The Raccoon’s Den – The First Docudramedy Series in the Furry Fandom.

by Pup Matthias

See The Raccoon’s Den on Youtube. Thanks to Bandit and Pup Matthias for collaborating on this special guest article.  

When I say the word ‘creator’ in the furry fandom, what do you think of?  Mostly likely TRD_2016 Poster (sml)you would think of artist, writers, musicians, animators, game developers, fursuit makers, etc.  One type that doesn’t cross most people’s minds are video creators.  There are examples like EZ Wolf and Duke the Dog with their shorts and music videos, Culturally F’d with their educational videos, and this year has brought us Dominic Rodriguez and Eric Risher with their respected documentaries exploring the fandom. But it’s a relatively small pool compared to the others.

Part of that lies with platform. Most furry sites don’t offer a way for video creators to showcase their work and build a presence like the others. They’re always having to link to YouTube or Vimeo and hope someone will click the link. Furry Network looks to be the only one working on offering video creators a player to support them.  Time will only tell on that front.

(Note from Patch: the medium also brings challenges.  That’s why our ‘Special Features and Top Articles’ just added a section about THE NASCENT FURRY MOVIE SCENE.)

What’s truly sad about this is the way video creators have the best opportunity to explain and showcase what our fandom is.  Capturing the moments of celebration, joy, hardship, misunderstanding, and exploring what makes the furry fandom what it is.

There’s a series for that already. It’s been going on for over seven years, with almost one hundred episodes that explore what the fandom is. That show is The Raccoon’s Den.

Christopher Parque-Johnson, creator of the Raccoon’s Den, is better known as Bandit in the fandom. He was introduced to the fandom from a fan-made forum for the film ‘Over the Hedge’, which inspired him to have a raccoon fursona after the title character of the film.

I got into the furry fandom after seeing “Over the Hedge” in 2006, joined a fan-made forum and a friend on there made an RP account for RJ the Raccoon on MySpace (back when people used it). I joined the fandom on July 20th and up until 2009, I was just another person on the internet who liked being part of the community. I felt welcomed and accepted for being myself here and that was something I wasn’t able to feel outside of it.

It was that welcome and accepting atmosphere that helped Bandit create the pilot for the show by making it a vlog to break his social anxiety.

…so I thought of some random stuff to do and recorded it, I titled it “An Ordinary Friday” and uploaded it to YouTube as the pilot of the series, (it was a terrible idea when I look back on it, I had no idea what I was doing).  A few weeks later I deleted the video, went about life and around November when a friend showed me a video by Shane Dawson called “EMO BOP”, I thought he was hilarious and I had this feeling that if I tried putting myself out there more it’d help me be more comfortable with myself. So I recorded a new vlog and made it the new “first” episode. Over time I slowly became more comfortable with myself and the direction of my work changed here and there. Before our fifth season started (by then I was working with others and not by myself), I decided I wanted to help improve the image of the community, so I wanted our videos to have more purpose and be more directly supportive of the Furry Fandom.

The Raccoon’s Den has been many things over the years since its debut in 2009; taking inspiration from cultural documentaries, combined with the drama from shows like Degrassi, mixed with sketch comedy programs like “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!”, “Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule”, and “The Eric Andre Show”. These inspirations form what’s currently the first furry Docudramedy to explore the Furry Fandom.

‘Docudramedy’ is a term to describe a documentary with elements of drama and comedy.  We take some of our real-life scenarios and integrate them into our showcasing of conventions and furmeets, following our life experiences in the fandom. We also discuss fandom topics, get feedback from others regarding the cons they’re at (so people can learn from a personal perspective what to expect from a convention), interview artists in the fandom, do comedy skits, and we also have a podcast.

I gave it some thought, and felt the idea of combining those elements with the natural culture of the Furry Fandom would be an interesting concept: Filming our trips to events to show people what they’re like, but also give a more detailed idea as to what brings us together and what the fandom means for us – all while giving a glimpse into our personal lives, discussing topics and entertaining the community with our skits and general antics.

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But Bandit works to cover all aspects of the fandom he can, while avoiding pitfalls like focusing only on fursuiters – making sure others have a voice.

Most people in the fandom who have done documentaries seem to only focus on the fursuiters, and I think that’s very misleading and unfair.  You only learn why they wear their fursuit to be themselves and how it’s such a safe and innocent environment, which is censoring a lot of what does go on, because we have had a lot of controversy over the years. You don’t see much of the non-suiters who are actually more common in the fandom than people realize.  You mainly see footage of suiters walking around, people taking pictures of them… Not to say I hate it, because I don’t.  But I think the non-suiters have a voice that should be heard too, so we try to make that a point in our work.

The current cast for The Raccoon’s Den is Bandit, Switch, Drake, Abbey, and Jackie. Together they will list topics based on events happening in their lives, like conventions, or discuss topics that are trending in the fandom. Once they come up with an episode idea, they work on figuring out everyone’s availability to make the episode.

When everyone is here, we go over the material and begin filming. If it’s based on a topic, I have to find the right material to use in the video as a reference.  Or if it’s at an event, it generally comes down to what panels we’re gonna feature and who we interview, and any additional scenes we feel would fit in are written down as a memo.

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From Right to Left: BANDIT/ Christopher Parque-Johnson, SWITCH/ Tiffany Riedlinger, DRAKE/ Takehiro Diaz, ABBEY/ Abbey Preston, JACKIE/ Jackie Heaton

Most of the time the episodes follow an interview/vlog format.  But there are moments they script out segments either to recreate moments Bandit didn’t capture, or for the storyline of the season that reflects what’s going on in their lives.

I generally write those scenes either on my own or with the help of other members in the group, so when the scenes don’t directly involve me, they’re discussed with the people who are going to be in the take.  Sometimes we practice how it’s going to go, just to get the right emotion for it. I remind them that these scenes are to be acted out as if I’m not there, as well as the camera. In some cases though, I’ll be in the picture and someone else will hold the camera, the same rule applies though. We do this to blur the fine line between what’s actually happening and what’s scripted.

photo.jpgThrough its seven years, the show has gained a small but dedicated following that attracted interest with several networks. One is World of Furries, a fandom network out to promote work in the fandom.  But one Bandit couldn’t have predicted was being picked up by the Channel Frederator Network. The people who represent Pan Pizza, Simon’s Cat, and Cartoon Hangover, to name a few.

About a year ago, we were contacted on YouTube by a representative of CFN.  Initially we didn’t understand why they wanted us, and even thought the letter was possibly fake or a template sent to a channel they didn’t know about. We responded anyways, contacting them via email and asking “why us?” because we know there are other YouTubers in the fandom who have a larger audience than we do. But we were surprised with the response they sent us, being told our content was irreverent and funny.  They felt it was a perfect fit amongst their other members, as they didn’t just support animators, but also voice actors, artists, cosplayers and a few other professions. Apparently our content gave a more personal and educational experience as to what the fandom is like.

While Bandit was pleased with the Channel Frederator offer, he didn’t take it at first.

It was refreshing to hear, but we declined.  Our show was finishing its sixth season and I needed a break.  I felt insecure about the offer too. Upon getting ready to launch season seven, we emailed them back and I told them what our plans were for the new season.  We wanted to know what they thought of it before we partnered up.  So after our 90th episode (Further Confusion 2016), we showed them what we did so far.  They were very interested in helping us with our show, which is why we didn’t list the full credits until the following episode (The Reunion). They helped us by promoting our show, and giving us access to a huge audio database full of royalty free music and sound effects for us to use.  They have a community forum with lots of opportunities for collaboration and advice from other creators and the staff of the network as well, it’s a lot!

With all that, the show seems primed to take off.  But Bandit isn’t sure if the show will continue after season seven ends (on their 100th episode) – due in part to the fandom not taking much notice of it.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure; I didn’t really anticipate even getting this far. I almost canceled the series three times, usually because I was discouraged, finding myself in a creative block and/or personal life stuff. It’s a lot of work, and while it’s fun for me, sometimes I feel like my efforts don’t pay off as well as I anticipated.  But I guess we all feel that way occasionally, right? How long this show will last kinda depends on the fandom now too, not just us alone. We’ve been putting ourselves out there and have been working hard throughout the years, but we can’t get anywhere unless the fandom is aware of us and interacts with our material, like giving feedback, suggestions, or heck… volunteering to get involved would be appreciated too.  I think that’d be fun.

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We really do care about the fandom and admittedly I know I haven’t always been the easiest person to get along with for some, so I’m trying to improve myself so others can feel more comfortable with me and my work.  I want them to know that we’re all in this together, and that I just want to help make things a little bit easier. Our situation is not a very common one.  If ratings start to go poor, be it due to our mistakes or because other furries simply don’t interact with our material, I feel like we could lose our partnership with the networks we’re on now and essentially walk away empty handed. By then, we wouldn’t see the point anymore. We’ve actually written an ambiguous ending to the season that could act as an ending all on its own, or as a cliffhanger that we’d resolve in the next season. If all goes well, then I guess it just comes down to how much development remains to write about in the group. We’ll find out in time.

As said in the introduction, video creators don’t get the same attention as others in the fandom. That’s a shame because shows like The Raccoon’s Den offers the chance to capture the fandom itself, both the good and the bad.  From how friends come together, to the amount of talent hidden within the fandom, seen through the journey of Bandit and his friends since they first got involved.

It’s shown me a lot really, because even my first furmeet and convention experiences were featured on the show.  My camera has seen just as much as I have.  Over the years I saw a lot of great (and not so great) things in the fandom.  Mostly it’s the general vibe that everyone comes to a specific place or more to be with people they can relate to, people who understand them. While others come for the sake of getting out of the house or looking for a party, it’s generally a great time for everyone.

At conventions, I’ve seen people who were friends online for years, but never got to meet each other because they lived thousands of miles apart.  That moment is always cool, I’ve experienced it a few times myself. Doing the show has also opened my eyes to the insane amount of talent we have here in the fandom, artists of so many kinds, all of them trying to get by with a good handful of something really special to offer. But not all of them are appreciated, unfortunately.

It’s shown me a safe haven of some sort.  I mean, as we age, we learn the many truths about the harsh reality we live in, but we’re not alone and with the right people, you manage quite comfortably. As for the not-so-great things, well, the fandom isn’t perfect, we all know that, but just like life itself, the fandom is what you make of it. I’ve grown to find more pros than cons after I’ve learned to be realistic but hopeful. My friends and family are to thank for that advice.

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Whether the show goes beyond a seventh season, or gets more recognition by the fandom, Bandit sees the show as a major milestone overall.

Since the show began in 2009, we’ve reached seven seasons worth of material.  We’ve chronologically had thirteen people in the cast (all of them are artists in various mediums).  Two of them (Andre Abreo and Daniel Hamamoto) have established careers apart from the series through music (myself included). Andre Abreo has become the longest serving cast member of the series upon his departure after season six (he started in three).  The first few episodes of our current season featured everyone in the cast (minus one) for a subtle reunion (which we’ve never done to this extent before).  We’ve gotten introduction shout-outs from Son Lux, Drake Bell and Heyo Damo (Blu the F*cking Dragon), among a few other popular icons in and out of the fandom. We plan to get more of course! 😉

There is more to Bandit then just The Raccoon’s Den.

Apart from the series, I’m also a musician. I’ve been producing various styles of music since 2010.  On my own as an electronica artist I have released two albums “Everlasting” (2010), “Resolve” (2013) and one EP, “Solace” (2014). I’ve also worked as the producer for my friends and co-stars Daniel Hamamoto since 2011 (out of the fandom partially since 2007), and Flash (Andre Abreo) since 2015, both of which are in the fandom as well. I’ve also been the other half of the duo called Storm Le since 2011, currently with my friend Colana (Remy Suzuki). In and out of the fandom, I’m also a freelance photographer and graphic designer, but most of my work is here.

The Raccoon’s Den deserves attention. It provides a time capsule of the fandom, looking at a group of friends as they go through life in a very misunderstood community. To enjoy, celebrate, learn, love, lose, and experience hardship – There’s more to take away from this show then just wearing fursuits.

…life is short, things happen so fast and before you know it, everything is different. I’ve recorded so much that when I look back on older episodes, not only do I feel like I’m seeing all of this stuff for the first time, I see people who no longer go to the events, people who were once friends of mine that I’m no longer in contact with, and unfortunately, there are the faces of those who have since then passed away…

Everything is changing faster than I’m able to keep up with most of the time, but y’know, gotta keep marching on. I’ve found myself going back to the same events time and time again because I think deep down I’m afraid I’ll miss something good, something I’ll want to remember for many years to come. With that takeaway, I’ve really wanted to fill my life with as many good memories as possible. It’s because of the many great people in this fandom that I’ve learned to truly appreciate what I have.

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Check out the trailer for the show below.  And if you like what you’ve read and seen, head on over to their channel. Watch a few episodes, and if you want to support them, then like, share, and subscribe. Until then make sure you have a nice day.

-Matthias