I draw a comic strip that uses anthropomorphic animals as the characters. This puts my stuff under the umbrella of "Furry Comics."
I'm not entirely comfortable with this designation, because while "anthro" characters have been around for over a century and are nearly ubiquitious--everything from Mickey Mouse through Pogo and Bugs Bunny, to Snoopy, Garfield, and My Little Pony qualifies--the label "Furry" has acquired some unpleasant connotations among the general population, due to a few over-sensationalized representations in the media.
Most of us know about Furries, and most of us believe we know why Furries top the Icks Factor list--because these are grown men (mostly) dressing as cuddly stuffed animals and getting some kind of psychosexual gratification from it. And as some Furries play characters of the opposite sex, it hints at two of modern man's worst taboos--gender ambiguity and bestiality, with an unhealthy dose of immaturity on the side.
However, this isn't the whole picture. There's something about "being a Furry" that defies conventional logic. I'm not sure whether the Furries themselves quite know why an otherwise harmless interest in animal-themed cartoons can become an obsession that other people look upon as a deviancy.
Not all people who consider themselves "Furries" are fursuiters. They enjoy the comics, the movies, and the artwork, and they may even attend a convention or two--sometimes even wearing animal ears or tails--but they don't own a costume. It's this category--the costumers, the ones who are so involved in the genre that they want to bring their character to "life"--that attract most of the unpleasant attention from the media. They both fascinate and repel us.
In a way, I wish I had more chops in the field of psychology, because the motivations behind the desire to wear a fursuit intrigue me.
Why do Furries disturb people? Usually, Furries are pretty friendly, just out to have fun. And it's not like they're the sole beings participating in this practice. Theme parks and businesses often employ people dressed up as critters to draw in business and entertain children. Sports teams have costumed mascots to act as cheerleaders and stir up enthusiasm at games, and many fursuiters also act as local mascots. But most of them create their own personas, make their costumes, or have them made at great expense, and go to gatherings of like-minded people in order to "become" their alter-egos.
Human beings admire animals. They possess a grace and power that we envy. We name our cars and our sports teams after animals. Animal-print fabrics are a hot design trend. We use animal-based metaphors in our speech every day, usually to describe some positive characteristic--he's as strong as an ox, he's a regular stallion in bed, that one's a bit cocky, she has beautiful doe eyes, she's a real fox. We think nothing of these analogies, because men have long tried to capture a sort of totemistic animal magic by donning the skins or horns of animals. It's a habit that goes back to the dawn of time. There's a cave painting called "The Magician" of a guy in a deer costume, and the Horned God, Cernunnos, was a very powerful Celtic diety. From Greek mythology we have Pan, the Minotaur, the Centaurs, and other primal nature spirits who were depicted as half-man, half-animal.
So are Furries--who are usually rather timid, socially awkward young men outcast from their peer group--attempting to capture some kind of "animal magic" for themselves, by taking on the persona of a cool, powerful animal? You'll see a lot of wily foxes, strong lions, cunning and noble wolves, and don't-bother-me-sucker skunks at any Furry Convention.
And is this phenomena encouraged by the welter of animal-themed comics and cartoons of the 20th century? Would we be seeing Furries if Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse had never existed? Is being a furry a sequelae of the extended adolescence most people seem to be enjoying? Did Maurice Sendak realize what he was starting when he put Max in a wolf costume and sent him to "Where The Wild Things Are?"
I've been dying to ask some fursuiting cadre these questions, but I always hesitate because I don't wish to hurt their feelings by saying, "So have you weirdos ever really thought about why you spend thousands of dollars dressing up like plushies?" I've covertly dropped hints and fielded suggestions in number of Furry forums, but nobody's ever answered. And because it can be a very sensitive question, I don't push the issue. These folks are, after all, my comic strip's fans.
Then again, the nearest to a real reply I ever got was from one guy who took a few days off from his duties as a nuke tech aboard an aircraft carrier to attend Anthrocon, the premier fursuit convention in Pittsburgh, PA, and a friend loaned him a costume so he could march in the parade. He said it was exhilirating. I've met this guy. He's not at all like the "deviant furball" profile the media likes to put out there. He just simply had a blast.
In fact, I know several guys who own fursuits. They're mostly harmless. You'd probably like them if you met them.
But that's just the thing. There's a sort of mental barrier preventing regular people from wanting to know anything more about the guys inside the costumes. The perception is that this is a weird hobby, and so anyone participating in it, has got to be weird, too. And it does not help the Furries' case that there *is* an awful lot of sexual-themed Furry art out there.
I've heard some folks say that they're free to be goofy while inside the costume, which is pretty much standard for any cosplay. But fursuits are incredibly hot, stuffy, smelly, and offer extremely limited visibility. Some guys have to be led around by a spotter. So I guess at the end of it, these are socially awkward people who are able to assume a different persona in order to be more sociable. Yet at the same time, they're creeping mundanes out.
If they dressed up as human characters, people would smile. Halloween is an immensely popular holiday, precisely because it permits people to put on a new persona for a little while, and act out their "inner self." Everyone loves pirates, right? Everyone loves princesses, and even fairies can be cute, so long as they don't exceed the weight limit. But there's an element of immaturity to fursuiting, because of the subject matter being cartoon characters, and when you combine that childish image with the psycho-sexual aspect that some Furries seem to enjoy exhibiting, it further freaks people out.
But then is it really fair to single Furries out for scorn? Keep in mind that there are plenty of other wackadoodles out there in different genres. Not so very long ago, Trekkies held a similar position in the public disdain, and for many of the same reasons. Every fandom has its eccentrics and extremists, and because they're more visible, they are the ones who attract the attention of the media and give the rest of the fandom a bad name. Liking "Star Trek" is OK, but getting married by a priest dressed as a Klingon, or having a full-on in-costume "Princess Bride" wedding, or learning to speak Elvish, crosses that very fine line between "I like this, I'm doing it for a lark" and "I am Tantor Krog, Warrior of Barsoom..."
And to take this one step further...is it so different to dress up like a mascot, or to attend the game dressed in one's favorite team's uniform, with one's face painted up, and an enormous foam glove on one's hand? Or to decorate one's home with memorbilia of one's favorite stock-car driver? Or to have images of cows or horses or ducks in every room? After all, the word "fan" is a contraction of the word "fanatic." Personally, I think that there are many other trends out there that are way more disturbing than Furries--over-enthusiastic big-game hunters, and the Zombie Apocalypse crowd, to name a few. At least the Furries aren't all wound up about killing things.
So--what do you think? Anyone got any opinions? Or personal experiences? Sound off below!