Why Furry Is Better Than Cosplay

This past weekend I went to Anthro Crossroads East, the first of its name, explosive successor to Raleigh’s Tarpaw Furmeet, and it was incredible. It felt like everything I had hoped a big furcon would be, having only managed to experience single-day meets and multi fandom events so far. It had a bright atmosphere, brilliant energy, and a solid identity that made it an experience beyond many I’ve had so far. And one thing it really drove home in no uncertain terms is how progressive the furry fandom is, especially in comparison to many others. Arguably, the closest it’s currently to right now is cosplay, but it is still worlds away from even the best anime convention I’ve been to.

Although my love for furry characters runs deeper than my passion for anime, I was cosplaying before I could dream about attempting anything furry. Kind of. One of the first cosplays I took to a con was Tony Tony Chopper. At that point I hadn’t even realised that furry had its own distinct costumed fandom, and had to take what little I could find in the programming I devoured.

Noble

Some things, sadly, will forever be out of reach, both in their future continuity and my ability to convey them.

My Chopper cosplay was not what I wanted him to be, nor were my first few anime conventions. But my experience with him began a long, meandering trail between two fandoms and their crossover points, and observing stark differences between the communities. The first formative experience that delayed me from admitting my furriness was the running masked duo screaming down the halls towards me at the London MCM Expo “YIFF IN HELL, FURFAG” and telling me that I should die. Then afterwards seeing one of them again in the main hall and him telling me we should ‘put aside our differences’ and insisted on a hug. It was creepy as hell. And even though I wanted to be a furry even then, the experience made the very very timid post-teenage me withdraw further away from it.

furry jail

When you’re unsure of being a furry, it’s because this is what you think they all think about you

The next thing that happened was while I was in my award-winning Steampunk cosplay which inspired my Twitter handle (I got best men’s cosplay in Neo Magazine, but some fucker impersonated me to steal the prize, so I never got anything). A guy offering to sketch me at the MCM Expo Steampunk booth admired my weapon, made out of a bike fork and a Van Helsing prop replica, and told me with great relish how awesome it would be for ‘hunting furries’. So it was not a good feeling all round. I didn’t know how to be myself in the world I felt was most accessible and that I hoped would be most welcoming of unique creativities. You can’t get much more outlandish than anime. But any anthro influence past a cute mascot character or That One Supplemental Character You See For One Episode painted a target on your back for ridicule.

Despite this, I still found myself very firmly planted in the anime fandom for a long time afterwards, and even though I’m thousands of episodes behind in every damn season of everything, I still consider myself an anime fan.

But I’ll always be a furry first and foremost.

anime denial

I may have said this a few times along the way to anyone who asked, however.

OwO, What’s The Difference?

There’s much greater crossover now than there was when I was going to the London Expo. Furries are more widespread and communicating more efficiently. I barely had Facebook when I started out, and I joined the UK Furs messageboard at a time when I was unrelentingly anxious about making new friends and couldn’t break into what I saw as a big, thinly-spread clique that I didn’t deserve to be part of anyway. Today I only have to spend a few minutes on Twitter or Facebook now to see the influences anime and furry have on each other, from kemono artwork to anime YCHs. And on the surface, they are very similar communities. Costumes are created in similar fashions, audiences are built almost entirely on social media, they have their own vernaculars, subcultures, memes, idols, contentious figureheads, conventions, merchandise, and other nitty gritty parallels that you’d think there’d be so much camaraderie between them.

From a plain old ‘where does the material come from’ standpoint, there’s already a stark contrast. Cosplay has all of its inspiration fed to it from anime, video games, manga, comics, movies, TV, books (occasionally)- anything that can be consumed as media is already available to be adapted to cosplay. It’s easily accessible, and any given thing you’re into is likely merchandised in mainstream stores or targeted outlets. Furry creates it own media, from writing to drawings to video games to full-blown animations. The person whose art you love may only be two degrees of separation from you. You’re part of the community that creates the media you celebrate in costume. That’s a level of immersion cosplay won’t ever quite reach.

From everything I have seen, however, the biggest factor that separates furry from cosplay is the celebration of individuality. You can be different. Not only different, but yourself.

Cosplay is a weird phenomenon because everyone is trying to be the definitive example of something they literally don’t own, and many are vying to be the best representation of that character among dozens of others all doing exactly the same thing. I’ve seen people tearing themselves apart because someone else is cosplaying the same character at a con, or generally, and bitchfests targeting fans in store-bought costumes over one that’s been handcrafted. You get knowledge battles. Who’s the bigger fan? Who’s made more effort? Who’s the ‘first’ to portray an outfit that debuted two nights ago? Who wears it better?

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I guarantee this is what some cosplay critics believe of themselves when they argue at you

People have different levels of participation and that’s okay, but the idea of always being held against a picture-perfect standard creates a weird dynamic of elitism that extends past any level of skill and into your ‘suitability’ for the character. You can be criticised for your cosplay portrayal by, through no fault of your own, being inherently different to them. Where you spend months building your wearable tribute to this character you absolutely love, and for many this is a means of emotional armament against insecurities and loneliness, it can be bypassed in a second by someone determined to tell you how you can never be what you most admire. And often that objection has no bearing on your intent, confidence, personality, or skill levels. Things that make you who you are become negligible when your image isn’t exactly what the fan you’ve never met wants.

Some people still succeed, and in this case you stand out either on your skill, prolificacy, or figure. In this way, because of the way any given media glorifies certain body types and ethnicities, you will see much less diversity in the upper levels of cosplay celebrity. Taking creative liabilities mark you as a potential target for nitpicking, from needlessly pedantic to horrifically aggressive. Whether you can cosplay against race is always a hugely contentious and bloody argument. Your identity is formed by the library of characters you’ve done, the stylistic features of your work, your material specialisation, and/or (especially for women), your body.

male-fanservice

Imagine being told this every time you cosplayed a character you ‘don’t look like’.

UwU-de Awakening

It’s understandable why cosplayers have to be so cutthroat to stand above the rest, because everything they make and wear is based off others’ work, using techniques available to more or less anyone, in a crowd of people doing exactly the same stuff. The pressure people put on themselves trying to be cosfamous is insane, and often destructive if you’re not really dedicated, patient, and mature. So much can be destroyed by a single ego and enough people unwilling to keep it in check.

Heaven forbid you try to make yourself an Original Character based on an existing show, by the way. Everyone will ask who you’re supposed to be but most of the time people will stop listening as soon as you mention the term ‘OC’, and more than likely you won’t get included in any group shots (or if you do, it’s right at the end when everyone else has left). As with your personal image, as a cosplayer you are expected to enjoy the show as it is presented to you, and your indulgence in it is ultimately restricted to the boundaries set by the production, be it in image or characterisation. You can mash-up, or switch out a theme, or if you’re lucky, get to cosplay a group of AU fanart, but are still operating within a generally-acceptable set of parameters.

I have seen original characters get asked to leave group shots at anime conventions and have people tell me they can’t create the character they most want to experiment with because people have mocked them for it. Fan adoration in such a way is considered dumb and trashy, despite it being a massive compliment to the work at hand that someone loves it enough to immerse themselves in it as something entirely new. They don’t to change the story, they want to be right there alongside it as it happens, in their own adventure. That’s amazing, and it’s heartbreaking that cosplayers content to just replicate the designs of the show don’t give them the same regard that they do to their peers.

By contrast, as a furry, almost everyone is an OC. Furry cosplayers (as in, people who make Pokemon/Digimon/other fandom fursuits) are in the minority, but are just as celebrated as anyone’s own design. Everything you create builds up your fandom identity, and not just as a library of characters picked from a franchise anyone else could potentially steal your limelight with, but as each of them being a facet of yourself as a unique creation. Your characters are one of a kind, based on your portrayal, and you are celebrated for your rarity and creativity. You can have skill, or you can support someone else’s by commissioning a suit. But always, you are your own universe, amongst a world of other universes which all coincide.

They have backstories (or not), deep meanings, emotional resonance. Some are triumphs over loss or trauma. That’s not to say cosplayers can’t be inspired by stories or characters they see and embrace that passion, but furry is an outward expression of something deeply personal, as opposed to a relation to something external. It’s more introspective.

If you read through the stories attached to Joaquin’s tweet, you’ll see what I mean, the subtle but concrete differences in how we see ourselves as the characters we make and those we’re given to portray. We can indulge fantasies of ourselves without creative or physical constraints. Some fursonas may still be considered outlandish, or insane examples of godmodding, but honestly what person, if they’d been through anything similar or beyond the stories above, wouldn’t want the chance to show the world what it means to walk forward in a representation of your survival, or passion? When you have the ability to express, in a very tangible way, what your soul feels it looks like, and be embraced for being something utterly YOU, how can that not be rewarding to the highest degree?

And the sad thing is that cosplay does exactly this for fans who need to be these characters to find strength, or peace, or a connection with others who feel the same, but the very different perceptions people have over the same character, and the entitlement by narrow-minded fans that any portrayals should be completely homogenous, makes expressing yourself much more of a minefield. Body positivity and racial diversity are huge obstacles the cosplay community has yet to overcome, and even though it’s still a work in progress in furry, overall the ability for people to be themselves even outside of a suit is celebrated far more.

You don’t know who’s under a suit or behind a furry avatar. The stories, both real and fictional, can be overwhelming. I don’t judge people’s need to show their fursona having as many different attributes as a DnD glossary. Those are the heroes we need, that we create for ourselves. The difference is, these heroes aren’t always off saving the world from some great evil. Some may be, if that’s what we need to see in ourselves. But more often they’re just living an ideal life. They exist in ways we can’t. They’re the heroes we know and love and see around us every day. Because a hero isn’t always someone who makes grand gestures and huge statements. There are heroes who smile at us, make us laugh, tell us a story, remind us what good there is in the world. Because bravery and kindness have no prerequisites. And people deserve to be celebrated for everything that they are, not just because they fit a predetermined set of guidelines.

We may always be misfits, but why not celebrate something that comes so naturally, instead of spending energy ‘correcting’ ourselves?

Furry gets it.

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I love YOU. Generally, and specifically.

 

 

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A Return to Furry Populism

Some months back I wrote this big long post about the potential toxicity of online popularity, especially within the furry community. A couple of hundred extra followers and a couple of sort-of-viral Tweets later, I wanted to revisit the article and see if my feelings had changed any.

Hopefully this post will contain much lower levels of sour grapes.

Cool Your Jets, Hot Shot

First off, I have no misconceptions about what a sudden burst in followers means. It has meant the world to me to meet so many new and amazing people, all of whom have been immensely encouraging and supportive. I will not ever, ever, scorn that. But you have to be realistic: one viral tweet does not make you a success. The right or wrong one, however, will demonstrate in a very big way what kind of person you are and whether people will want to include you in their life or network, in whatever capacity they see fit. Several heavy-hitters in a row can start to turn collective heads toward or away from you (or both, depending how divisive your hot take is). So it’s always best to keep that in mind when you say anything, especially if you’re trying to build a brand for yourself. The old legal adage “anything you say will be held against you” is no truer than in the realms of online interaction and its recurring, infinitely-archived pages. I feel incredibly lucky that the posts of mine that people have taken to heart have been encouraging to the better parts of our fandom and working to promote positivity and ousting abusers, but it doesn’t always work out that well. And it can take a very long time to find something that resonates with such a big part of the community.

If you want to be professional; or even if you don’t, but just want to be an integral part of your peer group/fandom, looking ahead is very, very important. And despite what you might think, a very important part of getting your voice heard and shared is shutting the hell up and listening.  You have to know how people feel and what they care about. You have to be sensitive to the voices, issues, problems, humour, trends, people, everything. You cannot make a community all about you, which was essentially the biggest message I had in my original blog.

What’s New, Pussycat? OwO OwO

Since my last post I’ve been somewhat braver about speaking out in furry circles. I make no bones about what I think about the Furry Raiders, NaziFurs, and altfurry (they’re all the same, just FYI).

 

I’ve also been in a couple of arguments. This was a particularly heated one, set around the controversy of Furpocalypse’s insensitive choice of theme. Admittedly, this was when I was in the height of being outraged at things and feeling like I could do very little to stop them.

 

It resulted in me blocking/muting some fairly, well… I don’t really know if they’re ‘prominent’ furries, but I guess anyone with a YouTube channel has more reach than I do, so at the time I considered them to be a lot more influential than me, and I was scared about what that could mean for my position in the fandom. It doesn’t take much for a furry with a lot of followers to condemn someone with very few, and potentially destroy their ability to build themselves back up again. The defenders of Dojo, and many other YouTubers that I’ve seen, can be vehemently aggressive in their defense. The most stressful conflict (for me) that I got into was actually trying to defend someone who retracted their (admittedly brash and ignorant) opinion but people, particularly big name furries, were still attacking him for it over a week after he apologised and I found it really uncomfortable. I won’t link to that one, but I did write a quiet, unshared blog about how unsettled it made me feel, and why I had to take a break from social media as a result.

This is why listening and understanding is paramount to making a platform in the community, as well as being an all-round good person. Especially if you’re not an artist or a producer of content yourself, you are literally building yourself as a name, something comic artist Ted Closson mentioned to me, and I didn’t fully understand what that meant until after I took that break. Where your social media profile is concerned, you are your brand. Where an artist becomes their visual style or a YouTuber becomes their videos, what you say will be both you as a product and a review of yourself. Coming into a place with a bunch of preconceptions and shouting them very loudly because you want to establish your presence is the Twitter equivalent of a starting a bar fight by pissing on the piano.

furry drama

Don’t do this. Meme by me.

We Didn’t Start the Fire, But We’ll Sure As Hell Throw Some Shit On It

To that end, being ‘just’ a furry who doesn’t have an alternate art portfolio, site, or product to share can be very risky, especially if you talk politics, because politics is a divisive topic and, even if you’re not saying anything radical, can shovel you into the ‘I like these guys but I don’t want to share them because I’m worried about dividing my audience’. And you can start to find yourself cut off from people without having any intent to cause harm. I can almost guarantee the biggest issue YouTubers are talking about is Net Neutrality, but for the most part you won’t see condemnations of political factions because It Makes Waves. And it’s a shame, because they have the perfect opportunity and potentially widest reach to help quash people who are thinking maybe radical discrimination was something worth getting into (SPOILER ALERT: it isn’t.) I am more than happy to be wrong if they are speaking out against abusive political factions and I just haven’t seen it, FYI.

But on the flip side, many people are tired of the debate not necessarily because they don’t care, but because they’ve exhausted their ability to be angry for such a long time, or they have genuine conflicts on an issue based on their experiences. And that goes for fandom drama too. Contentious topics wear out their welcome very quickly and can be met by the stormy waters of critics, trolls, memes, whatabout-isms, apologists, crusaders, and martyrs to the point where, unless you either hone your voice to be banally inoffensive or ascetically fandom-only; or know/can control your audience very well, you’re liable to fall foul of being pigeonholed into certain demographics and unable to move from that slot without considerable effort. It’s even worse when the fandom is so interconnected that furs with friends in rival camps find themselves battling to censor one group of friends from the other, or themselves.

Do not ever get me wrong: there is absolutely nothing wrong with being happy and encouraging. In fact, we should be doing it more, but directly TO people, and not just generally. I set my life on that. Given that the fandom is to many an escape from banalities, boredom, loneliness and abuse, it’s no surprise that a majority of Furry Twitter accounts focus solely on sharing art, bappy placations, fighting for justice, protection of their loved ones, and motivational fursuit photos, because oftentimes you need something frivolous to ground you as a reminder of what you enjoyed coming here in the first place. This is important for literally everyone: greymuzzles feeling they’re being ousted by younger generations, first-time suiters and artists who find their efforts blasted all over a hateful ‘cringe’ page, lonely/anxious furs who don’t have the confidence to talk to those they most want to, furries who do not have a fursuit, fursona, or art, who are just as valid a part of the community as anyone else but feel left out for having no way to engage with people.

That’s what the fandom needs, and that’s more what I’m trying to focus on, if for no other reason than got tired and I was beginning to see friends start to decry the fandom that had given them such a great place to be. Mostly.

classroom-crisis-182

PICTURED: The entirety of Furry Facebook. Don’t do it. Not even once.

I AM THE LAW

We can’t help but develop some kind of hierarchy when it comes to seeing social media profiles. Facebook less so, because you don’t necessarily ‘choose’ to follow someone; you can just kind of get stuck there. But furry as a subculture has its own subcultures. YouTubers have their immensely popular communities. Suiters from certain makers have their dedicated groups and afficionados. Suiters generally. Artists, fetish groups, fursona groupings; political furs, left, centre, neutral; writers; photographers and videographers; musicians; and the group whose ideals completely undermine many of the protected identities or difficult circumstances which lead many to become furries in the first place, so why they’re even considered ‘furry’ at this point is still a mystery to me. Within these groups and labels come expectations which can either endear or repel someone as a member worth connecting with. I’ve recently, and unexpectedly,  become a fan of Sergals after meeting some stand-up ones on Twitter, having never interacted with one before except when he asked for my photo at IchibanCon 2015/16.

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Despite his decapitation, the evil was not defeated. (Photo by Zabu The Sergal)

Preconceptions have a big effect on our willingness to interact and grow as a community. And given the problems of being a furry in the real world, an online furry is in a much better place to curate their immediate surroundings. One of those preconceptions that perhaps has a bigger effect on someone’s network is the precious currency everyone is fishing for: followers. As furry is not a mainstream media outlet, almost everyone in the community is reliant on consuming the content of their peers. It’s why art trades are so popular (and an artist has as much right to enter another artist’s free raffle as anyone else, just so you know). But inevitably we rank and evaluate people by their follower counts in some way or another. Usually it becomes a means of determining the caliber of their opinion or whether they’re worth including in your network.

But if you’re one of those people who deliberately skips over someone just because they have a low follower count when everything else they do ticks the right boxes, you’re being destructively ignorant. If you only dedicate your attention to people ‘higher up the food chain’, that’s even worse, and generally people around you can tell when you’re kowtowing to others for attention just to say you sit on the same rung of the social ladder with them. The future of furry is dependent on members supporting content creators even if they could be considered rivals  because otherwise, it prevents people from distributing what they’re given back into the fandom. If you ever feel that people with low follower counts don’t matter, I have news for you: you don’t deserve to be popular. New people help the fandom grow, and you tread on them when you do this.

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Sorry to break it to you. Imagine this face when I rant, if that makes it easier (art by ChocolateRaisinFury)

That isn’t to say you should follow everyone who follows you. It’s their choice to follow you, it’s your choice to follow them, and content creators will typically have a much higher follower-following ratio than normal fandom members. Like I said in the last article, you can’t follow literally everyone. It’s impossible to be all things to all people, and it would destroy the quality of your work. But I feel like the least you can do is be courteous and encouraging to those who look up to you and invest time in listening to and sharing what you have to say. And that means, in turn listening to them. Because for one thing, they literally put you where you are. If there’s a single thing I learnt from my hot take on Dojo’s comments above, not everyone with a ton of followers is going to:
-have great opinions
-accept criticism/correction/redirection
-be courteous
-apologise

And, more than likely, they’ll have followers who’ll behave the same way. I had two come at me aggressively, one a prominent photographer who many of my other friends like, and a fan who told me the only way he gets to see other furries is through YouTube.

I’m going to say something that should be obvious to most people: There will be times that I am wrong and will need to be called out on. Hell, it happened when I first started interacting with Xydexx because I made a dumb and casually ableist lyric in my reply to his pinned Tweet. I even wrote a long apology for it later (which I currently can’t find, but wanted to link to). Being Right Because I’m Popular is a shitty hill to try and die on simply because you want to save face. More than making you look bad, it further divides your community between people who apologise for any kind of bad or mistaken behaviour just because they like you; people who will forever be offended by whatever you said; those who liked you but are frustrated with you and your fans because neither will hold you accountable, and people who are caught up in the drama of vicious crap-slinging.

One myth we need to eliminate whenever someone tries to make a change is that an apology is shameful. It isn’t. But because arguments are inherently conflicts, our defenses go up and we often portray apologies as admissions of defeat, a weakness to be exploited, or a bargaining chip in future conflicts. People will do everything they can to make it look like they’re at least equal or superior to the conversation, which is where you get messy, desperate ad hominem and slippery slope tactics. It doesn’t help when people gloat over their perceived victories to add shame to something that should only be beneficial to all parties. A sincere apology is a commitment to alter our patterns for the better. I have infinitely more respect for someone who did a wrong, admits a mistake, and makes a genuine push to improve themselves than someone who sanctimoniously insists they were never wrong.

Apology Robot

I feel like there’s a whole other article to be written in this image alone.

Online, especially YouTubers and Twitter ‘personalities’, people hang their reputation on their opinions (see above: it’s a brand) and are terrified that changing them or admitting a misstep will completely tear their legs off. Apologising takes sincerity. There’s nothing shameful about that. Sure, finding out we did something wrong can be hugely embarrassing, humbling, and maybe even what we initially did is cause for shame. The complexity of those feelings is compounded by the size of the potential audience watching us, and the divisive reactions as I mentioned above. Part of wanting to avoid those emotions in the first place is likely a throwback to being condescended to when we’re young, either by adults or other kids. We’re not those kids any more. Some people get it right first time, but others don’t. That’s what learning is for, right? We’re all learning, all the time, even if we don’t want to admit it.

I guess, just to reiterate, whether you consider yourself popular or not , please listen to what people are telling you, and do your best to respond kindly when people ask something of you, and especially when you ask something of them. So I guess my conclusion from my first post still stands, albeit with a little more experience and having unblocked a few people I took off my list initially when I was angry or upset.

And anyway, I’ll get to experience a whole other side of it when I eventually start my own YouTube channel. Stay tuned.

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I’m terrified.

 

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.

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…