Review: 'Furry Fandom Conventions, 1989-2015', by Fred Patten
First off, let me engage in an act of self-disclosure: I recently finished writing Furry Nation, a personal history of the birth and growth of our community and its treatment at the hands of entertainment and news media that will be published in the fall by Cleis Press. I interviewed numerous furs for the book, unknown and well-known, Fred included.
I found myself concerned it would be a conflict of interest for me to opine on Fred’s work, with the temptation to belittle it in comparison to my own. However I was happy to find Fred’s book unique in its own right. It is a work of scholarship I could never hope to duplicate. In fact, I wish it had been published a year or two earlier; it would have been an immense help to me in writing about furry conventions worldwide, a topic not covered in great detail in my own non-fiction work.
Furry conventions from A to Z
Furry Fandom Conventions begins with a brief overview of the various kinds of furry gatherings and a succinct timeline of the fandom’s origin and spread. Even though the timespan covered is in the book’s title, the conventions themselves are described not chronologically but alphabetically, from the first “Abando” convention in Brazil in 2008 (with 15 attendees), to the last “ZonieCon”, held in in Tucson, Arizona in 2001 (57). The decision to alphabetize makes perfect sense: if you’re curious about say, Further Confusion, it makes it a lot easier to trace its history in one place rather than flip through the entire book looking for each year’s summary.
Of course there’s an awful lot of cons covered between Abando and ZonieCon (just about every one attracted far greater numbers of furs than those two). Fred has done a masterful job of gathering and organizing information about all of them. How many conventions? As that newsreel narrator intoned in Citizen Kane, “no man can say.” I couldn’t find a total number of conventions described therein, but the number is easily in the hundreds.
Fred’s evocative descriptions of long-ago conventions brought them back to life. To quote one, here is the description given for All Fur Fun 2007 and 2008 when it was held in Spokane’s Ridpath,
…a charmingly colorful hotel, about a hundred years old, with rococo statuary all around the lobby and a big, old-fashioned fireplace.
To quote another, Fred’s recap of the contentious ConFurence 8 describes how:
[Mark] Merlino got into an unruly shouting match when he announced…there was no reason for complaint because the [convention hotel] management announced there would be no problems next year.
Every convention gets at the very minimum a solid paragraph’s worth of information. Multi-yeared conventions get multiple paragraphs; Anthrocon’s section covers nine pages of Furry Fandom Conventions, while Eurofurence gets eight. The lists at the beginning of each convention’s entry enumerating its yearly theme, location and attendance are particularly informative in tracing not just the convention’s attendance, but the furry community’s overall rapid growth. For instance, Eurofurence began in 1993 with a mere nineteen furs gathered at the organizer’s parent’s vacation farm near Hamburg, Germany. Twenty years later Eurofurence 19 attracted 1,376 furs to a small town hotel; in 2014 that number grew to 2,015 (a 46% increase in a single year!) while the convention itself moved to Berlin, the country’s largest city.
A colorful and artful history
There’s plenty of art in Fred’s book, convention logos, mascots, posters and con book covers. An eight page color section includes some of the more impressive samples of convention-themed furry art. These include an ultra-manga poster for a Japanese furry meet and a creepy as hell, horror movie-style Feral the 13th “survival guide” cover for a camping-in-the-woods furry gathering.
All in all, an impressive feat of scholarship by Fred, one that will surely be consulted for years to come by furs as well as sociology and anthropology researchers and students. I take issue though with the book’s back cover estimate of 50,000 furries in the fandom. In my humble opinion 50,000 furs is an extremely conservative estimate. According to Dragoneer, Fur Affinity’s Director, that repository of furry creativity alone has over one million registered users. Now that might be a highball number, but whether it’s 50,000 or 50 million furs, we are definitely huge in number and all over the freakin’ planet, from Anaheim to Australia. Thanks to this work by Fred I feel it has been made crystal clear to everyone inside and outside the furry community that our gathering are far from a trivial fad of a few marginal members.
If interested, please consider buying a copy of your own.