In January 2014 I found myself par-tay-ing with a highly creative and enthusiastic sub-culture at ConFurgence in Melbourne while in tow with Eozarth (pictured right).
Before you picture me surrounded by a sea of furries (drowning in a sea of fur?) you should know that furry conventions in Australia don’t get anywhere the size of those in the US. At Anthrocon 2012, the Pittsburgh venue saw 5,179 attendees (and a Fur-suit Parade exceeding 1000 fur-suiters) and Anthrocon is said to have added approximately $US 3 million to the Pittsburgh economy in 2009 which I’m sure the Pittsburgers heartily appreciated.
While not on the same furry scale as Anthrocon, there were still quite a few people (and other creatures) roaming the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre at ConFurgence over three days. There were also quite a number of bemused parents and kids at the centre (wondering when slutty Sandra the French-maid fox had become a Disney cartoon character) since the Disney Convention was being hosted at the same time in the same building.
If you’re wondering how the convention lasted three whole days, put it down to the creative bent of fur-suiters and their fans who create and sell fine art, comics, fiction, poetry, games and music with furry themes. This explains why Wikifur, the online encyclopedia for fans of anthropomorphic animals, has over 16,000 articles on furry community and culture.
My first stop at the convention was the Your First Furcon session, where things like etiquette and safety were discussed. Because most people wearing a fur-suit have a very limited range of vision, it’s very bad form to run up and hug them (they won’t see the hugger coming and it’ll be like being tackled from behind).
I then roamed the art display for a while before attending the Guest of Honour Panel where artist Dark Natasha talked about her anthropomorphic art and the artist duo Blotch discussed their graphic novel series Nordguard. Latin Vixen, the face behind animal costume company Mixed Candy, also joined in, as did Sardyuon, a Japanese juggler and acrobat who performs while wearing his fur-suit—a consummate feat considering most fur suit wearers find it hard to navigate a room.
As a writer one of the things that naturally interested me most was the graphic novel Nordguard set in an alternate-universe version of the Arctic North and focusing on a professional rescue organization known as Nordguard. Nordguard sends a rescue team led by Pi to the mines of Tartok on what seems to be a routine mission but the team finds itself trapped when something dark and dangerous is unearthed in the mine. All the characters are animal-human hybrid creatures and the rescue team itself is a sled team. There’s an amazingly detailed and well-illustrated website where you can learn all about Nordguard.
The following Females in Fandom session was interesting, especially the figures on furry demographics. Several surveys have determined that heterosexual members make up perhaps only a quarter of the furry population, while gay and bisexual members account for the remainder. I came to the conclusion that women in the furry community face far less harassment than women members of comic or gaming communities who have to deal with being outnumbered by aggressively heterosexual members of the opposite sex.
Eozarth and I then ducked into the Headless Lounge where those suited up can take off their fur-suit head to cool down. We put her head on a little stand with a specially designed vent blowing up it to dry the sweat inside her suit’s head. Only those wearing fur-suits and their ‘handlers’ are allowed inside the Headless Lounge. (Handlers are a cross between seeing eye dogs and assistants, and stick close to the fur-suiter who often can’t open doors or navigate steps because of the suit.) It was strange to see rows of fur-suit heads lined up next to each other, and fur-suits hanging off steel clothing racks. I wanted to take a photo, but nude bodies and half-changed fur-suiters made that out of the question.
At 3pm Eozarth primped for her convention photo-shoot, with pictures taken by a professional photographer, and we then skipped over to a Science and Engineering session which I had to leave early because of the overwhelming odour of B.O. in the room (generated by too much geek excitement on the part of the nerd-herd, I assume).
The final event of the day for me was the fur-suit fashion parade which you can see a video of here, complete with aggressive eyelash batting, the odd shimmy and plenty of baton-twirling.
Unfortunately I couldn’t attend everything and was sad to miss the sessions on fur-suit care, pokéfur and Sardyuon’s acrobatic performance, not to mention the fur-suit dance.
Needless to say, I had a fur-tastic time at an event where the main topics of conversation, rather than the cricket (snore) or football (louder snore), were 'how did you make your fur-suit?' and 'how hot is it in there?'.