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Sunday
Feb222009

"Essential Refurance"

 

An article about the history of the furry fandom, from someone who was there for much of it. Lately published by Taral Wayne . Taral was gracious enough to allow me to re-post it here.

Cuprohastes

 

Who is this “Taral Wayne” person anyway…?

A short and randomly accurate snapshot of an illustrator.

WikiFur rather dryly notes that Taral Wayne is a Canadian artist who’s “…career extending as far back as the pre-furry APA Vootie.“, which is rather like saying “Europe is a less wet patch of the Atlantic”.

 

imageIt would be more fair, perhaps to point out the string of Hugo nominations (Which lesser mortals can usually not expect to receive even one nomination for) for illustration work in science fiction magazines, a Rotsler Award for long time artistic achievement, or perhaps to point out that Taral has not only been “around for” most of the run up to the present day furry Ffndom, but an active contributor – not just contributing art to publications such as Vootie, Rowrbazzle and such, but also main writer and artist for Beatrix.

 


 

image I wrote this in 1992 for the ConFurence 4 program book. Much has happened since 1992, of course, but this is where it all began. There is a better known history written by Fred Patten -- it would probably interest the reader to compare them for the differences between our interpretations. In summary, Fred was closer to the people and events, living in California. On the other hand, I think California looms altogether too large in his view, as does the contribution of certain interests (such as anime and gaming). My perspective is from the point of view, mainly, of the publishing scene. I tend to stress a little too much common sense, I think. The fandom is undoubtedly nuttier than I like to present it. Much of what happened subsequent to 1992 is proof of it!

Strictly speaking, furry fandom is a social circle – a group of people come together through their interest in funny animal comics and animation.

Oh yes, the furry phenomenon has antecedents, and feeds from some branch-stream of the universal subconscious. One can cite classical mythology, traditional folk-tales, fable, lycanthropy, children’s lit, hunting magic, totemism, and animal stories. We have always lived with animals, and thought about them. It would be surprising if there were no other anthropomorphism than ours.

But funny animals are specialized critters. Furries draw their imagery from a common background of Saturday morning cartoons and comic books, and have imbued these images with meanings that could only arise from growing up in the boomer years. We don’t communicate with animal spirits, wonder how we will be reincarnated next on the wheel of life, believe other creatures exist only for our moral instruction, or beseech animal patrons to feed our tribe. Most of us, anyway. In California, not everyone has all four corners of their tent pegged down…

The point is, we are NOT ancient Greeks, Amerinds, feudal peasants, Hindus, or Druids. We do NOT think of animals as these people did, even those of us who think we do. We don’t. We didn’t live their lives. We lived OUR lives, and therefore add a spin of our own to the eternal study of those other beings who inhabit our planet.

All the same, before furry fandom there were furries – artists and fans such as myself who drifted into either science fiction or comics fandom. Most of us knew the others for what we were, furries at heart, but there lacked a center of gravity and sense of group identity.

imageTwo of the most important founding members of furry fandom are Reed Waller and Ken Fletcher. Together they laid the groundwork for later events. Their innovation was  Vootie, a kind of small press co-op called an apa. Vootie was initially a “funny animal” apa because there existed no shorthand for “not an apa for superhero comics”. It was principally a collecting point for artists whose interests were not only funny animals, but also undergrounds, classics, animation and foreign comics. One way or the other, the greater number of contributions were anthropomorphic. But the content was counter-culture. The apa lasted only 37 mailings, the first mailing in 1976 and the last in 1984. In the end, conflicting demands for Reed Waller’s time led to longer and longer delays between mailings, until it was acknowledged dead by default.

image

At almost the moment Vootie passed away, Marc Schirmeister brought into being a new apa, called Rowrbrazzle. Brazzle swept up a lot of orphaned members of Vootie, and added to them various odd people that Schirm (WikiFur, FurAffinity) knew. They included animators, members of groups such as the Cartoon Fantasy Organization, would-be publishers and self-published artists, anime fans… and probably a Flat Earther or two. His connections replaced the Minneapolis complexion of Vootie for a Southern California one. The big change, though, was to sever once and for all the connection with the counter-culture. When Schirm said Brazzle was a funny animal apa he didn’t mean “not superheroes”, he meant anthropomorphics.

Furry fandom was born with that first quarterly mailing. The people had been brought together, a common meeting ground created, and a purpose defined. Before Vootie, there had been people only. Before Brazzle only people and a place. But after February 1984 there was finally a sense of group identity, and soon a word for who we were – furries.

Other leaps were made, one by one, in the following years. The first to be made was to imitate Rowrbrazzle. These other apas appeared, and disappeared, though Brazzle survives to the present day. At almost the same time the pioneering fanzines appeared. Comics and pin-up collections at first, a few experimented with prose articles, reviews, and news. Many died after a small number of issues, but the survivors developed successful formulas. For Yarf! It was illustrated prose fiction and shared-worlds. For Bestiary and others it was eroticism. Yet another kind of fan apas arose, one that was neither a fanzine nor an apa. Like an apa, it was up to the members what went in pubs such as Gallery and the new Huzzah!. But like a zine, the editor controlled all aspects of production. Like an apa, members met “minac” and were sent all issues. Like a zine, the issues were sold and there was a profit-sharing arrangement. Increasingly, fanzines are taking advantage of desktop publishing to improve their production values. The downside is a growing number of eight and ten dollar fanzines. Where will it lead? Nobody knows.

[At this point, the article starts talking about current trends as of 1992 – it’s interesting to see how things have changed and how the way things were expected to go differed from what did happen! – Cupro]

A parallel development with print-fandom has been the furry bulletin board. There seem to be two independent streams of furry bbs activity – those boards feeding from Furr/Purrnet and those from alt.fan.furry on the internet. Surprisingly, the overlap with fans in the print-medium world is not as great as you would expect. Among several dozen well-known furry artists, I can attest to seeing the names of only three active on Furr/Purrnet. I expect similar lack of representation in the alt.fan.furry stream. Encouragingly, I believe there are signs of growing awareness on the boards of the print medium.

A step beyond the furry board is Furry MUCK. The word “MUCK” derives from “MUD” or “Multi-User Domain”, an interactive form of computer chat-line. Users log onto the MUCK in their personal, and interact simultaneously with other member personae. Most MUCKs have a structured backdrop, such as a convention setting, dungeon, starship, or even… a donut shop. MUCKers claim to be “virtually real”, and can usually be spotted by the vacant look in their eyes and undirected locomotion.

Perhaps the most important invention in furry fandom, other than its own self-discovery, was ConFurence. Begun in 1989 as ConFurence “zero”, it’s grown in size and scope to be recognized as the annual gathering place for funny animal fans. Modeled after SF conventions, ConFurence nevertheless has evolved some features peculiar to itself, such as the artists’ ghetto, the artist-friendly art show, and “Sketch-booking”. The later is the unique habit furry fans have of carrying bound books of blank pages to collect artist’s sketches in. An entire etiquette arose to cover every situation – when an artist can be approached, whether he expects to be paid, and what sort of drawing may be asked for.

In the wake of ConFurence, other conventions have become unofficial furry cons. Places where significant numbers of furries will collect and party include the annual Worldcon, the San Diego Comics Con, and lately Philcon. Other completely furry cons like ConFurence have been talked about, but not yet held. It’s probably only a matter of time before somewhere in Canada or the U.S. someone announces a ConFurmation or Furmentation or something of similar name.

The one area of the funny animal field that once led and perhaps lags now, is the black and white comic. Outside of the mainstream comics industry, there has been a thriving b/w field; a direct descendent of the undergrounds but no longer counter-culture. Various politically correct, nihilistic, erotic, barbarian, artsy-fartsy, samurai, japanimation, and superhero comics contend with each other for sales in a limited market… among them furry comics.

image

1984 was a good year for furries. The best-known and earliest furry comic was Omaha the Cat Dancer, created and drawn by the same Reed Waller who once co-edited Vootie. Omaha began in Vootie, in fact. The earliest stories to be published outside the apa appeared in Bizarre Sex comics in 1982, then under their own title in ’84. In the same year, the first of Joshua Quagmire’s five issues of Cutey Bunny entered the scene. Also, the first proper issue of Steve Gallacci’s Albedo, and possibly Jim Groat’s Equine the Uncivilized.

The next landmarks of b/w furry comics that appeared in years later included William Van Horn’s Nervous Rex (1985), Stan Sakais’ Usagi Yojimbo (1986), Captain Jack by Mike Kazaleh (1986), and the focal point comic published by Fantagraphics, Critters (1986). Critters published almost everyone at one time or another, and did the unheard-of for a long time – it appeared on a bimonthly schedule. Unfortunately, the better contributors drifted slowly out, and were replaced by less popular artists. By the fiftieth issue in 1990, Critters had lost its commanding place and was cancelled.

For a brief while there was some hope that Eclipse’s gem-like Dreamery might take up where the declining quality of the Fantagraphics book left off. But its 14-issue life only lasted from ’86 to ‘89, dying a year younger than Critters. The one great service done by Dreamery, fortunately, was introducing Donna Barr to the public. Soon after the last issue of Dreamery the first issue of Stinz was on the shelves of comic stores.

The next big event in the evolution of the fury comic was the five-part mini series by Vicky Wyman, Xanadu, followed by a single colour special. After wrapping up the series, the story moved ominously downscale – to a fanzine. Lex Nakashima’s Ever-Changing Palace was a lavish production, but a fanzine nevertheless. What did it mean when superior material reverted to the level of fanac?

Possibly it meant nothing at all. But, if it meant the field was not viable, certain people were unwilling to admit it – luckily. Martin Wagner launched his popular Hepcats series in 1989. That same year Edd Vick established MU Press.

MU’s fledgling production was a small paperback collection of Steve Willis’ Morty the Dog stories. In rapid order Edd added new titles to his line. Over the years MU has published several fine, and several puzzling titles – Rhudiprrt Prince of Fur, Mad Raccoons, Champion of Katara, Furkindred, .357, Zu, Wild Kingdom, Beauty of the Beasts, Shanda the Panda, and many more. In spite of disappointing sales and irregular releases, MU is perhaps still the best hope of legitimizing furry comics.

image

Much more recently, Antarctic Press has entered the contest, with a new series of Albedo, and the pro-military Furrlough. In this case, two over-heads are definitely better than one. Two companies hopefully have better than twice the opportunity to wedge an entry into a tight market.

But by and large the furry comic field hasn’t grown since its beginnings in 1984. Many titles have come and gone. About as many are published now as were published eight or nine years ago – some five, arguably six, titles apart from the sporadic MU stable. Sales are insignificant for all but two, Omaha and Usagi Yojimbo. The rest, (limping along with sales of three thousand, two thousand, or far fewer), might almost be called glorified fanzines.

In my view, this is the greatest obstacle to the creative growth of furry fandom. It grows in numbers, but not in dimension. Fan artists increase, as does the fan press. But the professional side of the field is perpetually on the verge of breakthrough, without quite breaking through.

Where are we going as a social phenomenon? The question has been asked again and again, and the answer each time likely says more about the individual than it does about the future of furry fandom. There does seem to be a ground swell of interest in the furry motif. It shows itself in growing numbers and increasing cross-links in the electronic media. ConFurence itself grows, if slowly. But is this growth from a static body of potential furries? Or is the furry sensibility spreading? Can it grow far without more development of its public face, the comic book? Or is a professional side in fact irrelevant?

These questions will only be answered in time. My guesses are no better than yours.

 


image

 

Taral Wayne can also be found at:
http://www.furaffinity.net/user/saara/
http://taralwayne.deviantart.com/
and
http://www.p-synd.com/wayne.htm

Many thanks for letting us post this!

 


 

Stylistic edits and links added by Cuprohastes. All images excluding the Saara Mar icon and Beatrix cover art (Taken from Fur Affinity) were found on WikiFur and may be found in context on the linked pages. The above article is copyright to Taral Wayne and may be taken down on request of the author. What fun!

Edit (23/02/09)

  • Altered intro to state that article was by Taral Wayne, not “Saara Mar”.
  • Fixed a couple of egregious typos.
  • Added a potted Bio of Taral Wayne

 

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Reader Comments (4)

Furry fandom has obviously not "broken in" to the world of professional publishing yet. This may be a disappointment to those who have been trying; but quite honestly, I'm glad. We've shown we can grow without tying ourselves to a decaying industry, rooted in the last millennium's dead trees.

One of the things not anticipated has been the rise of fursuiting, which has gone hand-in-hand with the rise of conventions. This in turn has brought a new set of fans, and a new reason for existing fans to get together. This is another dimension - but it is on the same level as the original. Most fursuiters and fursuit makers are not professionals. They are doing it because it is fun, and - in some cases - because it makes them a bit of money.

And I think that is how it should be. We're not anime, or sci-fi. We're not big business. We're creators, not followers. I just hope this remains true for the next fifteen years.

February 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreenReaper

A fine example of timebinding from a time when my publishing company still showed promise.

My congratulations to Taral on being appointed Fan Guest of Honor at this year's World Science Fiction Convention.

February 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEdd

Umm... while I appreciate GreenReapers point of view about going our own way and all that. I'd kind of liked to have made a living from my art. I don't doubt Edd would have preferred not to lose money publishing furry comics, either.

That I didn't and Edd did, is probably why there aren't many furry comics being published. There is a lot of furry art on line, but it depends entirely on the artists being stu... nai... *generous* enough to give their work away.

March 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTaral Wayne

Taral,

I'm not a comic author or publisher, just a young, naive consumer, so take the following opinion with a huge chunk of salt:

If authors and publishers don't get paid (enough) for their work, they may go extinct. But it may not ever have been realistic to turn an activity with such a high ratio of participants into a full-time job, especially via the traditional high-cost model of publishing.

The truth is, furry comics *are* being published - for free, on the Internet. When it is done as a business, the model relies on selling "extras" (print copies, posters, etc.) to dedicated fans, and increasing their number to the point where it is profitable. What you see as "generosity" is a necessary form of marketing for the real product - the extras.

As always, selling your product relies on attracting the limited attention of those with money. Now, though, you can afford to give away more, as the cost of distribution is essentially zero. This means you *must* do so, else others will acquire the audience, leaving you with nothing.

The mistake is thinking that webcomic artists somehow graduate to "proper" comics. That ship has sailed. The paying audience is online. This is how we access your work. Unfortunately, we can also access everyone else's work, so unless you provide something nobody else comes close to, you have to match their price and find other ways to earn money.

Some artists turn a profit from this model - but not many. That happened when the printing press arrived, too; a lot of monks went out of business, despite putting out good product, because they couldn't compete on a price basis. My heart goes out to you, but the market for what you're selling just isn't there - and it won't be, since you're following a model that isn't as efficient as the new one.

March 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGreenReaper

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