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Articles of Interest to Weres

The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday 14th July 2002

The following article appeared in the 'City & Region' supplement of above issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer, on the final day of Anthrocon 2002.  It makes it to this website partly because I was in attendance at the convention, and also because I ended up in the photograph used - we were collared, and the awaiting photographers told to take their pictures.

A WILD HOBBY BRINGS OUT THE 
BEAST IN THEM
Their animal magnetism draws "furries" together.

Sam Conway, chairman of Anthrocon 2002, talks with (from left)
Loriana, Lone Wolf and Aerofox.
(Photograph Micheal S. Writz, Inquirer Staff Photographer)

By Dianna Marder

Sam Conway of Malvern insists the convention he's running this weekend at the Adam's Mark Hotel here on humdrum City Avenue is not at all weird.

Nearly 1,100 grown men and women dressed head to toe in furry fox and wolf costumes are shopping for comic books and compact discs and he says that's to be expected.

"We're no different from a convention of model train enthusiasts," Conway insists.

You be the judge.

Conway is showing us around Anthrocon, the anthropomorphists' convention, which began Thursday and runs through today. It is not open to the public.

This is a gathering of people - adults, so to speak - who enjoy pretending they are furry critters with human characteristics or humans with animal qualities. It's a matter of perspective.

They identify so much with animals that they think like sly foxes, wear raccoon tails, and growl when they are approached.

They paint their Ford pickups orange with black tiger stripes and have vanity license plates that bear names like SHEEBAH and WULFY. They drive in from Ontario, Iowa and Arkansas and pay $30 in membership dues to attend this annual event - one of nine conventions held worldwide.

Participants call themselves furries.

At one extreme are the rare furries who have plastic surgery to make their ears pointy, their jaws elongated, or their canine teeth enlarged.

"Nobody around here has been dumb enough to do that," Conway notes. "Why would you want to turn yourself into a freak?"

So the majority of furries here are in street clothes with horns strapped discreetly to their heads and tails pinned nonchalantly to their pants.

Plenty more come in full furry regalia - cat and canine costumes that can cost several hundred to several thousand dollars.

Here's Kevin Kelm, of Colorado, for example, in a mechanically operated, 65-pound, 9-foot-tall, gray wolf suit made entirely of foam rubber.

And Lauren Lyle, a 29-year-old electrical engineer from Akron, Ohio, dressed in a tawny fox suit. It must have cost a lot, because the jaw is articulated so it moves when she speaks.

What would possess an individual to indulge in such an expensive and - dare we say - oddball hobby? Is it a love of nature? A fondness for fake fur? Do the costumes compensate for shyness? As children, were they kept inside on Halloween?

"I don't know; it's just really fun," Lyle says. "I like it."

Conway's furry self is a rat persona dubbed Uncle Kage. A chemist in real life (with a Ph.D. from Dartmouth), Conway as Uncle Kage wears a white lab coat with a Mad Scientist's Union emblem across the back. He is 37 years old and unmarried.

His mother, Wilma Conway, a retired secretary in her late 60s, is laughing it up at the registration booth. She's with Josie DeCarlo, 79, whose late husband, Dan DeCarlo, created Josie and the Pussycats for Archie comics. Josie's wearing a leopard print sweater set. Subtle.

Other near-celebs are here: Disney animator Herbie Hamill and Bill Holbrook, creator of the syndicated strip Safe Havens and an online comic called Kevin & Kell. That one features a large white rabbit and a foxy-looking wolf who meet online and fall in love before they realize they are from different species.

Publisher Lisa Allen says furry comic strips can raise sensitive topics such as difference and divorce, "and it's easier for the reader to accept when it comes from a cute, furry little animal."

Whatever.

Roughly 75 percent of Anthrocon members are men in their 20s or 30s, which might make this a good place to meet guys - depending, of course, on what you're looking for in a man.

Mostly, this convention is about "art."

In the Dealer's Room, furries are buying hand-painted refrigerator magnets, jewellery, comics, T-shirts, puppets, tails, wings, glow-in-the-dark horns, and (why does this seem weird?) stuffed animals.

When they're not shopping, conventioneers can attend workshops on watercolour illustration, photography and "conveying expressions." At the dance Friday night, the disc jockey played the Pink Panther Theme and The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

Oh, lighten up, Conway says.

Does our culture not revere Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, and Tony the Tiger? Do we not buy plush animals for newborns and put them in their cribs? Did Cats not run for 7,485 performances on Broadway?

This is just good, clean fun, he says.

True, a small fringe of furries find this sexually titillating. That X-rated branch was featured earlier this year on an MTV special that raised many an eyebrow.

All factions of furries are welcome at Anthrocon. But, as in Animal Farm, some are more welcome than others. Public displays of affection are not allowed, and X-rated comic books and games are kept under wraps.

At the other end of the proverbial spectrum are furry do-gooders. Some perform for children in hospitals and others raise money for Canine Partners for Life, a Cochranville, Pa., group that trains dogs to help people who have limited mobility.

Takes all kinds.


Article Dianna Marder, July 2002
The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 2002


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