Looking Back at Ten Years of Furry Parties
by Rod O’Riley
It began, like many interesting parts of science fiction fandom, at a convention where people were bored. The convention was WesterCon 1985 in Sacramento, California, and the people were Mark Merlino (Sy_Sable) and myself (Vinson_Mink).
WesterCon at the Red Lion Inn that year was actually fairly interesting, and even had an interesting setting. The hotel had been dubbed ‘the wooden starport’ for its interesting lay-out and architecture, and featured such odd touches as a huge glass-with-lights pillar/sculpture that we dubbed ‘the central power core’. The Art Show and Masquerade were both impressive that year too. But, truth be told, much of the con itself was starting to feel like a lot of been there, done that. I’d been going to cons for about five years, and Sy had been a regular for nearly fifteen years, and try as we might it just seemed difficult to generate much enthusiasm for what seemed like so much familiar programming. And at night, it was worse: Except for high-pressure bidding parties, the con suite, and maybe a late night screening of a movie or anime, there was quite literally nothing to do during the night at a con, and this one was no exception. Then, perhaps because he was feeling similarly after years of SF conventions, Sy’s friend Sheldon Linker (he of Linker Systems, now makers of fine animation software) approached us with an interesting concept: Why not have a more free-form party in his hotel room, show our video copy of ‘Animalympics’ which we had with us, and have show-and-tell with our various collections of fannish art. What’s more, we’d invite in any con goers who had an interest in amateur art, animation, and the like. Okay, great idea, we thought. Now what to call the party? Lacking a better idea, we named it after our fannish household and called it ‘The Prancing Skiltaire Party’. It went off rather well. Steve Gallacci (of Albedo), who was a regular dealer at WesterCon, even dropped by for a short while, and the party-goers who hadn’t seen ‘Animalympics’ before seemed impressed.
Fast forward one year, to WesterCon 1986 in San Diego – Halley Con, named for the comet’s return that year. Similar situation to the year before, though that year Sy was a speaker on an interesting panel regarding this new idea called ‘furry fandom’. The panel had several speaks, each of whom was to present different ideas on what ‘furry fandom’ might be about: Real animals, classic funny animals (represented by Fred Pattern, later to be the editor of the funny-animal fanzine Rowrbrazzle), anthropomorphics (represented by Sy and Steve Gallacci), and plushies (represented by Bruce Pelz, complete with some of his personal collection in tow. What a hoot!). Later that evening, we again found ourselves in the what-to-do-tonight position, and the idea of a party came to mind. Now, since its inception in 1983, Rowrbrazzle had held reception parties for its members at the annual San Diego Comic Convention, but those were pretty much exclusively for members, and their weren’t really enough of them present at this Westercon to have a proper party. So again, the idea was raised to have an open party for anthropomorphic artists and their fans, or just plain anybody who was interested. We had a good selection of artists at that con: Ken Sample, Christine Lampe (ne’ Markel), Steve Gallacci, Steven Martin, Terrie Smith, and Ed Kline were all on hand. So, we set up the party in our room and put out the word. Looking again for a title, we hit off from the title of the earlier panel discussion and called it a ‘Furry Party’. People came… and people liked it. Can’t say many of them understood it, but they liked what they found when they got there! And Sy and I began to get the feeling we might be on to something there…
Over the next year, we experimented with holding Furry Parties at other Conventions along the West Coast; LosCon, BayCon, San Diego Comic Con, and so forth. People continued to find us, some of them more than once… and two interesting phenomena started happening. One was people walking in, looking around in amazement and saying, “What, you mean there are other people into this sort of thing?”. The other was people who, maybe not at their first Furry Party but maybe at their third or fourth, would sneak out a portfolio of drawings and say, “You know I’ve never shown this stuff to anyone, I most drew if for myself but… what do you think?”. Often, what we thought was that the ‘stuff’ was just great, and we made sure to tell the artists so!
The Furry Parties continued to grow over the next year, as we had unknowingly begun to ‘shake the trees’ and give furry fans a place to gather and meet one another. The one-year anniversary at WesterCon 1987 in Oakland grew so crowded it was dubbed ‘Das FurryParty’, and the growth would eventually require us to move the Furry Parties to function rooms as they had simply outgrown the average hotel sleeping room. At some of the smaller conventions we attended, it literally felt as though the Furry Party was bigger than the con itself!
It didn’t take long at all before the Furry Parties began to expand far beyond the two of us and our friends, as word of furry fandom began to grow and grow. At the 1987 BayCon Furry Party in San Jose, one fellow whom none of us knew mentioned that he was interested in starting a furry fanzine, and asked us each for our addresses. ‘Sure, Sure,’ we all said, rather brushing it off, as we’d all heard of many fannish projects of that ilk that never got off the ground. Well, that fellow turned out to be Karl Maurer and the fanzine turned out to be Furversion, which over the next few years would expand from a few stapled pages to a thick fanzine of furry stories and art, and would lay the groundwork for Yarf! and a whole slew of furry fanzines and APAs to follow it. Toward the end of the 80’s, fan attending conventions that we couldn’t attend for time or money reasons began to get in touch with us and seek advice for running their own Furry Parties, and soon enough the Parties began to turn up and SF cons all around the country, and even around the world.
By 1989, we had met enough of furry fandom through the Parties and the fanzines, computer networks, and so forth that Sy and I began to talk about the possibility of starting up a specialized SF/Media convention dedicated to anthropomorphics.
But by now, you’re probably familiar with that story…