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Worldcon 2003

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The World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) was in Toronto this past weekend. What went on?It was a small Worldcon, with about 3500 bodies present. Most people attributed this to SARS, having to deal with crossing over the border, and general promotional problems. Although no one I spoke to said they were having a bad time, everyone seemed to be grumbling about having a less-than-optimum time. Personally, I had a good time.

The main downer for me came from the chaos in the programming department. A number of proposed and scheduled panels vanished into thin air, including the three furry panels. I'd like to emphasize, however, that this was completely accidental, not political. (One of the top programming staff members, the Lady Ketherian, is both furry and a good friend of mine.)

We had a good turnout of people from the fandom, including Fred Patten, Mark Schirmeister, Taral Wayne, Edd Vick, Darrel Exline, Karno, Steve Gattuso, David Bliss, Bryan Feyr and Growl (of FNC), Terry Wessner, Petercat, Kratsminsch, the folks from I-CON, Kevin Duane, and the people whose names I can't remember at the moment. And there were undoubtedly others - we found fliers for the Inherit the Earth game, and for M.C.A. Hogarth's Jokka website. Heather Bruton was there, but was doing her own thing in the art show. Richard Bartrop was going to attend but had to cancel.

Thanks to the folks at TRAACS, we had a Furry Fandom table in the fan area. Since a neighbouring table went unused, we spread our things onto it. Our neighbours on the other side were the Toronto chapter of Mensa.

We had a very nice display, and a huge variety of material for people to look through - lots of comics, zines, fliers, and pamphlets, a binder of artwork, and a binder on the history of the fandom. I don't have any photos yet, but you can see an electronic version of our display, artwork and pamphlets at http://furry.ca/torcon03/ . (Thanks Benjamin, for hosting it!)

(By the way, if anyone is going to a con and wants paper copies of the "What is Furry Fandom" pamphlet or the "Furry Web Resources" pamphlet, I have extra ones available! Also, the above URL is temporary; would anyone be interested in hosting it more permanently?)

I was manning the table for most of the convention, and only went to about four panels. The most interesting one was the "Fannish ghetto" panel, which discussed negative ghettoization within the fan community - there were a whole bunch of subcultures there; filkers, furries, fanzine publishers, gays, etc.

The general consensus to come out of the discussion was that ghettoization happens for a number of reasons. In the worst sense, it's a human tendency to look down on other people, especially when there's little common ground. Another part of the discussion revolved around self-ghettoization. One person pointed out that SF fandom was originally small enough that everyone was pretty much in it together. But now it's grown so much that one sub-group may have almost no cross-over with other sub-groups.

One of the concom at the panel remarked that sometimes self-ghettoization is willfully imposed. For example, the filkers had asked for their own area because it was too difficult to schlep instruments and sound equipment back and forth. On another occasion, he had tried to organize a con with several specialty tracks, only to have the sub-groups turn the con down because they all wanted a larger presence than the con could offer, and did better when they organized their own specialty cons.

There were no true solutions offered to ghettoization, but one fellow said that it was important to recognize differences, and instead of snubbing, to basically say politely, "I can see you're enjoying your fan group, but it's not what I'm interested in, so you do your thing and I'll do mine." On top of all of this was the issue of keeping communication going between the different sub-groups, and if it was necessary. This was really hard to answer. It seemed like it didn't matter much for the sub-groups, but it did matter a lot to the general fan community.

This really struck a chord with me and why I had put together the fan table at the convention: I wanted to communicate between furry fandom and SF fandom, to battle against the media's view on the fandom, and the image that some of our self-ghettoization has brought about - an "outreach" program of sorts. Not to deny some of the things said of us, but to shift the emphasis back to the basics and to paint a more diverse, complex picture of our fandom. What's sad is that although the greater Toronto area probably has over a hundred furry fans, you can count the number who'll attend local SF cons on your fingers. Communication has been pretty sparse, although we were invited to do a panel on furry fandom at Toronto Trek one year.

In the days leading up to the convention, I was considering not taking any furry t-shirts with me, because I have a cynical outlook, and was expecting people to come up and insult me. And you know what? No one did. (Although I think some people just plain avoided us.) We had friendly and interesting people come by the table, and had good conversations. The people who looked through the artwork and comics enjoyed them.

On top of that, the furry room party we had on Saturday night was great! The room was constantly full of people, and had energy right from the start, until I had to kick everyone out at two in the morning. Thank you to Moment, who made our party flier, and to Taral and the hosts of the Fanzine lounge, without whom we wouldn't have had a room to party in!

I know very little about SF, or about books and authors to engage SF fans in conversation easily on the subject, but I had a good time at the convention. I don't know if I made anyone more friendly to furry fandom, but the people who came by our table seemed to like what we had to show, so I think it was worth the effort. Thanks to everyone for helping out!

Miscellaneous personal highlights:

The TV footage from the 1973 Toronto Worldcon. It's amazing how some things don't change much (the fans) while other things change a lot. Picture a bunch of people huddling around this box on a table, and a reporter asking, "Now, what is this?" and the guy on the screen says, "This, is a computer..." The whole audience watching the clip burst out laughing.

Loopy's Mighty Wing Lung Puff costume in the masquerade, competing against a really fabulous dragon costume by Chris Kramer.

Getting to meet some of the Secret Librarians of Fandom. Getting introduced to David Kyle, one of the oldest SF fans there is. And getting to see all the Toronto folk I missed for so long. (Hiker, Pantheris, Maxi, GrimJim, Allan and everyone!)

Taral showing me an East Indian comic book based on mythology. An ad on the back for other issues had a picture of tigers climbing on each other's backs to form a tiger-pyramid, entitled "Tinkle". Very strange.

The fact that the four representatives running the Gaylaxicon party were all straight.

Being frightened at how similar Marlos and Karno look when they stand side-by-side.

My friend Steven showing up in a Tudor-style costume after attending a themed wedding at City Hall. A tourist had approached him asking him if he was part of the exhibits there. He told him that yes, he was part of a theatrical troupe who were re-enacting Shakespeare's historic visit to Toronto before he became famous. The tourist believed him.

A guy marching up to our table just before closing, with his face, neck, and arms painted up like a tiger, who said, a little flustered, "Okay, just who are you guys, and what's this furry thing people keep asking me if I'm a part of?"

Comments

Your rating: None

Just a comment regarding how few furries in the Toronto area attend the SF cons...
In my opinion, the lack of furs at the local SF cons isn't such a bad thing. There's only really the two SF cons that I've known of personally, which are Toronto Trek and Ad Astra. Ad Astra's pretty much just a literary con, so it's understandable if not many furs go to it, since there's not much mainstream furry lit out there. TT's a media con that furs would probably enjoy a bit more of though. I know we've been there in past years, but the overall interest is pretty low. Also, the fact that it's near to some of the furry cons' own dates doesn't help much, I'm sure.
Anyways... Excuses excuses... ;X)
I had helped get the ball rolling when we had the panel at TT a couple years back. Terry Wessner did much of the talking, since he usually has a lot to say about furry comics and whatnot. My specialty is to discuss more about furry community than anything, but most folks don't care to hear about that. :XP

Am glad you had a good time at the con. I would have shown, but the price tag for that con's far too steep for my tastes. ;X)

Benjamin

Your rating: None

You give a good reason why ghettoization takes place: mentioning that furry fans would not be interested in Ad Astra (despite it not being "just" a literary con) because there's not much furry lit out there. This presupposes that a furry fan can only be a furry fan is he or she is ONLY a fan of ONLY furry things.

Substitute "furry" in that last sentence with whatever sub-group in the general fandom.

There are comparatively fewer of us who have interests that span more than one thing, and when we're asked "Why should I read/be interested in more than the stuff done by my sub-fandom?", I cannot answer it more than I could answer "Why should I continue to breathe?", as the answer is so evident to me as to be too basic to explain.

Why read more than just fantasy? heck, why read more than High Fantasy? Why read more than one author, even? Why read more than one type of literature? Why try to draw more than one type of subject matter? Why learn more than one language? Why?

To learn more than I already do.

If you have to ask why one should learn more, I cannot help.

Your rating: None

A "furry fan" is, by definition, a fan of furry things. However, that doesn't mean you can't also be a sci-fi lit fan, such and so forth.

As it is, around the Toronto area furs, there aren't many crossover fans, as proven by the lack of Toronto area furs that show up to Toronto area SF lit cons. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, since everyone has every right to enjoy as many or as few things as they wish.

Benjamin

Your rating: None

I guess I'm one of those rare crossover fans, then...I cut my teeth reading SF, and although I've never gotten real involved in the SF side of fandom, I have helped out at a local SF con, and I regularly attend SF conventions. I attended Chicon back in 2000, and had a blast.

Couldn't make it to TorCon this year, but I have very tentative plans to go to Noreascon next year, along with M.C.A. Hogarth and Co.

Thanks for posting about your experience! I love reading con reports.

Your rating: None

Thats great. Thats two years in a row that Furry has had a visible presence at Worldcon. I can say that 2002 at ConJose was very well received as well. Hopefully, this will continue in future years.

Flint

Your rating: None

Not all /that/ rare, Aureth. It's been my experience that a lot of furry fans from before the initial big surge in membership (which would be about the late 80's?) started out as fans of furry fantasy (like Gordon Dickson's _Dragon and the George_) or SF (Norton and Anderson) characters.

I think it's just recently that you get people who are 'just' furry fans and have no interest in more mainstream fantasy and SF.

Eric

Your rating: None

I expect that there's some truth in that, that there's a lot more crossover in the earlier and older fans. I've been a literary SF fan for a long time (I read Dune at age 10), a comic book fan since before the B&W boom, and a Furry fan since about 1989, when Xanadu first came out. Not that I really found out there was a fandom until I got into MUDding back in 1991. I've also been into Anime since Star Blazers hit the airwaves in 1980 or so, or at least since I met Mark Tilden in about 1988.

As you say, it's really only recently that Furry fandom 'exploded' onto the scene and you get so many people who came into the fandom directly, rather than through one of the other paths. In my opinion, the 'big surge' that you mentioned happened around ConFurence 3, in 1992, which was after FurryMUCK had started up. CF3 had a lot of people whose first exposure to the fandom was over the Internet, and that would only become more true after the World Wide Web took off in 1993.

When you get right down to it though, while a Worldcon is primarily a literary convention, it's tailor-made to get as much of the crossover as possible. Just about every group has at least some representation.

Anyhow, Torcon was indeed fun if somewhat scattered; part of the problem was that the convention committee did expect more people than showed up, with both the Royal York Hotel and the Toronto Convention Centre almost completely reserved. What with helping out at the Furry table, and helping table-sit for the Friends of the Merril Collection, I didn't get to see a whole lot of the convention itself either. Not that it stopped me from having fun there.

Great to see everybody that I did run into there!

-- Jenora Feuer/Bryan Feir

Your rating: None

Also, if you need permanent space for your 'What is Furry Fandom' display, I could make space available on the Flayrah server pretty easily.

Your rating: None

This is an excellent presentation on Furry Fandom, and it deserves to be preserved. I hope that your offer will be taken up.

A couple of nitpicky spelling corrections, however. Rowrbrazzle is usually spelled with only the initial capitalized, and sometimes in all caps; but I have never seen it spelled "RowrBrazzle" (and I have been in it since '84). Also, Osamu Tezuka told me personally that his anthropomorphic cat-woman was named in honor of Bagheera in "The Jungle Book" (that was originally stated in the anime movie's dialogue, but the line got cut); so I assume her name should be spelled Baghi, not Bagi, in English.

Fred Patten

Your rating: None

Hewwo dere! Steve Gattuso speaking.

You can find my own impressions on the con over at www.livejournal.com/users/doodlesthegreat

Personally, I thought it a good con overall, if with a few glitches. The main thing is that Toronto is a great city and well worth visiting for any number of reasons.

By the way, what happened to the guy in the tiger make-up?

Your rating: None

I'm another of those who started out as a sci-fi fan (I'm even second generation; my mom taught me to read with, among other things, her Heinlein collection). Since I publish a sci fi furry zine, I have no trouble finding things of interest to my furry side at general sci fi cons.

Regarding the ghettoization: since I was a trekkie long before I found furry fandom, and a comics fan, and a gay fan, I think I've experienced the gamut of ghettoization. It's kind of strange. When I was on staff for NorWesCon, the large general sci-fi con near Seattle, I was far from being the only gay fan on the con com, and most everyone was very cool about it. However, that was the year that the programming person took me aside at a con com meeting and told me that there would never again be any furry programming at norwescon. So how come a few years later I was invited, as editor of a furry fanzine, to sit on a bunch of publishing panels (and a history of fandom panel with David Kyle)?

It's because things change. People learn.

So I've tried to take the long view. I remember how it wasn't that many years ago that there was a big controversy because two guys danced together at the star dance. I remembered the time when certain people were agitating to remove the anime and Dr. Who programming from that con.

I'm very glad that the furry table on TorCon went so well. Thanks for making this happen!

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