The Furry History Project, Part-1: Introductory Essays

The Furry History Project


Over the course of my life, since the early 1960's, it became evident that I had an interest in a certain type of character and certain types of stories involving talking and anthropomorphic animals, both in serious stories and comedic cartoons. There were no other defining parameters to my interest. I just dug the heck out of Furry characters, as I sometimes called them.

I was not aware of anyone else having this interest until around 2003, when I discovered that there was a large appreciation society on the net for this type of character that was also calling them Furries, and themselves Furry Fandom.

But this internet society was in disarray and suffering much confusion about how to define an interest on which very little had been written, and which certain media sources seemed all too willing to spread misinformation about for the sake of gaining ratings through sensationalism.

The interest itself is, of course, not sensational at all. It's about as geeky and disinteresting to outsiders as most other fantasy based fandoms. (Anime, Star Trek, etc.) Yet it's the only fandom I know of without significant documentation on what the interest comprises. And this has not only left the fandom vulnerable to attack from outsiders, it has caused some horrific disputes between the fans themselves.

So, being as I'm a little older than most of the people writing on this topic these days, and since the history and evolution of this interest are something of a hobby to me anyway, I thought I ought to write something that would help provide a better awareness of just what Furry is, where it's been, how it's grown up over the years, and if possible, help outsiders relate to it a little better.

What Is Furry?

So, what exactly is "Furry?" The word itself is commonly used as an adjective to describe anything having fur or a furry quality? Furry Fandom uses the word similarly to refer to a type of fantasy character that can be an adjective to just about any genre of literature or media, giving it a Furry quality.

Now, if you're one of the uninitiated, you're probably scratching your head wondering who these characters are and if they relate to anything you might have seen or read before. Well, chances are they do. Chances are you'll be quite surprised when you find out the characters this fandom idolizes, and you'll probably wonder why you never noticed a relationship between them, or why it took so long for popular culture to become consciously aware of this relationship.

To get some perspective on this, think of how some people are pet owners, some forest rangers, others veterinarians. These three things are unique enough that you wouldn't necessarily connect them, until you hold a convention for people with a general interest in animals, and representatives of all three show up.

So it is in the world of fantasy entertainment. There are fans of animal characters in comic strips, fans of animal characters in children's entertainment, fans of animal characters in science fiction, fans of animals in arts and crafts, fans of animal mascots in sports, and so on and so forth. And normally you wouldn't assume a connection, until you hold a convention for general animal characters in art and literature, and fans from all over the entertainment spectrum start gathering to celebrate this idea.

The idea has proved so far reaching that it may attract the pet owners, forest rangers, and veterinarians, as well as people interested in animal related religions such as Shamanism, hunters, farmers and many other things involving animals, because anyone who likes or works with animals in any way can potentially find something appealing in animal related art and stories.

While other fans might not have much interest in animals at all. They might be attracted simply to the cuteness of the art, or perhaps the intriguing ideas brought out in the stories.

But, oddly, when you look at the overall product, you see that Furry isn't really about animals at all. It is about animal characters crafted in a way that humans can relate to. Therefore every Furry character is, to a greater or lesser extent, human. Thus Furry is sometimes described with terms like "Anthropomorphic," meaning "Of man." Or "Allegory," meaning to observe something from a different perspective. Thus Furry becomes the observation of the human condition from an alternate perspective by placing a human personality in the body of something non-human.

Terminology Tango

In this section we'll look at some terms that are relevant to the Furry interest and the resulting fandom thereof.

     "Funny Animals." This is a much older term than is commonly thought. The earliest instance of its use I've discovered in relation to this subject is 1890.

     A possible origin of this term is the word "Funnies" which is used to refer to comic strips. As in "The Sunday Funnies." The term "Funny Animals" may have come about as a way of referring to animal characters in The Funnies.

     "Fabulous Monsters," a term that goes back as far as Lewis Carroll. This term primarily refers to mythical beasts such as unicorns, gryphons and such.

     Actually, this term is rarely used anymore, "Mythical Beasts" having replaced it in the popular vocabulary.

     "Anthropomorphic Animals," a term that came to prominence in the 1990's when the comic book industry was attempting to repackage Funny Animals and sell them to a new audience of older readers.
     Taken literally this term means "Animals with the attributes of man." It generally encompasses everything that is covered by the term Funny Animals.      Though it may have been intended originally to denote a separation between children's comics and more adult oriented comics, popular usage has not maintained the distinction, and today the terms are practically interchangeable.

     "Anthro Fandom." This is not something that is actually known to exist. Though you may see it listed on the profiles of some fans who use it as an alternative to the term "Furry Fandom," which some fans feel is reacted to with unnecessary prejudice, due to the confusion on this topic that exists on the internet.

     Unfortunately, Anthro Fandom fails as an alternate term for Furry Fandom because the term portends a fandom for the whole of anthropomorphics, rather than just anthropomorphic animals.

     So, whereas Furry Fandom would be specifically interested in The Cowardly Lion, a proper Anthro Fandom would not only be interested in The Cowardly Lion, but The Tin Man and Scarecrow, as well as the talking trees, the witches, and quite possibly even The Munchkins.

     One might as well belong to the fandom for the whole of fantasy than to try to pick out the few elements of fantasy that are not in some way anthropomorphic. However, for the purposes of this document, I will use the term Anthro Fandom to denote those things which are anthropomorphic, but not normally considered the province of Furry Fandom.

     "Cartoon Animal." This is the term for this subject most widely used by professional animators and cartoonists, as well as fans of general cartooning.

     Though you may hear the Disney animators admit that creating animal characters is a different kind of skill as apposed to creating human characters, they consider both to be so essential to their overall craft that they rarely feel compelled to draw a distinction between them. But whenever it becomes necessary, this seems to be the term that naturally comes to them.

     Unlike the term anthropomorphic, which is over used in places like Wikipedia, and often seems contrived, rather than flowing naturally.

     "Talking Animal." Like Cartoon Animal, this is a term of obviousness that many gravitate to without thought or cultural pressure. Even when an animal is walking on 2 legs and wearing clothes, it seems to be the fact that the animal is talking that grabs the most immediate attention, demands the most immediate suspension of disbelief.

     The term is sometimes used to distinguish the very rabbit like rabbits of Watership Down from a very man shaped rabbit like Bugs Bunny, but such use is not consistent. To many it means any animal that talks.

     "Fairy Tales." A type of folk tale set in a mythical anthropomorphic magical world that exists once upon a time, in the back of your mind.

     A certain mindset that is generated by such stories in youth, and there after provides reference for the many cultural adornments we encounter in life, including Furries.

     A Fairy Tale State Of Mind in which Furries are accepted as natural, without which adult humans tend to view Furries as invisible, or offensive if forced to orient their attention on them.

     Something the adult human is commonly conditioned to reject, but which is rarely surrendered willingly, especially in modern times when it has become more acceptable for adults to maintain an interest in fantasy.

     "Fables." Stories similar to Fairy Tales, but calculated to exemplify a moral, philosophical idea, or religious principle.

     Since the days of Aesop, fables have traditionally featured Talking Animals. This results in Talking Animals having a history of respect among intellectuals and religious instructors.

     "Toon." This term was popularized by the movie "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." It may refer to any type of cartoon character, Furry or otherwise.

     As with "Anthropomorphic," "Toon" eludes to a much larger fandom of general animation enthusiasts. But just about every Furry character is a toon of some kind, or can be drawn as a toon. And animal based toons have traditionally dominated the populace of Toontown. Therefore, if one is a fan of toons, one tends to share an interest in a number of characters which the Furry Fandom considers to be Furry.

     "Allegorical Literature." Back in the 1970's when I went to the local library and expressed an interest in authors such as Felix Salten, Richard Adams and Richard Bach, this was the term I was instructed to research.

     Like "Toon" and "Anthropomorphic," "Allegorical Literature" is a big genre above and beyond its inclusion of talking animal stories. But it is the term you properly use when you write something of interest to Furry fans that you want taken seriously as literature.

     "Alien Life Forms." It's a frequently used device in sci-fi and fantasy to use the attributes of animals to create an alien life form. But sci-fi, as with cartooning, generally does not draw a distinction between an animal derived alien and an alien that looks mostly human. Nor even an alien that is a nondescript blob riding around in a trash can with a plunger for an eye. They're all ALF's.
     But Furries tend to be alien of nature, even if they aren't being used in Science Fiction. Even comic characters like Bugs Bunny or Woody Woodpecker, taken out of their cartoon context, would lead one to wonder what planet or alternate dimension did these very unearth-like creatures come from?

     So it could be said that Furries tend to be alien. Not necessarily from another planet, but alien to normal experience.

     "Humanimal." This is a term that has been used to describe the mostly human looking animal hybrids and spirit beasts seen in Japanese Animation. The only visible animal attributes being ears and tails, while the main animal aspect of the character is revealed through personality.
     In certain places, such as Second Life, the term "Neko" is now being misused for this type of character, because Japanese cat girls have gained popularity far a field from Anime Fandom. And not everyone in the other fandoms now using them are aware that "Neko" is the Japanese word for "Cat," and thus it should never be applied to a rabbit or mouse character. The proper Japanese word for Anthropomorphic Animals in art is "Kemono."

     "Mascot." This term has two relevant definitions. A mascot can be the animal character that represents a sports team or a product. Or it can be used to refer to those cute critters in Japanese Animation which may or may not talk, and are usually a pet of the main human character.

     "Fursuit." A fursuit is an advanced mascot outfit enabling fans to portray a Furry character at conventions, charity events, and sometimes even to stand in front of a store and attract customers like any other mascot.

     A mascot generally has a product to sell. What is the product that the fursuiters at conventions are selling? Usually there are 2 products involved, the first being whatever manner of Furry creativity the character springs from, be it a web site, a comic, or even a fursuit maker. And the second would be the fandom itself.

     Like the mascots that roam around Disneyland, the fursuiters at a convention represent the type of character the people at that place and time have gathered to celebrate. They put a happy face on things for the media, who otherwise would have nothing to take pictures of but a lot of ordinary looking fans milling around artist tables.

     "Fursona" and "Avatar." These refer to a concept that is a product of internet communication, springing from the need for participants to maintain a certain amount of anonymity.

     An avatar is generally the picture you put on your internet profile, which can be a picture of yourself or any other image you want to stick in the minds of your readers as the image they recognize you by.

     Furry fans, almost universally, use this as an opportunity to create their own unique Furry character to represent them. This then becomes the fan's "Fursona," or the Furry personality they project online. Which, in effect, gives every fan who participates in the online Furry community an opportunity to create something for other Furries to be a fan of. Especially now that avatars can be 3 dimensional animated cartoons that can simulate life in virtual environments.

     "Furry" and "Furries" used to refer both to Furry characters and the fans thereof. Why is it necessary to have these additional terms when all of the above terms already exist?

     As you can see, all of the above terms are attached to certain specific aspects of the Furry interest. But none of them accurately describe a person whose interest tends to span some or all of the above aspects due to a specific interest in the one thing that they all have in common - which is fantasy animal characters.

     Thus a Furry fan is properly described as a person who enjoys literature and art involving fantasy animal characters regardless of what genre or aspect of popular culture they spring from.

     "Furry Fandom." The conglomeration of people around the world with a particular interest in Anthropomorphic Animals great enough that they would term themselves a fan of such.

Defining the range of the Furry interest

An anthropomorphic character need not have fur to be considered a Furry. Reptile and bird characters are also considered Furries, because they are still considered to be animals, whether they have fur, feathers, bare skin or scales.

Alien life forms are often considered Furries, especially if they do have fur or are relative to some known animal type.  And mythological beasts such as unicorns and dragons fall into the Furry category as well.  Though technically, a unicorn or dragon should at least talk or display some evidence of human intelligence before being considered anthropomorphic.

A subject of argument in the fandom is that some consider fairies, elves, angels, mermaids, werewolves, vampires and such to be included under The Furry Umbrella, since they all are distinguished by having animal features, such as wings, fangs and pointed ears.  Vampires also tend to be morphs who can transform into bats and wolves. And there is a significant section of the fandom that is obsessively interested in morphs.

But if you really want to heat up the controversy, mention that a Furry can also be a mechanical creature, such as K-9, the robot dog from "Doctor Who." Or that a Furry can be an inanimate object given a human voice and personality, such as the animated candle stick, clock and cups in Disney's "Beauty & The Beast."

As with the Wizard Of Oz example I used earlier, you are now out to the extreme edge of The Furry Umbrella. Practically leaving Furry Fandom and entering that outer ring that would be Anthro Fandom. Still, one could argue that, by giving a candle stick a human personality and the ability to move and speak in an animal fashion, it becomes a new kind of living humanized animal life form that is difficult to distinguish from more obviously animal derived characters.

In the case of titles like "The Brave Little Toaster" and "Starlight Express," some fans will exclaim with great passion that this is not the anthropomorphic toaster or anthropomorphic train fandom. Let us please keep some boundaries to it. But titles like these that focus exclusively on anthropomorphic objects are pretty rare. Usually the point is rendered mute by the fact that titles like "Beauty & The Beast" and "The Wizard Of Oz" feature at least one main character that is undeniably Furry, thus automatically classifying it as a Furry movie according to the Ursa Major criteria and pulling it back under The Furry Umbrella.

Now, for the benefit of the exclusionists reading this, let's ask the question, what is not a Furry? Any character that is completely human or completely animal is not often considered a Furry.

Lassie is generally not considered a Furry, because she has no humanized features, does not talk and exhibits no intelligence that is not attributable to a normal animal.  On the other hand, Mr. Ed is a Furry, because he speaks human language and exhibits human intelligence.

However, this logic is completely defeated the minute somebody comes up with an old Lassie comic book and says, "This sure looks Furry to me." This appreciation of Lassie as a cartoon character can then be transposed onto the real world animal actor, and just like that Lassie is a Furry.

Note that Furry is a fandom. Never expect the logic of a fandom to be practical or definitive. A fandom is ultimately built on what the collective likes. And if a Furry likes Lassie, Flipper or Rin Tin Tin, there's no way those characters are not going to end up in the Furry section of that fan's library. Fan's just don't think about it that technically unless you draw them into an argument. Otherwise they tend to use emotion as the reasoning behind where something gets filed. And it is a well established fact that animal actors don't need to display human intelligence to evoke human emotions.

So there you have a second area of entertainment material circling outside The Furry Umbrella, but close enough for any fan to just reach out and pull something under.

Excluding things from the more human end of the spectrum is even more tricky. Let's use superheroes as a prime example of how human characters do or don't find space under The Furry Umbrella.

Superman, Thor, Captain America, The Shadow, Sailor Moon, etc. are not Furries.  But Spiderman, Batman, Catwoman, Daredevil, Hawkman, etc. can all be considered of Furry interest, because they wear costumes based on animal aesthetics, and/or exhibit animal derived powers.

Even Josie And The Pussycats can loosely be considered Furries, because the cat ears and tails don't have to be real to push the buttons of a Furry fan's interest. In fact, the creator of Josie & The Pussycats is a frequent guest at Furry conventions.

Of the fore-mentioned superheroes, Daredevil would probably be the easiest to dismiss. He has animal ears on his mask, and that's about it. If they were more prominent or if he also had a tail he'd be in the same situation as Josie And The Pussycats. But as things are there's not enough going here to attract a Furry interest.

Batman is more difficult to rationalize. His costume gives him a very bat-like look, and his character has an obsessive interest in bats. This doesn't necessarily make Batman a Furry character. But he does end up with a feel similar to a Furry fan in costume. And since Furry fans are also called Furries, and they tend to be fans of each other because of the costumes they create, Furry fans could look at Batman and say, "I relate this to my Furry experience. Therefore this is Furry."

Other fans might point out that Furry isn't just about the attributes of a character, but also aesthetics. And, in that sense, Batman fits with things Furries collect purely on the basis of the visuals.

Catwoman, even though being from the same series, is much more identifiable as Furry than Batman. She moves like a cat, talks like a cat, and depending on which back story you're reading, has a spiritual affinity to cats. Thus Catwoman has animal attributes in spirit and personality, if not physically.

Hawkman, again depending on what era of the DC universe you're reading, is connected to ancient Egyptian mythology, which portends a connection to the anthropomorphic spirituality of old. And there is a school of thought in Furry fandom that spirituality is just as important an element as visuals, intellect and physical variations.

Spiderman, however, derives his powers from a spider in a science fiction scenario that is more directly concerned with the merging of a human with an animal. Even though in this case the animal in question is an insect, Furry doesn't draw a distinction for fear of having the dragons and other furless animals called into question. Spiderman is the common Furry formula reversed, a human who acquires animal attributes.

More interesting still are the scenarios of Gothic Horror. A werewolf, in most pop-culture depictions, is also seen as a human that acquires animal attributes, in some cases by the same means as Spiderman, by being bitten by the animal in question. One also becomes a vampire by being bitten by a bat.

In most older live action depictions werewolves tend to not attain an animal-like muzzle. Some fans have suggested this makes a difference. But, since we are now into an age where Furry fans are helping to define the interest through the art they draw, we see many of them do not seem to regard muzzles as essential. While in modern movies, producers are now more inclined to provide a muzzle.

Also, chances are, if you cartoon a werewolf, he's not going to come out looking too different from any other anthropomorphic wolf.

Some might conjecture that the big difference is that the werewolf is not a sympathetic creature - that the creations of Gothic Horror are meant to be shrunk away from, rather than to be regarded as adorable and cuddly. But again, if we look at the stories and art coming out of the fandom itself, we see that the view of Furries as cuddly heroes and comedians is anything but universal.

Many fans would reject the notion that a Furry character needs to be sympathetic at all. They would insist that a werewolf, regardless of how it got that way, is a mixture of human and animal attributes, and therefore an aspect of Furry. Perhaps even the single most important aspect to certain individual fans.

But where a werewolf character could get by on aesthetics alone, vampires are a much more tricky conundrum that isn't directly apparent on the surface. It is essential for the vampire to maintain a human appearance—up until the point where it starts morphing into bats or wolves.

Here we're back to the Hawkman scenario. Does the vampire have a spiritual connection to the animals it morphs into? Does the vampire draw its powers from spirit animals? Is this relative to aspects of Shamanism that have proved inspirational to some fans and creators of Furry characters?

The more Disney inclined Furry fan would say, "No, the vampire is not relative to my Furry interest because it's not cuddly." But the more Goth minded Furry fan might say "I think the vampire is very cuddly. Sexy, even. And very relevant to my Furry interest."

At the point where you find something that a niche of the fandom may include but other segments may reject, who do you go with? Do certain fans get to decide these things for other fans? Does even a majority of fans have a right to dictate anything to a smaller group of fans?

If a fandom was a well established society with government and structure this might be the case. But it isn't. A fandom is not something anyone owns or controls. It's a bunch of people crowded into a building together, not because they are all exactly alike, but because of some general interest they share.

It's like going to a rock festival where there are 18 bands on the schedule. Some people may be there because they just like rock and will enjoy anything rock related. But the majority of people there will be specifically inclined towards some bands and possibly even have a distain of other bands performing there. You might even find the odd person there who came to see one specific band and couldn't care less about the rest. If you let the people who only like one or a few bands dictate what bands will play at the next festival, are you likely to get a variety broad enough to satisfy the general rock fandom?

That's how it is writing this chronology. I get all kinds of comments from people about how their personal Furry thing is the most important aspect, and why somebody else's favorite aspect should be excluded. Fortunately, the promoter at this concert is not interested in playing favorites. So, there'll be something here for everyone who likes Furry.

You Might Be A Furry

So, how do you know if you're a Furry? What's the rule? Generally, there isn't one. Individual fans get into Furry for different reasons, and they often have one or more particular areas of fascination within the overall interest that are of special importance to them.

It can be a bit like the bird and the duck arguing in Peter And The Wolf. "What kind of Furry are you if you don't like cartoons?" asked Bird. "What kind of Furry are you if you don't attend conventions?" Duck replied.

I find it daunting trying to deal with every little group that sets up in the community to promote their unique spin on what Furry means to them. So I'm trying to restrict this document to the most well defined and accepted example of what Furry is all about, and that I regard to be the Ursa Major Award's criteria for the awards they present at Furry conventions. That criteria being anything in any field of the arts that features at least one anthropomorphic animal.

So let's define the parameters of "How do you know if you're a Furry" to "How do you know if you're a fan of what Ursa Major gives awards to?" If you look at the list of titles that have received an Ursa Major Award and see a lot of things you like, you might be a Furry.

Obsessive interest is not necessary. You don't have to be exclusively interested in comics with animals in them. You can like others just as well. But, if you like the cartoon critters enough to be especially attracted to a new comic just because of an animal character, you might be a Furry.

If you have a shelf of animated movies, arrange them in order of the ones you like best. If you find the animal movies leaning towards your favorite side, you might be a Furry.

If you find yourself watching Pinocchio, and you realize Figaro is a major attraction of this film, you might be a Furry. If you then feel compelled to buy a Figaro plushie the next time you walk past The Disney Store, odds of you being at least a part time Furry are getting pretty high.

But what if you don't get that feeling for Figaro? After all, he's just a supporting player that doesn't even talk. And you rarely find any Furry who likes everything that gets crowded under The Furry Umbrella.

What if you don't get that feeling until you see The Secret Of NIMH, and suddenly you see yourself buying every piece of Secret of NIMH merchandise you can get your hands on, burning up Ebay looking for the stuff and spending hundreds of bucks a month on it? . . . Don't fight it, friend. There's nothing sadder than a Furry in denial.

Even at this point some people will say, "Ok, I admit I'm obsessed with Mrs. Brisby, but I can't be a Furry because I don't have a Fursona." . . . Remember Duck and Bird above? There's more than one way to be a Furry, and you're not excluded just because you don't do something someone else does. All that really matters is that you have some kind of interest in Anthropomorphic Animals. If you do, then, whether you choose to call yourself a Furry or not, you still enjoy the object of the fandom, and thus the fandom may be of interest and benefit to you.

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