Anthrocon 2007 draws thousands to Pittsburgh for furry weekend

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Lucky Coyote welcomes guests to the hotel

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — Local caterers get ready for big business, as almost three thousand fans converge on the David L. Lawrence Convention Center over the Independence Day weekend for the world's largest ever furry convention, Anthrocon 2007.

Many hope to renew acquaintances, or meet new friends. Others look to buy from dealers and artists, or show off new artwork or costumes. Some attend to make money, or even learn a thing or two. But one thing unites them: They're all there to have fun.

Costly expansion

Dealers fit easily into the larger venue

This year marks the second time this ten-year-old convention has been held in Pittsburgh. Members of the furry fandom have lived in the region for years, but prior to 2006 their annual gathering took place 300 miles to the east, in Philadelphia.

Fears of union rates kept the growing fan convention away from the Steel City for years, but Anthrocon ultimately outgrew all other options. The purchase and demolition by Target of its regular hotel, the Adams Mark, led to a cramped last-minute alternative for Anthrocon 2005. Convention leaders became determined to provide a better venue, no matter the cost.

And that cost is high. The convention hall alone runs to $24,000; A/V and labor costs nearly triple that before accounting for the main ballroom. The board of Anthrocon, Inc. seems to like the venue, though, and has booked it through 2009. Its chairman, Dr. Samuel Conway — better known in the furry world as "Uncle Kage" — seems determined to keep other fees to a minimum, taking time during the pre-con staff meeting to caution against last-minute extras.

Similar touches can be seen elsewhere; bag racks are shared with long-running sci-fi event Philcon, and spare paper is kept packed away for next year. It may seem like penny-pinching, but the results speak volumes: Anthrocon has kept in the black for the last three years.

Where does the money come from? Attendees pay from $35 to $50 depending on when they register - or perhaps nothing at all, if they worked as a volunteer last year. But that isn't quite enough to cover the costs.

It is Anthrocon's sponsors who make up the gap. Of the 2849 registered attendees, hundreds paid $90 or $175 for the privilege of faster registration, a convention t-shirt, and - for the 202 SuperSponsors - preferential seating and free food. This year the price includes a three-course luncheon with the convention's guests of honor; voice actor Rob Paulsen, Carolyn Kelly (daughter of Pogo artist Walt Kelly) and animation writer Mark Evanier.

Programming and entertainment

Voice actor Rob Paulsen tries to find the right words for Pinky during the Masquerade

Three courses may not sound like much, but for some con-goers the standard fare is cheese pizza and granola bars, consumed between the many panels, workshops and special events. The vast majority of programming is provided by fans, though guests are expected to pass on their experiences in return for accommodation and travel expenses. Tutorials on arts, crafts and fiction are the order of the day, though several more exotic events do stand out.

This year's Masquerade (where costumed fans perform skits for the audience) ended with the performers dancing with the audience in the aisles to the tune of the Time Warp. Earlier that day members of the Funday PawPet Show provided a ninety-minute puppet extravaganza. Comedy plays a significant large part in the lineup, with home-bred entertainers such as Matthew Davis (or "2, The Ranting Gryphon") doling out the laughs. Dr. Conway played a part with his Story Hour — a regular fixture involving personal tales with a humorous spin.

Anthrocon has historically held itself to three days of activities, though this year's holiday provided an excuse for many to arrive early. For some, the entertainment started early, too; Thursday night saw a staged reading of Furry Tales, a unofficial musical inspired by Anthrocon 2006. The cabaret found itself swamped by furry fans, and was well-received as a comedy, though Anthrocon board members had reservations about the show's accuracy. When its creators admitted not actually having attended a furry convention, Conway told them he "knew where there was one."

It was a good production, it was a nice story . . . but it was not quite our story.

Dr. Conway on Furry Tales

Convention leaders often find themselves having to explain things to those who have heard second-hand accounts. For example, while the fabled furpiles of CSI do exist, they're hardly the public orgy depicted — you'll find furs snuggling together, but conduct in lobby areas remains firmly PG.

As for the fursuits, there's no denying their popularity. Fursuits are similar in construction to mascot costumes used by companies, schools, and sports teams, however they are personal to the wearer. Surveys suggest that up to 15% of convention attendees have one, and Anthrocon 2007 is no exception, with 353 in the half-hour long Saturday parade; potentially a record for mascots in a procession. Guinness World Records were invited to confirm this next year, while convention staff promised more fans in the headless lounge to keep the costumed critters from overheating. The lounge costs Anthrocon $1,000/day to rent.

Other groups sought a different brand of comedy. Four "protesters" from imageboard 7chan stationed themselves outside a daycare center opposite the convention hotel on Saturday. Two wore Afro wigs and bore anti-furry banners. Most attendees treated the "raiders" as part of the entertainment, especially after it began to rain. Dr. Conway and Operations Director Douglas Muth eventually took pity on the group, lending them Anthrocon-branded umbrellas.


Partial costumes are an alternative to full suits
What exactly are these people fans of? Comics? Animation?

Rob Paulsen

Actually, they're fans of each other.

Mark Evanier

Anthrocon has a significant international draw. However, most are native English-speakers — of the 18 countries represented at the event, the USA, Canada and the UK make up over 98% of attendees.

While other countries have their own furry events, on average they're only about one tenth the size. The largest outside of North America is Eurofurence, which drew 405 in 2006. Anthrocon's closest competition is San Jose's Further Confusion, while Midwest FurFest in Chicago provides a third alternative, spurred by 35% growth last year. Anthrocon's own yearly growth was 14%.

Ontario's Feral! is set in a campground, but at Anthrocon hotels are a necessity. Many share four or (unofficially) more to a room, skirting the bounds of local fire codes. Part of this is due to the cost. Even at the discount rate, a night in the convention hotel is $125 after tax; furry fans are often young, with little money to spare.

Money isn't the only explanation, though. Furry fans are "social creatures", and for some Anthrocon represents the only time in the year when they can meet up with friends from around the world. When not attending a panel or watching fellow fans fursuiting, many can be found chatting, drawing or playing games in The Zoo — the convention's 24-hour social space. If it weren't for the discos, some might never leave.

Art show and dealers

Fans hawk their wares in the Artists' Alley

One prime attraction is the art show. On display are framed and unframed prints and originals, along with a few items of sculpture and even one fursuit head - and almost everything is on sale to the right bidder. Due to time constraints, only the most hotly-contested pieces go to voice auction. This year, one piece breached the $1,000 mark in the PG category - "Just one more", by California artist Dark Natasha.

The piece was one of a set created by seven prominent furry artists to depict the seven deadly sins - in this case, Greed. Adult art commanded a slightly higher price, with one work by Taurin Fox going for $2,000. But bargains could be had in both sections for those willing to forgo a popular name. A number of items went for the minimum bid, sometimes as low as $10 for large colored pieces.

The folks I've met here at Anthrocon — with fewer exceptions than you'd imagine — have been decent, bright, creative and charming people.

Mark Evanier

Anthrocon does not require artists to pay for display space, though it takes a commission on sales, and will charge artists to ship them back if they are left unsold; a policy which encourages low minimums. Similarly, artists looking to sell commissions for items such as sketches and unofficial convention badges do not have to pay up-front for space in the crowded Artists' Alley — though they do face the risk of not being able to get a place at all, as happened to some on Friday and Saturday.

The convention does require payment for dealers tables, at which works by others may be sold. The fee for a full table is $115, or $70 over regular pre-registration. Extra table space is significantly more expensive, to encourage variety. 245 dealers and assistants registered this year, ranging from professional artists through comic dealers, publishers, musicians, costumers and plush toy vendors.

Charity and volunteers

The convention supported Animal Friends, a local no-kill animal shelter. Over $6,600 was raised by Sunday night. Of this, $5,053 came from a charity auction featuring 77 items donated by members of the fandom. Some, like a Kevin and Kell original, would have been at home in the regular art auction. Other donations, such as the 12-packs of Canadian Coke and the pound of beef jerky, were more esoteric.

Everyone wants to see the parade, but only some people want to see the auction. When we lose people from the auction, we lose auction income. And we took a big hit.

—Brian Harris

Proceeds were down from previous years, which Charity Director Brian Harris unofficially attributed to timing; the fursuit parade ran simultaneously to the charity presentation, and overran part of the auction. While most large furry conventions sponsor charities, not all have such auctions; many simply donate a portion of their "earnings" to the cause.

The task of managing these events falls to over 130 volunteer staff members, most of whom spend around 12 to 18 hours "on duty" during the convention. But they don't do it alone. Security for the event is provided by the red-shirted Dorsai Irregulars, known since the mid-1970s for their activities in the science fiction community. The Dorsai have been associated with Anthrocon since 2002, and plan to expand to other furry conventions, including Connecticut's FurFright. They have also begun to recruit from the furry fandom.

Local impact

They welcome new comers and friends with open arms...They enjoyed giving each other hugs, and I even got one before everyone left. There were people from all age groups and nationalities who got along just fine.

—Pittsburgh cab driver

Last year gave local vendors plenty to think about. Dr. Conway reported the total impact on the local economy at $2.5 million. Regardless of the actual figure, the local Kwik-E-Mart started taking furry fandom seriously when shelves started coming up bare.

This year, vendors thought themselves better-prepared. The Steel City Diner printed 100 shirts celebrating the convention, only to run out on Friday afternoon. The diner met their weekly sales target by Wednesday, and doubled that by Friday night, working through Sunday to keep up with demand.

I didn't get a lot of sleep. There were people in the room next to mine barking all night.

J.J. Hardy of the Milwaukee Brewers

Neighboring sub shop Fernando's drew blue paw-marks on the pavement to attract customers, and offered a special $5 menu for attendees. Its proprietor also came to the aid of his furry customers as they were being harassed by a local beggar — who gave Fernando a mild skull fracture for his trouble.

While local cab drivers had compliments, not everyone appreciated the company. The Chicago Cubs decided to cancel their booking after hearing about the con, and J.J. Hardy of the Milwaukee Brewers reported being kept up by fans on Wednesday night. The Brewers lost their game the following day.

The convention closed with next year's date — June 26-29 — along with the announcement of a guest: Disney animator Floyd Norman. The event's theme will be "It's a Jungle Out There!"


This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.