Q&A with Biohazard, artist of the infamous “Too Hot for PBS” auction video.
by Patch O'Furr
Here’s a followup to a previous article – Exchanging Fluids on PBS: Your eyes will bug out at this WTF furry video from 1992! The artist Biohazard has more details on his page: “Too Hot for PBS”. (Update: page went down — the linked archive embedded videos you may find on Youtube.)
Biohazard answered my request to talk about this crazy subcultural stunt. Here’s our Q&A:
(Patch:) The PBS art auction video is epic and classic. I’m curious how the whole thing went down… beyond the stuff you have already posted, and what you can see in the video.
Can you set the scene to give us a little “furry history”? What was it like to be making naughty furry art in the 1980’s, when that was a more daring thing than now? How did you start making it? How did you start sharing it? Who inspired you or gave you courage to share? What were the reactions? Who were your fans and how did you interact? Was it all by mail or was any in person? How much real-name/real-face interaction was there beyond your fan names? Was there much of a “furry scene”, and did they find you, or did you find it first?
I noticed you said something about donating to that auction for 14 years before they stopped taking the naughty stuff. Was your stuff always cartoony, and did it get more naughty over time? Did you get any funny reactions besides a “tense phone call” with the manager? Any other interaction with “the normals” before they changed their rules to ban your stuff? Did you continue donating tame stuff afterwards, or just move on?
(Biohazard:) Gallery 33 was not my original foray into TV Land; the first television appearance of my (non-furry) art was at the age of eleven! My winning entry in a 1977 Baltimore Symphony Orchestra poster contest was announced and displayed on the local children’s show ‘Captain Chesapeake’. (I was even invited to City Hall where I met crazy ol’ Mayor Schaefer.)
I had been a fan of the WITF general merchandise auction growing up in the 1970s, and in 1980, after they started dedicating certain nights to original art by local artists, I decided to create and donate some of my own. From the beginning, my art featured various anthropomorphic animals (foxes, sheep, horses and rats), but by 1988 I had settled on two particular rat characters, Alice and Bob (I had been caring for pet rats since my preteen years, and the film ‘The Secret of NIMH’ was a big influence as well; the bow on Alice’s head can be traced directly to Teresa Brisby’s). Their names were inspired by a photograph of four detergent bottles I had purchased from the auction in the late 1970s (titled ‘Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice’, after the film). That was also the year I added some mild erotic themes to my imagery (inspired by adult anthro comics I had recently discovered like ‘Omaha’ and ‘Captain Jack’). The rat pics drew much higher bids than my previous stuff; and viewers (obtaining my contact info from the station) started writing and calling me at home and requesting commissions; that’s when I knew I had found something that clicked with the general public.
I did meet a few of my commissioners in person when they came to my workplace to pick up their artwork; my employer had given me my first full-time job out of college in part because he was familiar with my art from the auction, so he was cool with it. (He later grew to despise me, but that’s par for the course.)
I wasn’t sure if I could get away with works featuring visible genitalia, so in the first A&B pictures I kept Bob’s groin out of view. As the years went by, I started going further with both Bob’s junk and the explicitness of the poses (although Bob’s penis, when visible, was only in a flaccid state); the paintings always sold well, even though WITF consigned them to late-night showings. Finally, in 1993 I went too far (at least in the opinion of several viewers), and complaints were phoned in; the rest of my works were pulled and returned to me, and I was told that no more genitalia would be permitted and the poses would have to be toned down. This pissed me off royally (especially considering that year’s works were no more outre than previous offerings).
After the rule change, I stopped donating to WITF altogether; shortly thereafter, in 1995, I discovered the internet (and the wonderful world of USENET) which provided a new (and more flexible) forum for my work. The WITF Auction was discontinued in 2005, but if they ever bring it back, I might whip up something just for old times sake!
BTW, the reason I picked ‘Biohazard’ as my business name can be traced back to the ‘NIMH’ film; plus, there was lots of material with the logo and name available from various lab safety catalogues (decals, tapes, bags etc) which I used to label my donations; I also used to send out little gift bags with my commissions containing the stickers and such.
I’m still trying to remember how I first discovered the furry fandom; I must have found the address of Ed Zolna’s Mailbox Books from an ad in some anthro comic or other in the early ’90s. I published a few folios of my own which were reasonably successful; thanks mainly to Mr. Zolna purchasing many copies for resale in his catalog, and Shon Howell providing me a with free ad in an early issue of ‘Genus’. I also had my work published in a couple of other folks’ zines; Brian Miller’s ‘Furrottica’ and Brian Yelverton’s ‘Sheepette Gazette’.
Can you talk a little about the community you were in – was that pennsylvania, was it conservative, and was it daring to be a queer artist there and then? Were you known for non-furry art or part of a regular art scene?
Central PA is pretty conservative, but almost every person I showed my artwork to – friends, relatives and employers – was cool with it! There was a woman in her 90s named Dot who worked at a convenience store I frequented; she bought copies of all of my folios and one of my paintings! I also made sales to my barber, my dentist and my optometrist over the years. The only bad experience I had was with a young woman at a print shop who refused to copy my hardcore folios; the manager apologized and did the job himself, so it was no big deal. I didn’t really interact with any other artists except during the annual Gallery 33 pre-auction exhibition at the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA (there wasn’t any furry scene that I knew of in the local area).
Have you had any other furry “brushes with fame”?
When I was publishing my folios, I sent out copies to artists I admired and received nice letters (and an occasional phone call) from many fine folks like Mike Kazaleh, Kjartan Arnorsson, Bill Fitts, Tom Verre, and Mike Sagara.
Would you be OK with telling a little about you beyond furry stuff – like, is this just one hobby, and what else do you do or are you good at?
Art is basically my only hobby (at least since I sold off most of my many collectibles). I haven’t produced any illustrations in quite awhile, but I hope to in the near future. My mother, whose health was declining for many years, passed away in 2013; the bank will be foreclosing on the family home, but once I figure out what my living arrangements will be, the stress will be off and I can start drawing (and taking commissions) again.
As a “greymuzzle” who helped found what we have now… what do you think about furry fans now, their art, and their place as a subculture?
People like to put the fandom down, but it’s fine with me. I’ve never really considered myself a furry (or a brony, although I’m also a big MLP fan), but I’ve met plenty of nice people, consumed lots of great art, and had lots of interesting experiences, so I can’t complain.
A reader teased me:
“if you think about it… this stands as a fantastic art-prank statement of irony (intentional, or not!) This wasn’t public-funded air time, this was station-funded time they have to spend to solicit funding because the government only gives minimal support. So they were in a sense, put in a position of having to prostitute for dollars so they could put healthy programming on the air. ‘Murica!
I think this falls in the classic protest-prank tradition of Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, Jello Biafra, John Waters, and anyone opposed to the wave of Moral Majority censorship and conservatism of those times. (They are back, under a liberal banner, these days…) It’s almost punk, and definitely in the DIY spirit, even if it was sincere outsider art. There is a cult-loved book full of such stunts. One of my favorite things was getting to hang out with the author/editor… check out Pranks! It’s an inspiration.”
2019 UPDATE: 4 years later, this article keeps getting consistent views, thanks to sharing of Biohazard’s hilarious video on social media. I guess it’s a meme that stands the test of time. For much more about its place in early furry fandom, and why DIY subculture matters, check out this recent article series about how furries resist a commercialized fandom.