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Anthrocon Brings Furries to Town for 10th Year

Jun 30, 2016 08:56AM ● Published by Vanessa Orr

Gallery: Anthrocon [15 Images] Click any image to expand.

If you’ve ever been downtown in early July, you might have been surprised to find yourself standing in line behind a neon-blue wolf at a convenience store, or dining beside a pride of lions during dinner. But most people don’t even blink an eye anymore when the furries come to town—something they’ve been doing for the past 10 years.

These costumed characters are just one aspect of Anthrocon, the world’s largest convention dedicated to the art of cartoon animals. “At last count, there were 60 or more conventions of this type throughout the world, but I’ve never seen the kind of reaction that we get in Pittsburgh,” explained organizer Samuel Conway, Ph.D., whose alter-ego is a Samurai cockroach called Kagemushi, from which he obtains his nickname, Uncle Kage.

“Normally, when you see a six-foot raccoon walking down the street, you run into your house and lock the door,” he laughed. “But the people of Pittsburgh took to us right away; they rolled out the red carpet. Since then, we’ve become something of a Pittsburgh institution; the furries and the town are deeply intertwined.”

Nowhere was this more obvious than at last year’s convention, when the group decided to hold an outdoor parade. “According to VisitPittsburgh, about 5,000 people showed up to see us and cheer us on,” said Conway, “and we were worried that nobody would come!”

About 20 percent of Anthrocon attendees dress up in furred costumes, or about 1,500 of those who attend the convention. The event itself brings more than 7,000 attendees to town, pumping about $5 million into Pittsburgh’s economy. In addition to the parade, the convention features luminaries who are famous in the animation industry, workshops, panel discussions, art shows, a dealers’ room and more. 

While many people may have an appreciation of cartoon animals, it wasn’t until the advent of the Internet that this modern furry fandom exploded. “Imaginative people used to go to their local sci-fi conventions, where they developed an interest in artists who liked to draw anthropomorphic characters,” explained Conway. “They became fans, but it was still localized. Then came the Internet, and artists no longer had to show up at a hotel to show their work; they could now reach across the country and the world to connect with folks. 

“Last time I looked, we had members from 34 different countries and every state in the union except Montana,” he continued, adding that furries come from all walks of life and include college professors, police officers, scientists, military personnel, laborers, bus drivers and more. 

Speaking of art, those costumes that attract so much attention aren’t exactly off-the-rack purchases. “Every one of them is handmade; they are not so much costumes as artwork you can wear,” said Conway. “Many of the wearers work with artists to design their outfits, which are made out of top-of-the-line materials. It can cost between $600 and $1,000 just in materials alone—and then it’s up to the wearer to bring that character to life.”

One of the biggest worries at Anthrocon, in fact, is keeping everyone alive while wearing full fur suits in the city in the middle of the summer. “These outfits can be extremely hot—we put a thermocouple into the head of a fur suit, and in 60 seconds, the temperature reached 130 degrees,” said Conway.

“Still, people do it for the joy of it,” he added. “It’s fun to make other people smile.”

This year’s Anthrocon convention began June 30 and will last until July 3. While the convention is limited to attendees, the public can feel free to come downtown to visit with the furries during the parade on Saturday, or to just hang out with them around town.

For MORE information, visit www.anthrocon.org.

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