Furry fandom is the collective of people who express an interest in anthropomorphic animals in art, literature, cartoons, pop culture and any other use of animal characters with human attributes. The object of the fandom is not a genre nor any specific segment of the arts, but rather an interest in a specific type of character that may appear in any genre of fiction or type of media.
Origins of the fandom
The interest itself may be as old as civilization. Anthropomorphic animal characters are found in the art of many ancient cultures. Anthropomorphic characters from Egyptian mythology continue to this day to be a source of inspiration to furry artists, as do aspects of Native American animal related spirituality.
The earliest example of anthropomorphic literature commonly cited by furry fans is Aesop’s Fables, which dates to around 500 BC.
Anthropomorphic characters then continued to proliferate through the ages in the form of folk tales. When folk tales were eventually collected and categorized, literary scholars determined that animals with human attributes such as speech were an element specific to fairytales And as fairytales became popular, anthropomorphic animals became a familiar aspect of most world cultures.
The 1800s saw the advent of the fantasy, science fiction and children’s literature genres. Significant milestones and advancements included 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.
Of particular significance is a series of children’s books by Palmer Cox begun in 1890 called “Funny Animals,” which is the earliest discovered use of the term in relation to anthropomorphic animals.
20th century (1900-1970)
Also of significance are the novels of Felix Salten published between 1926 and 1945 which established the precedents of what would later be called furry fiction.
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 peeked 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 kids. 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 development of the furry fandom community
The earliest evidence of the developing expanded fandom is the funny animal APA Vootie, started in 1976.
The Cartoon/Fantasy Organization begun in 1977 as an anime group would spin-off the earliest known funny animal fan club.
And in 1980, Steve Gallacci’s art generated interest in a funny animal sci-fi discussion group that met at sci-fi cons.
Vootie’s cessation in 1983 led to the founding of the Rowrbrazzle APA one year later. The transition between Vootie and Rowrbrazzle is considered by some to be a crucial evolutionary point between funny animal fandom and furry fandom. Though it would still be many years before the new term was universally adopted.
The early 1980s also saw the release of several all ages films that greatly increased interest in Furry Fandom, including The Secret of NIMH, The Flight Of Dragons, The Last Unicorn, The Plague Dogs and Animalympics. While the fantasy novel market soon began producing such titles as Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger series, Brian Jacques’ Redwall and Tad Williams’ Tailchaser’s Song. And the independent comics market produced titles as varied as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Albedo, Usagi Yojimbo, Cutey Bunny, Critters and Omaha The Cat Dancer.
In 1985, at the San Diego Comic Convention, Judy Niver (one of the founders of the C/FO), hosted a party in her room at the Hotel San Diego. The Rowrbrazzle APA group was also having a party in the same hotel, and there was much overlap in attendance. After that party at Comic Con, 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.
Also, at the 1985 Westercon Science Fiction Convention in Sacramento, California, Mark Merlino and Rod O’Riley hosted a room party in Sheldon and Tony Linker’s room. Most room parties at sci-fi and fantasy cons have a theme, so the party was called The Prancing Skiltaire party, after the name of Merlino’s house. Animalympics was screened, along with some Warner Bros. short cartoons, and collections of furry artwork and short stories were on display. Several visitors to the party were very interested in the videos and the art. Some showed sketchbooks and collections of their furry art. Their party at the 1986 Westercon in San Diego, CA, was the first to be openly called a furry party. After the success of these parties, Mark and Rod 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). Fans with internet access kept in contact with each other on computer BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems) like the Tiger’s Den, StormGate Aerie and Kyim’s Scratching Post
As the internet became more accessible, it became the most popular means for furry fans to keep in touch and share their artistic efforts. This gained the fandom higher visibility and it began to grow rapidly.
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.
APAs and fanzine “wars” became popular, with mail-in art and comic contributions collated and distributed to all members.
In 1989, Mark Merlino and Rod O’Riley decided to expand on the furry party concept and host the first prototype furry convention, ConFurence Zero. ConFurence continued to be the premier international gathering place of furry fans, until other independent furry-themed conventions were organized.
On the U.S. east coast, furry fans were gathering at the New York chapter of the C/FO, founded by Ken Sample and friends. Ray Rooney and Major Matt Mason hosted parties in their suite at Philcon in Philadelphia for several years. Philcon eventually hosted the first major Furry art show and dealer’s room. In 1994, Trish Ny organized Furtasticon, a prototype east coast furry convention at the Holiday Inn, next to the Adam’s Mark hotel, Philcon’s venue. Trish went on to found ConFurence East in 1995.
In 1996, at the World Science Fiction Convention in Anaheim, California, the Furry Fandom Lounge was organized by the ConFurence committee as 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.
In 1997, Anthrocon is first held in Albany, New York and goes on to become the largest furry convention to date.
A schism which 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.
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.
In 2006, at the North American Science Fiction Convention in SeaTac, Washington, the Stalking Cat was one of the notable program participants.
At the 2006 Westercon in San Diego, a 20th anniversary furry party was held.
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.
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 on-line 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.