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.
(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