How did Disney inspire Furry fandom? A look at early influences by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
How Disney Influenced Furry Fandom is an artist’s thoughts shared in this week’s Newsdump.
(Patch:) Furry artist Joe Rosales focuses on California fandom in its formative years, including fursuiting. It concludes that Disney should get major credit. I liked it, but it doesn’t give enough credit for sci fi fandom, and misses early fursuiters like Robert Hill who were not professional (and not G-rated, either.) The unnamed animator must be Shawn Keller, maker of the notorious Furry Fans flash animation and comic. (If he didn’t want to be named, he shouldn’t have published “Shawn Keller’s Horrifying Look at The Furries.“)
I sent it to Fred Patten and asked for his thoughts. In between, a similar media article happened on a psychic wavelength:
Here’s what Fred wrote in response to the first one.
(Fred:) This is very good, but you’re giving Disney credit for too much influence.
First, define early furry fandom. 1980 to … 1983? 1985? 1990? Don’t forget, by 1980 and for the next decade, Walt Disney and the Disney Studio were pretty much Old History. Carl Barks was retired. In comics, Marvel’s Howard the Duck (Steve Gerber), DC’s Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! (Scott Shaw!), and Pacific Comics’ Destroyer Duck (Jack Kirby) were the New Wave; the new influences. In underground comix, there were Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton. In independent comics, there were Steve Leialoha and Michael Gilbert in Quack!. … (Fred, what about the great Bucky O’Hare comic? – Patch)
For those who championed the old comic books and strips, there were George Herriman’s Krazy Kat and Walt Kelly’s Pogo, and DC’s Sheldon Mayer with The Three Mouseketeers, Dizzy Dog, Doodles Duck, and their pals. (Mayer’s Amster the Hamster, a W. C. Fields imitation, was my favorite.) Japanese animation and manga fandom were brand-new in America, and we were being blown away by the funny-animal manga of Osamu Tezuka and Shotaro Ishimori/Ishinomori.
In animation, Don Bluth was the new wunderkind, who we anticipated reviving the art form with Banjo, the Woodpile Cat, The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, The Land Before Time, and All Dogs Go to Heaven. Early furry fandom’s overlap with anime fandom meant the animation of Osamu Tezuka; TV animation like Kimba the White Lion and The Amazing 3, theatrical characters like Pincho (acknowledged as a tribute to Disney’s Pinocchio), Crack, and Pooks in Phoenix 2772, and the TV movie Baghi, the Monster of Mighty Nature. Disney was still present with The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver & Company theatrically, and doing slightly better with such TV cartoons as Adventures of the Gummi Bears and DuckTales, but mostly the studio was washed up as far as being an influence.
Disney was still respected for its comic books by Carl Barks, and its animated characters like Dumbo, Bongo, the Wind in the Willows cast (Ichabod and Mr. Toad), The 101 Dalmations, the mice in The Rescuers, etc., and of course the 1973 Robin Hood, but all this was in the past. It wasn’t the influence that the current 1980s funny animals were. Disney’s impressive new work with The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and the TV TaleSpin and Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers were all 1990s products, after furry fandom was established. (If you want a real influence, how about the Russian cultists who worship Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Ranger’s Gadget Hackwrench as a goddess?)
Yes, furry fandom was massively molded by Mark Merlino & Rod O’Riley during the 1980s. But they were promoting Merlino’s edit of the two Animalympics TV Specials into a movie (before the release of the authorized movie), and videos of Osamu Tezuka’s animation, more than Disney fare. Merlino was a correspondent of Ken Sample in NYC, so he can be said to be a seminal influence on furry fandom of both coasts. But in fan art, Merlino & Sample were spreading Merlino’s skiltaires – otterlike aliens with antennae – not Disney characters. Other artistic influences from within 1980s furry fandom were Steve Gallacci’s Erma Felna cat-woman, Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, Mike Kazaleh’s Captain Jack cast, Fantagraphics’ Critters comic book, Reed Waller’s “Omaha”, the Cat Dancer, Eastman & Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and all their imitations … not Disney stuff.
This cites Disney creators and animation presented at the ConFurence conventions of the 1990s. Too late to be major influences, and overshadowed by such Warner Bros. TV cartoons and their characters as Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs. An ongoing feature of the 1990s ConFurences was the romance between fan cartoonist Mitch Beiro and WB.’s Minerva Mink from Animaniacs.
“This all changed one year, 1993 or 1994, when an animator – whose name I will omit, since I’m sure he wants no part of this post […] – showed up in the first fursuit; a fully realized Pepe Le Pew costume.”
I’ll name names; it was Shawn Keller. He was a Disney animator who had animated Ursula’s two hench-eels in The Little Mermaid, among other things. But Pepe Le Pew wasn’t his first costume. He had made an excellent Kimba the White Lion costume in the 1980s. At the 1990 San Diego Comic-Con, he appeared as Charlie B. Barkin, the German Shepherd from Don Bluth’s All Dogs Go To Heaven in a costume so much like the animated cartoon character that it looked at first like a professional promotional costume – until you looked at the groin and saw that it was anatomically explicit.
But Keller’s Pepe Le Pew costume at the 1993 or 1994 ConFurence was hardly the first fursuit. The term “fursuit” was first used at the 1993 ConFurence by Robert C. King; they were already common by that time. Note that I call them “costumes”, not “fursuits”. There are no hard & fast definitions, but in most furry fans’ vocabularies, a “costume” is a depiction of a particular, well-known character (usually copyrighted), while a “fursuit” is an original furry character, usually created by the wearer. Keller’s Pepe Le Pew suit may well have been fabricated with the help of Disney park costumers (unofficially, surely, since it was Disney personnel making a costume of a Warner Bros. character). But as a costume of a specific copyrighted character, it had almost no influence on fans’ original-character fursuits – although it was inspirational in showing fans what could be accomplished in costume-making.
So was Disney a specific and major influence in the creation of furry fandom? I don’t think so – speaking as one who was there.
(Patch:) Crediting Disney for fursuiting does seem a little overgenerous. It’s great to read about how it contributed to the leap in craft of fursuit-making that kept going until it’s an awe-inspiring cottage industry now… but wasn’t costuming only a minor thing that already existed in sci-fi, while furries came together around art and fiction?
Fred has a lot of good stuff to say about all the super fertile stuff that was happening while Disney was in a very unproductive period between the late 70’s and late 80’s. But even if it’s older, many furry awakenings still come from this hot fox. – Patch
“VICE: Furries love Zootopia” is also very good, but both Rowrbrazzle and “Albedo: Anthropomorphics” date from 1984 — February and June — rather than 1983. Also, Schirmeister, Cawley, Sanders, and Keller were all working professionally in the animation industry as animators, storyboard artists, character designers, writers, etc. by the time they dabbled in furry fandom. This implies that it was after gaining practice as Rowrbrazzle members that they were hired into the animation industry.
Oops. I did forget about one major Disney influence on furry fandom in the late 1980s: “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. None of the characters were as influential as the concept of humans and toons living together, especially the non-human toons.
Here are some more visuals of early furry influences:
A photograph from January 1989 at the LASFS clubhouse showing Marc Schirmeister turning over the Rowrbrazzle Official Editorship to me, while a Bambioid (a costumed Robert Hill) looks on. Bambioids – sexy deer-girls — were created by fan cartoonist Jerry Collins, and were very popular in fan art in the 1980s.
http://www.kayshapero.net/fredpatten/photos.html – photo #8
Osamu Tezuka’s “Baghi; the Monster of Mighty Nature” VHS videotape. From a 1984 Japanese TV movie. Baghi was the sexiest cat-girl in animation. This video was a bootleg fan favorite.
Tezuka’s Pincho (#6 and #57) in his 1980 theatrical animated feature “Phoenix 2772”. Tezuka brought it to the 1980 San Diego Comic-Con, where it was so popular that the Comic-Con had to schedule a second screening.
Mark Merlino’s skiltaires. He had an elaborate background for them. Several 1980s furry artists drew them.
For those interested in costuming at s-f fan conventions, which long predated fursuiting (Forrest J Ackerman dressed up in a futuristic costume based on Raymond Massey’s in the 1936 movie “Things to Come”, at the 1st World Science Fiction Convention in 1939), there are lots of online photographs taken from the 1960s on. See Stickmaker’s (Rodford Smith’s) posts of his Worldcon photos, for some.
Above all, there is a s-f convention devoted to just the costuming: Costume-Con, since January 14-16, 1983, now 34 years old. It’ll be in Madison, Wisconsin this May. Check it out. Incidentally, Costume-Con was founded by Karen Schnaubelt in San Diego, who a few years earlier was the first person to wear a costume of a Japanese anime character at the San Diego Comic-Con’s masquerade.
Fred you seem the best to answer this .
Was there every a phenomenon like Zootopia that has caught the fancy of the fandom were groups around the world organizing meets to see the movie.
No. At ConFURence East in Cleveland in November 1996, the convention was on the same weekend that Warner Bros.’ “Space Jam” was released. A carful of fans went from the convention to a local theater to see it. But as I recall, it was just one carful of fans from the whole convention. Most fans didn’t care, or felt that they could wait until they got home after the convention to see it. Other animated features have been popular with furry fans, such as Disney’s “Brother Bear” or DreamWorks’ “Kung Fu Panda” trilogy, but the fans just went individually to see them during their release. I’m not aware of any other feature that had furry fans organizing large theater parties to see them together as soon as they were released.
I feel like people would credit Disney for anything.
Because Disney is popular and ever-present, and therefore all-powerful.
Probably, according to some deranged individuals, Disney created the universe.