly-on-the-wall style coverage of furry conventions. Furries are now valid because we are cute and know how to party and aren’t as bad as every writer asumes we are going to be. This is better than the boring bourgeois sensationalism that came before it. It’s hard to beat the Rumpus’ interview with Kilcodo (full disclosure, a friend of mine) who is honest and candid and dignified in a way I can only look up to from my crib. To know furry is to be one. In my experience, it has been more creatively fulfilling, mind-expanding, fun and joyful than I ever could have imagined when I first snuck that notorious issue of Vanity Fair, the one with Julianne Moore on the cover, off of my mom’s nightstand. In the internet age, where there can be no underground, it is my refuge from respectability, my own polymorphously perverse tribe, and the filter through which I read anthro in comics: Krazy Kat, Fritz the Cat, Omaha the Cat Dancer, the Great Catsby… Gunsmith Cats?
Q&A+General Learnin’ TIME
Yes, a lot of us (including me!) wear animal costumes. No, not as many of us fuck in them as people think. Remember what I said about the dancing?
Furries are a global phenomenon thanks to the internet, though we are mostly concentrated in North America, Western Europe and Japan. The largest furry convention in the world is Anthrocon in Pittsburgh, PA, with over 4000 attendees.
Yes, a huge percentage of furries are gay men, and gay male sexuality and imagery is a dominant force in furry visual culture. No, I don’t have the faintest clue why this is.
We’re not called plushies. Furries who are intimate with stuffed animals are called plushophiles. I’ve been seeing less and less art catering to this interest since the early 2000s.
You should google Chakats.
We are sick and tired of talking about CSI and Tyra and My Strange Addiction. When approached by media types, your modern furry might be inclined to just make shit up. We are over it.
Reptiles and birds and dolphins get to be furries too.
A furry can be a person who identifies that way and engages with furry fandom or subculture to any extent of their choosing. Furry is also a shorthand for any anthropomorphized animal character in historical or contemporary work. A character in a furry fanzine comic and Bugs Bunny can both be referred to as furries, though the latter was developed of prior to and outside of any association with internet weirdos.
Yiff is a very silly word. No one uses it like, ever anymore. But I’m fond of it.
Werewolves are hot.
My costume is a coyote, though I identify as a cartoon mouse.
Yes, it is like a thousand degrees in that thing. I already told you. It’s still awesome.
It’s important to know exactly what kind of room party you’re about to visit at a convention.
Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore in Minneapolis, MN has an entire spinner rack of Omaha the Cat Dancer comics and I regret every day I didn’t just walk in there and buy the whole thing.
In furry cartoon porn, some artists prefer to present their characters with human-style genitalia while others defer to the natural look of the represented species. I like human-style.
I watched a lot of David Attenborough docs growing up. Actually anything to do with animals was my shit.
Furry conventions are really fun. You should go.
Cartoon animals rule and it is OK to like them.