YOU may have seen a ‘furry’ roaming the streets of Melbourne – or perhaps you’ve stopped one for a photo, or maybe just to get a hug. But there’s more to furry fandom culture than their incredible costumes. Grace Yew reports from the MiDFUR: The Furry Apocalypse Cometh convention.
There comes a time every year when Melburnians are greeted by a sea of two-legged animals, spilling out into the streets from doorways flanked by bouncers.
They come in all shapes and forms – tall, short, slim and wide; pink, blue, green, and orange; with ears perked up or hanging low and tails thick and bushy; or long, and lean.
It’s quite a sight to behold – and it’s clear these upright creatures aren’t exactly a bunch of neighbourhood critters. In fact, underneath the furry exterior are well, human beings, and they’ve probably just come from the annual MiDFUR: The Furry Apocalypse Cometh convention.
Hundreds of pop culture fans from Australia and all over the world gather in Melbourne for the convention each year. Participants socialise, buy art, and attend seminars. Although there are similar events in other states, the massive Melbourne convention is possibly the only one of its kind in Australia.
After all, MiDFUR is specifically targeted at the “furry” subculture, an offshoot of science fiction fandom. Its members – often referred to as “furries” – create and dress up as anthropomorphic animal characters, or animals with human traits.
Junior Executive board member TreeMeadow (alias) describes the friendly community as “geeks with a focus on cute animals.”
Everyone’s equal here. Come for the cute animals and stay for the community.”
Although furry fandom overlaps with cosplay, most of its members are not “fursuiters” – that is, they don’t dress up as cartoon animals.
Sydneysider Randall, who uses the alias “Ranger”, says today’s furries usually enter the fandom through the Internet, hence the use of aliases when engaging with fellow furries.
“Most of the time it’s something you discover online, usually through art websites like DeviantArt, Fur Affinity or chatrooms.”
MiDFUR features a regular Dealers’ Den for its artists, a protected area hosting stalls for furry illustrations and comics.
Other convention halls are dedicated to seminars, with panels that feature numerous authorities on furries. These events are tailored for the needs for the fur community, and have names like “Fursuit Care” and “Fursuit Performing”.
One furry expert and stallholder was a doctor with the pseudonym Jenner, author of six-year-old furry webcomic Doctor Rat.
He says furry fandom began at the 1980 World Sci-Fi Convention, where graphic artist Steven Gallacci garnered attention with art of his animal characters.
“At the time … all the things that had animal characters were aimed at children,” says Jenner.
Lots of comic book readers out there wanted something more interesting to adults, but liked the animals because they told more of a story. Then people came to conventions and started forming clubs and magazines.”
“It wasn’t just the appeal of [Gallacci’s] art but also the fact his animals had a soul. Not just animals on two legs, but the feeling that you can see their personalities as more than just lines on paper.”
Another hallmark of MiDFUR is its support for local charities. This year, representatives from the Australian Dingo Foundation and Dingo Discovery Sanctuary and Research Centre (dingodiscovery.net) hosted a “Dingo Discovery” session, with the aid of a dingo fur suit mascot and actual dingoes.
The organisation aims to educate Australians about their endangered native dog and its impact on the ecosystem.
“We’re always looking for people who want to do hands-on stuff and non-invasive biological and cognitive research,” says representative Lyn Johnson.
“Our organisation aims to learn about the dingo and present it in its true light…rather than being deliberately vilified.”
Of course, no pop culture convention is complete without photo shoots. Another, smaller room houses a “parade” of fursuited individuals in a semi-professional studio setup. They communicate through sign language to stay in character, and minders flit around to groom their suits.
It appears tiring, but fursuiters enjoy the effort of creating and wearing the costumes. A young woman in an orange cat costume, who goes by Kat Aclysm (a pun on “cataclysm”) enthusiastically expresses her affection for the practice.
“I love the ability to costume and bring my cartoon characters to life. [My fursuit] is the cartoon I’ve had for 12 to 14 years.”
Making the costume is a “personal, loving process”, but it’s also an expensive hobby. Kat Aclysm’s orange costume, which was created through a combination of commissions and personal effort, cost about $2,500 to produce.
But it’s money well spent for Kat Aclysm, who enjoys mingling with the furry company at the convention.
A lot of people here are now my personal friends. Everyone has a similar mindset: we like cartoon animals, and we just have fun.”
MiDFUR has since been renamed to Egyptian Nights and will return in January 2014. To learn more about the event, visit their website.