The ConFurence Archive: a new resource for fandom history, with Q&A by Mark Merlino.
by Patch O'Furr
Dogpatch Press is honored to host guest writer Mark Merlino. He’s a fandom founder who helped found the first furry convention (ConFurence Zero in 1989). Mark maintains the Prancing Skiltaire house in So Cal, with fellow fans Rod O’Riley and Changa Lion. Below is his submission, followed by a part 2 with additional questions I sent.
Mark is announcing a treasure trove of pre-internet furry lore. Now you can see stuff like the ConFurence Zero conbook. You may love this if you got involved in the days of trading ‘zines by mail (like me), or if you just want to compare what cons do now to how they did it decades ago. Now we have a thriving subculture on top of the 1980’s fan ways, with unique features like a cottage industry for fursuiting, dance events beyond compare, and cons every weekend around the world. But some things never change – this blog is basically my ideal 90’s ‘zine, except I’d love to add more art as it grows. ( – Patch)
(Mark:) Here is my article about fan publication history, the Prancing Skiltaire house library/archive, and the recent creation of the on-line ConFurence Archive made by my partner Changa. It also mentions Rodney’s and my blog Two Old Furry Fans, and InFurNation (Rod’s labor of love for 25 years of so). There is a real interest in the history of fandoms, and finally a way to research early records.
The ConFurence Archive (at confurence.com)
You can find anything on the Internet! At least that’s the popular perception due to the rise and eventual acceptance of search engines like Google, information aggregation web sites like Wikipedia, and archival collections like archive.org. Where did people find things out before the Internet? Well, libraries! Growing up, I learned all about the libraries in my schools, and the local public libraries and how to use all of them. Card catalogs for finding books by subject or author, and the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, which indexed hundreds of magazines; these were my Google on dead trees. My first real job (for pay) was a “page” at our neighborhood branch. The job required putting books back on the shelves, in order. I expanded my responsibilities by keeping the record players in the listening rooms and the copy machine all working (always was a nerd…) In high school I was a library assistant for 2 years, sorting shipping and receiving, and even rebinding. I spent many hours, from grade school to my time in the university devouring entire libraries. I collected my own books: science fiction and fantasy paperbacks; comic collections (Walt Kelly’s “Pogo” was my favorite); art and reference books, magazines like National Geographic, Natural History, Science, and Zoobooks; and illustrated books for young readers.
When I met my partners and we moved in together with friends, all of our collections combined. We ended up living in a library. (Twilight Sparkle would approve!) In 1970, I discovered science fiction and comic fandom and fan conventions. I began collecting convention souvenir program books, convention reports, and daily newsletters. In the dealer’s room I found fan published magazines (zines) with reviews, non-fiction articles, art and fan fiction. Joining the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS, founded in 1934) I became familiar with Amateur Publishing Associations (APAs), the compiled magazines made of participants pre-printed articles and GenZines, fan published collections of articles, fiction and art. My partner Rodney was also active in various fandoms. He had his own collection of fan publications (he even edited an APA for a writers’ group). His and other household members’ collections joined mine in our house, The Prancing Skiltaire.
Eventually our shared interest in all things anthropomorphic caused us to take leave of our senses completely, and we organized the first furry fan conventions. I negotiated with venues, signed contracts, and took care of registration, while Rodney handled programming and publications. Convention flyers, advertisements, progress reports, newsletters and convention souvenir program books were produced. Eventually the convention progress reports became the newsletter InFurNation, mailed to members and other subscribers 4 times a year. (It’s still being published on-line at infurnation.com). Copies of everything we produced, along with business documents and correspondence were filed away. Sounds organized, doesn’t it? It wasn’t.
The important thing to understand is that fandoms, even our furry kind, were chronicled in print and on paper (much of it distributed by the US mail) before the Internet happened. Everything you can find on-line, using the wonder of search technology, had to be put there by somebody. A lot of somebodies who must be willing to work hard, for little or no compensation, to make all of this material available to all of us.
After years of depending on publishing, printing, address lists and bulk mailings, it became obvious that ConFurence needed a web presence. A site was created and maintained intermittently by volunteers (who actually did computer stuff, unlike me) until ConFurence itself became a part of history.
That was the extent of things until a few years ago, my partner Changa began posting scans and digitized video of fannish ephemera he found around our house and shop, on his Google+ and YouTube channels. Some of it (the ConFurence 0 video, for example) attracted considerable attention. Rodney and I were guests at FurCon in 2014, and our panel on “25 Years of Furry Conventions” (25 years, can you believe it?) was a hit at the convention and on-line, thanks to Changa’s efforts. Surprised by the interest in furry history, Rodney was inspired to start a blog “Two Old Furry Fans” (twooldfurryfans.com), with audio net-casts where Rodney and I talk about our fury interests and experiences (Eventually we’ll be talking with some famous guests, we hope!).
It was this year (2017) that Changa (with a bit of help from us) realized that all the pieces were in place, and it was time for the Next Big Thing. A furry (and related fandoms) public access information archive.
The long abandoned ConFurence.com site, revitalized with nearly 2000 images and files to search (so far) is now the Confurence Archive. Anyone and everyone can now access documents from the early (pre-Internet) years of science fiction and comic conventions, the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization (C/FO, the first US animation fan club with emphasis on the animation of Japan), and of course, ConFurence and the furry community. The site is still growing, but it’s open now. Go to confurence.com, and study the extensive material excavated and prepared for you by Changa. Take notes. There will be a test at the end of the semester.
– Mark AKA Sylys Sable
Further Q&A by Patch.
Is there any physical part like an actual room where visitors can check out zines and stuff?
Here at the PS, people are welcome to look at stuff anywhere in the common areas, and some do during the parties. We have let some people who were working on projects visit at other times to dig through the shelves and boxes.
I have also let a few people borrow some magazines (anime related) for a month or so, and maybe I will do more of that. We have to be careful of a lot of the old stuff because it is on high-acid paper, often mimeograph, which fades with age, held together with rusty staples. Luckily Changa is scanning such materials while they can still be read.
What’s the rarest/coolest material in the collection… like do you have any unpublished fan works from people who went on to be famous names? (I think there were at least a few in the early 80’s APA days.)
Interesting rare stuff? Well, we have some art by Peter Chung in various C/FO publications. He was a long-time member of the club and went on to create Aeon Flux the post-apocalyptic bad-ass female assassin. Quite a few animation students, including those attending Cal Arts (Disney) got their first taste of anime at the club. Dave Kune, an artist and animator was involved in the local furry community, and an early fursuit maker/performer. He is a professor/administrator for an art school in Laguna. Many of his students display their work at the Orange County Fair, and some of it shows furry influence. Shawn Keller, a Disney animator and character designer for WB (Space Jam) used to have private art shows at furry conventions and also made fursuits and presented them at cons. We have art from them and others who have gone on to become professionals, as well as art from “lost” artists like Jerry Collins (though he does have an FA account now, under a different name). One of the interesting finds of recent excavations were newsletters and correspondence for C/FO New York by and about Jerry Beck, an animation fan that came to California and got involved with the studios, and is now the head of the Hollywood chapter of the International Animation Society (ASIFA), the group that has the Annie Awards, the Oscars of the animation industry.
There is likely a lot more, but I can’t think of any right now…
I wonder if there could be some discussion of collecting some of this info into a retrospective? (I have roughly outlined a “furry coffee table book”.)
We have has some early interest in contributions to the archive, and certainly welcome any. I would enjoy doing more articles and being involved in discussions about fandoms, particularly furry. A few people are working on books about furry. Fred Patten’s “Furry Conventions” book is mainly an index of all the conventions with basic information, until 1999. He rejected any input from us and chose to create his “facts” from the recycled rumors and statements made by people who were trying to do character assassination of me, Rod and other ConFurence staff form the first 11 years of the con. Joe Strike is working on a furry book, likely from his perspective of comics/science fiction and the early artists, which considered themselves “funny animal” artists. He has been around a long time, as a fan and as a writer, producer and production assistant in the film industry, and no one currently in the furry fandom has ever heard of him :(. One of the founders of the Graymuzzle Facebook community is also working on a book (Grubbs Grizzly). Rodney suggested (years ago) doing a “Furry for Dummies” book, which would be easier for us, since those books are usually a series of topical essays, with lots of illustrations. We could even have content from other contributors. Will it actually happen? I can’t say…
The coffee table book sounds interesting. One of my dreams was to have a (or perhaps several) real furry art gallery shows, in legitimate galleries/museums. I did arrange and curate a large animation art show at the university I attended in 1975. It was one of the largest shows of it’s kind, with more studios and artist represented then ever before. Rod also arranged some gallery shows with an art association in the Santa Ana artist village, with opening planned for the monthly Art Walk. The shows were small, as it was very difficult to get artists to contribute, but the events were well received and got a lot of local press. I think furry art as a genre includes some of the most beautiful illustrative art produced today. A show in a museum environment (not a sales situation) could include some incredible pieces from several personal collections (like ours).
Thanks again to Mark and be sure to check out confurence.com.
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