Fred Patten's CaliFur IX con report
Like every year since CaliFur V, CaliFur IX took place at the Irvine Marriott Hotel in Irvine, California, on May 31–June 2, 2013. This year’s theme was “FURtual Reality”. There were two guests-of-honor: Maxwell Alexander Drake, the Author GoH, author of the Moonbeam Young Adult Fantasy Award-winning novels in 2009 and 2011 (the first two novels in his Genesis of Oblivion Saga), and their publisher, Imagined Interprises, Inc. in Las Vegas; and NecroDrone, the Artist GoH, “BDSM Illustrator and Dominatrix extradiordinaire!” Official attendance was 1,178; an increase of over two hundred. Due to my continuing poor health, I was in a wheelchair, with my sister Sherrill pushing me. We could only attend for Saturday the 2nd.
As like last year, the weather was good and we had a smooth freeway drive from my convalescent hospital, about 55 miles away. We arrived about 11:15 a.m., and went into the hotel’s coffee-shop/restaurant, Elements, for an early lunch. Roz Gibson was our guest for lunch. Roz has written and illustrated one of the stories for my anthology, What Happens Next, that FurPlanet is publishing for Anthrocon in July, so we discussed a lot of shop talk. After lunch, we left the restaurant, turned a corner, and were in the convention area.
I complained last year about CaliFur’s lack of information about its other program speakers besides its guest-of-honor, and was told the info was on several Furry boards and in the CaliFur on-line newsletter. So I looked at the CaliFur IX website, and I Googled on CaliFur IX, and guess what? Lots of gushing about “awesome panels and events”, and, yes, some names like Jasu, Summercat, Frosty, VidWulf, and Dragoneer. Maybe the CaliFur veteran would know who those are, but they are all anonymous to me; and, I suspect, to the attendees of events like this one:
My First Furry Convention: I have had an overwhelming number of furs ask me [who?] to host this panel. So, since we have a high demand for this event, I will be hosting in [sic.] on Friday to give those furs that have never been to a furry convention a chance to meet new friends.
Oops, I am wrong: there is one event that has publicity on all of its participants; the “Fursona Non Grata” live reading on Sunday morning, led by actor/writer Jeff Goode with ten other professional TV actors.
This actually turns out to be an unfair criticism of CaliFur IX. Aside from the one “Fursona Non Grata” live reading, there were no featured participants other than the guests of honor. Maxwell Drake, who likes to be called only ‘Drake’, appeared at most scheduled events involving writing or publishing, as well as his own “meet the GoH” event. When he wasn’t at an event, he was usually at his Imagined Interprises Inc. booth at the entrance to the Dealers’ Den; so he was Very Visible throughout the con. But, for example, the first (and only) event that Sherry & I attended, right after lunch, was the 1:30 p.m. “Upcoming Animation”. There were about a dozen attendees and no featured speakers. This was a “meet-up”, where the fans of a particular topic are supposed to meet and entertain themselves. As it happened, we did. Rod O’Riley, Mark Merlino, Steven McMurray, and I got into a lively conversation about the current and announced theatrical animated features for the next year that filled the hour nicely. But none of us had anything to say that wasn’t in the various studios’ publicity. I imagine that the other programmed meet-ups, usually for some animal special-interest group such as the Wolf & Canine Meet-Up, the Feline Meet-Up, the Reptile Meet-Up, and so forth, were similar.
I complained that last year’s registration badges had the attendee’s name on the back of the badge. This year’s plastic badge, by Artist GoH NecroDrone, had the name prominently on the front. No complaints about that. But I will complain about the disappearance of the conbook. CaliFur IX had only the program book, a.k.a. the “pocket program” although it did not fit into a pocket. “This is NOT a conbook. No es un libro de convenciones. Ce n’est pas un livret de convention. ghobe’paq vaD tlhIngan.” [Repeated in Japanese, Chinese, and Hebrew.] The 16-page plus covers booklet presented the three-day program grid, the hotel map, brief program descriptions (“How to Get Published (Sat, 6:00 pm): There’s more than writing when it comes to putting out a book or graphic novel. Find out what from a publisher.” Without knowing, I will guess that the publisher was Imagined Interprises.), and the advertising that usually goes in the conbook. The conbook, impressively thick and colorful at most Furry conventions, has been a tradition at ConFurences and their followup CaliFurs since 1989. I miss it.
“Upcoming Animation” in the Marina del Ray [sic.] Room was right across the hall from the Den of Dealers & Art Show, so we went in there next. I had a nice conversation with Glen Wooten, who was running the room, briefly interrupted by the 2:30 p.m. Fur-Suit [sic.] Parade marching through the Den of Dealers earlier than we had expected them. (Rod O’Riley said, “The fursuit parade was a total mess-up this year. It started (too early) and stopped in fits and spurts as the fursuiters discovered how hot it was outside in the staging area. [It was not quite 100º F.] Many suits that showed up 'late' (as in, on time) never got a chance to march at all. It's going to be difficult (at best) to figure out numbers, but I'll let you know if I can.”) I did not count the “Fur-Suits” that came through the Den of Dealers, but there were an impressive number of them. [Ed.: At least 180, counted passing the den; others arrived for the group photo.] An innovation that I do not recall seeing before was that a number of them had electronic enhancements such as glowing eyes and lit-up bushy tails. The suits with electronic enhancements were almost always what might be called the fantasy animal suits, such as foxes with bright blue fur and multicolored animals. The “realistic” suits of animals in their natural colors did not have lighted-up body parts. [Rare exceptions exist.]
Since this is written for historical purposes, I am adding this from Roz Gibson's LiveJournal:
One really annoying phenom that's become common are the use of 'squeakers' in fursuits. All it takes is a handful of people wandering around the dealer's room squeaking at everything and everyone to make things miserable for everybody. Eventually people complained to the dealer's room lead, and he banned the use of squeakers in the dealer's room. Applause broke out when that happened. I guess everyone found them annoying except the people using them.
After the parade, we cruised the Den of Dealers. In fact, we spent practically all of our time at CaliFur IX in the Den of Dealers and the Art Show. I chatted with Steve Martin and with Megan Giles, both of whom were selling prints of their art. One of the dealers (sorry I don’t remember which) had free red vine licorice. Sherry bought me a book at the Rabbit Valley Comics table, the only dealer of books at the convention; but it was selling the books of all the Furry specialty publishers plus some self-published through CreateSpace that I had not heard of. Rabbit Valley may have been the only book dealer at CaliFur IX, but it seemed to have everything that Anthro Dreams, Bad Dog Books, FurPlanet, Sofawolf, and Rabbit Valley itself has in print. Its table was one of the more attractively laid-out at the convention, too.
The Art Show was easy to see because it was almost deserted all the time that we were there. It seemed slightly larger this year than last. But, like last year, almost everything was a Not For Sale original painting, an art print (probably a duplicate of a print that the artist was selling at her dealer’s table), or an original just like all the artist’s other originals for the past two decades. The days when you could find and bid on a really standout original painting in the con’s Art Show are at least a decade in the past; and as a result, there is very little in the Art Shows of today to get excited about.
It seemed ridiculous to come to CaliFur IX just to cruise around the Den of Dealers, but the program guide showed only meet-ups that I was not interested in, the Video Program showing current Furry TV fare like Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness and TMNT that I was not interested in, and the Tabletop and Electronic Gaming tracks that I was not interested in. Saturday evening’s main event was the “Cabaret Fur le Dance” which neither Sherry nor I were interested in. The Con Suite was on the second floor, and there was always a crowd around the elevators, apparently of fans coming to & from their rooms to the pool deck. In my pre-stroke days, I might have just wandered about for hours enjoying the Furry ambience, but Sherry is not a Furry fan and I did not want to keep her pushing my wheelchair around for no real purpose. Also, Sherry preferred to drive back to my hospital while it was still light out.
We went back to Elements about 5:00 p.m. for a last cold drink (and Sherry bought me a big dish of strawberry ice cream, which my nurses at the convalescent hospital really chewed me out about the next day; it sent my blood sugar to a dangerous height) on the restaurant’s patio overlooking the pool, where we could watch swimmers (doubtlessly fans, but in the pool nobody is wearing Fursuits) batting about a huge beachball advertising Blue Sky Studio’s Rio birds. After that, we returned to my hospital.
Other old fan friends that I saw at CaliFur IX included Kay Shapero, Ken Pick, and Jay Criqui whom I remember from anime fandom. I had not known that he was interested in Furry fandom, too. GreenReaper, from the Dallas area, was at the con, but I never saw him.
I should compliment the Video Program. Even though there was nothing on it that I cared to see while I was there, all five of the Ursa Major finalists were on Friday’s program. Other recent features & TV fare like Life of Pi (arguably non-anthropomorphic but all CGI), Dragons: Riders of Berk, The Penguins of Madagascar, Hotel Transylvania, A Cat in Paris, and Monster in Paris were included. I felt a twinge of nostalgia for the lack of old classics like Robin Hood, Watership Down, and Animalympics, but how many fans today would have come to see them?
So that is my report of CaliFur IX. There was an announcement that CaliFur X’s theme next year will be “Hollywood”. That is more-or-less a repeat of the theme of ConFurence 12 in 2001, “At the Movies”. I suppose that after almost twenty-five years of Furry conventions, themes have to be recycled.