Interview: Dr. Samuel Conway aka Uncle Kage, CEO of Anthrocon
Four days of fun, over 5,000 attendees, a record breaking parade, and more than $20,000 in donations raised for Hello Bully. Yeah, you may have heard a thing or two about the Furries being in town, that’s because Anthrocon 2012 just took place in Pittsburgh for the 7th straight year. Then again, some of you might not have a clue what that means, so we met with the leader of the pack Dr. Samuel Conway (he has his own Wikipedia page) to reveal some of the mysteries behind Furry Fandom and it’s role in the Burgh.
Uncle Kage, we finally meet! Please introduce yourself to our readers…
Hello right back! My name is Dr. Samuel Conway, Chairman and CEO of Anthrocon, Inc. I have been known in Furry Fandom as “Uncle Kage” (pronounced with a hard ‘G’) since about 1994.
Can you tell us a little bit about Anthrocon?
Anthrocon is the world’s largest convention dedicated to cartoon animals. Our more than 5,000 members are made up of artists, costumers, animators, illustrators, writers, performers, and many folks who are simply fascinated by the idea of animals being able to walk and talk as we do. We come from all over the country and all over the world, some from as far away as Australia and Japan, and we come from all ages from zero to ninety. Our membership is made up of just about anyone you would find walking along Grant Street at a given time: students, teachers, scientific professionals, tradesmen, doctors, lawyers, firefighters, police officers, members of the military, secretaries, executives, government officials… the list goes on and on.
How did the convention end up being held in Pittsburgh?
Very simply put: they asked us. Anthrocon was looking for room to expand, having outgrown the affordable facilities in its home town of Philadelphia. Pittsburgh invited us out, and once we got a look at the city, there was no going back. We find the people to be unbelievably friendly and inviting and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center is perfect for our purposes. Pittsburgh is possibly the only city in the nation that can literally throw its arms around you and give you a hug.
Do you have to wear a costume to attend the con?
Absolutely not! Costuming is only one facet of what we are all about. Only about 20% of our attendees even own a costume (or “fursuit” as we like to call them), but since they tend to be the most visible, people easily get the impression that ours is a costuming convention.
How can one get into being a Furry?
That’s like saying, “How can one get into being a coin collector?” You start by picking up a shiny penny off the sidewalk. Being a Furry is not something that requires any particular attendance in events or investment in merchandise. I have often said that if you talk to your cats and believe even for a minute that they care about what you are saying, you are probably a Furry.
Now, many Furries who live close to one another will often host small get-togethers that are affectionately known as “furmeets.” These are advertised on the internet, usually on local furry message boards. A particular favorite, for mysterious reasons, are Furry bowling events. Local Furry groups can often be located by visiting wikifur.com. Pittsburghers may wish to start at pa-furry.org, the Pennsylvania Furry internet group.
Where could a Pittsburgher or anyone else go to find fur?
Do you mean fur to build a fursuit? There are many national fabric store chains that can provide fake fur, and many websites devoted to teaching others the art of constructing a fursuit.
So most of the fursuits are handmade?
Almost every fursuit is handmade and every design is unique. Pre-made “off the rack” suits are quite uncommon. The great majority are either designed and built by their wearers, or are commissioned from professional fursuit-makers based on reference sketches and other specifications provided by the commissioner. It is a highly personal thing. Wearing a fursuit is not as simple as putting on a costume. These people are creating the image of a character when they wear their suits, so the design — and the personality that is to be projected — must be perfect.
How do they come up with the concept?
That is part of being a Furry. Furries are among the most creative, most imaginative, most inventive people on the face of the planet. Anyone can say “I want a dalmation costume,” but a Furry is not likely to settle for a generic dalmation. He will have a detailed mental image of the character and will try to capture that image in the suit design. He’ll decide if the character is muscular or slim, whether his face is “toony” (cartoonish, that is) or serious, whether he wears glasses and what type they are, whether he has a visible scar, what he will wear (is he a raver? A firefighter in bunker gear?), the pattern of his spots. All these things are carefully crafted with the same amount of detail that a Mickey Mouse costume would be given. Change one tiny facet and the costume ceases to be Mickey, and is just another run-of-the-mill mouse.
- Anthrocon’s message boards have a whole section devoted to Fursuit making, and there are dozens of links therein to getting started – check it out
It sounds expensive…
It is only as expensive as you want it to be. One does not need a fursuit or attend a convention to be a Furry; all one needs is imagination. Attending a convention can get a little expensive depending on one’s travel needs and tastes. A fursuit, if that is what someone really wants, can be as cheap as a few hundred dollars or upwards of $10,000+.
How do you keep your fur clean when you’re not in it?
Personally, I have no fur to keep clean. Most fursuiters wash their suits by hand, although some are sturdy enough to be machine-washed. Traditionally they are hung to dry and sprayed with a mild disinfectant to keep them from getting musty in storage.
What is a handler and does every Furry need to have one?
A handler is a non-costumed person who accompanies a fursuiter out into public. The same thing is done with professional mascots at amusement parks. It is often advisable to have someone who can watch over the fursuiter and shoo away any people with cups of coffee, and particularly any annoying tail-pullers (who can easily destroy a $15,000 costume with a single yank and stand there and laugh while they do it). It is particularly useful if there are small children about. Handlers have a whole lexicon of private verbal cues to give to a fursuiter to let him or her know that there is a 2-foot-tall person below vision range. It helps minimize the tripping hazard.
Only a fursuiter needs one. If a Furry without a costume needs one, he’s probably spent too much time at Tonic.
Would the Pirate Parrot or Iceburgh be welcome at Anthrocon, or, are they not furry enough?
They are anthropomorphic animals, so of course they would be welcome! Steely McBeam? Well, he’s not really an animal, but Furries are a very welcoming group, so we would never turn him away.
Furries vs. Zombies: who would win?
Furries, most definitely. I suspect that 90% of us have read Brooks’ “Zombie Survival Guide,” but only a very few zombies have read anything about furries.
Where is the most Furry-friendly hangout in the Burgh?
Up until this year it would be Fernando’s Cafe, but since he’s going to be moving to other ventures it would be a tossup between Hanlon’s Cafe and Tonic, right there on Liberty. People have gotten used to seeing our folks lining up outside of Bob Hanlon’s door, or packing into the bistro tables on the sidewalk outside of Tonic.
Do you think Pittsburgh is boring?
It’s never been boring when I’ve been there!