Review – Furry Nation: The true story of America’s most misunderstood subculture, by Joe Strike.
by Patch O'Furr
Furry Nation: The true story of America’s most misunderstood subculture, by Joe Strike.
Cleis Press, October 2017, paperback $17.95 (288 pages), Kindle $10.99.
Here’s what I wrote for a cover blurb:
Like herding cats, gathering the history of furry fandom has been called impossible. Furries love impossible things, so this is long overdue. I’m happy to say it was worth the wait. Joe Strike puts solid ground under the legs of the Furry Nation – genre, subculture, and yes, even kink – with his experience of watching it grow. This book is for original 1980’s fans, new ones looking back, and outsiders drawn to the weird coolness of talking animals. There’s many ways to get into it, but this is a unique view of how furries are breaking out.
Joe’s book isn’t the perfect bible for everyone – but expecting that from one book is unrealistic. It’s just the kind of book that comes from a devout fan, and that’s why I recommend it.
I’ll summarize some reaction to the news that this book will exist: “It’s gonna suck! Who is Joe Strike?” – I knew who Joe was before I knew he was a furry, from his animation journalism. He does scriptwriting and his own comic too. He brings us a history that can live beyond bit-rot, supported by a firmly established publisher. Cleis has a 36-year history as “the largest independent sexuality publishing company in the United States.” It’s smart to focus on the word independent, which means open-minded support from the first ones to take the chance.
Let me get something out of the way.
You can’t have one bible if there’s a problem of basic definitions. This one should be standard: Furry fandom is “1 part genre fandom, 1 part DIY sub/counterculture, and 1 part kink community.” (Equivamp said it and I’ve been loving it ever since.) In Joe’s Preface, he embraces this trinity with no apologies… perhaps to the shock of those who claim “it’s just fandom, we don’t support the porn”. (I’ll suggest that anything less than the full story is a lie.)
Joe weaves the parts together seamlessly. There’s smooth logic in the introduction to the concept of anthropomorphism. It mentions earthy mythology, like the god Zeus’s sexual encounter with Leda as a swan. That isn’t disposable titillation; it’s cultural DNA. Joe goes on to say that furries aren’t modern overgrown children, they’re rescuing furry from a “dungeon” of low culture to where it’s been banished. (Sure, some of us like dungeons, but who forged the bars?)
Stigma isn’t just the larger culture’s fault. There’s a fandom complex about it. Why not just admit furry porn is simply hot? Like junk food, you can say too much makes you sick, but don’t say it isn’t delicious. That’s a tastefully visible, yet not overdone vibe in the book, mostly in one chapter.
What you won’t notice is some infighting and filtering I heard about behind-the-scenes. That’s why some notable events from the early days can’t be fully credited. (Who really created Rowrbrazzle?) Cue the herding-cats analogy, and don’t blame Joe – blame stigma. Inclusion may rub some people the wrong way, so it may not be the furry book some want, but it’s the one we need.
Some chapter by chapter points.
- Furriness. Trickster animals like Coyote begat Bugs Bunny. “When we draw them or dress up like them, we’re claiming a little of that freedom for ourselves.” (p17). Some furs “identify with animals on a deeper level, with a growing awareness of a ravaged environment, and a way to distance ourselves from the humans who seem intent on destroying the planet; a sense of kinship with the natural world.” (p19) And “it’s also just fun to pretend you’re someone—or something—else. For some people it might be a Hollywood celebrity, a rock star, a superhero, a pro athlete or a business tycoon.” (p19) Animals are for uninhibited imagination.
- In on the Ground Floor. Joe found the fandom in 1988. Here’s why he has such a good perspective – he was a “proto furry” before knowing they existed, and watched things get started. Zines and anime brought fans together at first. There was an early connection when West Coast/San Diego Comic Con furry parties were brought to science fiction cons in the east.
- Biodiversity. Suiters catch the spotlight, but there’s many more ways to express furriness. Dr. Kathy Gerbasi of the Anthropomorphic Research Project/Furscience is interviewed. Anthrozoology inspired her and she was amazed to find a group for it. Joe talks about the personality of fursonas and how he found his. “No one is in charge of furry” and it’s not about degree of furriness, but about your unique expression. Joe talks about discomfort with Boomer the Dog and lets Boomer talk about being comfortable as himself.
- Founding Furs. At The Prancing Skiltaire house, Mark Merlino talks about early 1970’s sci-fi fandom with a gentle hippie vibe. Fred Patten talks about discovering anime with Mark, and funny-animal media. “Funny animal” comic books once thrived, went extinct, and came back as Saturday morning cartoons. Underground comix and APA fanzines sprouted up. Reed Waller and Steve Gallaci segue to the 1980’s indie comics boom and its stars like TMNT.
- Furry art – who does it and how. OK, does this make you want to know more? I wanted to summarize 14 chapters, but it’s too much, so enjoy the sample.
I started with Furry 101 definitions. It’s so boring to get nothing more than that from mainstream articles. Furry Nation thankfully has the room to flesh things out with cool trivia and Joe’s own experiences. He delivers good stories about asking furry questions with Hollywood directors – and getting his first fursuit and how it felt to wear.
Fursuiting brings up a dull complaint: “OMG, a fursuit is on the cover! They hog the spotlight!” But it doesn’t matter because this isn’t a bible. It could take overlapping books to dryly cover everything. This fandom is about personal passion, and everyone has a unique story of finding it and why they’re so devoted. What binds them is that feeling of “you too? I was a furry before I knew they existed!”
Personally, if I was going to ask for more, I wish Joe had covered a few more fandom entrepeneurs who turn their love into a job and more. The list could include some Hollywood-level furry creator, or the best cottage industry fursuit maker; maybe someone like EZ-Wolf and his cooling tech that’s been adopted by the military. There could be one or more of the furry specialty publishers. Then Bad Dragon (the biggest company), and Anthrocon (the biggest con.) Out of that list we get a chapter on Anthrocon.
For someone else, what’s missing is coverage of fandom publishing. (OK, I mean our star guest Fred Patten.) He told me:
I am most distressed to see that there’s virtually nothing about furry writing and book publishing. That’s certainly worth a chapter. There are two furry literary awards. Why is the topic omitted?
It’s a worthy topic (and Joe’s in that business). Now, go to a dealer den at a con – publishing has a presence, but expect only perhaps 2-3 such dealers at a large con. Look at the size of the Furry Writer’s Guild – it’s a niche inside a niche. Which brings me back to the niche of fursuiting (and why is that on the cover?)
A book may take a week to digest. That narrows audience a lot. But a fursuit puts a few grand of show value in a 2 second glance. Look at a fursuiter group photo from Anthrocon – it’s over $3 million in custom-designed, hand-made furry craft all in one picture. $3 million. You have to admit there isn’t anything else furry fans do, on their own without mainstream patronage, that approaches that level. That’s where the juice is in this fandom stuff.
It’s not really about suits or spotlight or money – it’s about that shared sense of “we made this”. Joe tells it like that. There should be more books to cover other ways to do it, but don’t miss this one.
- Buy Furry Nation on Amazon
- Book promo card:
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