By Katie Linsky Shaw
They’re a playful, colorful, often misunderstood community of artists, gamers, role players and creatives - sometimes clad in adorable, giant animal costumes - who share a love of anthropomorphized animal characters. And almost a 1,000 of these "furries" gathered at the Crown Plaza in Asheville, NC, recently for the second annual BlueRidge FurFare. Welcome to the world of furry fandom!
I’ve had my eye on this community since first spotting them in Asheville a few years ago. It’s a strange sight to see - oversized, animal characters hanging out on a downtown sidewalk waving oversized paws to surprised tourists. I was intrigued and, frankly, a little scared, but my curiosity won over.
So what is a furry? Simply put, a furry is someone with an interest in animals with human characteristics like walking and talking. Think Simba in The Lion King, Remy the rat in Ratatouille, or Donkey from Shrek. Beyond that, there’s a wide spectrum of involvement within the furry world from talented artists who create the charming illustrations of furry characters to those who invest in elaborate fur-suits based on their Fursona or animal personality.
They gather online and meet in-person at conferences. It’s like Comic-Con or a college football fan club. Similar to those other groups, furries share a common interest that’s discussed and shared online and celebrated at conventions. But thanks to the media (like a certain CSI episode that fictionalized "activities" at a furry convention), the furry fandom has faced a slew of misunderstandings. Mention the word furry to anyone outside the fandom and I guarantee you’ll get raised eyebrows and at least one mention of “that weird, sex group.” (For the record, they’re not.) What I found was a group of creative, enthusiastic, non-judgmental souls with a love of art and a shared community.
Seth Schnuit, who’s been a member of the furry community for about five years, said he was first hesitant about the group because of the negative way it was falsely portrayed. Then he learned the furry fandom is actually a “loving and generous community” of artists.
“Furry is a community of people who come together to celebrate the weird and extraordinary, support and care for each other, and just generally try to make the world a little bit of a brighter and better place,” said Schnuit.
Tony Mara first discovered there were others interested in the anthropomorphizing of animals, based a lot in Disney films, around 1997. That led him to online forums and art groups which allowed people to build websites, art portfolios and stories.
“The fandom is every-changing and evolving,” said Mara, “and it offers a creative outlet for a lot of traditional artists, authors, even photographers like myself…it’s a sense of community, sharing, mutual understanding, and respect.”