by Patch O'Furr
They had a shared vision
Mark Merlino was a founder of both the furry fandom and the North American anime fandom. In 1971, meeting fellow hobbyists at science fiction conventions led to the 1977 formation of the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization (C/FO), using the clubhouse of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society (LASFS). They would screen rare videos of imported Japanese animation for lucky members to see before anyone else, and movies like Animalympics that were first called funny-animal and later furry. In 1989 Mark and his partner Rod O’Riley co-founded the first furry convention, Confurence.
Their vision stood apart from major influences like Star Trek or Star Wars. They would gather fans without elitism or ambitions of an exclusive club, with no central property, brand or owner. It was a vision of collaboration, expressed with sketchbook sharing, convention room parties, and direct fan-to-fan creativity. That’s how love for animal characters turned into being original role-play fursonas. It was shaded by counterculture of 1960’s underground comix, and lit by the sparks of pre-internet fandom circulated by VHS tapes and mail ‘zines.
The flame was tended from Mark’s Southern California house, The Prancing Skiltaire, established in 1980. It was named after a mink-like alien species he created and also a reference to the Prancing Pony Inn in Lord of the Rings. Mark shared the house with Rod and a rotating cast of fellow creative oddballs and luminaries. In the mid-1980’s he created his fursona Sylys Sable and Rod created Vinson Mink with a similar back-story. They supported regular monthly furmeets, con staff meets, furry BBS and MUCK activity and an ISP, animation screenings and mingling with California industry talent, and development of independent zine/APA publishing, animation, games, and costuming. They were at the forefront of an explosion of nearly 200 conventions and worldwide subculture that serves millions today.