“Don’t dream it – be it!” Interview with Robert Hill about early fursuiting and fandom.
by Patch O'Furr
Furry fandom has many members who were born after Robert Hill’s ahead-of-its-time (but perhaps underrated) role in its late 1970’s-1980’s formation. My previous introduction promised an interview. That involved some convincing to start it (so maybe others wouldn’t have gotten it?) That makes me extra happy to share it now.
For a little more background, you could browse his (very fetishy and hot) Fur Affinity gallery, or his Wiki that mentions successes in getting media notice. Some was for costuming, and some for art (like in the badly intentioned, but well exposed) MTV Sex2K documentary “Plushies and Furries.”
When I say “ahead of its time” and mention MTV, the 90’s were a different time than now. Drama raged between furry fans about whether sexy stuff was acceptable, especially in reaction to media exploitation that overemphasized the fringes. A lot of the bad attention came with a nasty streak of homophobia. In 2018, I think we know who won. It’s not about furries being indecent, it’s about radical self-expression with all kinds of supportive benefits. I’d say change didn’t come from pleading with outsiders to be nicer, but from the power of building a great community within. And the media followed along with some change from exploitation to a gentler view of loveable eccentricity.
All along, there were members who dared to explore what they wanted to express without taming it for outside recognition, but who were fiercely talented enough to get some of that too.
PATCH: I’ve shared the vid of Hilda The Bambioid from the 80’s quite a few times, calling it an amazing kind of a pioneer thing… basically the first fursuiter at a furry con. I think there might be a few others that can say that – like costumers who were active as mascots or at sci fi cons at the time – but that was the one that went on video and is known today, so I think the credit fits. Especially because it’s a pretty amazing sight to see!
Wanna talk about it a little as an intro? Is that OK?
Is it OK to credit Hilda to you, or should the character stay seperate?
ROBERT: You ask the questions and I’ll do what I can.
PATCH: Cool OK. In the 1980’s were you really into costuming? Or was that more of a sideline hobby thing?
ROBERT: I did it strictly for fun. It was an opportunity to stretch myself and study other aspects of my personality.
PATCH: How did you first get into it?
ROBERT: I’d always possessed a penchant for performing.
It was and still is “in my blood”. My mother made an open-faced lion costume for me to wear for Halloween at the age of 4 or 5.
PATCH: Fun! When did you start designing or making your own?
ROBERT: 1987. And I spent 12 years with The Mouse, as a character and stage manager.
PATCH: Did the furry thing kind of start up while you were working there, and did you juggle both activities at the same time?
And was this in California?
ROBERT: Ground zero for the “furry” fetish began in 1978 with a group called “The CFO”.
PATCH: Oh yeah, I think I’ve heard. Cartoon Fantasy Organization or something like that? Met at the LA Science fiction fan clubhouse, shared movies and involved in APA’s?
ROBERT: No, it met in the Animators Union Hall on Ventura Blvd in LA and later at various other locations.
PATCH: Ah, gotcha. I think there was some blending of fandoms, and I wasn’t there of course, so it helps to hear the details. I get some from Fred Patten who talks about the anime and science fiction fandom from then.
ROBERT: Animation buffs, both professional and otherwise would meet monthly to watch unique examples of animation, foreign and otherwise.
PATCH: I’d personally consider the 70’s to mid-80’s kind of the “proto furry” era that paved the way. I know Vootie, Rowrbrazzle and APA’s were important. I’m using ConFurence 0 in 1989 as a benchmark. It’s… It’s a bit subjective of course.
ROBERT: Fred was the consummate fan and was the adhesive that pulled it together.
PATCH: How did you first get involved?
ROBERT: A long time associate of mine whom I’d known since school – and a board artist at Filmation, contacted me and told me about the group idea that was being proposed.
PATCH: That was the CFO? Was it 1978?
ROBERT: Yes, that’s correct.
PATCH: How many people got involved right at the start?
And were you originally involved as an artist?
ROBERT: Oh about a dozen. Some just fans and others pros in the biz. I fell in somewhere in between, as I worked for The Mouse.
PATCH: Ah I gotcha. So you were with Disney as a character and stage manager in 1978, and worked there until the late 80’s, it sounds like?
ROBERT: I was an art major in college but learned nothing and did it because it was easy, I could fake it and get a decent grade. – Mid 80’s.
A rough I did for my senior comp in college, circa 1974.
PATCH: I don’t think there were many animation programs at that time – CalArts and maybe a small few others… that’s pretty neat. I know the 70’s was a really tough time for the American animation business.
But, working for Disney as a performer seems exciting.
ROBERT: I didn’t care. Animation was repetitious and frankly boring. I preferred performing.
PATCH: Can you tell me more what that was like?
PATCH: That’s cool, which one were you?
ROBERT: That’s me as Eeyore summer 1973. Oh yes, by 1970 I was purchasing manga and later anime, hence the hachimaki I was wearing on my head.
PATCH: How active was the fandom stuff during all that time, from the late 70’s up to when you started designing costumes? Was it a small casual hobby thing outside of the job, or more?
ROBERT: It was composed of a relatively small cadre of individuals, both fans and pros. There were a handful of fan produced publications with a combo of human and anthro stuff.
PATCH: I like how it’s grown tremendously, so now there are people whose entire career is serving other fans with art and costume.
What kind of art were you doing at that time, before you started doing your own costumes?
ROBERT: By the mid 80’s the interest was increasing and there were more fanzines and occasional gatherings. The CFO was still very active but had swung entirely in favor of anime only.
PATCH: What was your part in things while the CFO changed?
ROBERT: I wasn’t drawing because I hadn’t the patience or desire to do so. I built models instead, as college was over by then.
PATCH: What kind of models?
ROBERT: I hung out with other like minded “funny animal” fans.
Aircraft, ships, etc on a professional level!
PATCH: Cool – what were they for?
For movie/TV or were people just buying them?
An Aichi D4Y model I made in 1977, it was museum quality.
I made them for fun and for historical purposes.
PATCH: I can see how the hands on connection led to costuming.
ROBERT: I made my first model kit at 4 years old and began sculpting with clay at the same age.
PATCH: Animal anthropomorphism is a cool connection. I’m wondering how kink got involved, was it around 1987 with your first costumes?
ROBERT: I had no friends and disliked school with a passion, so I nurtured my imagination instead.
No, the “kink” went back to it’s actual inception.
PATCH: Was that part of wanting to work as a performer?
I’m curious about how Hilda came about
ROBERT: It was in my genetics..
PATCH: Was 1987 the first time you were expressing that?
ROBERT: A long time associate named Collins had created a matriarchal race of anthro deer called “Bambioids”. Out of honor to him I created Hilda.
PATCH: Cool. How daring did it feel to design, build and wear that at the time? I’m not aware of many other people doing that.
ROBERT: No one else did that as such. Again, I had no issue playing the female role and pulling it off.
I created Hilda in 1988.
PATCH: How did it go over? Like, what kind of reactions were there?
ROBERT: People were bowled over by it, to me it was no big deal.
They earnestly thought it was worn by an actual female.
PATCH: Ha yeah, the videos look awesome
Was that only at fur cons, or where else?
ROBERT: I followed Dr Frankenfurter’s philosophy: “Don’t dream it – be it!”.
Oh there were other venues as well, but mostly within the “furry” community.
PATCH: Personally I’d get a rush from being freaky and fabulous like that.
ROBERT: Odd, I never viewed it as “freaky”. It seemed perfectly normal to me.
PATCH: How many costumes would you say you have designed and built over time? And would you prefer to be known as a furry costumer/performer, or something else?
ROBERT: At least 18 over all. I’ve never felt the personal need for labeling, so I can’t really answer that.
PATCH: Can you tell me what kinds? Like were some male and others female, were there different styles of design, were some more G-rated and others not?
ROBERT: Yes, I made two “functional” male costumes but never used them as such. Some were just cute, others sexy and curvaceous..
PATCH: Where do you think you stand, as someone who was part of furry fandom when it started – like, were there others making costumes like you? I hadn’t seen any that were sexy like Hilda until at least the late 90’s, I think… is pioneer an OK word?
ROBERT: Again with the labels. I just did what I felt like and screw anyone that didn’t approve. The costume “thing” really didn’t start catching on in earnest until the early 90’s and with the advent of the net, it was unstoppable.
PATCH: Did anyone else start working with you or getting inspiration from you, or did it keep being a solo hobby?
ROBERT: To me it was simply a hobby and done for fun. Doubtless, when attended cons there a handful of other costumes that began to make themselves known. Most of them had no idea who I was, but when I’d come out to where they were just walking about, start performing and then they’d go elsewhere. They didn’t know who I was, but they sure hated me!
PATCH: Haha, they were trying to be more tame? Would you call your costuming controversial?
ROBERT: A former friend used to comment that when I made an appearance and began to be bop, they’d disappear.
PATCH: How do you think it would go over in 2018?
ROBERT: No, they had no idea of how to perform in their own costumes. I had 12 years of experience at the Mouse, that, and having it in my blood came naturally.
PATCH: Ah, OK, so it sounds like they didn’t care about the kinky, more adult part, so much as having a performer upstage them by being more interesting?
ROBERT: I’d be mocked or totally ignored, as everything out there looks like it was cut from the same cookie cutter mold, plus, all the kids that are doing it are in cliques, etc.
I dunno, I never spoke to them.
PATCH: OK, now I’m curious about your part in the infamous MTV Sex2K show. They used your art, and were you a performer in there too? What was it like?
ROBERT: Of course I was. I had a ball, as I knew how to work with the media and lived ate and drank it.
PATCH: I’d love to hear more about working with the media. Like, just with furry stuff, or with much more than that? Were there other highlights besides the MTV show?
ROBERT: I did at least 10 media based programs over the years. I didn’t come across like an illiterate bumpkin.
Oh HBO’s “Real Sex”, Discovery Channel, Tori Spelling, etc, etc.
PATCH: Cute one!
ROBERT: Myself and Tori Spelling doing her reality series: “Inn Love” in ’07.
PATCH: That’s a story in a picture… what’s going on there? Why is she smiling like that?
ROBERT: Publicity pics. Simply put.
PATCH: Ah OK. What kind of a part was it?
ROBERT: She was actually quite personable and even commented: “You know they’re going to make fun of you.” I didn’t care.
PATCH: Did they make fun?
ROBERT: It was her reality show where different people would visit her B+B.
If anyone did, I never heard it.
PATCH: If you can, I’d love if you can tell me any stories about the stuff we already got into. Like crazy, cool, fun or outrageous things that have to do with working at Disney, being in the CFO and fandom, costuming, furries in general in 2018, and the media.
ROBERT: That could quite literally fill a book in all seriousness. Perhaps, in the future, you might ask me about my drawing.
PATCH: How about just one story?
I wouldn’t know where to start. Do you follow my FB page at all? It speaks volumes about me.
As this posts, there’s only 15 followers for Robert Hill on Facebook (NSFW). You should check him out there.
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