A brief history of the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization, America’s first anime fan club — by Sy Sable
by Dogpatch Press Staff
Sy Sable co-founded the first furry con and helped grow a new worldwide furry fandom, with 1970’s roots in a small clubhouse in Los Angeles.
On 4/4/2020, Sy Sable (Mark Merlino) sent this brief history of the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization, founded in 1977. His story comes from recent message trading with someone interested in the C/FO and those involved. He couldn’t connect her to people out of contact for over 20 years, but he could tell how the club started.
Today, there’s a worldwide network we could call capital-F Furry fandom, but some key founders were “proto-furries” who met at the C/FO. The club introduced new and unusual imported Japanese anime that was starting to reach America through rare home video tech. Club members loved anime for featuring adult, science fiction and action themes unlike 1970’s American animation aimed at kids (then dominated by studios like Hanna-Barbera.) There was a lot of “giant robot” anime, but certain fans preferred to combine adult themes plus traditional “funny animal” comics and animation that eventually spun off their own, new hybrid fandom.
Sy was a founder who went on with partner Rod O’Riley to host 1980’s science fiction convention room parties, then ConFurence in 1989, and longstanding monthly parties at The Prancing Skiltaire in Southern California (when not under quarantine in 2020). The C/FO had other chapters and there were other fan groups, but this is a major root. Another founder, Fred Patten, wrote about the C/FO in How Home Video Created Anime Fandom — or check Fred’s review of Joe Strike’s Furry Nation history book that covers this. (Fred was also a writer with Jerry Beck, East Coast C/FO chapter founder and animation historian, tying in much more history.) Sy says: “This is from my perspective and drops names something fierce… but it IS my personal take on things.” ( – Patch)
In the early 1970’s, Star Trek fandom led to fan introductions through Loscon, the LASFS, and ASIFA Hollywood.
Here is how it happened, from the beginning. I attended a Star Trek convention in the 70’s with a friend. I had no previous experience with fan conventions and I was amazed. They had recreated the bridge of the Enterprise, and it was even better than the actual set. It was not made for money, nor for a production, it was built just because they were fans. They eventually used that set (which could be dismantled and moved, unlike the real set) to film promotions for the syndicated TV Star Trek show (and some commercials). The point is that this was my introduction to the concept of fandom.
I discovered that there were several fan conventions (science fiction and comics, mainly) happening in my area during any year. I went to Equicon/Filmcon which was a fan ran media convention in LA, and volunteered as a projectionist. I ended up running the department. Back then, if you wanted to screen science fiction films, you had to rent 16MM films from places. This is how I got into screening films for fans. It turned out that one of the oldest (literary) science fiction fan clubs in the US was in Los Angeles (started in the 1930’s). The Los Angeles Science Fiction Society (LASFS) met in their own permanent club house in Burbank every Thursday night. That club had an annual convention, Loscon (2 years old at that point).
I have always been a fan of animation, starting with Disney films (when I was a child) and later including anything animated; Hosted TV shows that showed early theatrical cartoons, even from Europe and the USSR, early animated shows made for TV (basically TV comic strips, they had so little animation) and shows from Japan that were translated for US TV. Amazing 3, Astroboy, Gigantor, Kimba the White Lion, Speed Racer, Marine Boy, etc. When I was in college and the university, I pursued my interest by tracking down existing animation studios and actually met many of the greats, including Tex Avery, Walter Lance, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, and more modern well known creators like Ralph Bakshi. I made friends with a background painter at UPA, Ron Diaz, and he introduced me to others in the industry and in ASIFA Hollywood, the local chapter of the International Animated Film Society (the letters are out of order since the organization was founded in France).
From ASIFA Hollywood, I met Wendell Washer, a story board artist for Filmation — and some of his friends, including Judy Niver (also an animator) — and Robin Leyden (a special effects contractor) who was also a fan of Japanese animation and had some B&W video tapes of Astroboy, which had been off the air for many years. Wendell was also very interested in animation, and a collector. He had a Sony Umatic VCR (3/4″ cassette, broadcast equipment). He was recording animation off TV, including shows from Japan that were broadcast on UHF stations in Southern California on Japanese local networks. The shows were recent productions from Japan, 16 MM film that had burned-in subtitles produced by Kiku TV in Hawaii. I had been watching these shows myself, and I was amazed that someone was keeping copies. I had a Umatic VCP (player), and on the last day of Loscon (1972 I believe), I happened to have the player in my car, along with some of Wendall’s tapes of Uusha Raideen and Getta Robo G.
At Loscon, I set up the player with a TV in a meeting room at the hotel and began showing the tapes. Eventually we had about 20 people watching, and really enjoying the episodes. (Including SF authors Larry Niven and Jerry Pournell.) Fred Patten was also there. When we were asked to leave the meeting room, we moved the rig to the Dead Dog room party and continued the screening. Afterward, Fred asked me how many episodes and shows I had, and I told him about Wendell’s collection.
Fred suggested we have an “informal” screening at the LASFS clubhouse every month. The 2nd Saturday was available, so I hauled my TV (they didn’t have one, being a “book club”) and Umatic VCP, and the monthly screenings began.
The weasel mascot for the club was named Fanta. She was a skiltaire, an alien race created by Mark Merlino. Merlino was also known as Sylys Sable, the co-founder of the first furry convention ConFurence in 1989. pic.twitter.com/WQpk02WYHl
— City Pop Possum (@KaiserBeamz) May 29, 2019
Starting the C/FO for anime screenings and importing rare videos from Japan.
At some point (in 1977), we had managed to add material to our screenings, thanks to Marc Kausler, an animator and film collector. People with contacts in Japan began trading tapes with other fans. By that time I had my own VCR (a Sanyo V-Cord II, because it had still frame and slow-motion features, which no other consumer VCR had), and I began making copies for our (my) own video library. In May (I believe) Wendall, Judy, Robin, Fred and I met in a park near Judy’s house and decided to become the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization. I remember the weird name was Fred’s idea (but he later denied it). The reason it was called “cartoon-fantasy” is because they (not me) believed that the term “animation” was too “insider” for typical fans, though everyone knew about “cartoons”. The “fantasy” part was because we were also getting live-action adventure shows from Japan (like Ultraman, Spiderman (Jp), Tiger Mask and many 5 member “transforming ninja” team shows), which were also popular at our screenings.
After a couple of years Fred told us that the LASFS did not want to host our screenings. He said it was because they could no longer guarantee our 2nd Saturday dates (but I suspect that it was because the club was always anti-media. It was a “literary” club, after all.) Judy Niver suggested we could move to the Animator’s Union Hall (Teamsters), in North Hollywood, and they eagerly agreed to host us. The meetings continued for a couple of years at the hall, including two visits from Dr. Osamu Tezuka and some young animation students from Japan. We even had the first (non-film festival) screening of “Cleopatra, Queen of Sex”, Tezuka’s soft-porn animated feature. It was here that Robin Leyden presented Tezuka with the statue of Astroboy he had made as a gift. At some point Judy decided she was not interested in the club and we had to move again.
The Prancing Skiltaire youtube channel is curated by Changa Lion, who also runs the ConFurence Archive for vintage materials of the C/FO and more.
For a year or so after leaving the Union hall, we met at the home of Louise Hitchcock, who had set her place up as a pub, with a large meeting room and game room. (Louise and I became a couple for a few years, and that is when we had two skiltaires as co-mascots, based on her and I). We searched for a new venue, and a fellow LASFS fan and friend who had a dance studio in Inglewood volunteered his place (in the Youtube video above). The C/FO met there for a long time, passing it’s 20th anniversary at that location. We have guests like Fred Ladd, creator of the US Gigantor and Kimba, and the founders of the first US TV producers of Giant Robot and SF Japanese shows.
During all this, I began organizing (myself) screening rooms (using video tape) at various science fiction and comic conventions. I had a lot of problems with some of the convention organizers who claimed I was a “pirate” and would get the convention in trouble for showing “copyrighted” material. Though at the same time, they wanted to add my videos to the convention programming! I was not just showing anime, I was also showing classic cartoons, SF films and TV shows like the comedy SF show Quark (which nobody claimed at that point). Fred suggested that these screenings were “sponsored by the C/FO”, and some were labeled that way.
At the time, I developed a set of rules to protect myself from possible problems with copyright I called “Catch 33” (a pun on the famous WWII story Catch 22). It goes like this: If the video screening room is not promoted in any convention literature, then the video screening room cannot be considered a way to attract attendees. If the video screening room is not a part of the convention program, and takes place in a room open to anyone that happens to be in the hotel, then people are not “paying” to see the screening (you don’t need a con badge to be in the video room). There may be a printed schedule for the room, but it is only available at the con information desk, and also posted outside the video room. These rules worked. In the 20+ years I organized video screening rooms, I (nor the convention organizers) were ever bothered by anyone about copyright or “public screening” problems. At Worldcon Phoenix in 1978, I had an agent from the film security board (looking for bootleg video tapes bring sole in the dealer’s room) in my screening room enjoying the videos, and his colleagues had to come find him. They gave me no trouble.
So, there you have it, the history of the C/FO, according to me. Of course I left stuff out, but this is how it happened based on my personal recollection. There are still active chapters of the C/FO — Los Angeles and San Diego I believe — and maybe even regular screenings.
I hope you enjoyed this personal history of the first US anime club.
– Mark (Sy)
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