All about 'furry fandom' at confab

Attendees feel the draw is often misunderstood

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Sure, in New York City, the guy in the 6-foot raccoon outfit might not really stand out.

But this is Pittsburgh.

Yesterday there were a lot of guys, and gals, too, in an assortment of animal costumes walking along Penn Avenue and 10th Street, Downtown. Some were just sporting tails that came out of the back of their pants. Many were wearing headpieces with fox ears. Others wore fake paws instead of sneakers.

The 10th Annual Anthropomorphics Convention, or Anthrocon, is in town this weekend, at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. It's the convention's first year in Pittsburgh, but the city could become the group's annual gathering spot, according to Anthrocon Chairman Samuel Conway of Malvern, Chester County.

Mr. Conway, who also goes by the name Uncle Kage, is nervous when reporters come around. Many of the 2,400 registered attendees were also skittish. In the past, they have been portrayed as people who like to dress up as animals to have sex with each other. They were burned first in Vanity Fair in 2001, when they were painted as a bunch of weirdos, then later in a couple of newspapers and most recently on the television show "CSI."

"That's so far from the truth, it's laughable," he said, not laughing.

Mr. Conway said it's not about sex, it's about being a fan.

"When you're young, you find friends in the cartoon characters and as adults we never forget our old friends. ... Look at Aesop's Fables. He used animals to tell stories with human meaning. That was the beginning of Furry fandom."

According to its Web site, Anthrocon offers workshops and seminars in acting, costume-building, animation, writing, and art and design, among others.

At this year's convention, Karl Jorgensen, 37, of Leesburg, Va., was assigned to accompany reporters wherever they went. No questions could be asked of people in fur suits or those wearing ears without Mr. Jorgensen standing nearby.

Sure, there were some aspects of the convention that were X-rated. One booth had art tucked inside a black binder that noted, "Adults Only.''

Mr. Jorgensen, who appreciates art in which animals are given human characteristics, kept trying to steer reporters to the table for the Western Pennsylvania Wildlife Orphanage, a charity supported by the conventioneers.

There was a room where guys wearing furry fox tails played video games. In the exhibit hall, vendors sold T-shirts, masks, headbands with ears attached, tails and comic books. There were also pictures of animals depicted in human form.

Most of the registered attendees did not wear full animal costumes, just hats or tails or ears.

Clarke Braudis, 36, of Norwood, Mass., was an exception, fully outfitted as Dex the raccoon. A professional magician, Mr. Braudis said he likes to dress in costume because of the delight it brings to others.

He said he got his first taste of wearing an animal costume when he needed some cash and worked at Chuck E. Cheese's. It was a good way to escape from everyday life.

Juliette "Babs Bunny" Magera, 29, of Columbus, Ohio, dressed as "Arctic Fox'' to dance at the convention.

"After the con is over, we go back to our regular lives," she said.

"But we're a little bit happier," added Chaz Wolf, 29, of Du Bois, Clearfield County. That's his real name, by the way.

V.W.H. Campbell, Post-Gazette
A person dressed as a zebra browses in the exhibit hall of the convention center, Downtown, where he and several other furry-types took part in the 10th Annual Anthropomorphics Convention, or Anthrocon, this weekend.
Click photo for larger image.

Ann Belser can be reached at abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.


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