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Getting into character: Navigating Anthrocon 2016

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Kate Koenig | Visual Editor

Kate Koenig | Visual Editor

Kate Koenig | Visual Editor

By Lexi Kennell / Staff Writer

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Having little to no prior knowledge of Furries, I strolled through a personal tour of Anthrocon 2016 with my mind open to the colorful and intricately designed animal suits around me.

Anthrocon is a not-for-profit organization that hosts an annual Furry convention in Pittsburgh. The convention was held in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center June 30 – July 3. Although Anthrocon started in Albany, New York in 1997, it has been in Pittsburgh since 2006. There are many other Furry conventions throughout the world, but with a 2015 attendance of 6,389, Anthrocon is the largest.

When I first arrived at the venue Sunday, John “K.P.” Cole, the Anthrocon programming director, escorted me through the entire layout of the convention, informing me about the event and Furry fandom along the way. As we ambled along, I was introduced to human-sized bunnies, wolves and foxes, as well as characters from popular video games and movies.

“We playfully call them ‘fursuiters’ as opposed to ‘cosplayers’ because most of the time they are all wearing fur and it’s a term we’ve used for 20-plus years,” Cole said.

“Anthrocon” is a condensed form of “anthropomorphic convention.” “Anthropomorphic” means “resembling the human form” and refers to objects or animals to which people assign human characteristics. The Furry fandom, the central point of Anthrocon, is a subculture with an interest in anthropomorphic fictional characters.

Dressed as an original otter-like character, Anthony Chase Gullikson identified himself as Bottle Rockett and said this was his third Anthrocon. Rockett, an acting major at Point Park University, said that he was not a Furry when he first attended and only went to see voice actor Jim Cummings, an American voice actor whose credits include “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “The Lion King” and “Winnie the Pooh.”

“I literally thought it was the weirdest thing and judged everyone,” Bottle Rockett said. “By the time I left the first Anthrocon in 2014, I had made so many friends and loved the atmosphere. That’s when I became a Furry.”

Since joining the Furry fandom, he has built one fursuit and is working on a second. He describes his suit as a “toony style” and a “digigrade,” meaning that the suit is padded to look like animal legs.

“When it comes down to it, we’re all just people who have this kind of strange interest,” Bottle Rockett said. “Anthrocon is an opportunity to be a completely unadulterated version of myself, and after the [convention], I try to continue that freedom I feel during the [convention].”

Lexi Kennell | Culture Writer

At first, I was skeptical of the whole thing — I found it odd that adults dress up as animals. I was also under the impression that animal costumes were the only attraction of the convention. But as Cole showed me more of the event, I viewed bits of an international dance competition, incredible artwork up for a charity auction, workshops, seminars and more.

Obviously there was more to this community.

The art for sale ranged from acrylic paintings on real feathers to woodcuts and sculptures. It all shared a common — but not exclusive — animal theme. Some pieces were in a cartoonish style, while others were more realistic, and bids on the pieces ranged from $15 to a few thousand dollars.

There was also an Art Show Mature Gallery and Auction Saturday, which included artwork featuring nude depictions of animals, fursuiters and characters. That section of the convention was only open to visitors 18 years or older and was all taken down by the following day.

Cole made it a point to mention that Anthrocon is family-friendly and has an “Under 18 Furs” event within the convention, specifically for children to play games and meet other Furry youths.

Anthrocon 2016’s theme was “Roaring Twenties” and there were three guests of honor: illustrator and graphic designer Tracy Butler, voice actor Trevor Devall and Disney animator Joaquin Baldwin. Baldwin and his husband displayed intricate 3D printing work and had prints featured in the art auction.

Throughout the tour, it became clear that fursuiters are not the only type of talented Furries in the fandom — there are also voice actors, animators, cartoonists, puppeteers, artists, illustrators, writers and even professional sports mascots.

Zia Tora, a 25-year-old dressed in tiger ears and a tail, says she has been a Furry for a while and that all attendees at Anthrocon are Furries.

“It’s not a requirement as a Furry to have a suit — just your own character and your imagination,” Tora said.

Cole informed me that some Furries make up their own characters while others take characters from video games or movies and tweak them to make them their own without infringing on copyrighted material. One such person wandered the galleries as a slightly altered version of Max Goof.

“[Anthrocon] is about being able to come together in person with a lot more of the community than just online communications,” Tora said, “There is so much freedom to be whatever type of character you want in the Furry community and it’s just so friendly and loving.”

Cole said that he has a few fursuits of his own and that each one is for a different part of his personality. According to him, some Furries use the fandom as a way to truly express who they are or who they want to be.

“There’s so much love here and, for a lot of people, this is one of the few times they feel okay being themselves,” Bottle Rockett said.

Although everyone I met made me feel accepted and welcome, I won’t be joining the fandom any time soon. But who am I to judge someone by the fluffiness of their tail?

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Getting into character: Navigating Anthrocon 2016