I notice the air getting very thin when I’m in a discussion with cartoonist peers and the subject of furries is brought up (oftentimes by myself and my friend, the glass of wine), filling the vacant atmosphere like a silent fart. To the sub-culturally literate who know and love to hate us, we are mad, shallow tacky perverts; aesthetically handicapped loser-kin often more adept at creating elaborate webs of internet drama than art, stories or comics of any value to people outside of the fandom. This is a half-truth.
There are artists working within and at the margins of the furry subculture producing spectacularly daring, inventive, funny, hyper-aware fiction who nevertheless feel deeply insecure about associations with such a maliciously misunderstood subculture. There aren’t many works in the canon of respectable comics which feature anthropomorphism in furry style ™. Instead of majestic, inventive comics like Krazy Kat, furry style was initially shaped (as an offshoot of science-fiction fandom in the early 80s) by admiration for Disney cartoons (Robin Hood, woof!) and advertising mascots. Our foundational sensibility is gene-spliced super-soldier pulp paperbacks, Tex Avery and the naive dom/sub sexuality of old Fox and Crow funnybook covers. And those comics suuuuuuuuuuuucked. Sucked the paint off a barn. The vicious aside about funny animal comics near the end of Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay stings all the more bitterly because woe, it is so so true.
So this link showed up today in my Comics Reporter feed, and I guess I might have more to say about this later. (Go read the rest of it for the time being; dude has some sharp things to say about Blacksad that point out the dangers of a clumsily written work being held up as a masterpiece by a subculture desperate for legitimization.) Suffice it to say that if I ever get to the point where I’m ready to start talking about wanting to draw comics on a regular basis again, much less actually post some of my work, I’m going to have to publicly come to terms with the fact that I was caught up in this furry scene back in the ’90s. I had to get out, largely for the “deeply insecure about associations” thing mentioned here; it didn’t help that my main reaction to defending my deeply corny but non-fetishistic anthro work back then was to constantly lash out against the kinds of sexually-charged artists I didn’t want to be mistaken for or grouped with. This made me look like a joyless, combative asshole inside the fandom and still tainted by association with the group outside of it, so I wound up in a sort of no-man’s-land and gave up trying to connect with anyone on a level more advanced than constantly defensive self-consciousness when it came to my work. For the last dozen years of disassociating myself from the idea of being a cartoonist I figured I should just shove it into the background as an embarrassing transitory phase in my life and hope nobody cared.
The problem is that it’s something I want to start doing again — not just drawing comics in general, but drawing a specific comic concept based around an anthropomorphic cast of characters. I’m pretty sure one of the primary motivations for this is some deranged urge to prove to somebody or another that my teen-years enthusiasms actually weren’t pathetic fandom wank. I get the feeling this was helpfully spurred by a series of revelations I got — somewhere chronologically between the canonization of Achewood and this post by fellow disillusioned-funny-animal-cartoonist-turned-music-critic Jonathan Bogart — that anthropomorphism is only as embarrassing and untouchable a concept as an individual work’s creator wants it to be, and no amount of geek-hierarchy high-school lunchroom bullshit should have any say in whether a work is fundamentally corrupt based solely on that one association.
But, y’know, easier said than done. Since part of my work and my primary internet presence involves trying to convince people I’m cool enough to be trusted when I say some trendy new indie record is worth listening to or whatever, I’m wondering what the repercussions of my admitting this will be. I’ve read everywhere that you should Just Be Yourself Because The Geeks Have Won, at least in a world where Joss Whedon and Peter Jackson call the billion-dollar shots. But even with that in mind, knowing that I used to and kind of still want to work in the margins of a subculture that stands as one of the last unquestioned examples of the Untouchably Uncool — one that even Wes Anderson, multiple Academy Award-winners, Bill Ghostbustin’ Ass Murray and the man who wrote “Common People” couldn’t make acceptably trendy — seems like a whole world of problems just waiting to happen. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll learn the finer points of the long-elusive Fuck What They Think philosophy a lot more quickly.
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