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Mark "Sy Sable" Merlino - founding furry who paved the way for furry conventions and original species - passes away

Edited by GreenReaper as of Tue 27 Feb 2024 - 06:48
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Sy Sable (Mark Merlino) and Fanta, by Panda Jenn One of furry fandom’s original founding members passed away from liver cancer on February 20, 2024. Mark Merlino, alongside the late Fred Patten, were two of the six founders of the first anime club in the United States in May 1977. This interest and fandom evolved into a focus on the anthropomorphic characters which became large enough to grow outside into a tandem fandom known as furry.

This would culminate in the founding of the first convention exclusively for furry fans in Greater Los Angeles, ConFurence, which he co-directed with his mate Rod O’Riley. It saw yearly growth in attendance until Mark left the board at the end of 1998. Other conventions would grow to replace the founding convention that closed its doors in 2003. Its direct successor Califur started in 2004 and ran until its closure in 2017.

Merlino’s legacy has been well documented, featuring in Ash Coyote’s The Fandom and Joe Strike’s Furry Nation.

The fandom has been mourning and memorializing his passing with articles of his legacy, and fan art featuring his original species, the Skiltaire. Ren Tradewind has come forward with the suggestion of making his birthday of May 12th a sort of Fandom Foundation holiday.

Skiltaire - A vintage original species

Prancing skiltaire by Ken Sample/Coug'r Mark developed a weasel-like alien species that would become the first custom species devised by someone in the furry fandom.

As the furry fandom has been going strong for decades, many original species have been brought forth. From the techy visors of the protogen, to the quirky and bubbly Dutch Angel Dragons, the wedge headed sergal, or the crux with their stylings that would make Tim Burton blush. For the early fandom, the mascot of fandom creativity was the Skiltaire species.

The iconic species could even be seen embroidered on a sign on Mark’s property called the Prancing Skiltaire, where some of the first small furry meets were hosted. Information for the species could also be found on some early web 1.0 pages such as World of Skiltaire. They were also featured in some science fiction tabletop RPGs such as Other Suns.

Merlino’s own skiltaire fursona, Sy, started off as a character in fiction he had created prior to incorporating it as his own representation. Scar the Fur made a video on the history of the species you can watch that goes over the details of their origins.


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God speed, Mark.

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Just a couple of corrections... First off, my name is spelled O'Riley. Second, much more important: I was not part of the crew that started the C/FO. That was Mark, and Fred, and four other animation fans from the LA area -- several of whom were animators. The C/FO was already going strong when I first met Sy in 1980. A few years later we had fallen in love, and by the middle of the 80's we were running regular Furry Parties. The rest, you know.

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Thanks for the corrections, Rod - hopefully the current version is more faithful to the events. I have also linked Fred's illustrated chronology of furry fandom, which I recommend to readers interested in that time as it mentions more about Mark and your own furry fan activity at Westercon and Baycon and beyond (including literary efforts such as Fanta Zine and Touch, now archived).

Neither I, nor I think Sonious, had much of a chance to know Mark well personally, being most active at a different time and elsewhere; so the recollections of those who did are welcome, either posted directly or as links.

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You have our condolences, Rod. -- K.Garrison

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Thank you for your kind thoughts.

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For those who might be interested and able. (This will also be carried on VR Chat, Zoom, and other platforms.)

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I only met Mark & Rod once, at LondonFurs last May, but I'm so glad I did. R.I.P. and condolences -- the phenomenal response to the GoFundMe for Mark is proof of all the many lives he touched.

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I have not visited this place for 10,000 years, and almost immediately I learn Mark has died. And 2 months ago too, I did not know for 2 months.

I actually got to have 2 email correspondences with the man, which were generally pleasant. Mark was obviously well read, and generally pleasant. Of several things discussed was a 1979 anime with squirrels (in 2022 out of NOWHERE a soundtrack album was released in Japan and that prompted the talk). I did disagree with him on a few things, but would say he was a mostly (not going to put a percentage on it) well meaning and kind man. Definitely intelligent (got to be when you're into sci-fi). I do regret he did not record that TOFF episode with Steve Gallacci as guest, I failed to convince him to do it sooner.

Well, I'll be...

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Mark meant a great deal to so many of us. After sending him the artwork I created (as seen in this article.) he and I became good friends. I only wish I'd had more time to spend with him and I will never stop feeling guilty for that. I hope he and the contributions he's made to this fandom will never be forgotten. He was truly a wonderful human being and will be missed.

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