TRUKK NOT MUNKY Omnibus: Parts 2 and 3

Well… almost exactly three years since my last post is atrocious, and while I could say ‘life’ is my excuse, part of my life has always been writing, so unfortunately that ‘life’ section has been devoid of one of my major passions for the most part. Oh, except…

LEGACY WAS PUBLISHED IN PAPERBACK OH GOOD LORD.

This is definitely an announcement I should have made at the time, but things were crazy busy. Inspired Quill Publishing took me up, mostly thanks to the amazing communicative skills and passion of the editor-in-chief Sara-Jayne Slack, who deserves amazing props for the business she’s masterminding. I have a real respect and awe for her work and the publisher’s mission, which, after having vowed to only self-publish, is why I have dedicated my loyalty and writing to their front lines.

Now I need to dedicate myself a little more *pulls socks up, but not too high because it’s hot and humid here*

This is the Amazon.com paperback link. It’s re-edited, reformatted, and reinvigorated me to no end. The new edition is also available on Kindle, and both separately from the Amazon UK store too.

So, in the spirit of reinvention and improving efforts to fulfil my passions, I’m actually writing a blog post, something which has been on my to-do list for the aforementioned three years. It’s a long time to have a psychological debate sitting in your head, and I’m hoping that getting it out will make room for more creative endeavours. Like finishing Fracture, which is almost four years in the making.

But it is almost done already. The first draft, anyway.

TRUKK NOT MUNKY Part 2: Steampunk

Steampunk is kind of the British Empire of fandoms. It’s invasive; it can be considered elitist to outsiders; it’s silly in a posh sort of way; it’s difficult to explain to someone who has no idea what it’s like, and it can make everything more versatile with the addition of its unique but varied accents. I’m not considering that anyone currently reading the blog doesn’t know what Steampunk is, but the most succinct definition I can give is: a genre of science-fiction (or fantasy) as seen from a Victorian or pre-Victorian point of view, typically embellished with steam power, clockwork and brass.

To recap from the last entry, the first experience I had Steampunking was at one of the London Expos and I received compliments about my costume, and in some of the same breaths, disparaging comments about furries. I’ve been trying to come to terms with where I am in the fandoms and wondering how safe it is to have feet planted firmly in both whilst not associating with the elements I’m not personally comfortable with in either.

I’m glad to have had more experience in fandoms since then, and for me, this has developed into an entirely different argument than what I was expecting over the last three years.

The experiences I’ve had with Steampunk have been excellent, mainly. The fans are passionate, silly, and incredibly talented (which, admittedly, is where I considered some of the elitism to be simply because some of the costumes require such intricate mechanics and constructive processes. This is also the case with furries though- I could never make a fursuit as amazing as some of the ones I’ve seen online, and nor could I make a decent, working hydraulic thingummy that lights up a la Hellboy II like other Steampunks have). Part of the launch parade for Legacy involved sitting at the Inspired Quill table with my book at the Lincoln Asylum, a city-wide Steampunk convention in northern England which has a reputation as one of the best Steampunk events to go to in Eurpoe. I was really nervous. My book has Steampunk elements to it (Tierenan, for one, and the Gargantua for another), but ostensibly it’s a fantasy, and a furry fantasy. I was terrified that I’d be getting stink eyes from everyone who passed and was ready for a real fight if someone decided to get bitchy, so I steeled myself and stayed determined to have a good time despite my misgivings.

Welcome to the Asylum… Oh, it’s you.

It’s a self-compounding issue with paranoia that it heightens your sensitivity to expressions and actions that may mean nothing at all if you were completely calm. You can’t be objective, and, in your mind, everyone sways between either consciously ignoring you or talking about you out of sight, when in reality you probably barely even registered on their radar. A large part of my time was spent smiling at people and making general happy comments, and directing people to my fellow author Craig Hallam‘s Steampunk book Greaveburn, as, you know, Steampunk.

Having said that, I tried hard not to act on my assumptions that I’d be chased out of town with a variety of interesting, ornate, and fragile weapons and fought myself into accepting my book as a fantasy that people can enjoy as genre fantasy. I can be proud to tell people it’s not got any sex in it, and no, not all furry stuff is like that anyway. True enough, there were people looking at it with genuine interest. They’d pick up the book and read the blurb and nod and smile, and I sold a few too. There was one lady who came round about three times trying to decide on it, eventually picking it up at the end of the weekend. The people who bought it looked genuinely interested and passionate, and it was a wonderful feeling.

Inevitably, I did come across those moments I’d been fearing, although they were more subtle and sparse than I had anticipated. There was a man with his family who picked it up and said he didn’t like ‘furry stuff’. I told him that I never wrote sex because I found it objectionable, especially in young adult fiction, but he was still fairly dismissive of it even though his daughter seemed to like the artwork. There were people who raised eyebrows, and at least one who made a comment along the lines of ‘Hah, no!’ when he saw it. Recently, utterances like that really frustrate me, to criticise someone’s passion like that. Even if it had been The Furry’s Ultimate Book of Disgusting Porny Porn, someone really cares about that and its freedom of expression. I wouldn’t ever buy it, but I also wouldn’t scorn the author who wrote it or the fans who’d pick it up.

We’re All Mad Here

Moving back to the States, and the subsequent ability to sell my book to coworkers, and discuss my stories in interviews, has helped boost confidence in my abilities, my passion, and my stories to the point where I’ve met more people on both Steampunk and Furry sides who share the same passions, and actually, I’m beginning to see less of a difference between fandoms, and more between individuals. Everyone has their own standpoints on infinite issues, and while people who gravitate towards certain interests may have certain personality traits, there’s no uniformity across any of it.

When I started this blog rant, I was assuming there would only be aesthetic differences between the two, but considering the mindsets, that it would be a hard slog trying to bring two fandoms together in a weird niche market. But as Furry and Steampunk are colours that any genre can be painted with, the potential already exists. There’s probably more Steampunk in Furry art than the other way round, currently, but Steampunk is a technological tweak rather than a fantasy race, so lends itself more to the accessory than the subject. But overall, five things came to mind:

Prejudice is universal. Across all fandoms, people will be prejudiced against others, with no necessary indication or reason. And with prejudice comes conflict. This can be curbed through meaningful and respectful discussion.

Sexuality is universal. Arguing that furries are more sexually inclined than other fandoms is incorrect. The sexualisation in anime, movies, and comics is rampant, but major publications keep things barely within the modesty line for it to be acceptable. And it’s humans, so that means it’s normal, right? Right.

(Sexism is a whole ‘nuther rant, by the way, and one I’ve become very passionate about recently)

Creativity is universal. It knows no boundaries. Mash-ups are awesome.

Passion is universal. In every fandom you will find someone for whom this is the best thing in the world, bar none. There will be no greater thrill or love for them.

Acceptance is universal. Among the minefield of treading your dreams, there’ll be people who’ve never heard of you or your interests who’ll still be blown away by the scope of your accomplishments, or at the very least, give you all the encouragement in the world, simply because they know they have the same level desires that you do, even for something completely unknown to you.

I learnt a lot over three years.

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TRUKK NOT MUNKY Part 1: Furries

Welcome to the first of my three-part blog post about Steampunk and Furries, two very differently-perceived science-fiction and fantasy subgenres, both with large internet fanbases and not a great deal of exposure in the mainstream media. I’ll be doing some comparisons, and trying to break down with can make both of these seem somewhat… unapproachable at times to people unfamiliar with the cultures, and why they can seem to be at odds with each other.

To explain first, the title ‘TRUKK NOT MUNKY’ is an internet meme popular with Transformers fans (well, at least people familiar with the tfwiki), relating to the advent of the new Beast Wars series in which the principal character Optimus was incarnated as a gorilla rather than a lorry. It’s an argument that’s both supportive and derisive of people who object to change within a given mythos. A more elaborate explanation is given here: http://transformers.wikia.com/wiki/Trukk_not_munky

To give this some personal context, I was into Beast Wars before Transformers, and entered into a sort of retrospective fandom. I did own original Transformers (well, Generation 2, I think), but didn’t watch the series. I bought the animated movie after getting into Beast Wars and Beast Machines, which in my mind are actually better for character development and overall plot, setting, etc. So I get frustrated when people go on abusing things just because they’re different. Franchises (and fandoms, too) need to evolve or they become dead in the water and left behind, practised by gnarled, over-protective fans with a fear of moving on.

Incidentally, I adore the TF Wiki. And Shortpacked.

So this post stems from a debate I’ve been having with myself for some time. After I attended the London Expo back in… October 2009, I think it was, in my first Steampunk costume, I was looking around the Steampunk panel and so impressed a Steampunk artist that he drew me and my impossibly heavy weapons. We talked, and I was really excited that he liked my Phoenix, but then he dropped in something that really threw my perceptions of the fandom. He was admiring my saw, and asked me if I wanted to join them later, as they were going on a ‘furry hunt’, and followed with something mildly disparaging that I don’t really remember. returning home, and looking about on some Steampunk forums I noticed some hostility towards furries, and it kind of worried me. I don’t know whether that’s just the internet in general, mind you- being still a relatively fledgeling fandom, Steampunk is likely to generate hardened internet loyalists before anyone newer to such subcultures.

But still, having written Legacy, and continuing the tetralogy whilst creating my Steampunk series The Song Chronicle, is there a place for me in both fandoms, or will I end up being ignored by both? One is a fandom fixated with animals, the other with vintage technology. Can they mix? What creates the tension between them? This we shall examine…

Man’s Best Friend
I’ll admit, for having written Legacy I haven’t given much attention to furries in my blog posts here, and I’ve put myself at somewhat of an imposition trying to distance myself from the connotations that the word ‘furry’ carries with it. But how justified is the prejudice? How different is the internet subculture that seems to be vilified on the same level as criminals and the most perverse of Internet lurkers? Actually…

In brief, a ‘furry’ is a fan of anthropomorphic fiction, artwork, movies, costumes, music and/or individual characters- principally depicted by animals or animal-people, or, more loosely, people with animal characteristics. But be warned, there are key distinctions that people on either side would gladly take you to task for if you incorrectly categorised them. ‘Anthro’ and ‘Furry’ have a slight distinction in their definitions too, if only to serve to separate something considered more mature from the stigma of ‘Furry’ by itself. ‘Anthro’ is likely the correct term and ‘Furry’ is the adopted nickname. I actually see them as different myself, but I’m in a position where I want to make that distinction, so I can’t exactly be called unbiased.

Po-Ta-To, Po-Tah-To; Anthra-to…
So it’s a selfish distinction, but I think it’s an important one. To me, ‘anthro’ dictates something deliberately given anthropomorphism in a reality or story to distinguish them from humans. Examples to me include Watership Down, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Dogsbody and Warrior Cats. They’re still fantasy, but kind of… milder fantasy, I suppose, something not quite so heavily caricatured, and still within the context of a human world. They keep their basic animal physicality, for the most part. Which would make stories set in an entirely animal world, given personalities and physicalities (such as bipedalism, non-digitigrade legs, clothes and/or armour) ‘furry’. Like Redwall, and, um, Legacy. So I’ve kind of defeated my own logics there, but oh well. Maybe I should learn to embrace furry a little more and make more of it. Maybe at the same time I can be encouraged to break the mould of furry fandom and convince others it’s not all about the porn.

(NB: In researching my post, I came across an old but really interesting list of Furry Novels, where the books are separated into ‘Animals Acting Intelligently’, ‘Intelligent Animals’ and ‘Intelligent Animalmorphs’. It’s really interesting to see, and probably a more succinct description than I have, in all honesty. See it here.)

Essentially the terms are interchangeable. But it depends you as to how you want to address it, and the fans themselves as to how they want to be perceived. I’ve said before that I’m not a furry, and that’s true (even though I twice cosplayed as Tony Tony Chopper from One Piece), but I have talked to a fair few. They’re really nice for the most part, if sometimes shy, secretive and a little cliquey (considering the abuse they can get from wider society, it’s not surprising, really), and it’s a shame that the whole group gets vindicated because of the mire of porn that hangs around. It’s not as if anime was any different when that was breaking out. For a time ‘cartoons or animated porn’ were its only descriptors, but now it’s turned into a pretty well-rounded subculture and genre-crossing medium. And furry is the same- you have kids’ films like Kung Fu Panda or Robin Hood, and currently My Little Pony, and then… the internet. And very little inbetween, save for what small efforts computer games and anime make to generate interesting anthropomorphic characters.

Like any subculture, or culture as a whole, furry has its weirdos with obscure, sometimes disgusting fetishes and has a fair share of introverted, defensive spokespeople and antagonists who just look to hate on it for its differences. But anime is exactly the same, and so are other fandoms. Complaining about furry gay porn and then singing the praises of ‘artistic’ shonen-ai or yaoi (‘young boy’ and gay manga/anime respectively) is somewhat of a double-standard: no matter how it’s dressed up, porn is porn.

Having said that, I can understand some of the reasons why furry generates slightly more detractors.

It’s The Fuzz
Before we even get into the obvious divisions between perceived bestiality and ‘normal’ sexual tastes, there’s something more emotionally intrinsic within furries. Going back to my ‘Werewolves vs Vampires’ post, it seems like there’s an introversion more inherent in furry than other fandoms, and that for a number of reasons. If you’re looking at the characters themselves, they’re able to wear their ‘inner selves’ on their sleeves, as it were, because the animal becomes a representation of a particular psyche. Not only have you got the cultural and spiritual associations of the animal itself, but you have the natural aesthetics of the creature, and that creates self-confidence. Combine this with the ideas that instinctive behaviours become more acceptable to show in this form, and you have a fantasy to escape to.

Fair enough, this doesn’t go for all people- I’ve never had a ‘fursona’ and I’m sure a lot of people don’t. For me, I love the looks of the animals and enjoy creating variety in characters and story as a result- they’re visual (or literal) representations of the characters. But for others, it must be a huge release, especially with the internet opening up the world to people with undernourished social skills or contacts. Let’s face it, who hasn’t been shy and self-conscious at some point in their lives, especially during puberty? But I think the people who wear the costumes, moreso than people who just draw or appreciate the artwork, wish to be accepted for what they want people to see of them, and use the costume to create that, rather than the costume itself.

It’s interesting from what I’ve seen of furries, they tend to be rather disparaging towards themselves and their own fandom, even within their comfort zone. Is it a kind of acceptance of their position and trying to diffuse criticism before it even has a chance to emerge, or the afore-mentioned introversion creating a lack of self-confidence? For being a fairly tight community there are some really deep rifts, and every so often tales of drama amongst community figureheads seems to seep down through the ranks and cause equal parts apathy, derision and name-calling on both sides. And for the most part it’s a self-sustaining fandom, with its works created by furries, for furries, which creates a kind of perpetual motion of more of the same. It was admittedly very difficult finding an artist for Legacy‘s cover because I wanted to find a great artist with no porn in their back catalogue. ShadowUmbre (Minna Sundberg) was an incredible find, heh. But she’s proof, along with many other artists, that furry art and culture can be accessible to a much wider audience if it wasn’t quite so saturated with its own history.

But then, it’s these characteristics that make it so unique. There are infinite shades across the spectrum from tasteful to outright disgusting, but it’s up to someone who wants to make a real name for themselves in the wider world to show everyone the bigger picture rather than just trying to please those who already know them. I want Legacy to be a success for me because I love the story, but if it helped furries generally, that’d be fine too.


Next time – TRUKK NOT MUNKY Part 2: Steampunk
An introduction to Steampunk, the colourful personas that fill its eccentric anachronisms, and the darker side of the machines…