So I was thinking back on furry things and found this piece I had written up back in '09. I wanted to share it more so I'm posting it here so I can just link people instead of spam forever text. I hope people find this useful to understanding some things about furry/furries and not just how they get displayed by some not so great things...
Also warning this is probably a bit dated and maybe one day I'll go back to updating it but just keep in mind it's a small intro and was written back in 2009.
What is this "Furry" thing all about?
When a person says that they’re a “furry”, it means that they’re interested in fantasy creatures that mix together the traits of both humans and animals. For example: a person interested in Bugs Bunny, werewolves, and ancient Egyptian animal gods might call themselves a “furry fan”.
You can find furry imagery just about anywhere – in books, advertisements, cartoons, mythology, and in science-fiction. Even if you wouldn’t consider yourself a fan, chances are that talking animals have entertained you at some point in the past, in classic children’s books or cartoons.
So what’s this “furry” thing all about? Well, it means a lot of different things to different people. Some fans enjoy drawing artwork, some enjoy watching animated films and cartoons, some enjoy making costumes, and so on. Basically there are a lot of different (even conflicting) interests, and as a result, there’s no agreement among the fans as to what the core of the hobby is!
But since this pamphlet is making an attempt to explain “furry”, it has to start somewhere, so why not start with…
People who don’t know much about furry fans tend to think it’s all about wearing large, mascot-like costumes (referred to as “fursuits”). The truth is, most furry fans don’t dress up, because buying or building a good costume can cost up to several thousand dollars!
For the fans that have the money, dedication and physical endurance to put into it (costumes can get quite uncomfortable and stuffy to wear for long periods), the big event is to get together at a furry convention to display their outfit. Some fans take pride in making their costumes themselves, while other are more interested in the performance aspect.
For the fans that don’t have the time or the money, going to a convention wearing ears and a tail is just fine.
Conventions (or “cons” for short) are themed events where furry fans get together in large numbers to share their hobby. Furry conventions are similar to science-fiction conventions except for one major difference. If you go into the sales room at a science-fiction convention, you’ll find books, toys, and paraphernalia from movies and TV shows like Star Trek, Star Wars, and so on. In other words, mass-produced goods that have been created by large media and publishing companies.
At a furry convention, on the other hand, the scale of the economy is much smaller. Almost everything for sale has been created by the fans themselves. Artwork sells best, and although it’s not a big money market, each year the auctions at furry conventions raise several thousand dollars for animal sanctuaries and other charities.
The first furry convention was held in California in 1989. For some this was a long way to travel, so the fans on the east coast of the U.S. started their own convention in 1994. By 1998, the number of furry conventions had risen to six, and by 2003, eleven.
The largest furry conventions (with an attendance of over 1000 people) are Further Confusion, held in California in January, and Anthrocon, held in Pennsylvania during the summer.
Art and Writing
Furry fans are very interested in artwork, partially from the influence of cartoons, but mainly (as mentioned earlier) because the sales market among fans is very small. Artwork takes less time to produce and is easier to sell than a collection of short stories. Comic books are not especially profitable either – at least, the kind printed on paper – so most furry comic strips that exist are published on the Internet. Other furry fans like to write stories, which are sometimes collected and printed in “fanzines”, which are fan-produced magazines usually made at home.
“But why even use half-human characters in the first place?” is an often-asked question. “Isn’t it just a human with an animal head stuck on top?” In a badly-done story where it’s only a gimmick, yes. In a well-done and thought-out story, no. For example, in science-fiction stories involving aliens, the aliens’ appearance or culture is often described with animal imagery as a metaphoric way to highlight or contrast specific aspects of human nature.
In comic strips, animal characters are sometimes easier for the reader to identify with. It’s also a different way to artistically express personality and emotions, though the posing of ears, tails, and through the use of stereotypes (foxes are sly, dogs hate cats, etc.)
An author can use animals to avoid discussing certain aspects of human society, or to draw attention to them instead. For example, Art, Spiegelman’s Maus, a Pulitzer prize-winning graphic novel about his father’s Holocaust experiences, used mice for Jews and cats for Germans.
Animal puppets (or “pawpets”) have been the most recent thing to interest furry fans. Pawpet shows frequently involve lip-syncing to popular music, inspired in part by the legacy of The Muppet Show. Furry puppeteers usually buy their puppets, although a few have constructed their own.
The origin of the term “pawpet” comes from Snoopy’s puppet shows in the Peanuts comic strip.
Some computer games that appeal to furry fans are Black & White, where you’re a god over a populace while training a giant animal assistant to help you; Bloody Roar, a two-person fighter, and Starfox Adventures.
Animal characters also appear in many role-playing games. (Instead of the archetypal fighter dresses in armor or a wizard in robes, imagine them as animal-people.) One of the more popular role-playing games that has been created by furry fans is called Ironclaw, which takes place in a fantasy neo-Elizabethan world that incorporates both technology and magic.
Spirituality and Lifestyle
The spiritual and lifestyle aspects of furry fans are hard to describe, since there’s no agreement on what “furry” means. Some fans interpret “furry” as a personal philosophy. Some fans feel a spiritual connection with animals, be they real, fictional, or symbolic.
Other fans have found ways to combine “furry” with Christian or Pagan religion. And some fans are interested in a “furry” lifestyle at all, and simply like books, artwork, and animated movies.
But there’s one thing more furry fans all have in common, even for those who aren’t spiritual at all, it’s having a favorite species of animal. It’s not unusual for a furry fan to create a half-human character for themselves that’s based on this animal.
These fantasy characters are frequently used as a nickname on the Internet, or in any situation where fans talk with other fans. A large portion of the artwork that furry fans buy is based on personal character portraits.
Furry Fans in Japan
Japan’s version of “furry” is called “kemono”, which roughly translates as a “beast” or “wild mammal”. Unfortunately, few furry fans speak Japanese, and few kemono fans speak English. Communications between the two groups is severely limited, except for the occasional situation or trading of artwork.
How did this "Furry" thing get started?
Most furry fans are influenced by their childhood from being exposed to books, cartoons, and ads. Disney figures prominently in each generation of fans because of movies like Robin Hood, The Lion King, and animated TV shows. Other fans credit The Secret of NIMH, Sonic the Hedgehog, Pokemon, and other Japanese cartoons (known as “anime). These are all fairly modern, but the origins of the furry subculture go back at least as far as the 1950s.
Talking animals have been a feature of human mythology and legends for thousands of years. For much of that time, their use was allegorical, or for moral or satiric purposes. The attitude that they’re just for kids’ entertainment is a recent invention, largely due to Disney and the children’s book industry.
But classically, talking animals have never been aimed at any specific age group. For example, the Pogo comic strip used talking animals for social commentary, and books like Animal Farm and Watership Down showed they could be used in serious literature.
So with all these different books, cartoons, and age groups involved, how did furry fans manage to identify a common interest and find one another?
The first sign of furry fans coming together was in 1976, in a small, homemade magazine called Vootie, who contributors included a number of funny-animal cartoonists who were sick of superhero comics. (Vootie was also noteworthy for publishing a comic called Omaha the Cat Dancer, which later helped create a money-raising fund for comic book writers and artists who needed legal assistance against censorship.)
The next stage in the growth of the furry subculture was in the early 1980s, when a science-fiction comic called Albedo appeared. The comic starred talking animal-people, and its readers began to talk about it at science-fiction conventions. More fans were drawn together at this point through a network of people interested in comics, animation, and science-fiction.
1984 could be said to be the official start of the furry subculture, for two reasons. First, Vootie was replaced by another magazine called RowrBrazzle, which was fully devoted to talking animals.
Secondly, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – not because it had turtles, but because it began the “black & white comics explosion”. Before it was a cartoon TMNT was a comic book – and it became so popular that collectors descended on comic book stores, looking for other potentially valuable titles that they could sell later at a profit.
This created a boom in the comic book market. Dozens of dozens of new comics appeared, and artists and writers were able to sell a wider variety of stories beyond the superhero genre. Unfortunately, it also created a lot of unfavorable comics, leading to a collapse of the market in 1987.
But while it lasted, this fruitful period exposed thousands of new readers to Albedo, to Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo comic about a warrior samurai rabbit, and to many furry titles such as Fantagraphics’ anthology series, Critters. And in turn, this created more fans.
As the 1980s progressed, more fan-produced comics and homemade magazines began to appear. Computer-based message boards allowed fans to communicate faster, and at increasingly longer distances. Furry-themed room parties sprang up at several science-fiction conventions.
The furry subculture reached “critical mass” around 1993, and has been growing steadily ever since, largely due to the Internet. But the early-1990s subculture was without a clearly-defined core. As the Internet threw people without divergent interests together, long-held disagreements about the nature of the subculture rose to new heights. Sub-groups established themselves by the mid-1990s. The arguments and politics skyrocketed.
But still, the number of furry fans has continued to grow. Just as science-fiction and Star Trek fans later became stereotyped by their most negative and socially inept members, as of 2000 the weirdos of the furry subculture have likewise started to appear in popular magazines and TV shows. But when it comes down to it, the simplest way to describe “furry” is that we’re a bunch of people who enjoy talking animals more than watching a football game. And not all of us put on costumes!