Furry Nation: The True Story of America’s Most Misunderstood Subculture, by Joe Strike – review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer
Furry Nation: The True Story of America’s Most Misunderstood Subculture, by Joe Strike. Illustrated.
Jersey City, NJ, Cleis Press, October 2017. Trade paperback, $17.95 ([ix +] 342 pages), Kindle $10.99.
Here it is! What we’ve all been waiting for! The book about furry fandom!
Full disclosure: I’m quoted by name on a back-cover blurb, and cited as “a founding father of furry fandom”.
Is it perfect? No, but it’s probably better than any of us could have written. I gave up writing a book “all about” furry fandom long ago. If I may be permitted a moment of “I told you so”, I told those who asked me to write such a book in the late 1990s that it would take me around ten years to fully research and write such a book. They turned from me to find someone else who could do it right away. They couldn’t.
Joe Strike has been in furry fandom since the 1980s. He has been working on Furry Nation for at least fifteen years. It’s full of both his own knowledge and the interviews that he conducted. He has interviewed not only all the earliest furry fans, and the current leaders of furry fandom – Mark Merlino, Rod O’Riley, Jim Groat, Mitch Marmel, Dr. Sam Conway, Boomer the Dog, leading furry artists like Heather Bruton and Kjartan Arnórsson, fursuit makers like Lance Ikegawa and Denali, academics like Dr. Kathy Gerbasi, and so on – but those outside the furry community who have impacted it. The writers of newspaper and TV news stories about furry fandom? He interviewed them. The executives of Pittsburgh’s tourist bureau? He interviewed them. The directors of TV programs and theatrical animation features that have used furry themes? He interviewed them.
What Furry Nation covers: a definition of furry fandom, the influences that gave rise to it back to prehistoric times, the history of how it started, profiles of the earliest furry fans, how the rise of the Internet affected it, a description of furry fandom in North America today, with emphasis on its conventions and a profile of Anthrocon in depth, its artists and furry art, its fursuits, its public perception, an acknowledgement of its seedier side, and how it has grown from a tiny, unnoticed subgroup to an important influence on popular culture today. The book has 189 footnotes throughout it. There are over two dozen photographs and samples of furry illustrations from the 1980s (early fanzines and Furry Party flyers) to the present.
Some chapters: The Many Flavors of Fur. A Fandom is Born. Pretty as a Picture: Furry Art. Together is Just What We’ve Got to Get: The Convention Age Begins. Walk a Mile in My Fursuit. I Read the News Today, Oy Vey. Anthrocon: The Convention that Conquered Pittsburgh.
What Furry Nation does not cover: furry fandom outside North America, and areas of furry creativity in addition to its fursuits and art, especially its literature: the furry specialty publishers, the novels and anthologies and collections, the furry writers’ organizations, and the literary awards. This is deliberate and really nobody’s fault. I can confirm personally that Strike interviewed me at length about furry literature. Allyson Fields, the Marketing Manager at Cleis Press, apologized that Strike’s manuscript was so huge that whole chapters had to be edited out. A look at the attractive but small book tells why: Furry Nation is only 5” x 7.9” wide, almost a pocket book (most standard hardcovers are 6” x 9” or slightly larger) but nearly 1” thick; bulging for its size.
The result has unfortunately reinforced the stereotype that furry fandom is primarily an American subculture, and that most furry fans are only interested in wearing fursuits, and drawing or collecting furry artwork. There are mentions still in the book of the furry conventions outside North America, and of activities besides the furry art and fursuits; but they are so small that they are easy to miss.
A further flaw is that, as Strike alludes to in his first chapter, “And quite a few people who enjoy anthro characters no longer call themselves furry […]” (p. 5) Specifically, a few people who were crucial or influential in starting furry fandom in the 1980s and 1990s refused to be interviewed for this book, or to answer any of Strike’s questions. I know personally of one who hopes that it fails. For potential legal reasons, they are not mentioned in Furry Nation. Yet they were very important furry fans twenty and thirty years ago. Any history of furry fandom that does not even mention them is badly flawed.
So what are the merits of Furry Nation (cover photograph of “Madelein the Lynx” fursuit head constructed by Temperance, by Temperance; cover designed by Scott Idleman/Blink)? It’s always flattering to read an entire book that presents a favorable picture of your self-adopted hobby or lifestyle; that pats ourselves on the back. (Or should that be, scritches our fur?) For the furry neofan who wonders when and how it all got started, here is the answer! For the adolescent fur whose parents want to know what furry fandom is before giving permission to go to that convention or to attend that rave, here is the book to give them.
The main physical drawback of Furry Nation is its small size and paperback nature. Libraries tend not to get such books, so you probably can’t refer anyone to it. If you want to show it to anyone, you may have to buy your copy, or show it on Kindle.
Joe Strike has said that if Furry Nation sells well, he will write a second book that contains all of the material cut from it: Furry Planet. So what are you waiting for? Get it now!!
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